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The Road to COP21: How Negotiators Can 'Make it Work' in December


By Maanya Condamoor

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend a COP21 Simulation put on by Sciences Po University in Paris. This simulation was part of a larger initiative by the French negotiators to increase citizen and youth involvement and awareness of the COP21 negotiations happening in Paris this December.

The theme of the conference was "Make it Work," and its goal was to utilize new, innovative ways of negotiation and collaboration to demonstrate ways the international community can reach its common goal of limiting global temperature increase by 2 degrees Celsius.

The final product from our simulation was shared with the French representative to the Conference of Parties (COP), Laurence Tubiana. She'll eventually bring our ideas to the COP21 Climate Talks in December, where a global climate agreement may be reached, to ensure that the voices of a younger generation will be heard.

As a Model United Nations alumnus, I jumped at the chance to participate in this simulation and potentially impact the regulatory process on an international scale. There were over 200 delegates present, traveling from as far away as Beijing, to as close as two Metro stops away in Paris. This international group gave us a more realistic feel for what the actual negotiations are probably like -- though the majority of the conference took place in English and French, it wasn’t uncommon to hear people speaking in Japanese, Spanish or Russian as you walked through the negotiation space.

I found the conference to be a whirlwind of emotions: Hope-inspiring, entertaining, frustrating and worrisome all at once, it gave me and my fellow participants a small taste of the scale and significance of the task at hand for the negotiators in December. My time at COP21 Make it Work gave me insight into three main ways I think the current negotiation process can be improved to ensure that we effectively reach an equitable international agreement:

1. Include all stakeholders (state and non-state) as negotiators, when possible

One of the major ways our simulation differed from the actual COP negotiation format was the inclusion non-state delegations, as well as the equal representation of a variety of entities from each delegation. In addition to traditionally represented delegations such as the United States, European Union, China and India, an equal number of participants represented a variety of non-state entities not traditionally included in the climate talks, from major sectors of the economy to the more abstract soil, polar regions and oceans stakeholders.

While we still have a long way to go to create an equitable world, society today has taken many more strides to acknowledge the needs of historically marginalized and underrepresented communities, and it's time the COP reflected that. Though many of the groups represented during our simulation were abstract, their presence reminded of us what we were fighting to protect, and rippling impact that our actions as humans have on the natural world around us. Ensuring that scientists and experts in these topics and regions, as well as communities facing immediate climate-related risks, have equal representation at the COP is a step in the right direction, and will give a voice to the voiceless stakeholders most impacted by climate change.

Additionally, each delegation at our conference was represented by a variety of entities with competing interests, again demonstrating the importance of all voices being heard. In my delegation, the United States, I represented an endangered territory, Everglades National Park, while others played the roles of President Barack Obama, the Environmental Defense Fund, California Gov. Jerry Brown and the American Gas Association. This gave us an interesting internal dynamic to wrangle with -- how could we reach a compromise that will mitigate environmental impacts and the rising sea levels affecting the Everglades, while protecting the interests of the American Gas Association? How could the knowledge and experience of California, a U.S. state leading in many environmental aspects, be scaled up and utilized at a national and international scale? Thinking about these questions pushed us to stretch beyond our comfort zones and find new, creative ways to achieve our goal.

2. Climate change is a pressing global issue, which will be solved through bold action, not semantics discussions

Though we tried to avoid it, our negotiations were often caught in long arguments regarding phrasing and word choice, leading to impassioned arguments and references to the Oxford English Dictionary. During these sessions, it helped to take a step back and recognize the urgency and larger picture of our task.

It does not matter to a resident of the Maldives, a country predicted lose over 75 percent of its land mass to rising sea levels by 2100, whether the resolution says “significantly” or not; when their home is underwater, they need a place to sleep, and they need it now. Addressing climate change is not something to think about for our children's or grandchildren's sake, it is something many of us living today will experience in our lifetimes, and it's time lawmakers address this issue with an appropriate sense of urgency.

3. The global nature of climate change does not have to be a burden; it can be an opportunity

One of the solutions I was most involved with during the conference was an article detailing the creation of an international eco-incubator. Best described as an environmentally themed “Shark Tank," this Green Climate Funded incubator would encourage and manage projects proposed by those living in communities impacted by environmental change. Projects would take into account the rights of the indigenous people as well as the natural environment, provide scientific expertise to project implementers, ensure long-term environmental benefit, and foster sustainable development solutions that could be replicable in other countries.

By crowdsourcing the solution to the climate change problem, this incubator would give people the power and resources needed to make change and better the world. After all, negotiators must remember that climate change isn’t going to be solved by a legal document, but through innovation and action.

After long days and sleepless nights, we were finally able to pass a text which addressed all of the issues above, and more. Now, we can only hope that the real negotiators take our suggestions into account and “make it work” in December as well.

Image credit: Nicola Jones, Original Image. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Maanya Condamoor is a member of the Climate Corps Bay Area fellowship, currently serving as an Environmental Stewardship Fellow at Kaiser Permanente. She graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles in 2013 with a B.S. in Environmental Science and minors in Environmental Engineering and Conservation Biology. She is passionate about conservation, corporate sustainability, and international sustainable development, and will begin her Masters in Environmental Management at Yale in the Fall.

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