Melissa Harward: The Complexity of Negotiations in Marrakech

Having finally experienced first hand the difficulties of negotiations, I understand why the process is a slow one.

On Friday I watched a negotiation on the point of gender in the agreement. As the final negotiation, it was meant to run smoothly with all parties having a previously ironed out issues in private, informal chats. After having applauded the hard work of the negotiators for overcoming differences to agree on a text in the spirit of commonality, negotiators began adding words. This was to the surprise and anger of the facilitator who reminded the group there was only 10 minutes left before the text had to be submitted to the plenary. In the end, the EU had to give up its position to allow the changes. Had that not happened there would have been no text agreed.

This complexity was on the issue of gender, hardly a pivotal aspect of the agreement in terms of countries’ positions but still it took hours to nut out a position agreed by the world.

In order to come to such agreement, many compromises were made, and it is with experience that negotiators learn to pick their battles- it is not always wise to follow the instructions of one’s own negotiators when they aren’t in the room.

The process of negotiations is not straight forward.

There are opening, catch up and closing plenaries for the different parts of the treaty, different treaties and sub-parts of treaties. The plenaries are meetings of all 192 parties, far too many to agree on anything.

Instead, countries put themselves into blocs of like-minded groups. These groups discuss general positions, which they put forward in negotiating sessions.

Even still, it is not easy to find consensus among countries. Outside of the formal negotiations are informals. These are emails, dinners and hotel room discussions are to iron out differences within broader coalitions and between groups, in order to come to a conclusion.

Once informal and formal negotiations are settled, a report of the discussion is given to the relevant body and is discussed (but mainly agreed to) in the plenary.


All posts by Institute delegates reflect their own thoughts, opinions and experiences, and do not reflect those of the Institute.

Posted on November 18, 2016 and filed under UN Climate Talks 2016.