CCL’s emissary in Bonn lays groundwork for COP23 climate talks

Joe in Bonn

CCL Global Strategy Director Joe Robertson at the climate meeting in Bonn, Germany.

CCL’s emissary in Bonn lays groundwork for COP23 climate talks

By Mary Dixon

There are few scenarios in the world where a small island nation can hold the same sway over multilateral decisions as a global power. One of them is during the negotiations of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the international body of countries working to limit the damage humans inflict on our climate.

During UNFCCC meetings, 195 nations engage in mind-bendingly difficult conversations about trade, energy, physics — and also our shared humanity and the moral consequences of failing to act. It’s a place where agreements require the unanimous consent of parties with vastly different interests, and any dissenter, no matter how small, can prevent an accord. Yet it’s also the only major intergovernmental negotiating process that has reached consensus every time it’s been held.

Preparing for COP23

The 23rd Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC (COP23) will be held in Bonn, Germany, this November. This week, government representatives, NGOs, scientists, and economists are meeting in Bonn to lay the groundwork for that meeting. Among them is CCL Global Strategy Director Joe Robertson. Joe coordinates the building of CCL’s citizen engagement groups on five continents; leads the Citizens’ Climate Engagement Network (CCEN); and represents CCL in the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition (CPLC), UNFCCC negotiations, and other UN processes.

Joe explains the setting like this:

“In this incredibly complex process, every nation matters, every perspective must be recognized, and really heroic work is done by smart and earnest people whose names may never be known to history. It is a hopeful place, where people do good, honest work, on the most challenging coordinated crisis response ever attempted.”

His goals in Bonn are threefold. First, he’s hoping to find ways to facilitate broader citizen engagement in the political process, using CCEN as a framework. “Governments run the show at gatherings like these,” Joe says. “That creates barriers to citizen engagement. But climate change is rooted in everyday choices about energy and consumption. To create lasting change, governments should involve citizens in climate solutions.” To do this, Joe is representing the CCEN call for wider citizen participation in international policymaking.

Second, Joe is advocating for the economic and environmental virtues of CCL’s proposed climate solution: carbon fee and dividend. A variety of proposals have been put forward to allow the continuation and expansion of existing emissions trading programs. While such a scheme might have the effect of drawing down emissions, it would do so with greater complexity than carbon prices that nations could implement on their own terms. CCL’s engagement in the UN process and the CPLC ask that any price on carbon meet five core principles.

Finally, Joe and his team are working with allies to identify the most economically efficient way to move all finance everywhere to an emissions-free standard. “This is an idea that seemed like fantasy just a few years ago,” says Joe. “But today, it’s no longer controversial to say that it’s not in investors’ interest to make decisions that are harmful to the climate.”

Leading by listening

How does CCL Global Strategy advance these goals? Joe’s approach isn’t unlike the one CCL volunteers take when they build relationships with their lawmakers. In meetings with representatives from party countries, he and others in Bonn try to listen more than they talk. “Everyone is learning all the time,” says Joe. “If you’re not ready for that, you can’t go as far as fast. To be political, diplomatic, and innovative at the same time, you have to find out what people’s priorities are, and then offer them the tools they need to take the best possible next steps.”

The strategy is working: CCL is finding support for its approach all over the geopolitical map, which is good news for the upcoming COP23. “If we can get three different people to have three different reasons to make the same argument, we’ll be more likely to gain traction with the wider group,” says Joe. “A good global outcome honors everyone’s needs, has integrity, and motivates everyone to do better.”

The ideas put forth by CCL this week may take root and influence the flow of negotiations in the future. Specific goals include:

  • The inclusion of text on improving political engagement in an official process report presented in November
  • Broader endorsement of carbon pricing according to the five core principles
  • The adoption of climate-smart finance policies at the G20 summit in July

Between now and November, Joe will follow up with CCL volunteers worldwide on lessons learned from negotiators to help direct country-level outreach efforts. He will report on ideas shared at the conference through the Climate Action Network, the Climate Chance conference of non-state climate actors, the Carbon Pricing Summit of the Americas, and other venues for innovative international policy design. He will also arrange as many meetings as possible for when he returns to Bonn in the fall with a complete CCL delegation.

In deliberations where consensus is crucial, patience and compassion do more heavy lifting than people realize. “In Bonn, CCL is bringing to a global stage ideas that we know work at home: citizen engagement, listening, forward thinking — and economic solutions that catalyze rather than punish,” Joe says.

These tactics are helping CCL make greater inroads than we might have otherwise, empowering powerful and vulnerable nations alike and engaging more people in the search for solutions that work for everyone.

“Democracy works better with this model,” Joe says. “And diplomacy does, too.”

Mary Dixon
Mary Dixon is a writer and editor committed to helping organizations improve the way they communicate. She's based in Atlanta, but takes her work on the road whenever she can.