Danish Text…What Is All the Fuss from Copenhagen

Danish Text?  Yes the draft negotiating text that was “secretly” developed by the Danes to try to move the world forward on addressing global warming pollution. 

Would that be the text that certain countries can’t remember having seen?  The text shared with many of the key countries, including key developing countries prior to the beginning of the Copenhagen negotiations?  Yes to all of those things.

Was that the “secret” text that no one knew about -- except those key developed and developing countries that saw the text together at the same time?  Yes one and the same.  Well I guess the “secret” was that it wasn’t leaked sooner.

So what is the big deal?

I’m still trying to figure out why some people seem so surprised that: (1) such a draft document exists; and (2) a smaller group of key countries are sitting around the table to try to work through key differences in advance of a Heads of Government Summit. 

That is how high-stakes negotiations are conducted and if that is what it takes to move the process forward to putting the world on a path to solve this challenge then I’m all for it. [The Financial Times hit the nail on the head with their story, while the Guardian totally blew up the story on the basis of some “conspiracy”].

These negotiations always have this kind of smaller process that tries to break down the differences outside the “theatrics” of the formal negotiations.  After all it is hard to get consensus in a big room, with 192 countries wanting to make a point.  They have different names -- "friends of the chair” or “friends of the president” -- but they are all characterized by one thing – they don’t include all 192 countries.

In my old job we used to conduct dialogues where we would try to get underneath a countries stated negotiating position.  We found that when you could question countries stated position, you could understand where they were really coming from and find solutions.  Often we found solutions that addressed the concerns of two countries that used to be at opposite ends of an issue.  Without such a process you would never get into “problem solving” mode.  All you would be doing is rehashing stated positions.

So we used to do three things:

  1. Keep the meetings small (usually no more than 30 key negotiators);
  2. Structure the dialogue to be a back-and-forth so we could really get to the bottom of a countries position (we put people around a square table and made them talk to each other and challenge assumptions about each others position); and
  3. Developed “straw proposals” (draft proposals that took a position to get a reaction and then help force the group to flesh out their real concerns and hopefully agree to a path forward).

Sound familiar?  Well it kind of sounds like the process that the Danes conducted to try to get us closer to addressing this challenge. 

After all, we’ve had a number of negotiating sessions this year where countries have had draft negotiating text in front of them.  And all that has produced is a process where proposals are shortened, rephrased, and reoriented on a page.  That isn’t negotiating.  Negotiating is where you say: “I can live with that if you do this”.

As a number of countries have told me privately:

“We weren’t negotiating.  That process wasn’t going to produce an agreement.”

So the Danes tried to move the process forward in a different manner in order to move the world closer towards agreement.  I can’t really blame them for trying this as going at the same problem in the same way isn’t leadership it is brainless.  Thank goodness the Danish Presidency is trying everything it can to get a strong agreement out of Copenhagen that will lead to a treaty in a matter of months, not years (as I’ve discussed here).

It caused some “controversy” and maybe participants will get the grumbling about process out of their system early so we can get down to real negotiations.  So maybe this is “the storm, before the agreement”.

I hope everyone stays focused on the real action -- are countries taking action to address this challenge (as I discussed here and here).  On that front we have very positive momentum.

We must do better than this kind of “made-up” drama if we are going to solve this challenge.  Lead us to solutions not to more games.


I’m not alone in sharing these views as you can see from these posts from other leading climate policymakers.