The Earth is burning, the COP is drowning

After a hot summer, you’d think the next COP would finally be the one for action, but the negotiations are stalling. We, the young observers of the international climate negotiations, reveal to you the hopeless backstage of this summit’s preparation. There is an urgent need to reform this institution, which remains fundamental in the fight against climate change. We propose the establishment of
a Global Citizens’ Climate Convention.

Written by Lou Collin and Thomas Reboul, this paper benefited from crucial contributions from Anna Antraygues.

Translated from the French original by Lou Collin.

After our first experience of international climate negotiations at the United Nations campus in Bonn, we came back with a bitter taste. While we had the honor of playing the role of young observers at the 56th session of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) “implementation” negotiations, we also and above all had the regret of attending a bad play bringing together 198 countries known as “the Parties”. Large, sanitized rooms serve as the stage and the program is always the same. The (non)text machine is launched, fuelled by a ballet of verbal negotiations strictly codified by the UNFCCC to find agreements, present objectives and action plans that are, on paper, ever more audacious. As for their implementation, the Global Assessment scheduled for COP28 should shed light on the extent to which countries are lagging behind in meeting their targets.

In between ‘working’ sessions, a participant who started going to UNFCCC events at COP2 warned us: ‘I haven’t been to the negotiations for years and years. They will never lead to anything concrete. The most interesting thing to do here is outside the working rooms. This is the international climate fair, an invaluable place to find new allies and promising projects to try to mitigate the damage. Indeed, what happens in the negotiating rooms is disconcerting. The will of the nations, which can be measured by the speed and quality of the discussions, is inversely proportional to the climate emergency. Some delegations, often well-funded, from the so-called “developed” or fossil fuel exporting countries are meticulously sinking progress that could help them meet their 2015 Paris commitments. Meanwhile, the less wealthy countries and those most vulnerable to the consequences of climate change cannot follow all the negotiations: small teams due to poor resources, lack of trained negotiators, difficulties linked to master English, the technical UN language, etc. In addition, there are appalling visa problems that prevent delegations, observers and indigenous communities from arriving in time in the country of the negotiations. It is difficult to negotiate when you cannot travel to the country where the talks are taking place…

We also question the slowness of the UN process. Discussions very quickly move away from the substantive issues to argue about the progress of the negotiation, the format of the document, whether or not to display the text under NBC 1 discussion, the placement of punctuation, etc. All too often, therefore, we found ourselves faced with debates on the form of a text, emptied of its initial substance. Entire passages are discussed at length and then finally excluded if a consensus is not reached. Indeed, with the principle of unanimity that reigns in these negotiating forums, as soon as one Party opposes a term, the machine breaks down. Thus, on several occasions, the Parties only agree on the fact that they did not agree.

In rare working sessions, we have the right to speak. We have taken advantage of this to denounce the Parties’ desire to turn land, forests and oceans into economic assets. For example, during the first “dialogue” on oceans and climate change, which featured four hours of self-congratulatory statements by the Parties, one of the signatories of this forum called on the assembly to address issues that have been avoided until now: overfishing and deep-sea trawling. This appeal, as well as the one on the need to develop truly protected maritime areas, without industrial fishing, remained unanswered. Behind the scenes, a delegate from a country with significant fisheries resources, although silent during the dialogue, came to greet the intervention at the end of the session. On the other hand, the delegation from another European country revealed its unease at the non-existent position of the European Union on these issues.

In the end, we sensed a conformism, even apathy, on the part of some delegations in the face of our sometimes disturbing questions. The demands of countries suffering the consequences of climate change today are often ignored. Elements of language and rhetorical pirouettes sprinkled with economic justifications and technological solutions are all techniques that prevent substantive debates and allow the positions chosen by governments to be maintained. These discussions give the impression of a profound disconnection from reality and show the deleterious effects of the structure of international climate negotiations on ways of thinking about and responding to systemic problems.

These are our worrying observations. Unfortunately, the international community is currently relying in part on this mode of operation to reverse the curve of greenhouse gas emissions, the increase in the Earth’s average temperature, the decline in biodiversity, desertification, soil and water pollution, the destruction of primary forests, the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, rising sea levels, etc. It is therefore urgent to rethink the environmental negotiations, which are vital for facing the climate crisis together. Young people and most NGOs are the only ones who can express themselves freely in these international debates. In Bonn, negotiators encouraged us to act, even though they are the ones at the negotiating table. In response to this invitation, the No Bullshit Coalition (NBC) has formed to sign this platform.

In addition to calling on the Parties to respect their promises of action and financing, here is our innovative recommendation to transform the functioning of the UNFCCC and, why not, try to save the COPs from drowning.

We propose the establishment of a new body within the UNFCCC processes, one that is decision-making, inclusive and citizen-based: the Global Citizens’ Climate Convention. Based on the principles of the French Citizens’ Climate Convention, it would bring together the world’s citizens in a representative and inclusive manner, for example with regard to indigenous representatives or NBC 2 The Non-Bullshit-Coalition is calling for ideas and recommendations from citizens to make this proposal a reality in order to save the COPs from sinking and to spare as many people and ecosystems as possible from the effects of climate change. If you have ideas on how to make this idea more concrete, debate with #NBC. Because the political and ruling class has given up on international climate negotiations, it’s time for citizens to take matters into their own hands.

The following organisations support it: ● Youth Environment Europe ● Avenir Climatique ● NOISE – Office of Governance and Inter-school Coordination ● NOISE – bureau de gouvernance et de coordination interécoles ● NOISE – AgroParisTech ● NOISE – ESSEC ● NOISE – ESCP ● Esp’r – HEC ● Les Agros à la COP – Agro ParisTech ● Dévelop’Ponts – Ponts ParisTech ● PC Durable – ESPCI ● Terre à Terre – ENS Saclay ● ENvertS – ENS de Lyon ● Make a difference (MAD) – Télécom Paris ● Écosyst’aime – ENSTA ● SupAero for Earth – SupAe ● Esp’r – Supoptique ● Eole – ESTP NBC  ● Greensae – ENSAE ● Les ENSGagés – ENSG ● Assas Environnement NBC