Why Global Climate Change Policies Are So Darn Hard to Negotiate
[Luis Costa, an international affairs student at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service] Perhaps not surprisingly, the negotiations have a heavy legal facet to them. Countries fight relentlessly over word-choice, to prevent themselves from being trapped in the future. On one instance, negotiators spent almost the entire period allotted to an REDD meeting discussing to use “should” or “shall” in a particular sentence. The sentence read: “[shall/should] take into account the guidance provided by [a guideline established in Bonn]”. Brazil fervently argued that the word should be “should.” Ethiopia agreed. The EU thought “shall” was more appropriate. Uganda proposed deleting “should” and “shall” and changing it to “taking into consideration the guidance.” The parties didn’t like this. In this way, no decision was made, and a side meeting was arranged to settle the matter in “overtime;” and it was the same in several other meetings I attended. This hurts the process of the COP.
The second item on my list refers to the domestic constraints that negotiators bring to the table with them. I remember vividly when my accompanying professor told us that if we had to remember that even lead negotiators also had a boss to whom they report back to. As such, they are restricted in the compromises they can make. One of the main defenses delivered by U.S. negotiators and supporters, for example, is that they simply could not sign on to promises to which they knew would not get the support of the U.S. Congress. At the time, engulfed as I was in the entire atmosphere, and infused with Brazilian nationalism, I was appalled by this train of thought. But I must admit there is some merit to this argument, and it can be a very hard constraint to get around.
...And at the end of the day, negotiators and observers most times leave the conference with a feeling that nothing was accomplished at all.