Multiple Closed-door Meetings Make Smaller Nations Protest

The 150+ heads of state in attendance on the first day of climate negotiations at the COP21 in Paris. Source: UNFCCC

The 150+ heads of state in attendance on the first day of climate negotiations at the COP21 in Paris. Source: UNFCCC

It did not take hours for the bonhomie to dissipate at the climate talks in Paris.

The heads of states were on their flights back on Monday night as the negotiations began in right earnest. And the multiplicity of closed-room meetings running in parallel caused consternation among countries with smaller delegations. To add to the early strain at the conference, civil society and observers were barred from many of the closed-door meetings, which are called spin-off groups. On Tuesday, Malaysia, speaking for Like-Minded Developing Countries that includes Argentina, India and China, complained about keeping the meetings closed for observers at such an early stage of the talks.

India, Tuvalu and Cuba complained that the multiple sessions going on parallelly, sometimes on the same issue, were straining delegations. India demanded that negotiations on one issue should not be held simultaneously in multiple forums.

Some of these meetings lasted till almost midnight on Monday, as countries were dealing with tricky areas such as embedding differentiation in the very mast of the Paris agreement. The first day of such negotiations is usually when the countries present their most radical proposals — hoping to slowly whittle it down to a compromise with opposing groups.

On the issue of reflecting differentiation and ensuring that the developed countries’ obligations to provide finance and technology are linked to the emission-reducing actions of poorer countries, the Africa group of countries came out in support of the proposal from the Like-Minded Developing Countries. This led to the possibility of a formidable alliance — if they stick together on common issues. Relations usually become frail between groups as respective countries’ most sacred red lines or non-negotiable concerns become a priority.

“For a new entrant to the negotiations, it can be daunting,” said one developing country’s negotiator, trying to explain the plethora of parallel sessions running at the old Le Bourget airport, which is now the venue of the negotiations. “We have a full open-house session which then breaks down to what is called a contact group meeting. This  is further broken down into spin-off groups. When there is trouble within the spin-off groups, people are asked to go in to yet another level of meetings, called the ‘informal informal meetings’. On the first day itself, we have had all these by now and the next week is when the ministers will come in too.” Not every country has the capacity to fly in dozens of negotiators, he said. “Even India, I think, would have only one negotiator for each issue at best. What happens when such parallel sessions are held?” he asked rhetorically.

The results of such dozens of meetings would be collated and, by Saturday, stitched in to the penultimate draft of the Paris agreement. It is likely to still see differences but the hope is that there would be fewer differences than those in the 54-page first draft that the Paris meet began with. The penultimate draft would then be taken up at what is called the high-level segment in the second week, when the ministers are required to engage as well. Union environment and forests minister Prakash Javadekar is slated to be back in Paris for this round by Saturday.