Principles vs Practicalities: The Drama

Principles vs Practicalities: The Drama

The most recent round of climate change negotiations started with a bit of a furor. At the very last minute, constituencies and parties were suspended from giving interventions. The SBSTA Chair came around, asking the constituencies if they would be agreeable to this. Safe to say, the request was more of a formality than anything else.

As one of the people who was supposed to deliver an intervention on behalf of Climate Action Network, I was somewhat annoyed. It was an inconvenience, especially since several of us had spent time drafting and editing the intervention. However it was nowhere near the level of the Youth NGOs. A heated exchange ensued between a YOUNGO representative and the chair. Both parties brought up salient points which I thought served as interesting talking points to the principles and practicalities of the UNFCCC.

 Me eagerly (with a hefty dose of nervousness), looking forward to delivering an intervention for the very first time ever.  

The UNFCCC process is built on being inclusive. However, many civil society groups complain that they do not get enough of a say in the process. At this point in fleshing out the Paris Agreement Work Programme, inclusivity is an important factor because if a document is not inclusive and representative of everyone’s viewpoints then inevitably people are less likely to adhere to something they cannot relate to. It is also important that people have confidence in the UNFCCC process so that they will have faith in the outcomes such as the Paris Agreement Work Program. These were some of the arguments the representative brought up.

The Chair on the other hand, highlighted that the UNFCCC is a party-driven process, which means that ultimately the text will be written and finalised by parties alone. Time is of the essence here as parties aim to have an agreement on the Paris Agreement Work Program by the end of COP 24 in Katowice and therefore it is essential that parties get as much time as possible to work on the text.. Hence this additional 6-day session in Bangkok. Cutting out this section would save an hour and a half. However, it could be argued that parties interventions can be cut while keeping the opportunity for civil societies. Parties already have plenty of opportunities to voice their opinions. This was certainly a point YOUNGO representatives reinforced over and over.

Members of the youth constituency sitting down with the SBSTA chair.

The  move to cut out the interventions was a pragmatic one. However, it has ideological and substantial repercussions – it signals that the voice of non-party stakeholders are not as important to the process. While there are of course other opportunities for non-party stakeholders to interact with the text, such as through and bilaterals, this is much less than the opportunities parties receive. Also, interventions are one of the few formal avenues that is visible to the outside world as the sessions are video-recorded and uploaded online.

After the heated exchange and some discussion among the other youths, once again YOUNGO chose to go up to the Chair to have a sit-down discussion on this matter. Youths are a key stakeholder because they are one of the most vulnerable to this process and also climate change in general. Firstly, because youths are usually self-funded and are not experienced in this arena. They are usually students who are passionate about climate change issues and have to study while doing this on the side. Secondly, youths will feel the impact of climate change much more in the future and will be the most impacted by the policies to combat climate change.

The outcome of the decision was that the chairs and the secretariat agreed that this would not set a precedent for things to work out like this in the future. They apologised for the impromptu decision and said they really believed this was the best choice. This incident reflected an interesting clash between practicality and principles. Which should be prioritised is up in the air. As a youth I would definitely be inclined towards principles as someone who is going to live the rest of my 60 years or so under the governance and impacts of the Paris Agreement.