Small Island States at COP26: What it is to negotiate in Glasgow on behalf of Small Island States

After two difficult weeks at the Glasgow summit, climate negotiators from small island nations reflect on their experiences


November 13, 2021

A delegate from the Marshall Islands at the COP26 summit on Thursday

Alastair Grant / AP / Shutterstock

Climate Highs are long, complex and emotionally trying. But for negotiators from island states currently facing the worst impacts of climate change, these talks are essential to the daily lives of everyone they love.

“It’s two weeks away from your family, friends, eating very badly and not sleeping,” Kristin Qui, Trinidad and Tobago negotiator, said on the last Friday of the climate summit negotiations. COP26.

On Thursday, she started working at 8 a.m. and finished trading at 10 p.m. “It was an untimely end,” she said. Over the past two weeks, she says she averages about 6 hours of sleep per night.

Who negotiates on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States (Aosis). It is a coalition of 39 countries, mainly from the Caribbean and the South Pacific, including Jamaica, Cuba, Fiji and Antigua and Barbuda.

“We’re a group of very small countries that don’t have a lot of political clout,” says Frances Fuller, negotiator for Antigua and Barbuda. “But we have strength in numbers and high morality – even if that sometimes isn’t enough to move the needle. “

“The negotiations are not only physically draining, but also emotionally draining,” says Qui. “But you have to compartmentalize, because if you engage in this exhaustion, your body is going to be like, I can’t do this anymore.”

Climate negotiations include both public meetings and private talks. In public meetings, countries say which parts of the proposed climate agreement they like and dislike. “This is where the plays happen,” Qui says.

Meanwhile, smaller, closed-door meetings revolve around specific topics, such as climate finance and emissions pledges, and are moderated by facilitators. Who, for example, spent COP26 negotiating Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, which details how carbon markets work.

“But the real discussions take place in informal meetings where there are no facilitators,” she says.

These often occur late at night, Qui says. Fuller says that on Thursday night she had to search for a South African negotiator through the conference center so they could have a final discussion on emission reduction measures.

“There’s a lot of rhetoric from leaders about the importance of 1.5 degrees and the importance of science,” Fuller says. “But then when you get into some of the technical discussions… there are other parts in the room that just want to erase any reference to a real science foundation. “

You have to make an effort to stay calm. “Here I have a job to do and if I were to get hysterical right now, no one would listen to me,” Qui says. It’s harder to do at home, she says, “When you see that you’re not doing enough, you can’t compartmentalize.

Pearnel P Charles Junior is Jamaica’s Minister of the Environment and one of the negotiating co-facilitators. Much like Qui and Fuller, he says he has a job to do. “I don’t have time to worry about who doesn’t understand [the severity of climate change], “he says.” I have to be focused and make sure they get it before I go. “

“If these negotiations weren’t difficult, we wouldn’t need two weeks,” he adds. “I did not come here with the hope of having some kind of big and beautiful affair… we are striving every second for a successful COP so that all of our children and all of our grandchildren… watch what we have done here and see that we saved them, not that we abandoned them.

While the COP26 was due to end yesterday, the summit of third draft agreement was released this morning and it is hoped that the final pact will be released later today.

Article modified on
November 15, 2021

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Lynn A. Saleh