The Durban Experience: IED/ETH at the Climate Change Negotiations

About the author


Carola Betzold joined Prof. Bernauer’s group in fall 2009 as a PhD student in the context of the NCCR (National Center of Competence in Research) programme “Challenges to Democracy in the 21st Century”. Her doctoral research is embedded in the NCCR project “Civil Society – Government Interactions in Global Governance” and investigates the advocacy behaviour of non-state actors in international environmental negotiations, in particular those on climate change. E-mail


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Carola Betzold, PhD student at the Chair of ­International Relations, describes her ­experiences made at the COP17.

In December last year, governments met in Durban, South Africa, to discuss the future of the world’s changing climate at COP17 (Conference of the Parties). The 5400 governmental delegates were joined by almost 6000 non-governmental representatives, among them, a small ETH/IED delegation: Thomas Bernauer, Vally Koubi and Carola Betzold, from the Chair of International Relations.

Photo: C
Photo: C. Betzold

After two weeks of intense negotiations, the governments – with a delay of over 24 hours! –  finally agreed on the future of the UNFCCC process, if not on the concrete emissions reductions necessary to keep the global rise in temperature to below 2° Celsius. While Durban can thus not be rated a clear success in terms of substantive negotiating outcome, it was a clear success for the ETH delegates.

We attended COP17 with two main targets in mind: On the one hand, we wanted to use the conference to disseminate our research on climate policy to a wider public; on the other hand, we intended to gather data for future research.

In order to present ongoing and completed research projects, ETH had an information booth in the exhibition area, where interested delegates (both from government and the non-governmental sector) could get some insight on various ETH research activities related to climate change and climate policy. One such project was discussed in more detail as part of a side event, which ETH organised jointly with Initiatives of Change, a London-based NGO. Entitled “Climate Change, Violent Conflict and Human Security”, this event brought together experts from academia and policy practice. Based on new research findings, including from the EU-funded project CLICO (Climate Change, Hydro-conflicts and Human Security), the panelists debated the implications of a changing climate for human security, especially in the Middle East and Sahel region. ETH is involved in the CLICO research consortium with a new dataset that maps conflictive and cooperative events in 34 countries over a ten-year period, and first preliminary results on what drives conflicts provided a basis for discussion at the event. But the COP represented not only an opportunity to showcase existing research; it is also a unique opportunity to gather data, as the UNFCCC negotiations serve as the prime meeting point for everyone interested in climate change both from government and the non-governmental sector. These two sectors were the focus of two research endeavours. Thomas Bernauer and Vally Koubi were mainly interested in the government side and interviewed delegates on their perspectives on non-state actor participation in the negotiations. Representatives from countries as diverse as Denmark, Mauritania, or the USA explained the professors how their respective governments involve non-state actors in international policy making. Carola Betzold, in contrast, focused on non-governmental organisations and their activities and interests at the negotiations. For her PhD, she conducted a survey among the over 1,000 accredited observer organisations to find out how these groups participate in and seek to shape the negotiations.

Although we were not involved in any late-night deal making behind closed doors, two weeks of negotiations proved quite tiring for us, too. With literally hundreds of negotiation sessions, panel discussions, presentations and parallel events, it was difficult to decide where to go and what to see. Yet, the two weeks taught us a lot on how the extremely complex and often hard-to-understand process works, how the different actors participate – and what other researchers are doing on the subject matter. In sum, the COP was an extremely interesting and helpful experience, hopefully to be repeated next year in Qatar, when once again governments meet to discuss the world’s changing climate.


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© 2014 ETH Zurich | Imprint | Disclaimer | 28 March 2012