Listening behind the noise: Quaker United Nations Office and the international climate change negotiations

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In 2011, QUNO began attending negotiation sessions at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This included talking with civil society and diplomatic communities to explore what role, if any, it could serve in supporting the process. Encouraged on various levels—including by a diplomat calling for Quaker support, having witnessed earlier QUNO work—it tested a version of our oft-practiced “quiet diplomacy.”

 

Our approach was simple: to prioritise building communication and understanding between countries, rather to than advocate for specific language or “asks.” Primarily through off-the-record group dinners, our goal was to create a space where negotiators were encouraged to speak personally, about their hopes, their fears and the assurances their delegations needed to move forward.

 

By 2015, we succeeded in having representatives from all negotiating “groups” around the table, including negotiators both from the highest greenhouse gas emitting, and from some of the poorest countries.  Many negotiators continue to share their appreciation for the space we create, for help in building relationships, in better understanding opposing negotiation positions, and in personal encouragement.  “I come because I do not feel a deliverable,” said one negotiator years later, “I feel you do this for us.”

 

Following the adoption of the Paris Agreement, which created a global framework for climate action, we considered ending the dinners, but negotiators encouraged us to continue to support the implementation of the Paris Agreement. Since 2013 we have held 20 dinners, attended by negotiators from some 60 countries.  Negotiators still tell us the dinners are a valuable, “positive and human space” to talk more openly and build understanding.

 

Jonathan Woolley, Director and Lindsey Fielder Cook, Representative, Climate Change,  QUNO Geneva

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