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PROJECT: Building consensus

Project Reference: ADAF-0006

Progress in international climate change talks requires consensus to be built between countries. This is especially true with regards to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process. The CDKN Advocacy Fund has provided support to negotiators from the poorest and most climate vulnerable countries to engage in international climate change talks. Supporting negotiators is also one of CDKN’s four main themes, which aim to share learning from CDKN work and provide thought leadership on key issues.

In May 2012, CDKN co-hosted (with the United Nations Institute for Training and Research) an event at the UNFCCC meeting in Bonn, Germany, which brought together a variety of advocacy fund stakeholders to discuss how best to support negotiators in international climate change negotiations. A panel of experts, including negotiators and advisors, shared ideas and methods (‘best practice’) and engaged in open discussion with over fifty participants. The discussion highlighted the importance of building consensus in international climate change talks and stakeholders expressed a desire to continue the dialogue and have similar events in future.

In order to continue this dialogue, CDKN has hosted one or two events annually to gather key stakeholders and experts together to discuss consensus building within the context of the international climate negotiations. It is hoped that such events help negotiators to step back from the technical issues and think and engage on the task of building consensus. The events have also been important in informing the strategy of the CDKN Advocacy Fund by ensuring that the efforts of the fund are focussed on the interventions which help to build consensus.

CDKN and PwC hosted another event in London on October 29th 2012, Climate change consensus building 2012. CDKN has partnered with the Meridian Institute to take forward work on building consensus. Future events were held annually (one at the COP meeting and, dependent on demand, one non-COP event). The overall objectives of the partnership with the Meridian Institute were to:

  • Organise, facilitate and analyse events with negotiation support stakeholders with the aim of engaging negotiators and developing an understanding of how to build consensus in the climate change negotiations.
  • Generate and disseminate recommendations on how to build consensus, with the aim of increasing wider stakeholder understanding of consensus building and recommendations for how CDKN may support such activities in its future strategy.

Recent update: At the meetings of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)  in Bonn, Germany, in June 2013, CDKN and the Meridian Institute convened a side event on consensus-building activities in the climate negotiations. Kristy Buckley, an expert analyst at Meridian, noted that one of the most fundamental and paradoxical challenges of the negotiations lies in the notion of consensus itselfSince 1992, the Convention’s rules of procedure on voting have been bracketed text, which means there is no consensus among parties as to how to reach agreement when consensus is not possible. While it may seem imperative to address both the concept of consensus and the voting procedures before negotiating a comprehensive deal by 2015, this could also be the opening of Pandora’s Box and could quickly result in deadlock on procedural issues that would trump any substantive progress.” Regardless of this paradox, the Meridian Institute has been working with negotiators and insiders to come up with recommendations on how to support consensus-building.

We have analysed ideas from many events, and from 25 in-depth interviews with negotiators, chairs, facilitators, and their advisors. In addition to the interviews, Dr. Tony La Vina and Selam Kidane Abebe developed negotiator-perspective papers to share their diverse experiences navigating the complex UNFCCC system and insights on how to build consensus. The in-depth interviews, together with the presentation of Dr La Vina’s and Ms Abebe’s experiences, and participant responses at our side event, produced the following recommendations:

  • Training sessions or a mentorship program should play more active and consistent roles in sharing lessons learned from seasoned individuals to inform new negotiators, chairs/facilitators, and incoming COP Presidencies.
  • It is critical to make time for informal discussions which allow negotiators to build relationships, exchange views, and brainstorm solutions in order to break through impasses in the formal negotiations.
  • Technology has changed the dynamics of the negotiations and it is important is to consider how it can be used to improve the negotiating process for all in a fair way.
  • An “eminent persons” group should be convened to further explore how suggestions that emerge from these events could be implemented through agreed upon “best practices” in order to support progress and consensus-based outcomes.

After the UNFCCC in Bonn: CDKN and Meridian Institute convened another event on consensus-building during COP-19 in Warsaw. The focus of this event was informed by subsequent discussions and ideas, including those put forth in Bonn. Bonn side event participants were interested to hear how these discussions could be continued and how some of the ideas could be taken forward and implemented.

For more information on CDKN’s consensus-building work, contact the Negotiations Support team on

CDKN funding: £147,000


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Project Highlights

WORKING PAPER: Building Consensus in the UNFCCC

This Working Paper is intended to prompt discussion around the negotiation and consensus-building process, and is part of CDKN’s work to amplify the voices of poor and most climate-vulnerable countries within the international negotiations.