Attending Conference of Parties (CoP) of an International Environment Treaty

Wednesday October 17, 2012

by Raghunandan A. Velankar (India, GESA 2011 alumnus)

Raghu currently works as Coordinator for Sustainable Livelihoods and Governance, World Wide Fund for Nature – India.

There are so many things to write about the Conference of Parties (CoP) of any international environmental convention. Such an international convention is called a Multilateral Environment Agreement (MEA) if the number of signatory countries to the convention is more than two. There are 89 such global conventions. Among these, the climate and biodiversity conventions are widely discussed.

raghunandan-velankarAs I write, the eleventh CoP to the Convention on Biodiversity is underway. It is being held in the city of Hyderabad in the southern part of India. It started on 8 October and will conclude on 19 October. I attended the first three days of the CoP. Prior to the CoP, the sixth Meeting of Parties (MoP) to the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol of the Convention was conducted between 1 and 5 October. I attended the sixth MoP from start to finish. The functioning of the CoP and the MoP is essentially similar except for the respective focus.

Here I write about some basics of the CoP and the MoP of the Convention on Biological Diversity, since the structure can seem fairly mysterious from outside the process.

On the inaugural day the Minister of Environment of the host country usually opens the main plenary. On a typical working day of the CoP and the MoP, the plenary is the central event. Preliminary rounds of discussions are conducted in two parallel sessions. These parallel sessions are called working groups. As a norm, at the outset, the bureau of the CoP constituted by the representatives of the regional groups assisted by the convention secretariat staff proposes chair and co chair of the main plenary as well as of the working groups and agenda items for the discussion by the working groups.

The MoP to a Protocol of the convention is usually conducted over one week, while the CoP to the convention often takes two weeks. In case of the CBD, the MoP to the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol usually precedes the CoP. At the middle and end of the week a main plenary (working group I and working group II together) is conducted for progress review and finalising the decisions.

Plenary discussions in the CoP and MoP follow the agenda drafted and finalised by the relevant bureau. There are conference documents and information documents available on the convention website prior to the CoP and the MoP. The conference documents are usually the reports of the open-ended thematic working groups set up by the CoP, the subsidiary advisory bodies, or reports prepared by the convention secretariat. Often, these reports contain recommendations based on which draft decisions are chalked out in the working group plenary and subsequently finalised in the main plenary. As the term implies, in-session documents are prepared while the CoP/the MoP is in process. However they are short-lived and often overwritten when the decisions are finalised. There are three types of in session documents – non-paper, conference room paper (CRP) and L (List document).

In addition to the main plenary and the working groups plenary, there are informal meetings of the party nations. They are conducted either as contact groups or as meeting of friends of the chair, depending on who proposes these informal meetings. A contact group is conducted at the suggestion of a party nation or a group of party nations to discuss a matter on which there are strikingly divergent opinions in the house. The friend of chair meeting is conducted at the invitation of the chair of the working group. Regional representatives attend the friends of chair group meetings.

The member parties form groups within the house to influence the decision-making process.

Based on economic status signatories are categorized into groups of developed, developing and least developed countries. Based on the region, there are groups of GRULAC (Latin American) countries, CEE (Central And Eastern European Countries), EU (Members of European Union), SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, Asia Pacific, North American and Small Island Nations in the Pacific region. There may be a group of likeminded nations! For example, there is a group of Like Minded Megadiverse Countries (LMMC) in case of the biodiversity convention.

In the plenary of the CoP and the MoP, there are party nations who have signed the convention. The rest of the participants are called observers. These include non-party nations, UN organisations, NGOs, indigenous and local communities, businesses, etc. The CoP and in case of the protocols of the convention the MoP are the decision-making bodies. Only party nations that are signatories to the Convention have voting rights. For observers, it is a privilege rather than a right to attend the plenary.

There are side events organised by various entities, including national governments, UN organisations, NGOs to showcase their work and to debate hot topics on the agenda.

In a future entry I hope to write on happenings at sixth MoP to the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol and eleventh CoP of the CBD.

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