The 52nd sessions of the UNFCCC subsidiary bodies met over the period 31 May to 17 June 2021. This was the first meeting since COP25 in December 2019 and, in the light of the covid-19 travelling restrictions, it was held in a virtual format. This was unchartered territory for negotiators, even the most seasoned amongst them, and also for us. Fortunately we were able to tap into our broad international network of volunteers. Over the three week period, six of them – Daniela Morich, Jule Schnakenberg, Sarah Hill-Smith, Caroline Medeiros Rocha, Maria Eduarda Mury and Carly Yu – took it in turn to follow meetings and take notes from their base in Brazil, Singapore, continental Europe or London.
We share below some of their reflections on their experience.
On the SB meeting generally, Sarah thought that “ The scale and importance of the conversations taking place was tangible … The meetings had hundreds of attendants and it was fascinating to hear the perspectives of different states and affiliations on various elements of climate change. I learnt a lot.”
On the virtual nature of the conference, Daniela commented that “this was the first “digital diplomacy” event I ever attended … the late night and early morning sessions were a bit of a challenge and the repetitive exchanges of “Can you hear me?” or “Please mute your microphone” a constant reminder that even diplomacy was adapting to the new normal. Nonetheless, I found it encouraging and inspiring that diplomacy had not stopped, and negotiators showed their willingness to adjust the way they work during the pandemic to make constructive progress on crucial topics … [but the] virtual setting has deprived delegates of in-person interactions and the rich, human context that usually accompanies multilateral conferences.”
Caroline founds that “Some of the delegates had more trouble than others, when it came to technological support. However, the meetings were very inclusive, since it opened the possibility of a broader participatory body of people.”
Jule, who describes herself as a young climate optimist, found it “reassuring to hear countries pressing for progress on important agenda items. Simultaneously it is shocking to witness first-hand the glacial pace of negotiations on more controversial topics, such as (you guessed it) Article 6 and climate finance more generally … The schedule some delegates must have been following, considering that internal coordination meetings would sometimes have to happen between 3-4am, raises what exhausting negotiation sessions meant to a new dimension.”
The main takeways for Carly were that “there was a clear divide in terms of alliances between developing and developed countries … half the time, the two sides were simply speaking past each other and not dealing with the most difficult conflicts presented; a lot of the time was focused on the nitty-gritty elements of the text … all sides seemed more concerned about the language of the text than the substance; and all sides were reluctant to discuss the logistics of putting plans into action despite verbally stressing the importance of strategizing beyond paper… Things like how a developing country might finance a project, or how a partnership project will be structured, etc. were delayed to future sessions.”