GLASGOW, Scotland — On Friday morning, the United Nations Climate Change Conference released the second draft of the forthcoming agreement to combat climate change. Like the first draft and the final one set to be released in the coming days, it reads like a case study for the nonbinding, inconclusive language of diplomacy.
In addition to the challenges to getting virtually every nation in the world to agree on any firm commitments to limit the extent of global warming, the fact that the climate change accords are not treaties carrying any actual consequences for failing to fulfill their promises leads to language that is largely aspirational.
In a ritual that would surely puzzle the average American, government negotiators and activists, experts and lobbyists trying to influence them are currently debating the seemingly inconsequential distinctions between words like “urges,” “stresses” and “emphasizes.”
U.N.-speak also does not necessarily follow the layperson’s understanding of the words it employs. As the organization’s website explains, “‘Calls upon’ is stronger than ‘Requests’ and ‘Urges’ is considered to be even stronger. The highest level of emotion but rarely used is the word ‘Demands.’"
Nonetheless, few of the forthcoming commitments will be ironclad. Whereas the word “decides,” which indicates the adoption of an actual course of action, opens only five clauses in the document, nonbinding words are much more prevalent throughout the draft. Nine items in the draft agreement begin with “notes” and 14 begin with “urges.”
Here are examples of the imploring language used throughout the text. The italics are all in the original:
“Notes with concern that the current provision of climate finance for adaptation remains insufficient”
“Stresses the urgency of enhancing ambition and action”
“Notes with serious concern the findings from the contribution of Working Group I to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Sixth Assessment Report”
“Emphasizes the urgency of scaling up action and support”
“Urges Parties to further integrate adaptation into local, national and regional planning”
“Recognizes the importance of the global goal on adaptation for the effective implementation of the Paris Agreement”
“Calls upon multilateral development banks, other financial institutions and the private sector to enhance finance mobilization”
“encourages Parties to continue to explore innovative approaches and instruments for mobilizing finance”
“Reaffirms the Paris Agreement temperature goal”
“Welcomes efforts by Parties to communicate new or updated nationally determined contributions
“requests Parties to revisit and strengthen the 2030 targets in their nationally determined contributions”
“Notes with deep regret that the goal of developed country Parties to mobilize jointly USD 100 billion per year by 2020 in the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation has not yet been met”
“Underscores the urgency of enhancing understanding and action to make finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development in a transparent and inclusive manner in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication”
“Acknowledges the progress made on capacity-building”
“Reiterates the urgency of scaling up action and support, including finance, technology transfer and capacity-building”
“Takes note of the revised terms of reference of the Consultative Group of Experts”
“Expresses its recognition of the important role the observer organizations play”
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