Jamie: Navigating the Negotiations – Will the map match the terrain?

Hello world! My name is Jamie Lee, and I am a senior at Yale-NUS College, doing a double degree in law and environmental studies. I am curious about how we can evolve existing legal regimes to consider environmental justice as a core tenet of public and private law. It is extremely exciting to get a front-row seat to the negotiations that will entrench the enhanced transparency framework under Article 13 of the Paris Agreement. This is truly a momentous year for international environmental law, and I am so excited to be part of the action!

Fisher and Ury’s seminal book of Getting to Yes [1] and its fundamental rules of ‘interest-based bargaining’, ‘interests, not positions’ and ‘inventing options for mutual gain’ has become the standard of negotiation. I was introduced to this book in a Negotiation class taught at NUS Law [2],  and we were taught to put the Seven Elements of interest-based negotiation [3] into practice. It was a eureka moment when I realized the Seven Elements framework could be utilized to tackle the global ‘super-wicked’ problem of climate change. [4] We have seen in past COP conferences that the power dynamics between the global North and South resulted in positional bargaining and unfavorable terms. Now that we recognize the urgency to lay down a binding transparency framework, I believe that all stakeholders must move away from competitive negotiation tactics and foster a culture of collaborative negotiation at the COPs.

My project hopes to test the feasibility of using the Seven Elements as the principal strategy in multilateral climate negotiations. I will seek out high-level negotiators who are involved in the drafting of the transparency agreement, because I know they will be looking to fulfill their national interests in the midst of generating feasible options. While I acknowledge that I will not be privy to the closed-door discussions happening throughout the conference, it would still be engaging to attend plenary sessions to see how the nations’ official positions reveal their interests. I predict that a bulk of my time would be spent with non-state representatives from NGOs and academic institutions because they would be more involved in fringe events. If they are communicating with state representatives, it would be worthwhile to note the power dynamics in their interactions. My goal is to collect anecdotal evidence of collaborative and interest-based negotiation used throughout the COP, to make a case to convince negotiating parties and lobbyists to adopt these approaches! If I could draw the link between effective negotiation strategies and outcomes of the transparency agreement, there could be a more compelling case for collaboration when time is running out.

An omnibus international climate change agreement is only as effective as its accountability and enforcement. Many people will have high hopes for concrete and legally binding mechanisms within the reporting framework. It will be a difficult task for negotiators to juggle the interests of who they represent along with the overarching interest to reach a fruitful agreement. This is a once in a lifetime experience to observe live negotiations, where the energy and tensions are hyper-charged in ways we would never understand through reading the news. As a youth observer, I really hope to find role models who champion the interests of current and future generations in the ultimate battle against climate change. The people I meet on this unforgettable trip will inspire me to be a masterful climate negotiator for Singapore and the Southeast Asian region!

[1] Roger Fisher, William L Ury, and Bruce Patton, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement without Giving In (Penguin, 2011).

[2] I would like to thank Professor Joel Lee Tye Beng and Marcus Lim Tao Shien for opening my mind to the realm of negotiation. They are a major reason why I became keen to attend COP24!

[3] The Seven Elements of interest-based negotiation are comprised of relationships, interests, options, standards of legitimacy, alternatives and commitments.

[4] “Super wicked” problems comprise of four key features: time is running out; those who cause the problem also seek to provide a solution; the central authority needed to address it is weak or non-existent; and, partly as a result, policy responses discount the future irrationally. See Kelly Levin et al., “Overcoming the Tragedy of Super Wicked Problems: Constraining Our Future Selves to Ameliorate Global Climate Change,” Policy Sciences 45, no. 2 (2012).

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