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After returning to Bonn, I have had a chance to reflect on the outcome of COP 15. The lack of success had a significant toll on the emotional and physical health of many of my colleagues and friends attending the Summit, but I want to focus on constructive solutions to some of the many problems that came up from COP 15.
1) Logistics: Over 40 thousand people ended up showing up in Copenhagen for COP 15, while the Bella Center only was able to hold 15 thousand people. It is incredible that the UN and the Danish government could not predict that logistical nightmare that many participants had to endure on their way in to the negotiations. It is imperative that for upcoming conferences, the UN and the host country recognize that climate change has become a top-political issue and will bring thousands of activists, government officials and media representatives interested in influencing the process. For example, passes could be mailed in advance or distributed in multiple venues throughout the host city, accreditation could reflect the venue’s size (!) and increasing efforts for video conferencing the sessions could be put in place.
2) Consensus vs. majority-based decision-making: One thing that was demonstrated at COP 15 was that the consensus-based model for decision making within the UNFCCC process is dated. The Copenhagen Accord was by no means the perfect outcome, but it still provided a good first step for on-going negotiations. The role of certain countries in bringing their national ideological struggles to the Summit, while denying the international community of some progress in its attempt to deal with climate change was regrettable. I hope that Parties to the UNFCCC reconsider this process, otherwise climate change issues may end up being discussed in a smaller, less democratic setting.
3) The role of the media: For the first time in its history, a COP meeting attracted a level of media attention reserved for high-level meetings for (controversial) organizations such as the World Trade Organization (WTO). On one hand this demonstrates the level of political relevance that climate change has been able to achieve, but it also contributes to the circus atmosphere felt in Copenhagen. A colleague told me that when you have over 5 thousand journalists all seeking for the juiciest story, it is only inevitable for tensions to rise as politicians try to look good for audiences back home. For example, the media pressure may have led President Obama to rush an agreement with a limited amount of countries. I was particularly surprised to see journalists holding negotiating text before government officials did!
4) The role of the United Nations: As I mentioned before, there is a serious risk for the negotiation process on climate change issues to be taken out of the UNFCCC context. This is indeed a very dangerous prospect! Not just for the obvious personal reasons, but because the UN, with all of its imperfections, still remains the only inclusive global forum. I do think that the process needs to be reformed (see point 2), but government officials, especially those from small developing countries should discourage any attempts to move the negotiation setting to grouping such as the G7 or G20.
I’ll make sure to keep sharing my thoughts on the UNFCCC process on this blog! I remain hopeful that COP 16 in Mexico will help us get back on track to save humanity from irreversible climate change.