Learning to negotiate for climate action

Diary of a junior climate negotiator

Long read by
20 February 2020
Danise Love Dennis

Danise Love Dennis, who recorded a diary in 2019 to chart her learning journey as a climate negotiator

Danise Love Dennis is a communications officer in Liberia’s Environmental Protection Agency. Her role is to increase public awareness of climate-related issues and how they affect her small West African nation. 

Since 2018 Danise has been part of the European Capacity Building Initiative (ECBI), which supports junior climate negotiators from least developed countries (LDCs) to develop their skills and become specialist negotiators. This diary follows her 2019 learning journey, from organising community workshops to monitoring the capacity building track for the LDC Group at the UNFCCC negotiations in Madrid.

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Illustration of sea waves

29 April 2019

I'm here in Addis Ababa for my second ECBI workshop, ready to delve into three days of training alongside the other junior climate negotiators! Looking forward to meeting the experts who'll be taking us through the training sessions, and to hearing how each made their journey to become representatives of their country at the UNFCCC climate negotiations. I'm equally keen to meet my fellow junior delegates.

In mind are my people in Liberia – living out the daily realities of climate change. Rising sea temperatures and irregular rainfall patterns are destroying our mangroves, leaving our coastline exposed to wave damage and storms. Putting roads, schools and hospitals at risk as the sea-level rises and the threat of floods worsen, we are being forced to leave our homes, moving to higher lands.

But what about the experiences of other LDCs? Where do their struggles overlap with ours? And what are the different country approaches in tackling climate change?

And I'm ready to learn about the negotiations – ready to get into the nitty gritty. I'm particularly interested in how negotiators unpack legal language, how they craft their own text and how this text fits into the outcomes of the negotiations. I want to understand more about how the final text will bring solutions for my people at home.

Because time is running out. And as climate negotiators, it is our job to bring people's needs to the table and make sure they are heard in places where international decisions on climate change are being made. During the ECBI workshops, I'm ready to arm myself with the skills to do this. More soon!

Illustration of trainers

30 April 2019

It's been a day packed with learning – from mock negotiations to practice in drafting the text. 

But today's highlight was meeting experienced climate negotiators! Gebru Jember Endalew from Ethiopia, who recently served as the LDC Group chair, and Madam Stella Gama from Malawi. Madam Gama is the lead coordinator on gender and climate change for the LDCs. It was awesome hearing how they had made their way to become expert negotiators. Big shoes to fill!

Group of workshop participants. Danise Love Dennis sits behind a Liberia place card

Junior negotiators participate in an ECBI training workshop before COP24 in Poland in December 2018. Danise Love Dennis, second right, sits behind a Liberia place card (Photo: Matt Wright, IIED)

Illustration of of a ticket with 'Bonn' written on it

15 May 2019

Back in Liberia. This morning I received an email with subject line "ecbi bursary offer – please confirm''. It was the formal invitation to go to Bonn in June for the UNFCCC negotiations!

I'd applied for an ECBI bursary to attend the negotiations, having been advised that national support wasn't available. Miracles really do happen. I'm so excited to get to there and apply the skills I learnt in Addis!

Illustration of Agenda 13 logo

11 June 2019

Reporting back from Bonn. Today began the two main sessions: the 50th Session of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA 50) and the 50th Session of the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI 50).

These sessions were the 50th formal meeting of the UNFCCC parties held to assess the progress in dealing with climate change. I'm following SBI 50, focusing on agenda item 13. This agenda item is all about capacity building for developing countries and is split into two main areas.

The first area of this agenda item covers matters relating to capacity-building under the convention. This also includes enhancing institutional arrangements and the review of the Paris Committee on Capacity-building. The second area of the agenda item is matters relating to capacity-building under the Kyoto Protocol.

This feels like one of the most relevant areas for me. The LDCs have shown their ambition in adapting to climate change and reducing emissions – but they need the skills and knowledge to put their plans into action.

1:07 Danise discusses her first steps on the ECBI training programme, her involvement in the capacity building objective and how she is getting to know the UNFCCC processes

Illustration of a chart

18 June 2019

I'm on Day 8 here in Bonn. A steep learning curve! Today I followed every session on capacity building. These were all about setting up and giving an overview on the mandate that set the background for the agenda items. 

We're getting great support – whenever I have a question I ask my mentor and appropriate answers are given which broaden my understanding as the session goes by day-by-day. So much to learn!

The word 'training' written in an illustrated cloud

19 June 2019

As I'm getting deeper into the complex negotiations progress, I'm thinking back to my ECBI training in Addis and I can't help asking myself: how would I have managed to be here without this training? 

What about others here who have not been trained? How are they managing? And what about those who are trained but don't make it to these negotiations?

Being here in Bonn is making me truly appreciate the value of the ECBI programme.

UNFCCC flags

UNFCCC flags fly outside the Bonn Climate Change Conference June 2019 (Photo: German Development Institute, via FlickrCC BY-ND 2.0)

20 June 2019

Illustration of a circle with two questions marks and an exclamation point

This year's session for me was basically to display how text fits into the outcomes. From this point, I understood that during these negotiations, not all suggestions from a specific party are accepted.

It was vividly seen that other parties had opposing opinions, but they were expressed in a manner that did not condemn the previous suggestion posed. This was an excellent push!

For example, I saw how parties argued on a document in a diplomatic way. From the discussion one could tell that parties wanted the document to be updated instead of maintaining what it contained for the past years. At the end of all the consultations (informal and informal-informal), finally the updated document was adopted.

Negotiations are undeniably a method by which people settle differences. With this, I have seen it as a process by which compromise or agreement is reached while avoiding argument and dispute. However, I believe that the principle of fairness, seeking mutual benefit and most importantly maintaining relationships, are the key to a successful outcome. 

I'm glad to have been part of the SBI/SBSTA 50!

Illustration of a cloud, with the sun behind and rain coming out of it

10 July 2019

I'm back in Liberia and writing from Buchanan, Grand Bassa County, where I've just finished a workshop with a group of farmers and community leaders from across the five counties.

This outreach work is a key part of my role as communicator. We had an average of 70 participants and gathered in various regional cities like Buchanan City, Grand Bassa County, Ganta City, Nimba County and Tubmanburg in Bomi County.

Two farmers tend small patches of various crops

A community farm in Monrovia, Liberia (Photo: Travis Lupick, via FlickrCC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The aim of the workshop was simple – to build awareness in the local community about climate change. So much work needs to be done. These farmers find themselves at extreme risk from climate change but so many don't know how to deal with the problem; they don't know how to adapt to the changes they're seeing.

And very few people understand the causes – with many believing that the extreme weather events they are experiencing such as delayed rainfall, prolonged rainfall, soil degradation, etc. are punishments from God.

During these outreach activities, we used film and dialogue to have an interaction with participants at the workshop. The films give them a vivid and clear understanding on the topic under discussion and help to broaden their understanding on causes and effects of climate change. Through these interactions, they are able to understand the realities of climate change and know how to avert it.

Illustration of a press pass

30 July 2019

I'm here in Ganta, Nimba County carrying out another of our outreach workshops – this time with media practitioners. These guys have such an important job when it comes to helping the general public understand the causes and effects of climate change.

However, not many journalists in Liberia specialise in environmental reporting, therefore, I have the task of periodically organising training workshops to help them acquaint themselves with jargon, technical language and conventions relating to climate change and how they can use their professional skills to help spread the news.

So, there in Ganta, I have succeeded with the support of our project manager in bringing together over 50 journalists from all parts of the country to familiarise them with the Rio Convention.  

It was a three-day workshop that had a number of facilitators, including me, discussing how to effectively report on the environment and the use of social media in communicating environmental news.

We were able to reach a memorandum of understanding (MOU) and form a network with participants at the workshop. 

With the network and the MOU, I can easily coordinate among journalists to provide coverage for the activities of the Environmental Protection Agency and other relevant environmental issues globally.

I am very upbeat about the network because since its formation, journalists now reach out to me more often than before seeking clarification or information on environment-related issues.

Illustration of an eyeball, with COP25 written in front of it

25 October 2019

After the UNSG Climate Action Summit in New York last month, all eyes are on COP25. Once again I have been sponsored to attend COP through ECBI!

I'm even more enthusiastic this year. As well as being part of my country's delegation, I will continue to follow all matters relating to capacity building for the LDC Group. We need to see developing countries unite behind one voice to give us the best chance of the strongest outcomes.

To work towards this unity, I've been developing the idea to create a "Junior Negotiators Bloc" – an alliance where young negotiators from developing countries help one another understand the COP proceedings as they unfold.

I'm looking forward to seeing it take off at COP25, hoping it will lead to better coordination between the younger negotiators of developing countries.

On a separate COP-related note, I'm super excited to have been invited on to a panel at a side event organised by Liberia and Burkina Faso on the implementation of REDD+. Wow! This will be my first public interaction at COP. I hope my ECBI training will come in handy to help me speak in public… more to come when I'm there!

0:24 Danise discusses her making her first presentation, at the 25th UN climate change conference (COP25) in Madrid, Spain in December 2019, and how she feels about the progress she is making in her career

Illustration of an egg timer

6 December 2019

I'm here in Madrid, finally! For a week, I've been engaging and getting fully involved in the decision-making. COP25's end goal is to ensure climate action will happen in 2020 – echoed by the conference's official "hashtag": #TimeForAction.

I'm following the capacity building track. So far so good. Developing countries have been coordinating well. One unusual thing we've noted is around the draft text we're working on – it contains over 30 paragraphs, twice as much text as usual… it shows that countries with largely common aims can still have trouble compromising. We've got to get better at negotiating and being flexible!

The draft text is now being debated in 'huddles', side discussions where parties work out their differences outside of the formal talks. We're still far from reaching agreement and the text has to be ready by when COP resumes on Monday 9th… if we can't agree the principles now, we may run out of time…

Large COP25 banner with the tagline: time for action.

The tagline for COP25 United Nations climate talks was “tiempo de actuar”: time for action (Photo: John Englart via FlickrCC BY-SA 2.0)

Illustration of a tick mark

9 December 2019

Yes, we did it! With unity, we succeeded: all texts on capacity building have been finalised and adopted. I'm very optimistic that, again with unity, more actions will be taken to combat climate change.  

The Junior Negotiators Bloc was also successfully launched: so far we've had two meetings and have agreed to keep working together, to keep communicating, keep sharing information – which we'll do over WhatsApp. 

I'm looking forward to working with my fellow junior negotiators as we increase our participation in the negotiation processes. All this experience is getting me closer to one of my dreams: one day becoming a 'thematic coordinator' for the LDC Group.

Illustration of a Twitter hashtag with the words 'time for action'

20 December 2019

COP25 is over. What next? Acting on the theme #TimeForAction is what's next!

COP wasn't smooth; there were hurdles on every agenda item. One big thing I realised in Madrid is that when most parties saw something wasn't working as the text was developing, they were ready to make the changes needed. 

I also learned from the actions of developing countries that you must know what's good for you as a country and build a network of experts to support that. Only in this way will you get what you need at the negotiating table. 

It was great to see that developing countries had each other's backs, providing all the necessary support during the discussions.

The launch of a mentorship programme to empower junior negotiators was a huge plus. It will challenge every young negotiator to press for action in their home country.

As for me, the experience I have gained has given me greater recognition among my peers. I am being assigned with more tasks – such as writing more environmental case studies, building up Liberia's success stories.

1:28 Danise discusses her return to Liberia after attending the 25th UN climate change conference (COP25) in Madrid, Spain in December 2019, and her role at a Green Climate Fund board meeting

I learned so much through the ECBI training and it's great that I'm putting all the knowledge I've built and the skills I've learnt into practice. I'm determined to keep the momentum going. There's a long road ahead and time is short. The #TimeForAction is now.

IIED's management of the European Capacity Building Initiative (ecbi) training and support programme is part of its work to create a more level playing field for all government delegations taking part in international climate negotiations. More on the ecbi programme, including workshops, bursaries, reports and toolkits, can be found on our project page.