Behind the scenes of the COP28 negotiations seen by a teacher-researcher

Behind the scenes of the COP28 negotiations seen by a teacher-researcher

As a teacher-researcher in the fields of environmental economics and development economics, I am fortunate to be experiencing my sixth Conference of the Parties (COP) in a row in Dubai. My first participation was funded by the university on an exploratory basis in 2017, then I received a mandate from the presidency of my university, Université Côté d'Azur, to develop the strategy in 2018 .

The University of Côte d'Azur was thus accredited in 2020 with observer status for the COP26 in Glasgow.

On the occasion of COP23, 24 and 25, I carried the cap of representative of my university and negotiator for Tunisia, of which I was part of the official delegation due to my dual French and Tunisian nationality. This year, I am participating again as a negotiator for Tunisia and as a guest in several international side events.

A status which allows access to the so-called “blue” zone of the Summit, reserved for national delegations, UN organizations and observer NGOs, and where the official COP28 negotiations take place. Conversely, the so-called “green” zone is open upon accreditation to all stakeholders.

The event, now over-publicized, is attracting more and more people as a result of the general public's growing concern about the increasingly visible impacts of climate change. While COP23 only attracted around twenty thousand participants in Bonn, the COP in Dubai broke all records with more than 90 participants.

Entrance into the COP28 conference area on December 1, in Dubai. International Labor Organization (ILO), CC BY-NC-ND

Despite all the criticisms of the international negotiation process, experiencing the construction of an international regime on climate change from the inside was an extraordinary experience for the teacher-researcher that I am. The world of research would do well to be more involved in this complex process.

The tip of the negotiation iceberg

Let us first remember that climate negotiations are not only the fruit of the few days during which the Conference of the Parties (COP) takes place. They reflect the intense work carried out throughout the year in an almost continuous manner, of which the COP represents only the culminating moment.

At the start of each COP, the parties begin by agreeing on a negotiating menu – a work diary. Once the agenda is accepted and validated, each point on the agenda is then the subject of parallel negotiation.

On average, more than twenty negotiations are being carried out in parallel. This requires significant means and human resources for the participating States, which must each have a high-level technical team mastering all points and capable of coordinating among themselves and with other countries.

If developed countries manage to field professional diplomats, developing countries mainly rely on civil society, experts and academics, who are then supported in these negotiations. This allowed me to meet several colleagues from around the world at the negotiating table.

During the first week of the COP, several sessions of technical negotiations – at least six sessions of one hour each. But negotiations are also informal to better move forward. Bilateral meetings and informal meetings take place until late at night to unblock hard points in the negotiations and bring together points of view. This has been the case several times this year. on section 6.

Sultan Ahmed al Jaber, President of COP28, speaking on November 30 at the opening of the summit. Presidency of the Republic of Benin, CC BY-NC-ND

At the end of the first week, the negotiations move to a political level reserved for ministers from the countries represented. This second phase admits a different logic where diplomatic codes change. The presidency of the COP has an important role in this process, because geopolitical issues are then considered. Climate agreements then become part of a more complex set of international agreements. where environmental logic is not always first.

At the end of the COP, an assessment is drawn up and the progress and results are the subject of a final declaration. In general, several points of the negotiation will remain unresolved until the following year. Despite all the criticisms addressed to this long process, if we believe in democracy and international rules, there are no other paths to building an international legal regime on climate.

The COP after the COP

From then on begins the next part of the negotiations, less visible, but just as stimulating. At the start of the following year, dialogue continues between the different parties to bring them together towards a consensual solution. A difficult task for a 198-party process that operates under the unanimity rule, even if this rule is increasingly criticized.

Regional or global seminars are organized, as well as virtual meetings, technical negotiations, at the end of which technical proposals are drawn up by the parties and observers. Between two COPs, the subsidiary bodies of the decision-making bodies – the Science and Technology Council (SBSTA) and the Implementation Body (SBI) – meet in June in Bonn, Germany. These meetings, less publicized than the annual COP, are essential for building consensus and best preparing for formal negotiations. It is not uncommon for certain negotiation points to take place over several years, throughout several successive COPs.

This is where the academic world could intervene more to facilitate the taking into account of scientific expertise, in my opinion. Since 2017, I have observed more and more teacher-researchers involved in the process from all countries (parties). But for the moment, English-speaking universities remain best positioned in this niche: for example, a professor from the University of Cape Town, Harald Winkler, also an expert for the IPCC, who plays the role of facilitator on the question of the global assessment of the Paris agreement (global stock take).

Personally, I was able to observe the negotiations on "loss and damage" (loss and damages) until the operationalization of the associated fund and the first promises of 300 million dollars during COP28.

The researcher, both ambassador and expert

As a researcher, participating in the COP allows me to fulfill two roles: that of expert in my field in environmental and development economics on the one hand, and that of ambassador of my university on the other hand. .

Thus, I am proud to contribute modestly to clarifying certain questions such as those related to climatic migrations, the assessment of climate disasters or the role of technology in solving the climate problem. The COP also allows me to give visibility to my work, to enrich my range of skills – particularly in climate finance organizing events on topics related to my scientific research for negotiators during the summit – as well as to develop the content of my courses and seminars.

This participation also helped me identify new and emerging research topics, some of which led to international publications and doctorates. For example, one of my doctoral students works on impacts of climate change on the tourism sector with a focus on technological solutions. This subject was identified during COP23 and 24, then proposed in 2021. Since then, several scientific articles on this subject have been published.

And it is here that the role of the expert researcher becomes that of ambassador for his or her institution, particularly at a time when universities are also required to achieve carbon neutrality. So, at the end of COP23 and my first participation, I proposed a climate action development plan at the university. And two years later, the university became an accredited member as an observer. Today, it is sending a delegation of six people to participate in the COP, for the third year in a row.

Personally, I would like to work on the establishment of a network of teacher-researcher negotiators in the COPs. The latter are full players in the fight against climate change. Long associated only with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), they are now at all levels of climate negotiations.

A transition COP

Will this COP28 give rise to spectacular announcements? In my opinion, it has all the makings of a transitional COP. It will likely make it possible to finalize the framework of the Paris agreement, including in particular certain measures such as the global stocktake, which must see the inventory of nationally determined contributions (NDCs) declared by the States. Cooperative and non-cooperative approaches to carbon emissions rights markets, framed by Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, still need to be clarified.

In terms of climate finance, whether it concerns adaptation or loss and damage, progress is more uncertain. While 100 billion dollars were promised to the countries of the South in terms of loss and damage, the Paris agreement does not include any quantified objective in terms of financing adaptation, which remains the poor relation. However, currently, the costs of adaptation are constant increase for developing countries. And the technical discussions of the first week have not led to significant progress for the moment.

To close the financing gap, on day one of the COP governments, businesses, investors and philanthropists made historic commitments and declarations. These commitments, although spectacular, fall short of expectations for decarbonizing the global economy.

In an exchange of private messages on climate finance between negotiators, one negotiator sent: "Too many acronyms going around. You are a COP veteran if you can understand NCQG, LTF, MWP, JTWP, LDF, SNLD, SBI, SBSTA, KP, KCI, RM, LM, MOI, ETF, SCF, GCF, GEF, CIF, FIF, etc., without frowning."

I'm afraid I now master all these acronyms and their implications: NCQG for "New Collective Quantified Goal of Finance", LTF for "Long Term Finance", SCF for "Standing Committee of Finance", GCF for “Green Climate Fund”… This is necessary to pass the torch to following generations of young researchers.

Adel Ben Youssef, Prof.Dr., Côte d'Azur University

This article is republished from The Conversation under Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of InfoChrétienne.

Image credit: Creative Commons / Flickr

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