Navigating the Complexities of Global Climate Change Negotiations: A Young Negotiator’s Experience at UNFCCC SB60

July 9, 2024

Through the Global Negotiations Support initiative and the Global Climate Change Policy Fellowship programme, SLYCAN Trust supports negotiators from the Global South in their engagement with the UNFCCC and other multilateral processes. Esther Mireku is a young negotiator from Ghana who works with the Environmental Protection Agency and is a SLYCAN Trust fellow and research associate since 2023. These are her reflections from participating in the Bonn Climate Change Conference 2024 (SB60).

Introduction

Attending the 60th session of the Subsidiary Bodies (SB60) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as a young negotiator with Ghana’s delegation and as a SLYCAN Trust fellow was an unforgettable experience. The meetings of the Subsidiary Bodies (SBs) under the UNFCCC, which include the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) and the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI), take place every mid-year and alongside each COP and are crucial in advancing the UNFCCC’s objectives.

Held in Bonn, Germany, between the 3rd and 13th of June 2024, SB60 brought together thousands of delegates, climate experts, and activists from around the world to discuss and advance global climate action. Although I have gained some relevant experience over the past two years, navigating the complexities of climate negotiations was both challenging and rewarding. My focus was on climate-induced loss and damage (L&D), a critical issue addressing the irreversible impacts of climate change.

L&D refers to the consequences of climate change that cannot be mitigated or adapted to, for example, related to extreme weather events and long-term processes such as sea level rise. The respective negotiated item is crucial because it has direct consequences for vulnerable communities who contribute the least to global emissions but suffer the most from climate change. 

Preparation and expectations

As a young negotiator, I was both excited and anxious about my role. My responsibilities included providing research support and participating in strategy sessions with my delegation, the African Group of Negotiators (AGN), and the G77 and China. Preparing for SB60 involved extensive research on the agenda item I would be following, which is Article 8 (L&D) of the Paris Agreement, and understanding the positions of different negotiation blocs. I expected intense discussions and hoped to contribute meaningfully to the negotiations.

Based on my expectations of how the negotiation would unfold, I was optimistic about draft decisions that could alleviate the financial burden of vulnerable countries like Ghana, which are already suffocating due to debt from financing climate-resilient projects. Additionally, I expected that the draft decision on L&D at SB60 would aid Ghana in developing strategies for COP29 and further work on our national needs assessments for possible funding.

The negotiation environment

The first day at the negotiation venue was overwhelming. The halls were filled with delegates from almost 200 countries, each representing their nation’s interests and priorities. The atmosphere was charged with anticipation and urgency. My typical day started early with coordination meetings of both the African Group of Negotiators (AGN) and the G77 and China to review strategies, followed by attending plenary sessions, informal consultations, and sometimes informal-informal consultations. These sessions were where the real work happened, with delegates negotiating the text of draft decisions line by line.

Meeting participants from diverse backgrounds was one of the highlights of these two weeks. From seasoned diplomats to passionate activists and other SLYCAN Trust fellows such as Gabriel Mara from Fiji, Mabel Cristina Zuniga from Panama, Joseph Epitu from Uganda, Gabriel Pierre Ndiaye from Senegal, and Aishath Reesha Suhail and Thibyan Ibrahim from Maldives, everyone brought their unique perspectives to the table. This diversity made the discussions rich and multifaceted, though it also meant that reaching a consensus was often challenging.

Key agenda items, issues, and discussions on L&D 

Several key issues dominated the discussions at SB60. One mandated item under L&D was the third Glasgow dialogue, which concluded with a clear message from developing countries on the need for coordination and coherence within and between the Warsaw International Mechanism, Santiago Network, and Loss and Damage Fund.

A major point of contention was global climate finance, within which the New Collective Quantified Goal (NCGQ) falls. Parties from the Global South pushed for financial commitments for mitigation, adaptation, and L&D, while parties from the Global North were reluctant to propose detailed financial commitments. Other key agenda items included the Global Stocktake, Article 6, Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), the Mitigation Work Programme, Just Transition, the Lima Work Programme on Gender, Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE), the Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA), and interlinkages between the technology mechanism and the finance mechanism.

Summary of outcomes and reflections

At SB60, there were moments of tension and frustration when progress seemed stalled, as well as moments of collaboration and breakthrough. These moments reinforced the importance of perseverance and the impact of every contribution towards achieving consensus on critical points.

Reflecting on my experience, several key insights stand out. Firstly, the complexity and scale of international climate negotiations are both daunting and inspiring. The process is slow and often frustrating, but it is also a testament to the potential for global cooperation and the importance of multilateralism.

Secondly, the issue of global climate finance is critical, and much work remains to be done. While there is growing recognition of the need to address L&D, significant differences remain on the best way to do so. Bridging these gaps will require continued dialogue, innovative thinking, and a willingness to compromise.

Finally, the role of young people in the negotiation process is indispensable. As a young negotiator, I was keenly aware of the importance of youth and civil society engagement in the climate process. As the impacts of climate change become more pronounced, the perspectives and energy of youth are essential for driving ambitious action and holding leaders accountable. My experience at SB60 reinforced the importance of youth engagement and the need to create more spaces for young voices in the climate process.

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About the Author
Esther Mireku

Esther Mireku is a country fellow for 2023 under the Global Climate Fellowship Programme of SLYCAN Trust. She is an Assistant Program Officer working with the Environmental Protection Agency of Ghana, an environmentalist and a young climate change negotiator. A strong believer in environmental sustainability and proud to contribute toward its achievement, she has personally found benefit in regularly engaging in environmental education, including climate change advocacy, environmental compliance monitoring and enforcement, and environmental impact assessment administration. Esther is a graduate of the University for Development Studies with a Bachelor of Art in Integrated Development Studies with a specialization in Environment and Natural Resource Management. She is currently reading for her Master in Energy and Sustainable Management at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology.‍