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COP25 Dispatch: First Impressions

The Northeastern student delegation headed to the opening day of COP25 this morning, and though our jet lag had not yet dissipated, we were eager to get ourselves situated and experience the first day of the UN climate negotiations. Immediately upon entering the conference hall, I was struck by the multitude of languages and varying demeanors of those surrounding us. While many attendees seemed to be rushing to an important meeting, some were contentedly drinking their morning coffees and relaxing in one of the sitting areas, while others, similar to myself, were walking around in a bit of a daze, clear newcomers to an event of this magnitude and unsure of where to begin.

As a student of international affairs who focused my studies on many of the issue areas central to UNFCCC, I arrived in Madrid unsure of what to expect from COP25, but excited to dissect my “big picture” understanding of the conference and get into the nitty-gritty of how multilateral agreements at this level are entered into, what problems arise in the negotiation process, and how the power dynamics of institutional and state actors of varying capacities play out in practice. Luckily, my first-day experience provided some critical insight into these elements.

Hierarchies among COP25 attendees quickly became clear, as we were denied entry to the opening ceremony and US Congressional Delegation Press Conference due to our observer status, but many events were open to all, and I quickly found myself viewing a variety of exciting talks and meetings.

The session I found most interesting was the opening plenary meeting of the Subsidiary Body of Implementation (SBI). Though the content of the meeting was technical and somewhat unwelcoming to a newcomer, witnessing the interaction of State parties and formalized process of negotiation was fascinating, and it provided significant insight into why developing multilateral agreements of this nature can take so long. Although the opening meeting was meant to be focused on adoption of an agenda for the coming days, this goal was sidetracked for twenty to thirty minutes as the Ukraine, US, Canada, EU, and Austrian delegations expressed their disdain with Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea. The delegate from Iran then took a moment to refocus the session, urging his fellow constituents to reserve discussion of political issues for another forum and concentrate the meeting on the issues at hand.

Overall, the first day of COP25 was exhilarating and informative as a first-time attendee. We all got our bearings, and I had the opportunity to grapple with some of my preconceived notions about the COP in comparison to the politically charged, meandering reality of these high-level negotiations. As the first day comes to a close, I am eager to see how these initial impressions develop over the next few days and to follow the development of the negotiations.

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