An empty plenary and the “innovation” of Talanoa dialogue

The time for the first COP23 plenary has come, after Monday opening ceremony. A plenary which looked pretty empty to the observers attending it from the seats in the gallery. And one reason for it was quickly explained by the Palestinian delegate: the plenary and the regional coordinating meetings were scheduled at the same time, forcing the delegations to choose between the two events, and almost all preferring the smaller groups, where common lines of collaboration and action are discussed in a more productive environment.

The Paris Agreement, entered into force on November 4th 2016, has today been ratified by 169 States of the 197 Parties to the Framework Convention. But developing countries, as stated by Saudi Arabia, are already asking for amending it in order to achieve the balance in development chances and opportunities with the richer portion of the world. It is indeed felt that the slogan “no one should stay behind”, widely spread by media during COP21, is often easily forgotten during the negotiations, while should be taken into consideration as an obligation for all State Parties.
After these query, it is time to start the official plenary. Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, COP23 President, after thanking the States for the opportunity of the presidency given to Fiji and Poland for hosting COP24 in Katowice, goes straight to the matter of the host of the other pre-2020 UNFCCC Conferences. While Eastern European and Southern American countries are invited to commit, nobody dares to take the floor, and the matter is rapidly devolved to the regional committees to decide.

Different groups of the civil society are then given the floor. Women, youth and local communities constituencies ask to the presidency to promote the provision of public financial support from the State Parties, particularly for projects which would benefit women and small communities, for adaptation, for capacity building and climate friendly innovation.

But the main matter of discussion during this plenary is the facilitative dialogue chosen for this year’s negotiations: Talanoa dialogue. But what does Talanoa means? It is a well-known concept and traditional approach used in the South Pacific region. It is a term for inclusive, transparent and solutions oriented dialogue, in which people listen to each other, respect each other’s perspectives, understand and learn other’s positions and seek solutions that benefit everyone. Three main questions should guide the negotiators: Where are we? Where do we want to go? How do we get there?

The purpose is to share stories, build empathy and advance general knowledge. It is essentially a form of storytelling. Several countries, such as Australia and China, agreed indeed that blaming others and making critical observations would be inconsistent with the building of mutual trust and respect, and therefore an obstacle to productive negotiations and to the stability and inclusiveness necessary to reach results.

Hopefully, the utilisation of Talanoa will make a positive difference in these negotiations, but it could be easily disputed whether we really needed a Fijian presidency to figure out that respect and mutual understanding are a keystone in international negotiations!

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