How to make the UNFCCC process more efficient and effective

The UN climate change negotiations are meant to address the most urgent crisis facing the international community, one that has already triggered environmental and humanitarian disasters on an unprecedented scale, and, if current trends continue, one that will lead to the loss of entire nations as rising seas inundate low-lying island states around the world.

Yet, despite decades of highly publicized talks resulting in little action, at least none approaching the level needed to avert catastrophe, scarcely any attention has been paid to how the climate meetings might be re-organized in a way that could promote more constructive outcomes.

To that end, the Republic of Nauru, on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), has proposed common sense ways to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the United Nations Framework for Climate Change process.

Some of the difficulties identified, while complex, are by no means insurmountable. For example, the current circumstances do not allow adequate time for parties to discuss complex and highly technical political issues or coordinate effectively. While significant overruns of meetings lead to exhausted outcomes, rather than consensus-based decisions. This can be fixed.

Interested parties are encourage to read AOSIS’ formal submission, but some of its key findings are summarized below:

Active High Level Engagement

One of the essential areas for improving both the efficiency and effectiveness of the UNFCCC process is to more actively engage political decision-makers in the negotiations. Climate change negotiators are only able to negotiate within the bounds of their mandates. It is clear that negotiators do not currently have a mandate from high-level political decision makers to agree to ambitious decisions capable of meeting the scale of the challenge we face. Our proposal suggests several ways to actively engage high-level political decision makers in the UNFCCC process.

Planning and Timing of Meetings of Subsidiary Bodies

The current practice of the subsidiary bodies meeting in June and at the end of the year in conjunction with the COP/CMP, as well as on an ad hoc basis throughout the year should be carefully considered. The first key issue is that Parties are dealing with a large number of complex technical and political issues that require more time to work through to reach consensus solutions than is currently provided. For example, it is clear from the history of COPs/CMPs that insufficient time was available to Parties to appropriately lay the groundwork for decisions. This leads to meetings regularly being scheduled after 6pm (which limits coordination time for groups), negotiations going throughout the night and in some cases into the next morning, not all issues being addressed equally, as well as smaller groups of Parties working on texts, or Chairs, rather than texts negotiated by all Parties.

This practice has led to significant difficulties at subsequent meetings where Parties do not have a shared understanding of the outcome, and has contributed to further delays in the process. While more time does not always mean better outcomes, the current practice of work under the UNFCCC is unmanageable and unsustainable, given the scale and complexity of the issues before the Parties and the consequences of not finding solutions.

Arrangements for COPs/CMPs

COPs/CMPs are a critical component of the UNFCCC process, as many important agreements made by Parties must be enacted by COP/CMP decisions. Additionally, annual COPs/CMPs provide an important focal point for the entire international community, businesses, NGOs, cities and educational institutes to know that the community of nations is making measurable and meaningful progress towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Given that immediate mitigation actions and policies are needed before 2017 to prevent dangerous lock-in of global fossil fuel infrastructure that will make achieving the 2°C goal exceedingly difficult, let alone 1.5°C, annual COPs/CMPs are important for high level progress reporting.

In order to provide an opportunity for all countries to serve as COP President in a more equitable manner, AOSIS proposes Parties consider a permanent host country for the COP after 2015. For example, the COP/CMP could be hosted in Bonn, and the role of COP President would continue to rotate among the regional groups in accordance with existing practice under the draft rules of procedure. This would give small countries, including SIDS, which would not otherwise be in a position to host a COP an opportunity to serve as COP President.

Group Coordination

Allowing sufficient time for negotiating groups to coordinate is a critical aspect of the efficiency and effectiveness of the process, as it allows all 195 Parties to participate in a meaningful way, without the significant time that would be required if all Parties intervened on every issue. To enable coordination for groups, the agreement that meetings should be scheduled after 6pm should be strictly enforced.

Additionally, it would be helpful to consider having an additional preparation day for all groups that desire one at the first session of the year. It is particularly difficult for AOSIS, for example, to coordinate throughout the year given the vast distance between islands.

Engagement of Observers

AOSIS welcomes recent consideration of how to engage observers in the process. It is also noted that under the ADP, many countries, including AOSIS have made submissions seeking more active involvement of experts, the private sector and NGOs.

This issue requires further consideration to ensure active participation so that Parties can benefit from a wide range of views, as well as ensuring appropriate practices for observers. Other multilateral fora could hold positive lessons on how to engage a more diverse set of stakeholders, such as CITES or the FAO Committee on World Food Security.

Adequate Resources for Secretariat and Participation of Developing Countries

The Secretariat suffers from chronic underfunding to enable it to adequately discharge its obligations. Additionally, developing countries, particularly SIDS, are often unable to consistently participate in workshops, meetings and in the high level segment owing to insufficient funds.

The climate change crisis will simply not be solved without adequately investing in the UNFCCC process, ensuring transparency, sufficient meeting time, high-level engagement of all countries and quality technical support.

Now is the time to resource the UNFCCC, to provide a constructive and problem-solving atmosphere where all countries, large and small work together towards a global system to protect the climate that sustains us all.

AOSIS calls on all Parties to reinvigorate and reinvest in our multilateral process, through dedicated and positive enhancements consistent with the principles and provisions of the Convention, transparency and the active participation of all Parties, no matter how small, that will communicate to the world that countries can find solutions to the greatest challenge of our time through cooperation