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Re-negotiating the UNFCCC Framework

Tue, 05/03/2016

Recommendations from Sciences Po’s student negotiators

In May 2015, Sciences Po – the Paris Institute of Political Studies – organized a simulation of COP21 to imagine and test an alternative format of climate negotiations. 200 students formed 41 delegations and negotiated over three days to find a way to #MakeitWork.

While the Conferences of the Parties (COPs) have given rise to high hopes, they have failed to live up to these expectations while continuing immense deceptions regarding the difficulties we face collectively with respect to the climate challenge negotiations. We emerged from our simulation with clear recommendations and also serious questions about the potential of the current UNFCCC negotiation framework.

Recommendation #1

Flexibility will make space for ‘Real’ Negotiations

The UN system of governance has become a very slow machine, unable to deal with the major crises, transformations and accelerations that the world is facing. We believe this to be partly due to the rigidity within the UN system; the procedures and protocol are not flexible thus preventing any advances. Procedure and protocol take over substantial issues.

Within our simulation, we began with a formal structure but allowed delegations the possibility to move away from it if they believed it fit to do so. Flexibility, according to us, was key to leave space for real negotiations to take place. This went as far as to allow delegations to negotiate without the participation of the UN secretariat for 2 days!

Recommendation #2

A more Holistic Approach that considers both Cause and Consequence

The issues in the COPs are extremely technical, and tend to disconnect the consequences of climate change from its causes. The approach is not holistic enough: crucial issues like agriculture or commerce are not explicitly dealt with. If for example transport for international trade is responsible for such big contributions to global greenhouse gas emissions, why is there no representative of the WTO at the negotiation table?

Make it Work - Science PO

Recommendation #3

Involve all Key Actors in Negotiations

This brings us to a third issue; the actors involved in the negotiations. In the UN framework, only nation-states are given the right to negotiate and vote. In order to better represent real interests on climate change issues, we decided to introduce new actors never before given an equal voice to states in climate change negotiations at the negotiating table. These new actors can be divided into three categories: natural entities (e.g. forests, stranded oil assets, endangered species), local specificities (e.g. the Sahara, indigenous people, Amazonia), and transnational networks (e.g. international regulatory bodies, internet, youth).

It is crucial to directly involve actors who can have a decisive impact in tackling climate change. We would like to highlight their contribution to the problem, but also, the important role they could play to find solutions together.

Recommendation #4

Nation-states Should Not be Treated as Homogenous Entities

The Westphalian point of view that is framing the UN system postulates that nation-states are relevant and homogenous entities with common interests to defend, an idea which is questionable.Are US negotiators really defending California’s interests? Would California defend the same position on its own if given the opportunity to do so?

We wanted to add a level of complexity in the simulation so as to better represent how climate change issues are dealt with. By having various stakeholders and interests represented within each delegation, we wanted to bring together all levels of negotiations in one forum (i.e. national, regional, and bilateral). On the second day of negotiations, delegates representing the U.S. government, an ocean expert group and an NGO from the Stranded Oil Assets delegation were, for example, negotiating on the future of fossil fuel extraction in the arctic.

Recommendation #5

Replace ‘One Size Fits All’ with a Two-Step approach

The use of global modeling contributed to spreading the idea according to which we “are all in the same boat” hence implying that the global level is the only relevant scale for action. The ‘one size fits all’ solution that negotiators are trying to find through a logic of consensus is leading to agreeing on the lowest common denominator.

We recommend instead for the negotiators to take a two step approach: first, to look at where they themselves want to be in 50 years time in very practical terms (i.e. “what will your children eat for breakfast?) and second, who they would have to cooperate or coordinate their action with and what that action would include.

This would lead to a web of agreements at different scales, which – when combined together – would reveal the long term demands of tackling climate change and the necessary action to put us on the path to respecting the 2°C limit.

Make it Work - Science PO 01

The solution is not so simple as a ‘New Framework’

Many participants were frustrated by the procedures. Their newness to the UNFCCC negotiations allowed them to be critical with the procedures, something which we suspect most professional negotiators at the UNFCCC are no longer able to do. However, moving away from the traditional UNFCCC framework was not consensual. Neither was the work on finding convergence between the visions of the parties. While some wanted to innovate within the model, others thought it was necessary to destroy it to be able to move forward. The fact that we were young meant we were optimistic and still quite driven by the idea that we can still change things for the better.

In the end, the delegates were open minded enough to integrate these two approaches. This is not something that we can see happening in real life. It is impossible for us to imagine that UNFCCC negotiators would be willing to work together or find middle ground with people wanting to destroy the UNFCCC framework. As young students we had the luxury of raising the relevant issues and actually taking determined actions to address them.

Even if climate negotiations were reshaped according to these recommendations, it would still have its limits. To counter these, actors, especially private companies, should think about developing appropriate bottom-up approaches, form networks and find common solutions that can take the form of micro-level voluntary cooperation.

Make it Work - Science PO 02

For more on the #MakeitWork Simulation, visit, read the Make it Work report (in French) and the press coverage review (in French).

This article is a part of MSLGROUP’s sustainability report A Chance for Change: The Tipping Point for Sustainable Business .

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