I’ve always believed that if you shut people in a room for long enough, they’ll find something to agree on. A fiery debate maybe more fun, particularly over a drink with friends, but if it never reaches resolution it never actually achieves anything.
Agreements can come naturally, but more often they don’t — in which case they require capitulation or compromise. Given that no one likes capitulation (unless it’s by the other person) compromise has to be the norm. So it was at the COP21 in Paris.
After two weeks and many years of negotiation, agreement on an international approach to tackling climate change was reached. The fact that not just two countries, but nearly 200, could sign off on a single text is in itself remarkable. Imagine, for a moment, the number of plenaries, break-out rooms, corridor conversations and reviews required to draft a text everyone could agree to. The logistics alone are remarkable. It is all the more remarkable when we consider how complex, sensitive and vitally important the issue at hand is.
Unfortunately, in the 21st century compromise seems to have become a dirty word. It shouldn’t be. Compromise was at the heart of the negotiators’ success. It is what allows all of us to achieve our goals. It is what keeps us from perpetual war.
Another quality needed for negotiation (among many others) is persistence. Discussions in Paris often went on until four o’clock in the morning. After days of revisiting the same issues over and over again, the temptation to say “sure, whatever you want, just let me sleep” must have been enormous. Perhaps that’s part of how compromise is reached, by testing who has more resilience, who wants a particular point more, who can summon the most support.
We should congratulate all those who did their jobs in Paris, and before. A few days ahead of the conference I wrote about how much I hoped an agreement would be reached; how much I hoped it would set a course of action on which we might look back in 2050 with pride; how it could help us to make real advances in emissions reductions.
This agreement commits the parties to limiting temperature rise to well below two degrees Celsius; commits developed nations to supporting poorer countries with $100 billion per annum; commits countries to maintaining their own emissions targets and to five-year reviews.
Of course, there will be those who find fault with the outcome. Fault can always be found, and doing so doesn’t automatically demonstrate intellectual rigour. But what is more important than scouring the text for imperfections is to address what needs to be done next.
Governments will have to set policy frameworks to drive low-carbon behaviours. Individuals will have to reduce their carbon footprints. Academia and NGOs will have to develop new technologies and methods. Business will have to work with those new technologies, finance them, adopt them. The Globe 2016 conference in Vancouver will be a great opportunity for stakeholders to come together and do just that.
Following the COP21 agreement, exhausted negotiators may want to spend a moment, with some justification, to enjoy and reflect on their achievement. “This is huge,” tweeted president Obama. Prime Minister David Cameron said, “In striking this deal, the nations of the world have shown what unity, ambition and perseverance can do.” Foreign Policy Canada quoted Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Stéphane Dion saying, “I am particularly pleased that ambitious targets are included as part of this agreement.”
They are all correct. But the work of making the agreement a reality now begins, and will continue for decades to come.