I am back in Cardiff now and the 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP 23) seems strangely distant. It was like inhabiting a completely different world during the days (and evenings) I spent at this COP, one in which I was absorbed in new colleagues and following as closely as possible the negotiation of the Local Communities and Indigenous Knowledge Platform (which I wrote about in my last post and is already in the news). If I am feeling slightly disorientated, I wonder how the delegates I observed feel when they return from working so closely and intensely with other Parties? It is with this in mind that I write a few reflections on the observations that surprised me.
The terms we use to describe global climate action within International Relations often seem quite clinical, as if the negotiations and the outcomes they generate are separate from the beings that bring them into life. Thus, one of the aspects that surprised me most was the frequent reference to feelings in the interventions of delegates, such as: “We feel…”; “I feel…”; “Are there strong feelings…?”; “My feeling is…”; “How does the room feel…?”.
To my mind, these references to feelings suggest that what is happening in the room is not only rational calculation based on self-interest, but embodied interactions that take place at multiple levels, including the emotional. Yes, there is plenty of self-interest, but these interests are played on and shift over time because the delegates interact closely with one another and often share the objective of completing the draft text. Most delegates will have “red lines” and may have to check with the “Capital” before they can accept the paragraph in front of them. Parties will also interject frequently and strongly when they’re not sure of the meaning or implications of a term, but I also observed that as each other’s concerns were heard and comprehended, new ways of “putting” things were found and contentious terms avoided.
Now I write the above with a clause. I was observing the negotiation of the Local Communities and Indigenous Knowledge Platform, this was not about targets for emission reductions or financial flows. One of the most unusual aspects of the “informal consultations” on this Platform was that every meeting was open to observers, which is how I was able to follow the negotiations so closely.
Indigenous peoples represented themselves during these meetings and were consulted by the Parties when critical decisions about the Platform and the text were negotiated. As a result, the principles of the Indigenous Peoples Caucus are included in the final text (as shown in the image below). This is very unusual, these are Conferences of the Parties (COPs) – where governments (represented by their delegates) negotiate decisions about how to respond to climate change. There is no doubt that the presence of observers and the space given to indigenous representatives to input in the process put a check on Parties’ interests, or how they presented them at least.
If the process is shaped by the presence of observers and the participation of representatives of indigenous peoples, I wonder too what the impact this participation will be on indigenous groups. Once the Platform is formally established difficult issues are likely to arise over participation and representation, both of which could become objects of struggle within and between groups. However, the culture of this organisation will be shaped by the people and processes that established it, and while there is clearly tensions that will have their effects, I observed a collective will in Bonn, which is likely to underpin the creation and development of this new knowledge Platform.
You can read an excellent account of these negotiations from the perspective of the Indigenous Peoples Caucus here.
Read my previous post here.