Picture of  Deborah M. Osborne

Deborah M. Osborne

Athena Agreements’ founder Deborah M. Osborne is a certified negotiation and conflict resolution expert with 20+ years of experience and over 500 cases under her belt.

Monday Morning Quarterbacking COP27 Negotiations

The 2-week, 200-nation 27th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP27) ended on a mixed note of success and failure. In this post, I offer a negotiation structure for future COP summits from my experience as a negotiator. Think of this as my Monday Morning Quarterbacking (MMQ) of Sunday Night Football.

MMQ is a review or a replay of a past event to learn important lessons from it in order not to repeat mistakes. Like football, COPs are repetitive, high-stakes events. A good dose of MMQ is warranted for COP summits since global warming will wait for nobody.

I was not at the COP27 summit, nor was I involved in preparations for the international negotiations. In my MMQ, I conducted an armchair analysis of both press releases and views shared by participants with the press as the event unfolded. I was curious to learn how the negotiations were going.

I focus this post strictly on a critique of the COP27 international negotiations and not on the progress individual nations, companies, organizations, and bystanders are making on their own and through collaboration to stop global warming.

I arrived at a negotiation structure for future COP summits, which consists of four stages:
1. Planning and Preparation
2. The Negotiations
3. The Review (MMQ)
4. Monitoring and Compliance

Before diving into the structure, let me share some highlights of the negotiated outcome from COP27. On the upside, world leaders negotiated a loss and damage funding deal. Twenty-seven Western European nations and the U.S. agreed to loss and damage funding to help poorer, vulnerable nations cope with the severe effects of climatic stress those nations are ill-adapted to reverse easily on their own. Other positive moves were India’s former pledge to reduce its carbon emissions from coal to more solar plants and transition more to a variety of clean energy sources.

On the downside, world representatives expressed frustration over the actual negotiations’ effectiveness and outcome. The prevailing mood of many participants was somber and attributed to the following:

• the slow pace of the negotiations and progress
• many nations are not moving fast enough to curb fossil fuel emissions
• weakened measures on slowing the rate of reduction of fossil fuels
• scientists and diplomats are beginning to question the purpose of the summits
• failure of three-quarters of the participating nations to deliver on their commitment to bring their annual reports on carbon reduction to COP27
•trust dissipating among nations not living up to prior commitments

My MMQ of the negotiated outcome at COP27 and the participant’s concerns inspired me to map out the four-stage negotiation structure to better manage the process going forward. Think of the negotiation structure as good preventative medicine that assures participating nations that positive and durable negotiated outcomes are achievable. When each nation negotiates from the same playbook, a strong structure encourages nations to set expectations each year that are realistic, practical, worthwhile, and achievable; and a strong structure also incentivizes nations to move forward together throughout the year on fulfilling agreed-upon commitments.

1. Planning and Preparation stage.

Planning and preparation are crucial to success at the negotiation table when the table is set correctly in advance. The summit invigorated widespread interest from all parts of the globe and multiple fields, with approximately 45,000 attending. Many world leaders from 200 large and small nations, scientists, and bystanders were frustrated with the pace and the readiness of negotiators to take on the task down to planning for suitable accommodations and creature comforts for guests.

I sensed from the commentary that the world-stage negotiations were clumsy. Scientists raised important concerns about the manageability of the negotiations to tackle a planetary emergency with so many people in attendance. According to Sunita Narain, director-general of the Centre for Science and Environment in New Delhi, “The negotiations that are happening are completely devoid of reality. Although there is value in bringing people together to share ideas and build momentum, she fears that the core purpose of the meeting — to push world leaders to commit to stronger action and hold them accountable — has been lost. I have never seen anything like this. We’ve reduced the whole thing into a grand spectacle.” (link)

Diplomats aired having a lukewarm reaction to the progress they made at the negotiating table upon the conclusion of the summit. Reuters reported that Egypt’s President Sameh Shoukry rattled through the final agenda items gaveling the deal through. Delegates made no new objections, being worn out after intense, overnight negotiations. When asked by Reuters whether the goal of stronger climate-fighting ambition had been compromised for the deal, Mexico’s chief climate negotiator Camila Zepeda summed up the mood among exhausted negotiators, “Probably. You take a win when you can.” Reuters also posted after the summit that conference planners must do a better job next time around with logistics and accommodating people at different price ranges.(link)

Comments such as the above reflect a substandard setup that fell short of satisfying global authorities’ and bystanders’ vision and expectations for a successful negotiated outcome at COP27. The scope of the issues, the size of the event, time management, the negotiation process and the negotiated outcome makes it evermore essential to follow an effective negotiation structure beginning with Planning and Preparation.

Here is one tip to keep in mind at the onset of the Planning and Preparation stage:
Fit the forum to the fuss. During the Planning and Preparations stage, it’s important to fit the forum to the fuss. Precious time must be invested well in advance of COP28 negotiations to fit the forum to the fuss. The late Frank Sander, considered by many the father of the alternative dispute resolution (ADR) movement, used fit the forum to the fuss to garner support for using ADR process tools like mediation in the courts. The program is known today as the “multi-door courthouse.”

Mediation is a pertinent example of parties in a dispute arriving at a negotiated win-win that meets their interests with a neutral mediator guiding them throughout the process. The parties avoid adjudication and expensive litigation, have their case addressed on each other’s terms, and the court reduces its backlog of cases on the docket. Voluntary mediation is available to parties in most courts today. It is well-received by the parties thanks to the work of Sander, who charted the course for a broader application of process tools to solve individual and world problems.

Comparable to choosing the best ADR process tool to resolve a dispute, COP negotiators must reflect on how best to fit the forum to the fuss during the Planning and Preparation stage for COP28 and future summits. The global negotiators of all participating nations must plan early and adopt consensus-based negotiation tools they can agree upon to further the goal of stopping global warming. Suppose negotiators adhere to the negotiation structure detailed in this post, beginning with careful planning and preparation. In that case, they will increase both their chance of avoiding past mishaps and improving the negotiated outcome at COP28 and future summits.

Before the Planning and Preparation stage, COP28 negotiation planners will have finished their MMQ for this repetitive event. I will discuss this more in the Review stage of the post.

  1. The Negotiations stage

The Negotiations stage is pivotal in the four-stage structure. Agreements will or will not be made during this stage, and success will be defined by whether a deal is made and how good the deal is for each nation. This stage places a tall order on diplomats, decision-makers, and other players active in the negotiations to show up at COP summits well-prepared and equipped with good tools to negotiate effectively. It also requires everyone to show up well-intentioned and committed to achieving an agreement despite the lofty set of challenges intercultural and geopolitical negotiations pose. Ultimately, it will take “all hands on deck” to stop global warming because it’s a global problem that shows its face everywhere on the planet. Capably negotiating during the Negotiations stage is key.

COP 27 concluded with a lukewarm negotiated outcome. There was some good news on contentious issues. This post identifies several examples. An agreement by the United States and 27 European Nations plans to issue loss and damage funding for vulnerable nations currently experiencing devastating effects from global warming that appear irreversible. India already pledged to phase down coal use along with other nations, and has become a big market for renewable energy. Projects like solar also proposed increasing biofuel use, boosting the number of electric vehicles, expanding public transport networks, and using more green hydrogen fuel. (link) Nations agreed to take a more complex look at carbon emissions from agriculture at COP28 from the more singular focus of fossil fuel emissions at COP27, which Nature magazine, among other news reports had criticized was missing.

However, world leaders, scientists, and bystanders aired frustration throughout the summit on the effectiveness of the ongoing negotiations at COP27. They found the negotiations mentally and physically draining, felt valuable time was wasted on excessive word-smithing in documents, and criticized the pace of the negotiations. They were discouraged by a series of lukewarm negotiated outcomes and the failure of most nations to comply with commitments those nations had made at previous summits. Monitoring and Compliance is the fourth stage of the negotiation structure, and I will address it more in that final stage.

Reuters, 11-28-22, reported that “After much hard negotiation, which extended until the small hours of Sunday morning, the text retained the wording that emissions should be aligned to keeping global heating within 1.5 degrees Celsius, but watered it down by referring to “low-emissions” technologies, leaving the door open for fossil fuel gas. A proposal to stage down all fossil fuels, led by India, failed to make it to the final text.” (link) A week earlier at the summit Chukwumerije Okereke, who studies climate governance at the Alex Ekwueme Federal University Ndufu-Alike, in Nigeria lamented. “It’s clear that the window for 1.5 is closing fast, and according to some, it might not be possible to keep to this goal unless there is massive carbon dioxide removal on an unprecedented scale.” (link)

Here are three tips to consider for executing effective negotiations during the Negotiations stage:
The Triangle of Influence. The Negotiations stage demands that participants are prepared for the dynamics at play during the negotiations to navigate them successfully. What helps is knowing that we negotiate on three levels. Negotiation and conflict resolution practitioners call this the Triangle of Influence. The three components are, Relationship/Psychological, Process, and Substance. Most people only view negotiation as one-dimensional and focus solely on the Substance of the matter or the transaction and the quid pro quo. It’s not. Negotiators lose big when they focus only on the Substance and find they cannot consummate a deal.

In addition to the Substance of the negotiation, negotiators must check in with counter-negotiators on the Relationship/Psychological and Process levels throughout the negotiation to avoid a stalemate. Humans are a social species, and we simultaneously connect with other members on multiple levels. Negotiators must cover all three levels of the Triangle of Influence to steer the negotiations to a positive outcome. On the Relationship/Psychological level, pay attention to your counter-negotiators’ expressions, silence, reservation, past baggage, authenticity, and joy. On the Process level revisit the standards of fairness, definition of terms, trustworthiness, and inclusiveness in ongoing decision-making if there are concerns. Paying attention to the Triangle of Influence pays off. Neglecting the triangle and focusing only on the raw Substance of the negotiation can result in no deal or a lukewarm deal.

GROUND RULES. Another important consideration in the Negotiations stage is Ground Rules. Before delving into the nitty-gritty of the negotiations at COPs, it’s good to establish Ground Rules with the participants in advance or at the onset of negotiations and adhere to the agreed upon rules throughout the negotiations. During the negotiations, if a participating nation representative breaks a Ground Rule, that person can be called out and reminded of all participants prior agreement to the rule.

For example, when I mediate cases, two Ground Rules I hold parties to during the sessions is that they agree not to denigrate and interrupt each other during the session. Each party will have the floor to speak. Negotiation planners can be creative with the Ground Rules sought for approval by participating nations. In an instance where one nation might be consuming all the airtime in a session without good cause, there may be a ground rule that appropriately apportions time to each representative. During MMQ in the Review stage, the negotiation planners will learn lessons of what may have derailed negotiations at COP27 to plan better, perhaps with improvements to Ground Rules for COP28 and future summits. See the Review stage in this post.

AGENDA, TIME MANAGEMENT, SCOPE, AND BREAKS. Having a schedule with a manageable scope that blocks out time for each negotiation phase helps frame discussions. This is very valuable for extensive, multiparty negotiations. Allocating time for line items, including capturing each nation’s interests, examining options to meet each other’s interests, breaks and caucuses, and drafting agreement principles nudges participants forward because they are working from one playbook. Meaningful conversations away from the negotiation table and breaks may have been shortchanged at COP27. As a win-win interest-based negotiator, I place a high premium on participants having time to build social bonds when possible, and the circumstances welcome it. Negotiation planners must ensure the sessions’ scope, goals, and length and the summit line up with the participants’ expectations. Having the appropriate amount of time to negotiate without being worn out increases the negotiators’ chance of success at crafting creative deals, agreeable to all nations, and well-stitched together for reducing carbon emissions and thoughtfully transitioning faster to greener energy sources, which is the purpose of the COPs.

  1. The Review stage

Conducting MMQ during the Review, the third stage of the negotiation structure is crucial to avoid repeating past mistakes at summits in the future. The results from the Review stage become extremely valuable for the Planning and Preparation stage. Preferably not long after each COP summit, a thorough post-summit review is in order. Diplomats and other active players in the negotiations should reflect on past actions to determine what helped and hindered negotiations progress to advance the effort to stop global warming consistently. MMQ is all about creating a winning strategy from the Review of multiple data sources that reveal truths. COPs define success by win-win-wins so the Review stage cannot be sidestepped.

What I learned from the press releases was that world leaders were fatigued by the negotiation process and frustrated over the slow pace of the negotiations with a lot to accomplish. Reuters reported during COP27 “One frustrated senior negotiator, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the slow pace so far meant the second week of talks, being held in the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, would be bogged down with too many unresolved agenda items.” https://www.reuters.com/business/cop/cop27-climate-talks-slow-progress-stokes-worry-over-final-deal-2022-11-13/ This omen rang true. Diplomats, scientists and bystanders were disappointed over the negotiated outcome. Those indicators are worth scrutinizing in the Review stage to understand why and avoid repeating the errors again.

Here are tips for mining data from summits and ensuring all bases are covered during the Review stage:
FEEDBACK LOOPS. Inviting feedback from participants after summit negotiation sessions and after the each summit goes a long way at building social capital person by person and nation by nation. When nations know that each cares about the other by asking for opinions on what measures can be taken at future summits to accelerate positive momentum and consensus-building, Feedback Loops are a constructive way to transcend intercultural boundaries and geopolitical division.

Gathering mass input from surveys, interviews and other assessment tools is an excellent means to capture the feedback from COP attendees inclusive of decision-makers, participants at the negotiation table, and bystanders. Customize the feedback tools to the audience. Mining the rich data sources from Feedback Loops is bound to reveal valuable and unfiltered insights on what went well and where improvements can be made during the Planning and Preparation stage for the next summit.

Triangle of influence: The Review must be multidimensional as negotiations are not one-dimensional. Many people think that only focusing on negotiation tactics will increase the chance of future success. Although it helps, it’s not true, especially for multinational negotiations that transect cultural, political, ideological, geographic and socioeconomic boundaries and divisiveness. Paying attention to all components of negotiation such as the Triangle of Influence that was addressed in the Negotiations stage will help reviewers better understand the pitfalls and plan for workarounds during the Planning and Preparation stage to avoid them. Dive into the Relationship, Process and Substance of the Triangle of Influence during MMQ for insights on how to increase negotiation competency. I live by a motto in my negotiation and mediation practice, “The people behind the negotiation influence its outcome.” A good negotiation structure is paramount for COP negotiations.

  1. Monitoring and Compliance

A good negotiation structure takes into account measures to enforce the terms of a commitment, whether the terms are voluntary or mandatory. The fourth and final stage of the structure in this post, Monitoring and Compliance offers a built-in insurance plan to monitor the good intentions of all nations to stop global warming together. A nation-to-nation monitoring plan throughout the year to keep track of each nation’s progress at fulfilling its commitment to reducing carbon emissions appears to have been lacking in years past.

Not fulfilling pledges and pointing fingers at each other was a disappointing and likely unintended consequence of COP27. Failure to deliver on past commitments erodes trust between nations and hampers efforts to stop global warming. Creating an atmosphere of blame and pointing fingers due to the lack of a compliance and monitoring mechanism will continue to set summits up for dissension versus consensus-building.

The news feeds reported that three-quarters of the world’s nations did not show up with their annual voluntary compliance reports on their efforts to reduce carbon emissions. Only one-quarter of the nations brought theirs, which diminished trust among the world of nations. Reuters reported that COP27 summit participants negotiated down the prior commitment and agreed only to bring the emissions target reports every five years, returning to a longer five-year cycle set out in the Paris pact. “Critics pointed to a section which they said undermined the Glasgow commitment to regularly renew emissions targets – with language saying the work programme would “not impose new targets or goals”. (link)

The lack of monitoring and the voluntary enforcement of commitments has slowed progress and weakened trust among nations. A separate “mitigation work programme” agreement, also approved at COP 27 contained several clauses that some parties, including the European Union, felt weakened commitment to ever more ambitious emissions-cutting targets. https://www.reuters.com/business/cop/countries-agree-loss-damage-fund-final-cop27-deal-elusive-2022-11-20/ Finally, I took heart to this anonymous quote from COP27, “We haven’t seen huge solidarity between the developed and developing countries” but instead “disappointing commitments and action this year, which has dented trust.” (link)

Trust-building is key to any negotiation simple or complex. A good negotiation structure captures all the elements necessary for success. Whether it’s a dispute resolution stipulation that is spelled out in a negotiated agreement to take care of unforeseen events of the consequences of implementation or a stipulation to ensure that commitments made are honored and implemented are excellent means to facilitate healthy engagement among nations, adhere to mitigation measures in the Monitoring and Compliance stage, and restore nation to nation trust.
A COMMUNAL DASHBOARD: Setting up a Communal Dashboard could be a simple and practical solution for monitoring each nation’s compliance with pledges and commitments throughout the year. The Communal Dashboard is a powerful means to reflect a spirit of being together in the global warming fight. It’s “walking the talk” in an efficient way and could prove economically, substantively and environmentally advantageous at fulfilling the purpose of nations tackling a global problem together. Why wait to show up at the COP summits each year only with the intention of making progress and following through on prior commitments? That’s moving the needle backward on curbing carbon emissions to stop global warming. A Communal Dashboard is a vehicle for nations to share and report on progress throughout the year. Plenty of important negotiations need to take place at the summit. Plan efficiently and allow tools such as a Communal Dashboard for nations to show their progress each year.

RECOGNITION AND AWARDS: Inspire nations to show off their performance results with incentives such as honorific awards for incremental and diligent efforts to stop global warming. Everyone likes a good game to play and the Communal Dashboard will be the game board for chalking up achievements. This may sound corny to people, but I am talking from a deep place of humanness. I am not only a mediator and negotiator, I am an anthropologist. Our humaneness goes back to social bonding and building social capital through the network of social bonds and alliances we build, for example, on social networks today. However, social networking and bond-building is an ancient prehistoric ritual that dates back to our earliest ancestors-in-the-making. Hundreds of thousands of years ago, we differentiated ourselves from other species. A distinctive trait of ours is cooperating and working out things together. It’s in our DNA. Otherwise, without our humaneness, we’d be extinct.

Planners are wise to brainstorm options that excite nations and transform their thinking about goodwill and good intention by “walking the talk.” If planners are concerned about the technical requirements, governments and non-profits could collaborate with technology companies to build the Communal Dashboard. Tech titans might be willing to pull together the dashboard as their contribution in partnership with governments to monitor each nation’s global warming effort. Tech or government authorities can be tagged to assist countries with the technology to display their ongoing compliance results.

Conclusion: COPs that begin with better planning and conclude with nations upholding commitments and reporting their progress are feasible. It requires a paradigm shift that puts “all nations on deck” in real-time. The four-stage negotiation structure I offer in this post, with helpful tips at each stage for COP negotiations going forward is a good starting point. In Part Two of this post, I will offer negotiation pointers for diplomats and negotiators representing any nation’s interests at COP28 and future summits.


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