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We're Going to Need a Bigger Room

a packed house for the open dialogue between parties and non-party stakeholders at COP23
Executive Director

Representatives of national governments that are parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meet with non-party stakeholders in the first-ever COP open dialogue between parties and representatives of civil society.

The Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI), at its forty-sixth session in May 2017, extensively discussed “opportunities to further enhance the effective engagement of non-Party stakeholders with a view to strengthening the implementation of the provisions of decision 1/CP.21” under the agenda item arrangements for intergovernmental meetings (AIM).

“The SBI identified opportunities to further enhance the openness, transparency and inclusiveness of the effective engagement of non-Party stakeholders. […] Encouraging future Presidencies, subject to the availability of resources, to explore ways to enable admitted NGO constituencies to have an open dialogue with Parties, whereby agenda-setting as well as programming of the dialogue are conducted jointly among the admitted NGO constituencies, the Presidency, the Bureau and the secretariat as appropriate, on the understanding that any outcomes of such a dialogue should have persuasive value only, respecting the Party-driven nature of the UNFCCC process […]".

As the work of implementing the Paris Agreement accelerates, it will be increasingly important to make sure that all stakeholders in any given set of policy decisions are equally respected, and that their wisdom and knowledge are incorporated into policy decisions for the benefit of the whole community.

Truly inclusive policymaking presents logistical challenges, including the amount of time needed to hear and appreciate all points of view; communication barriers such as language; and distance.

At COP23, however, the most significant logistical challenge appears to be an inadvertent metaphor for some of the deepest global challenges related to climate change: there isn’t enough room.

Parties and Non-Parties

The UNFCCC and its subsidiary bodies are made up of official representatives of national governments, and the decisions the bodies reach—like the Paris Agreement—are in the nature of treaties. The governments that affirm the decisions of the UNFCCC are known as “parties.”

But most of the actual work of implementing the decisions falls to entities other than national governments: for example businesses; farmers; local elected officials; and others. All these other players are referred to as “civil society” or “non-party stakeholders” (NPSs). The NPSs are grouped into “constituencies.” There currently are nine identified constituencies:

·       Business and Industry Nongovernmental Organizations (BINGOs)non-party stakeholder constituencies, 2014

·       Environmental NGOs (ENGOs)

·       Farmers

·       Indigenous Peoples’ Organizations (IPOs)

·       Local Governments and Municipal Authorities (LGMAs)

·       Research and Independent NGOs (RINGOs)

·       Trade Unions (TUNGOs)

·       Women and Gender

·       Youth (YOUNGOs)


Above: Chart showing the proportional representation of NPS constituencies at COP20, available at

Below: Representative of the Trade Unions constituency describes the role workers can play in helping governments scale up ambition

This year’s climate negotiations focus more than ever on the role of NPSs in implementing the Paris Agreement, and for the first time ever, COP23 included an “open dialogue” between parties (the official participants) and NPSs. The dialogue, which took place on Wednesday, November 8, lasted three hours and drew hundreds of observers.

The national representatives generally said they value collaboration with NPSs, and some offered examples of frameworks for collaboration. They pointed out that “government is not just the government,” meaning that achieving significant action on climate mitigation and adaptation will require active participation from all stakeholders, including in policymaking as well as policy implementation.

The NPSs had a lot to say. As one representative of the Women and Gender constituency put it, “ We don’t usually get to speak so freely, so forgive me if my statement is not well-crafted.”

Major themes the NPSs raised include:

1.     NPSs made strong connections between climate action and human rights. Representatives of indigenous people raised the concern that some climate mitigation and adaptation strategies offer an excuse to oppress or displace vulnerable people.

2.     Climate action is not proceeding fast enough. Major environmental groups from around the world agree that the next year will be a pivotal moment in implementing the Paris Agreement. They said that NPSs can help parties identify strategies to speed things up at the national and subnational levels.

3.     Nations are not being ambitious in setting emissions reduction goals. NPSs pointed out that including stakeholder groups—such as coal workers—more integrally from the beginning of the goal-setting process ultimately would lead to more buy-in and higher ambition.

4.     Youth represent a majority of the world’s population, and are increasingly dissatisfied with the marginal role they play in climate negotiations. One representative of the Youth constituency described his hope that his country would establish a cabinet-level “Climate Change Ministry” charged with educating and building capacity for everyone in the country to take climate action.

5.     There is an unspoken hierarchy of NPSs, and some of the most favored NPSs actually represent fossil fuel interests. Some NPS spokespeople called for a limit on participation in future COPs by individuals and groups with ties to fossil fuels or other carbon-intensive industries, saying “If the polluters talk, we walk.” Dialogue leaders dismissed this idea but said it’s clear there need to be strategies to honor the contributions of all NPSs, regardless of their size or power. One facilitator pointed out, “NGOs have a lot of valuable stuff to say, and it’s all free, so why would parties not want to talk to them?”

The open dialogue is expected to occur again at the 2018 COP in Poland. Leaders said it was a success, with the President of the COP saying “Next time, we’re going to need a bigger room.” 

See all Climate and Sustainability post.