Wednesday, 02 February 2011 14:22

The Cartagena Dialogue: A Sui Generis Alliance in the Climate Negotiations Featured

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In December 2010, the international community explicitly stated “We choose consensus” at the United Nations Climate Change conference in Cancun.* Although countries remain divided and the Cancun Agreements do not guarantee climate security, on that December day we triumphed with a pragmatic spirit, which was much needed for the UNFCCC negotiations to repair the damage left from Copenhagen. The conference’s results and skill of both the Mexican diplomats and the UNFCCC chief surprised even the most optimistic of commentators (who were very few). Yet a little over a month later, we are left questioning how we can raise the ambition of the efforts and give them the proper legal form. In the 21st Century, a global mark that guarantees climate security requires an agreement between China and the United States. China and the United States, the “G2”, are the two principle economies and the two greatest greenhouse gas emitters in the world. And yet there is still no solution for this geopolitical jigsaw puzzle. Nonetheless, this paralysis between the “G2” should not reduce us to a role of passive observers, or even worse, to one of victims. In Cancun, the progressive and pragmatic countries, especially those of us small countries and those at greatest risk if diplomacy were to collapse, opted to be proactive. The Mexican President of the conference was patient and open to dialogue so that Cancun would give the key and necessary signal: we have no definite solution (in mitigation and in its legal form); however we can take an intermediary path within the construction of the climate architecture. That night—in one of its scarce occasions—the international community strove to reach an agreement. We progressive countries celebrate this success. However, important dynamics unraveled behind the scenes. Cancun demonstrated that climate alliances can and should incorporate the voices of both developing and developed countries. In order to face the paralysis we are in, we must open up new dialogues. Only then, with quality proposals, can we counteract the unilateral impulses of those countries that threaten to break the consensus because they are either big or inflexible or both. I participated in a promising dialogue that took place in Cancun: the Cartagena Dialogue for Progressive Action. In my opinion, it is the most imaginative and constructive platform that currently exists in the climate negotiations. What is the Cartagena Dialogue? The Dialogue emerged as a spontaneous and informal effort to elaborate the negotiation texts in Copenhagen. Given the bitter result of COP15, a small group of negotiators decided to rescue the effort together and transform it into a positive platform. Crisis tends to create the most skillful ideas. And so, this informal space was born. It was open to countries with ideas to create an ambitious regime, both comprehensive and legally binding across constructive positions and that, within the domestic sphere, strive to continue with or promote low carbon economies in the medium- and long-term. These countries share a main goal that the negotiations advance, and that countries work together positively and proactively both within and with other regional groups. For example, in the Cartagena Dialogue we openly discuss the motivations behind distinct positions (“What does country X want to gain through this and why?), we clear up misunderstandings (“I have heard that your group is against Y, is this true?”) to explore the spaces for convergence in the negotiations (“What do you all think about a paragraph that suggests…”) But I must stress that the Dialogue is neither a negotiation block, nor does it have the intention to challenge the blocks in the negotiations. The dialogue serves as a discussion forum to exchange opinions and to explore options and texts that can generate support and consensus from other parts. Why the Cartagena Dialogue? The name comes from the first group meeting, which took place in Cartagena, Colombia, in March 2010. In July 2010, the Dialogue took place in Maldives, and it met for the third time in Costa Rica (October-November 2010). There were additional informal gatherings in Bonn, Germany, and in Tianjin, China. In the year 2010, the following countries participated in one or more meetings: Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Bangladesh, Belgium, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, the European Union, France, Germany, Ghana, Guatemala, Indonesia, Malawi, Maldives, the Marshall Islands, Mexico (as President of the COP16), the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Peru, Rwanda,  Dominican Republic, Samoa, Spain, Tanzania, Thailand, Timor-Leste, the United Kingdom, and Uruguay. The most inspiring part of the Dialogue is the unusual and refreshing constructive spirit that allows for the exchange of ideas. Outside of the formal negotiation rooms, a safe space is created where frank discussions can take place to explore areas of common interest in a fluid environment without pressure.  One can breathe a refreshing air of trust—which is very different from the polarizing environment that prevails in the plenaries and usually results in stalemate or paralysis. From Cancun to Durban Given the fragile political conditions facing Cancun, a key objective during 2010 facing the conference in Mexico was to find convergence. We needed to establish the precedent that it was possible to have an agreement, which would capture what we ‘can live with,’ even if it does not meet one hundred percent of what my country individually wants (or even if it had some paragraphs that we do not like at all). And we succeeded. In Cancun, the Cartagena Dialogue met daily and several times at night in subgroups to search for consensus, to take the pulse of the negotiations, and to explore strategies to work with the most inflexible countries. The Dialogue will meet for the next time in Malawi in March 2011. There, we will exchange ideas of how to make beneficial and strategic contributions at the COP17 in Durban. It is complex and often frustrating to reach an agreement among nearly 200 governments. There is no recipe for success. But we know the ingredients: discipline, better listening and less screaming. Through the Dialogue we have explored how the “engineering of convergences” work. And innovatively, we have drawn up the only informal platform that includes as many developing countries as developed.  The challenge in 2011 is to instill ambition and legal certainty to come closer to the climate security objectives that science—and our consciences—demand. *We know that Bolivia had objections but the international lawyers have reminded us that consensus does not have to mean unanimity. A special thanks to Cecilia Pineda, Brown University, for translating this piece.
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Monica Araya

Dr. Mónica Araya is Costa Rican expert on climate and low-carbon development who has worked on sustainability issues for over 20. She is Founder and Director of Costa Rica Limpia - a citizen platform to advance new thinking on environment, development and democracy. She was negotiator for her country in the climate negotiations. She collaborates frequently with leaders in government, business, academia, non-profits and think tanks in several countries. She is a member of the Steering Committee of the UNEP Emissions Gap Report and Co-Chair of the
Latin American LEDS Platform. She obtained a Masters in Economic Policy at Universidad Nacional in Costa Rica and Master and Doctorate in environmental management from Yale University.
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La Dra. Mónica Araya es una experta costarricense en cambio climático y desarrollo bajo en carbono. Es Fundadora y Directora Ejecutiva de Costa Rica Limpia, una plataforma ciudadana para promover nuevos planteamientos en desarrollo, ambiente y democracia. Ha sido negociadora por su país, Costa Rica, en las negociaciones del clima. Colabora regularmente con líderes en el sector gubernamental, empresarial, academia, entidades sin fines de lucro y think tanks en varios países. Es miembro del Comité Directivo de la PNUMA Emissions Gap Report y Vice Presidenta del Comité Directivo de la Plataforma Latinoamericana LEDS. Obtuvo una Maestría en Política Económica de la Universidad Nacional de Costa Rica y una Maestría y Doctorado en gestión ambiental en la Universidad de Yale.
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