MGA and the role of observers at the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties

Recently at The Fletcher School, Tufts University, Mieke van der Wansem1 has led several MGA sessions to help prepare people going to COP28 in Dubai November 30-December 12, and she is drawing from that experience for this blog about MGA and the Role of Observers at COP28.

Are you going to COP28 in Dubai, UAE this year? Whether you go to the UNFCCC COPs every year or plan to go at some point in the future, you can use the Mutual Gains Approach (MGA) to prepare for your engagement there. Many of us who attend are not actually country negotiators, but have ‘Observer’ status as “Non-Party Stakeholders (NPS)” to the negotiations. As UNFCCC defines, observers includes “civil society, the private sector, financial institutions, cities and other subnational authorities, local communities and indigenous peoples i.e., those whose actions are needed to deliver the goals established but who do not have legal obligations arising from the treaty.”

As Observers, you can engage at the COP in a variety of ways, including:

  • Observe ongoing negotiations.
  • Communicate and share information with country negotiators.
  • Attend the numerous official and informal side events in the Blue and Green Zones and discuss the issues, sharing knowledge and insights.
  • Present work or research at official and informal side events.
  • Participate in related, ad hoc voluntary agreements or plans, also called mini-lateral agreements or arrangements.
  • Meet with colleagues and partners from around the world working on similar or connected issues.
  • Meet with funders to highlight work you have done and advocate for additional support.
  • Join an existing coalition around a particular theme, or create a new one.

The COP negotiations are part of the process of sustainable development. We now need to integrate climate considerations into all aspects of policy making and implementation – locally, nationally, and internationally – and across sectors, in an integrated and more holistic way that includes biodiversity, health, just transition, and many other topics.  

The main themes at COP28 include:

  • The first Global Stocktake (GST), which evaluates progress toward the Paris Goals (note: 2 key findings are that global climate efforts are seriously lacking as carbon emissions continue to increase and financial support for developing countries is hugely deficient);
  • The Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA), focusing on enhancing adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience, and reducing vulnerability to climate change;
  • The work of the Loss and Damage Transitional Committee, which will build on agreements from COP27 last year (focusing on who should receive loss and damage funding, how the fund will be capitalized, and how funds will be disbursed quickly);
  • Climate finance;
  • Just transition;
  • Fast-tracking the clean energy transition and decarbonizing the energy industry; and
  • Nature-based solutions.

As you prepare for going to COP, think of MGA as an engagement approach with people, whether talking with work or research partners, engaging with panelists on a particular topic, meeting with funders, or discussing with country negotiators or voluntary agreement stakeholders. As part of your MGA preparations, strategize with your team on what you want to accomplish at the COP. For example:  

  • What are your interests?  
  • What parts of the COP process do these interests fit into?  
  • Conduct thorough research on where things stand in relation to your interests, and where they are located on the COP28 agenda.  
  • Identify the key stakeholders who are involved in these particular negotiations or discussions and identify their interests.  
  • You can take steps to strategize with your own team about which of these stakeholders you can invite for a meeting yourself.  
  • You may want to form a coalition with them. Or perhaps a coalition already exists that you can join.

Besides working to influence the country negotiations, reach out to your organization and partner organizations to see what events they are planning to host at the COP and how you may contribute. Research what external panels and events you should attend and contribute to. Connect with other attendees and set up meetings. There are many ways to have influence.

When you participate in events or discussions, keep an open mind and balance your contributions with seeking clarification and understanding. Expect to learn from others and seek to understand their contributions. In addition, keep in mind that each person brings with them certain assumptions. It’s important to identify and talk about those assumptions – how have you arrived at what you are saying.  Seek out data that support (or challenge) your and their assumptions. 

When you meet with stakeholders, keep in mind the different techniques to create value around solving for multiple interests. Start with stating your common goals to get a sense of your shared common purpose. Ask many questions, like “why” and then ask, “what if…”. Optimize the scope of your discussion. Sometimes it helps to broaden the number of issues being discussed; so step back and see the issues from a higher-level perspective. Set a time for just inventing options, giving people the freedom to brainstorm. You may want to set some ground rules for this kind of discussion. Remember: this is a problem-solving session, where all parties should be doing a lot of listening and asking questions to gain understanding and insights. Think about ways to trade across interests you value differently.  What may be most important to one stakeholder, is less important to you, and vice versa. Agree to meet their most important interest, which is low-cost to you in exchange for them meeting your most important interest, which is low-cost for them. Another technique is to use contingencies to exploit differences in expectations for the future. So, if you are uncertain about an outcome in the future, agree on what will or will not happen, depending on the outcome.

I encourage you to connect with other stakeholders to explore how you can collaborate and influence global and local action. We all need to be pushing for stronger commitments at the COP and elsewhere, and help countries deliver on their commitments. Coordinated global action is our best hope for keeping the climate within safe boundaries for the ecosystems and human life2. Use the Mutual Gains Approach and remember: we don’t want to compete against stakeholders.  We need to compete together against the problems! We will do better if we work together and pool our resources and thinking for the best solution.

Know that whatever role you have, or whether you are a seasoned COP participant or a new one, sharing insights to expand opportunities for high-ambition consensus is the most valuable practice to employ while the negotiations are taking place. So, be well prepared to make the most of your active engagement. Time for action is now; take initiative. You can make a difference!

  1. Mieke van der Wansem is Director of Programs at the Center for International Environment and Resource Policy (CIERP) at The Fletcher School, Tufts University. ↩︎
  2. One of the key take-aways from the Earth Diplomacy Leadership Initiative series: ↩︎