Halftime at COP23

By Stephen Eule

Half way through the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP-23, here's where we think things stand with some of the issues we've been covering.

With a much smaller delegation than usual, the U.S. is participating fully in the discussions. Other countries want the U.S. to stay in the Paris Agreement and so haven't pushed back as much as might be expected. Everyone seems to be playing nicely, but who knows how long that will last. Indeed, right now, the U.S. has a bit of leverage. There are some issues upcoming, however, where the U.S. delegation could find tough sledding, including finance--which many developing countries insist they need if they are to meet their pledges--and loss and damages, a very complex issue that could potentially have big implications for business.

On the intellectual property rights (IPR) front, the issue was raised by India in the discussions on technology, but the attempt seemed half-hearted and there weren't any takers. That's encouraging news. There also was some discussion around "access to technology," for some a code for IPR. It is important that these two concepts are clearly distinguished going forward, otherwise "access" might turn into a back door to get at IPR. GEI and others will remain vigilant.

Then there is the conflict of interest business that is being pushed by an outfit calling itself Global Accountability International (GAI), which we've blogged about before.  We've been hearing that there have been discussions on new institutional arrangements for interest groups, particularly gender and indigenous peoples (two of the nine interest groups with observer status in the UNFCCC), both of which were mentioned in the Paris Agreement. If such an arrangement is a good idea for these groups, why not business?

This is where the conflict of interest comes in. Egged on by GAI, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Venezuela are leading the charge to shut business groups out of the process. Most every country here recognizes that business is central to the solutions. Nevertheless, that this really insidious idea is still occupying time here is a worrisome annoyance. As one delegate told us, government engagement with various interests is a fundamental component of democratic societies, so maybe it's not all that surprising that the only countries GAI could find to carry its water are not democratic. That about sums up the issue, really.

One point about business engagement--indeed, engagement with all stakeholders. The conference was set up as one conference in two different and distant places. This has made interactions between the governments and observer groups much less frequent than in past conferences. Some delegates have confided that they miss the give and take in the hallways. I guess absence really does make the heart grow fonder. Here's hoping that this one conference-two zones models doesn't take hold for future COPs.