Day 1 of SBSTTA20 Negotiations

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About to enter the ICAO Conference Centre – the venue of the SBSTTA and SBI negotiations.

As I walked into the plenary hall, I saw a vaguely familiar room which I only saw in photographs. There were hundreds of persons sitting here and there trying to find their seats from the name plates on the tables or the faces of familiar persons from the last meeting. The youth delegates finally found their seats and took them and were ready. The meeting opened around 10 a.m. and the negotiations began. As a first timer it was a lot to get used to. Even doing the enormous load of background reading, I soon found out that you can never really be fully prepared for the actual proceedings taking place. Trying to keep up with the interventions was tough enough especially with the array of different languages and accents being spoken and the cold temperature of the conference room – especially for me, coming from a tropical country.

The battlefield - the plenary hall where countries will be busy negotiating for the next two weeks.
The battlefield – the plenary hall where countries will be busy negotiating for the next two weeks.

On top of this, you really have to pay attention for the three-hour negotiating blocks.

Afterward, you also had to get used to the political language being used to negotiate the text. Once I got the essence of what was happening I realized a few things. While some Parties gave their recommendations for making changes to the text, I realized that others first shared their national or regional situations to provide the context for their recommendations. Some to advertise their work and others to induce a sense of sympathy from other parties it seemed. Others criticized the late distribution of some texts by the Secretariat as their reason for not being able to read the documents thoroughly. I thought to myself, really? It’s definitely a technical meeting.

Likewise, many Parties had a very technical way of speaking to the chair such as identifying the exact document name, paragraph numbers and even page numbers. I saw that some wanted changes to one word and others to completely delete or add paragraphs. Now I am beginning to understand why it is a difficult process and why negotiations have to occur many months before. Every Party and non-party delegate have a point of view and want to get their points into the documents.

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Members of the youth delegation conversing before the plenary begins

Interventions from civil society and especially youth are extremely important in order for a more holistic view of certain situations rather than simply from the governments of countries. We as the youth got our first chance during the SBSTTA20 to experience the thrill of writing an intervention and then the disappointment of not being able to deliver it, due to time running out. We will definitely learn from our mistakes and press the button to get in line to speak much earlier. Hopefully tomorrow we will get that chance.

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