Good COP, Bad COP: The human side of negotiations

My impression of the UNFCCC process, which is now almost 15 years old, was that much less gets accomplished than planned. I’m starting to realize that this is because the ones doing the negotiating are humans.

Attending the COP is a really draining experience. Meetings can start early in the morning and can last until late into the evening, and some people have breakfast meetings to prepare for the day’s events. All the attendees have just flown in from all over the world, so they are jet-lagged and adjusting to a new time zone. I watched a delegate from China nap while the AWG-KP (Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol – there’s a mouthful) discussed mitigation targets – kind of important . . . particularly for China, the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter! They also have to deal with annoying logistics, like a new commute to the conference center, different food, money, language, climate, and customs.

Delegates are also trying to fulfill social obligations here. This process is 14 years old, so people have lots of old friends that perhaps they only see once per year. Meanwhile, they have to further their own agendas and approach new contacts, and make appearances at certain events for political reasons.

In the meetings, people are constantly distracted. They are checking email, eating, nodding off, fidgeting, looking at their phone, answering their phone, running to the restroom, playing with lap tops, and flipping through the day’s program.

There is definitely a value in international leaders meeting face to face to make the important decisions to address global warming and adaptation of the vulnerable to climate change, but the fact that humans have lots of their own environmental requirements can slow the success of the process.