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The ‘datafication’ of Climate Negotiations

To facilitate the access to the Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB) reports, the médialab of Sciences Po contributed to develop the Climate Negotiations Browser.


As delegates and observers converge to Paris to participate in the 21st Conference of Parties of the UN Framework Convention of Climate Change (UNFCCC), many are afraid that the COP21 will fail as Copenhagen’s COP15 did in 2009. The six years have passed since the Copenhagen Conference have made the global warming issue all the more urgent and have witnessed to an intense diplomatic work to secure the bases for an agreement in Paris. Yet nothing assures the success of the COP21.

The high economic cost of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and conflicting geopolitical interests are often blamed as the main obstacles to a fair and ambitious agreement. They certainly are. Another difficulty, however, haunts delegates converging toward Paris: the unprecedented complications attained by UNFCCC negotiations.

Nowhere such complexity is better captured than in the reports of the Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB). Published by the IISD (International Institute for Sustainable Development), the 12th volume of the ENB covers all the meetings related to the UNFCCC, reporting on the position taken by the different delegations and groups in the different negotiation tracks and, when possible, in the corridors.

Although it is precious to investigate the complexity of the climate negotiation, the ENB restitutes such complexity in a quasi-unreduced version. Respecting the daily organization of UNFCCC meetings, the ENB compile different negotiation tracks and formats in the same reports, making it difficult to get a complete picture of the negotiations and to access specific pieces of information.

To facilitate the access to the ENB reports, the médialab of Sciences Po has joined forces with the IISD, the Atelier Iceberg and LSIR EPFL to develop the Climate Negotiations Browser.

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The ClimateNegotiations.org platform allows the user to navigate over 20 years of UN climate negotiations as captured by ENB reporting system. The DISCOVER interface offers a visual overview of the most visible issues and actors of the negotiation. The EXPLORE interface allows the user to search, filter and read the ENB verbatims.

The development of such a platform gathered climate experts, social scientists, developers and designers in the effort to render this rich but complex source of information more easily accessible. This work of ‘datification’ required collecting all the contents of the ENB vol.12; separating, cleaning and tagging each of the sections contained in the reports; extracting the themes and the actors of the negotiations; visualizing the rise and fall of their visibility; and, most importantly, building a powerful faceted search engine allowing to ask complex question such as: "give me all the ENB sections in which the Alliance of Small Islands discussed about Loss and Damage after Warsaw".

With our platform we hope to provide negotiators and observers of the COP21 a tool to unfold the unparalleled complexity of the climate debate. Through its causes and its consequences, global warming affects all natural and social spheres: from the extraction of fossil fuels, to the conservation of forests; from the agricultural practices to international aviation; from the acidification of oceans to technological and financial transfers. All these questions (and many others) encumber a multiplicity of interlocked negotiation tables, working groups, subsidiary boards and special workshops translating into a mountain of diplomatic procedures.

In addition, the problem of climate change proved to be simultaneously global and local. ‘Global’ because virtually every country is concerned by the impacts of global warming. ‘Local’ because the impact of global warming and the costs of its mitigation influence but also cut across traditional geopolitical frontiers. Ultimately, climate has been a subject of negotiation since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. Twenty four years have passed since then and it has left a complex heritage of compromises and decisions, constantly mobilized by the actors of the debate.

With our tool, we hope to help both delegates, journalists, policy-makers, NGOs and engaged citizens to exploit the richness of the past negotiations and overpass known issues to make the COP21 a success!

Discover and explore 20 years of debates on ClimateNegotiations.org!