UN Climate Negotiations: Why is a Deal so Elusive?

Instructors: John FurlowMelody Braun and Elisabeth Nebie, International Research Institute for Climate and Society


    The impacts of a changing climate are already affecting communities and economies across the planet. Scientists warn about irreversible catastrophic impacts if action is not taken to rapidly reduce carbon emissions. Given the magnitude of the challenge, urgent collective action is necessary.

    Since 1992, the climate negotiations facilitated by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) have been the world’s approach to planning and coordinating these actions. Through the “UN Climate Negotiations” workshop, participants learned about the history and purpose of the UNFCCC, the major alliances and interest groups, and the process for making progress. The workshop was led by experts at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society who have participated first-hand in multiple negotiations, and also featured guests offering different perspectives on what is needed to secure a climate deal and why an agreement has eluded negotiators for 26 years.

    The UNFCCC is a treaty signed by almost all countries committing them to take action to reduce emissions and adapt to the consequences of the changes. Decisions from the UNFCCC have the potential to reshape the global economy and environment, but how does this process work? If the science is clear, why is agreement so difficult? What has it achieved so far? Is it sufficient?

    Workshop participants learned about and discussed major topics debated at key negotiation sessions, landmark negotiations (e.g. Kyoto, Copenhagen, and Paris) and their impacts, and what has succeeded and failed at these negotiations. By the end of this workshop, participants developed a strong understanding of the importance of global climate negotiations and learned how to analyze how possible climate deals could affect their own personal or professional interests. 

    Learning Outcomes:

    • Understand what the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change is and what it is meant to do
    • Learn how different negotiating “agenda items” or topics could affect societies and economies in different countries
    • Analyze the potential impacts of negotiated outcomes on different sectors (i.e. business, energy, agriculture) while considering the various perspectives of developed and developing country actors during the negotiation process

    Who is this training for?
    This training is for people who want to learn how the climate negotiations might influence their work or their lives, from hedge fund managers to advocates for indigenous peoples’ rights or the environment. It is for anyone who might want to attend a COP or work with a group that tries to influence the negotiations. It is not intended for experienced negotiators.

    Learning Modalities
    The course was offered via Zoom. It featured a mixture of lecture and discussion with experts from various backgrounds with experience in the negotiations. Lecturers represented a range of countries, political interests, and roles at the negotiations.

    Guest Speakers:

    • Sue Biniaz, legal counsel to the U.S delegation
    • Richard Kinley, former UNFCCC Secretariat
    • Emilio Sempris, former Minister of Environment, Government of Panama
    • Dave Banks, Advisor to US House of Representatives and fellow at Columbia Center on Global Energy Policy
    • John Verdieck, The Nature Conservancy, former US forest and land use negotiator
    • Christina Chan, co-lead of Global Commission on Adaptation at World Resources Institute (WRI), former US adaptation negotiator
    • Saleemul Huq, International Center for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD)
    • Joe Thwaites, Sustainable Finance Center, World Resources Institute
    • Jen Morris, The Nature Conservancy
    • Norine Kennedy, Environment, Energy and Strategic International Engagement, United States Council for International Business (USCIB)
    • Dominique Souris, Youth Climate Lab (YCL)
    • Andrew Eil, Climate Finance Advisors

    Schedule: (VIRTUAL) November 2020, Tuesdays and Thursdays, 6:00pm - 8:00pm ET unless otherwise indicated

    1. Tuesday, November 3 (U.S. Election Day): 6:00pm - 6:30pm ET
    2. Thursday, November 5
    3. Tuesday, November 10
    4. Thursday, November 12
    5. Tuesday, November 17
    6. Thursday, November 19
    7. Tuesday, November 24
    8. Tuesday, December 1