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Intrigues that make the COP27 negotiations

Everything at COP is about negotiations and consensus. [Carole Kimutai, Standard]

Strategy. Alignment. Tension. Emotions. Power play. These are the ingredients that make the Conference of Parties (COP) negotiations.

As COP27 negotiators meet for the second week in Sharma El-Sheikh, Egypt, in what is dubbed as the ‘Implementation COP,’ a lot is at stake. The last days will determine if COP27 was a success or failure.

As I discovered, everything at COP is about negotiations and consensus. From the agenda of what will be discussed, to what will be agreed upon, prioritised and actioned.

Anxiety starts 48 hours before a COP.

“We were waiting to see the different negotiating groups agreeing on an agenda that was going to satisfy all 194 country parties,” explains Cecilia Kinuthia-Njenga, Director for Intergovernmental Support and Collective Progress at the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCC) Secretariat.  

Hours before COP27 started, negotiations of what to include in the agenda went into the wee hours of Sunday, November, 6. Reason? Negotiators failed to agree on the inclusion of loss and damage finance. 

Cecilia Kinuthia-Njenga, director with UNFCCC Secretariat. [Carole Kimutai, Standard]

COP outcomes

The first week of COP is a technical week where technical negotiations happen. Week two is more political where most of the technical issues are resolved and handed over to politicians to make the final decisions.

In the last two days before the conference ends, negotiators have to ensure decisions are crisp and that they contain incremental changes required to address climate change.

The outcome is a cover/COP text. This is a detailed document that lists the items countries that are party to the UNFCCC have negotiated and agreed on and their priorities for action. The second cover text will reveal decisions negotiated under the Paris Agreement.  

According to climate experts, one of the issues expected in the COP27 text is a concrete plan/work programme for a new loss and damage funding facility that has been a major discussion at this year’s COP.

“The biggest expectation is that loss and damage finance and reparation is considered. Africa is suffering from climate change caused by rich countries,” says Million Belay the General Coordinator of the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa.

Protestors at COP27 demonstrate demanding loss and damage finance for African countries. [Carole Kimutai, Standard]

How negotiations are done

Marlene Achoki, a negotiator in the Kenyan delegation focusing on Adaptation, loss and damage, has attended five COPs.

“It takes time before you can get the Party badge to attend COP as a negotiator. You have to be part of the process for a long time so you can understand the COP negotiation language, the issues and what is at stake globally, and particularly for your country,” she explains.

COP negotiations are normally progressive. They follow the actions agreed upon from one COP to the next. When a set of thematic issues have been agreed upon, they go to the implementation stage. If a certain issue has not been adopted, it means there was no consensus in the negotiating room. The matter is pushed to the next COP.

“For example from COP26 in Glasgow, in the Global Goal for Adaptation, it was agreed that there will be four workshops. The results of the workshops were presented at COP27 for action on of how to move to the next COP,” says Achoki.

The workshops aimed to unpack what the Global Goals for Adaptation mean for African countries, and how it will include all country parties by integrating their needs.

Country position

At the country level, negotiators meet ahead of a COP and agree on a country's position. “Kenya has a country position that looks into adaptation finance, mitigation, loss and damage, and gender. The government takes a lead in bringing the technical experts together,” she says.

Usually, the country's position reflects its priority. After COP27 Kenyan negotiators will meet for a post-COP27 workshop to look at the country's position and see what was achieved, what progress and plan for the next COP.

Countries are organized in blocs. One country can belong to several negotiation blocs. [Carole Kimutai, Standard]

Negotiation blocs

Climate negotiations are highly political. They involve a lot of emotions as it touches on finance, humanity, fairness and trust. Promises and pledges are made and people expect them to be fulfilled.

It gets complicated because power play comes into force. Negotiators engage in heated debate behind closed doors as they present priorities for their countries.

Negotiations require strategic alliances. Countries are organized in blocs. One country can belong to several negotiation blocs.

There is the Umbrella Group that comprises the developed countries that also happen to be the highest carbon emitters. These countries have been very vocal that developing countries must be included in the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions discussions.

Other negotiation blocs include: The European Union, Arab States, BASIC group (Brazil, South Africa, India and China), Like-minded developing countries (LMCD) group, Cartagena Dialogue group (Umbrella group, Least Developed Countries, Small Islands Developing States, G77 and China, and the Africa Group which speaks on behalf of African countries.

“Finance is usually the deal breaker, it creates a lot of stalemate. For a goal to be implemented, finance is needed. You find one party - mostly a developed country - provides a statement that does not include finance. This is where a lot of pull of push happens,” explains Achoki.

Tests for negotiators

As COP27 comes to a close, all eyes and ears will be on the outcomes. The world awaits the decisions and action points that will urgently address the climate crisis.

Steve Trent, CEO and Co-Founder of the Environmental Justice Foundation says the first test for negotiators is whether they can deliver rapid decarbonisation.

“This must include commitments to no new fossil fuels, a near-term end to fossil fuel subsidies, and transformational investment in renewable energy. As well as a stable climate, this will also offer a peace dividend. Through disarming the financial weapon of fossil fuels, as used by Vladimir Putin to fund the invasion of Ukraine, we will all ultimately be safer and more secure,” he says.

The second test for negotiators is whether they will agree to set up a solid mechanism to provide loss and damage funding for those experiencing unimaginable climate impacts.

“Those hit first and worst by the climate crisis must be at the heart of climate talks from COP28 onwards. If negotiators pass these tests, we can call COP27 a success. If they do not, it will be yet another failure to take the urgent action needed for the people - and the planet - our leaders are supposed to represent,” adds Trent.