Climate Change Conference

COP21. Plurals, conditionals, and taboo words block negotiations

Al terzo giorno di discussioni, alla Cop 21 di Parigi la bozza di accordo è ancora in alto mare. Le delegazioni cambiano metodo di lavoro.

Let’s stop: this is not the way. After 3 days of negotiations at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP21, delegations of 196 countries have suddenly decided to change the way they’re working. Delegates are asked to complete the draft agreement by Saturday 5 December, in order to pass the mantle of responsibility to the ministers nominated by each country. The ministers, in turn, during the second week of talks will have to refine the draft, in order to reach an agreement by Friday 11 December, the day the COP21 will end.


cop21 delegations change the way they work
COP21, day three. Delegations decide to change the way they’re working. ©Andrea Barolini


But time is running out. And if the draft is not improved, ministers will have lot to do. It’s not a coincidence, in fact, that NGOs expressed their concern about the first draft made of 55 pages, which had about 200 “Options” and 1,200 locutions between square brackets (it means that they need to be further discussed).


Apparently, although the heads of state have opened the conference using fine words, many countries seem to have set limitations they are not willing to renounce to. For instance, in the first draft agreement, Article 2, option 1 reads that the purpose of the agreement is to “hold the increase in the global average temperature [below 2 °C][below 1.5 °C][well below 2 °C][below 2 °C or 1.5 °C] [below 1.5 °C or 2 °C][as far below 2°C as possible]”, and so on.


I rappresentanti della Fondazione Nicolas Hulot hanno fatto sapere che la proposta di cambiare linea è stata avanzata dal Sudafrica ©Andrea Barolini
The representatives of the Nicolas Hulot Foundation said that the proposal of change tactics has been made by South Africa ©Andrea Barolini


The situation got even worse in the night between 2 and 3 December. During a new compilation, the pages decreased from 55 to 50, but options increased to 250, and locutions to be discussed are now 1,400. The debate thus stopped on plurals and singulars, as well as on the use of “should” or “shall”. “Intensive negotiations and many drafts are needed,” said Mariagrazia Midulla, WWF Italia Responsible of Climate and Energy. “There’s still a long way to go”.


“South Africa and China – explains a representative of the Nicolas Hulot foundation – have asked to stop and drastically change the working method. The proposal has been welcomed: the numerous “spin-off” meetings, in charge of assessing single issues, will be limited to 12. Indeed, we know that too many options left open during the first week of talks led the 2009 Copenhagen conference to fail. There are 48 hours left. We thus need a different, cross approach”.


Le nazioni si sono divise sulle formulazioni lessicali da utilizzare nella bozza del testo ©Andrea Barolini
Countries do not agree on the vocabulary used in the draft agreement ©Andrea Barolini


Above all “talks must be accelerated,” as was pointed out by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. Concern is palpable at Le Bourget. One of the most complicated issues is funding: the group of G77 (representing 134 developing countries) asked guarantees on rich countries to fulfil their pledges.


There’s more: according to Canadian ecologist deputy Elizabeth May, some are significantly slowing down negotiations. In particular, Saudi Arabia doesn’t accept the proposal to limit the global average temperature rise to 1.5°C demanded by the most vulnerable countries. Moreover, India, country that strongly depends on coal, dug its feet on the term “decarbonisation”. So it seems that the future of our planet also depends on lexical issues.

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