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COP 21 : A collective challenge and a singular adventure

Pierre Henri Guignard - Secrétariat général de la COP 21, Paris - 15 octobre 2014

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For some years now, French diplomacy has been undergoing a transformation. Take my current responsibilities : I can give you three examples that illustrate this.

Diversity and equal representation

Firstly, the teams preparing for COP 21 (the twenty-first session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), whether the group of negotiators led by Ambassador Laurence Tubiana or the Secretariat under my responsibility, are composed of equal numbers of men and women, representing several ministries, that is, not only Foreign Affairs but also Ecology and Agriculture.

Admittedly, this is not strictly a new development, but it shows a triumphing of the obvious : all available talent must be mobilized to strive for our goal and to seek results. The “in-house culture” has given way to “administrative multiculturalism”. Our strength lies in this mix of people, from different ministries especially, and this equal representation, which reflects the modernization of our government.

Transparency and openness to the media

Secondly, an “embedded” journalist has been following our work from the outset. She participates in our meetings and assignments as she pleases. She has access to our contacts and most of our discussions. She is then quite free to use her first-hand observations as material for articles on the process of preparing COP 21 and "humanizing" the negotiations.

While the diplomatic service deliberately preserves a degree of discretion (which, incidentally, remains crucial), this revelation of the "inner workings" shows greater confidence on the part of the State and recognition by its leaders of the need for transparency.

Similarly, the fact that State officials are now able to express their views on social networks – unthinkable just a few years ago – is further evidence that the State is opening up to other areas of democratic life.

This freedom of expression (admittedly subject to conditions...) in no way detracts from the inherent gravity of the words of officials speaking on behalf of the government. On the contrary, it shows a personal and social commitment, which gives the civil servant a greater sense of responsibility and demystifies the State, as well as highlighting its work to serve public interest.

… Openness to civil society

Thirdly, the conference that we are preparing will be very inclusive of civil society, in all its diversity. Of course, the United Nations system has traditionally promoted the participation of non-governmental stakeholders, but this has been welcomed and even actively sought after by the ministerial steering committee set up to prepare the conference. Moreover, this steering committee includes members of civil society, including independent scientists, who ensure that the politicians’ objectives are aligned with the researchers’ observations.

This conference will be attended by nearly 22,000 participants, including a number of representatives of non-State sectors. In addition, just as many concerned citizens from across the world, activists and committed representatives, will come to follow the negotiations (which ultimately remain the sovereign responsibility of the State representatives).

For these citizens, the work during plenary sessions will be broadcast in full to the outside world – i.e. globally via the internet – as well as to the areas reserved for civil society in the adjacent rooms.

In this way, States will ensure that those who suffer the effects of climate change, those who have greatly contributed, over the past twenty years, to raising public awareness of the issue, and those who, in the future, will benefit from, or even implement the solutions decided upon by the delegates gathered round the table, are properly involved in the negotiations.

This proximity and openness reflect a growing trend towards multilateralism and signal the development of an increasingly participative form of diplomacy.

Diversity of inputs, transparency and participative multilateralism : these are all pillars of a new form of diplomacy which is in tune with the modern day. Helping to develop this diplomacy while tackling one of the greatest challenges of the century, combating climate change, represents both a formidable collective challenge and a singular adventure.

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