Looking at the COP21 Negotiations

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, President-designate of COP21, and Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate change Christiana Figueres (L) attend the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) at Le Bourget, near Paris, France

Some key takeaways from the negotiations that concluded yesterday in Paris, called “the world’s greatest diplomatic success” by the Guardian, “a big, big deal” by This Week, and “the treaty that dare not speak its  name” by National Review.

The Document

  • The final agreement includes at least seven key elements, as parsed by NYT reporters, namely temperature increase, forests, financing, transparency, fossil-fuel reserves, loss/damage, and 5 year contributions. (Analysts are still breaking down the full implications post hoc, but this brief by Michael Levi of CFR is helpful.)
  • In true diplomatic form, one word (“shall” instead of “should”) nearly derailed the entire process.
  • If you haven’t explored how these negotiations work before, you need to know that brackets “[” and “]” are an essential tool in the negotiations, and part of the game. For the full post-game analysis, including samples of the language as it evolved through the past weeks–see Deconstructing Paris–an essential blog.


The Players

  • President Obama has demonstrated that his critics may be correct–he does have a master plan and can achieve it–and demonstrated his global diplomacy mastery in Paris.
  • And a key negotiator-in-chief behind Paris, Christiana Figueres, is a Colombian who heads the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change secretariat; her strategy is explored in the New Yorker profile last August.
  • Bill Gates stepped up to marshall a new coalition from Silicon Valley–but also reaching out to India–and led to a $2B investment in R&D for clean energy.


The Process

  • Indaba, a negotiation strategy of the Zulu and Xhosa peoples of southern Africa may have played a role in fostering large-group consensus. It involves gathering red lines from all interested parties–thus speeding up the process to agreement.
  • An article published in Nature used game theory to explore a possible negotiated outcome. Were they right?
  • The agreement is not binding. Does that matter?
  • Jargon, vocabulary, or technical know-how. Whatever you call it, here are the terms to know.
  • Sometimes skilled negotiations don’t work–because negotiators are influenced by their psychology and can prioritize fairness over a rational offer–and ultimately walk away from a deal. (David Victor, Lab of Law and International Regulation, UCSD)


Civil Society

  • Two New Zealanders created  #COP21Tracker, the worlds largest Google Doc (?) to follow the diplomatic negotiation process
  • @ParisAgreement also provided helpful analysis, in 140 characters or less, of course
  • Follow a rag tag group of students on the Duke to Paris Facebook page as they try to make sense of the process

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