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Climate diaries: Surviving and thriving at COP23!

12 November 2017
Daily RINGO meeting
Daily RINGO meeting

After experiencing three full days of climate negotiations, I thought it was time to report back on some of what I’ve seen and learnt.

The most important thing that I have learnt, and enjoyed, has been the forum and spirit for sharing between researchers. I didn’t know this before I arrived, but as a researcher I belong to the RINGO constituency. Research and Independent Non-Governmental Organizations (RINGOs) are one of nine constituencies that are recognised by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) (more info here).

As a constituency, RINGOs are provided with three “tickets” from the UNFCCC Secretariat, which enables constituents to observe informal consultations between Parties (member governments) that would otherwise be closed meetings. The tickets are distributed every morning at the 9:00 RINGO meeting, and this is the critical starting point of the day. As you can see from the picture, the daily meeting is a room packed full of researchers, many of them students. Those who had tickets the previous day give brief overviews of the sessions they observed, as well as uploading their notes to the RINGO website, and I have found these sessions invaluable for navigating COP23.

I haven’t been following the Agenda of the Paris Agreement though, which the tickets are for, and so I don’t join the end of session scramble. Although many researchers would consider these negotiations the place where real climate action (or inaction) is decided, it is not what I am here to study. Having spent many years looking at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), I want to begin to place this body in the broader knowledge landscape of the climate field – that is, try to understand what other forms of knowledge contribute or attempt to contribute/challenge/contest how we know and respond to climate change.

In Paris in 2015, a decision was taken to establish a knowledge platform, the aim of which would be to strengthen and exchange “knowledge, technologies, practices and efforts of local communities and indigenous peoples” to climate mitigation and adaptation (see below). Here in Bonn, Parties have been negotiating the nature of this body and these are the “informal consultations” that I have been following.

Decisions to give effect to the Paris Agreement (FCCC/CP/2015/10/Add.1), available here.

The consultations (or the formal/informal) on this Platform have mostly been open, meaning that I can enter the room and observe. But you need stamina! The Parties need to finalise a text by Monday and when I left for the second night running at 10pm there was little convergence on where this platform should sit within the UNFCCC, whether it should be a negotiating body, and if it should be a small group of experts or open membership…

Leaving at 10pm meant that I missed some of these discussions and, more importantly, I won’t know when and where they’ll resume on Monday. If I don’t have this information, I’ll be left wondering the conference centre trying to find groups of familiar faces (as I was the previous day). That brings me to the aspect of this experience that I have enjoyed most – the spirit of sharing.

Sitting and typing notes next to me was another researcher, and he decided to stay there until the bitter end. He also offered to share his notes, and in return I will share my notes from the sessions he missed. I can’t tell you how heart-warming this is – there are many things that I sometimes find difficult about this job, and the competitiveness and adherence to hierarchies are two of the worst aspects. You can’t share with everyone and there are some that would drain you like any other resource. But here in Bonn I’ve bumped into other climate researchers with a sharing spirit and this makes it possible to extend the reach of our observations, and thus our capacity to know, understand and illuminate what goes on (and in whose interests) behind the closed doors of climate negotiations.

Friday evening SBSTA agenda #13 on Local communities and indigenous peoples platform.

Read the previous COP23 diary entry here.

Read the final COP23 diary entry here.


  1. Katherine Phillips

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences Hannah. It’s interesting to think of how important alternative models of knowledge are in this context… and to contrast that with the competitive and hierarchical model of knowledge production that often describes academia

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