World governments are assembling this week in Durban, South Africa, for the 17th annual Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. High on the agenda will be Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation and other instruments designed to better account for land use-related greenhouse gas sources and sinks, particularly in forestry and agriculture. Forests and other ground covers represent very important sinks, capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. However, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses are released when forests are harvested or soils disturbed, so various governments and other stakeholders would like to see credits rewarded for efforts to manage forests and other lands more sustainably.

Each country typically presents a united front in international negotiations, allying with or facing off against other countries, international organizations and stakeholder interest groups. This face of national unity in negotiations belies the real tensions that typically arise within any given country as national positions are developed and persist, or evolve, over time. Various stakeholder groups and their allies in government have important interests at stake. They engage in the policy-making process, directly or indirectly, with an eye towards producing something that favors them.

An important and insufficiently explored question is how stakeholders within a country might engage more effectively to develop a national position that maximizes everyone’s interests. Rather than creating winners and losers, can they find creative solutions that everyone can live with? Of course, the fact that they are crafting a national position that must remain flexible in light of what happens on the international stage complicates matters. The establishment of contingencies and negotiating teams that include representation from various stakeholder groups can help. Furthermore, a well thought out national proposal that is considerate of the divergent interests that also typically exist at the international level has a better chance of gaining international support and thus resembling the agreement ultimately reached.

CBI recently developed a lecture and role-play simulation exercise on effectively negotiating a national position for international negotiations for the Arab Water Academy’s Climate Change and Sustainable Land-Water Management course in Abu Dhabi. The course, which was co-sponsored by the World Bank Institute, brought together senior civil servants from different government ministries and agencies across the Middle East and North Africa region to exchange best practices and consider how they can make more sound decisions around land and water management, given the challenges climate change might pose.

CBI’s intervention was designed to enhance participants’ negotiating skills and give them an appreciation for the competing interests that need to be considered as their countries develop any policy or position for the international arena. The exercise CBI developed - called Setting Noohor’s position on Agricultural Emissions for Building national consensus for international negotiations – put participants into various roles, other than those they hold in the real world, to negotiate a position for the fictitious country of Noohor going into the Durban meetings.

Participants were challenged to work through their different interests and concerns, including: What Noohor should prioritize at what level of international support is necessary in order for the country to agree to various things; what changes should be expected from the agriculture sector in order to capitalize on any agreement; and who should be responsible, and to what degree, for implementing and supporting these changes in the agriculture sector. Each character has a different set of preferences and concerns around each of these questions, based on their interests. For example, the Ministry of Agriculture sees this as an opportunity to modernize the sector and thus would like to see the country push hard for a strong agreement that includes substantial funding for countries like Noohor to develop. In contrast, the Grand Chief of an important tribe, who is also at the table, is very concerned that agricultural modernization will leave many from his or her constituency, which consists largely of small-scale farmers, behind. These two representatives - along with the other five at the table, which each have their own priorities and concerns - must negotiate to shape a national position.

Most of the participants at the Arab Water Academy course were not directly involved in crafting their respective national positions for the meetings currently taking place in Durban. None-the-less, this intervention gave them an opportunity to better understand how national positions can take shape, and how they might more effectively engage in or even organize such processes in the future. Regardless of the issue, finding more effective ways to develop national positions that stakeholders support domestically can lead to more thoughtful, and thus more impactful, contributions on the international stage while reducing friction at home.