Indaba to the Rescue

Beginning Thursday night and continuing until 6am the following morning, a final meeting was convened with the objective of solving three critical issues: differentiation, ambition, and climate finance. It was referred to as an “indaba of solutions”.

An indaba is a creative way of negotiating and simplifying difficult decisions, and comes from the Zulu and Xhosa people of southern Africa. Parties are given equal opportunity to voice their opinions on important issues, but are also encouraged to state their “red lines” (which they do not want to cross) and to suggest solutions to find “landing zones”, or common ground.

The indaba at COP21 was very effective at establishing the exact positions of parties, and where compromises might be possible. A no-nonsense forum in which consensus-building was the priority was exactly what was needed to move forward on the most difficult issues. The main indaba was chaired by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, with breakout sessions occurring in smaller groups throughout the night.

Sleep deprivation abound during the indaba, the fast approaching deadline to reach an agreement and greater sense of urgency seemed to fuel the ministers and negotiators involved. Several larger delegations took shifts, allowing tired delegates to get some sleep before returning to the table. Some of the smaller delegations did not have that luxury. We anxiously watched from the overflow room, with one attending the closed breakout session on differentiation.

What was so interesting and different about the indaba compared to other negotiations was the streamlining of the process through focus on redlines and possible solutions. Honesty about exactly how willing or unwilling countries were to move on important issues allowed for new breakthroughs in negotiations and a cleaner text released the next day. The indaba model of negotiations seems to be a method that could be applied to many scenarios where it is difficult (and may even seem impossible) to reach a consensus, and is one of many interesting ideas and processes we have encountered at COP21.



Laura Maxwell is a first year Master of Development Practice candidate at the University of Waterloo and will be attending COP21 as part of the delegation of Kiribati, a small island nation located in the Pacific Ocean.  Her special interests include climate change, restoration and marine ecology, human health and the environment, and conservation biology.


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