COP 16: The Courage to Reach a Compromise

The moment of truth, crunch time, whatever you call it, soon we’ll know the results of the negotiations that have taken place here at the UN Climate Change Conference in Cancun. Over the next 24-48 hours countries will work almost around the clock trying to find common ground on a set of issues that will bring us closer to solving climate change. They will need to have the courage to reach a compromise.

Webster's Dictionary defines a compromise as a settlement of differences by arbitration or by consent reached by mutual concessions.

From an early age, we learn the value (and discomfort) of compromise. We live it first with our parents, when it leaves us wishing we could get our way – eat all the candy instead of just one piece—stay up all night instead of just a little later.  Because we didn’t get everything we wanted originally, we often feel like we gave in. But we soon learn that without a compromise, we may be left empty-handed.

Here in Cancun, we need progress. And while those at the table are no doubt feeling this uneasiness, making progress on climate change will require a give and take.  We can't leave Cancun empty handed.  World leaders have pointed us in a direction and this meeting must deliver tangible progress even though reaching a mutually-acceptable agreement is likely going to require the courage to reach a compromise, and that's OK.

Compromise is often touted as a virtue for a reason, and tonight, during an informal stocktaking plenary, Norway put it best: “[compromise] is the most beautiful word. No family, no community, no nation can survive without compromise."  Very true. We have all felt uneasy when we first reach a compromise with our spouse, our boss, even our friends, but when reminded what's at stake, that uneasiness subsides.

Perhaps remembering what's at stake will calm the uneasiness. Nations worldwide are counting on the decisions made here. For some of them, their future may depend on it. So in these final hours we should recognize that while there has been significant progress made on key issues an agreement will elude us unless true courage, leadership, and the spirit of cooperation prevail. 

As COP16/CMP 6 President Patricia Espinosa concluded: Whatever compromise text can be reached will not reflect all the elements of our national positions. We will all have to be flexible on some parts of our national positions. We don’t have to see compromise as a sign of weakness.

Let’s hope the hold outs are mature enough to recognize the strength in seeking this common ground. Our world is counting on it.