Contact Group

We took three and a half days, from 8:00a.m. till midnight, to perform our task. In that time, we produced only two pages of the SPM. Through those days, again and again, we would write a draft, then present it to the contact group, gamer comments, and produce another draft.

In the room, the delegates had different styles. The US delegate was constantly on the phone to Washington. The Saudi delegate looked disgruntled and said little. The UK delegate stared at the ceiling. Others shuttled about making deals. Months later, I was shown a comment about me from the diary of a Netherlands’ delegate, Arthur Petersen. I think it illustrates how alien the philosophers’ deliberative approach to questions can seem to other people:

Later during the day, when we convene in the evening in the contact group, the philosophy professor has developed a unique modus ope-randi. He never indicates immediately the adjustments he will propose. He only says that he has listened carefully, has learned much from it, and has to ponder it a bit. He also says he does not master the technique of making a new text in track changes. And so, we get a lecture with a whole new text. Unbelievably, this man seems to get away with it. But he speaks such beautiful English and he really knows what he is talking about. I become a bit milder and I must admit the text has improved somewhat, with less normative terms and more references to the related chapter.


The disagreements in the contact group were between different governments rather than between authors and governments. To a large extent, our role was to mediate the disagreements. True, we could have resolved them easily by emptying the section of content, but we did not want to do that. So we were searching for ways to preserve as much significant content as possible that the different sides could agree to.

Disagreement came to a head on Wednesday night over the most contentious paragraph on justice. At 10:00p.m. two huddles of delegates formed in corners of the room. One was a group of developing countries (by the UNFCCC’s definition) let by Brazil and Saudi Arabia. The other was a group of rich countries led by the US. They were composing their own versions of a paragraph about justice. We, who would become the nominal authors of the paragraph, sat and twiddled our thumbs.

At one time while this was going on, a more senior US delegate from the plenary session visited our room. I overheard him saying to his colleagues “Why don’t we just delete this section on ethics and get on with more important stuff?” At 11:00 p.m., we were presented with two alternative versions of the paragraph. We were told that one would be rejected by the developing countries and the other would be rejected by the rich countries. Brazil said to us quietly, “I advise you to stick very closely to our proposed text. There are not really two options. Only one is possible. We are very close to deciding there will be no Section 2 in the report.”

By that time of night I was tired, but this explicit threat galvanized me. It added spice to the occasion, and the possible deletion of our section did not seem to me a bad thing. We would no longer be authors of the SPM. This would leave us free to talk to the press who were camped outside. Figueres drew attention to the presence of philosophy and ethics in AR5, and so did the IPCC’s press releases. Any country that deleted our contribution would look bad. It would seem not to care about ethics.

After the threat was issued, Fleurbaey told Brazil that we were thinking of resigning. This made the delegates suddenly more cooperative. They did not really want us to go. Consequently, agreement was reached following some shuttle diplomacy between the two camps the next day, conducted by Fleurbaey and others. By Thursday evening we had consensus on a complete version of the section.

It had still to be agreed upon at the plenary session. It was brought to plenary at 1:20 a.m. on Friday morning. Edenhofer, in the chair, reminded the meeting that, since the whole text had been approved after detailed consideration in a contact group, there should be no reason for any intervention. Nevertheless, when he read the first sentence, Tanzania proposed a perfectly pointless amendment to it. Edenhofer came down on Tanzania so heavily that thereafter there was not a whisper from the room. The whole text was approved without any further objection and was applauded as a result.

We were lucky. Because ours was the first substantive section, we got three and a half days to negotiate a compromise text. By contrast, the next night, in the small hours of Saturday morning, as delegates came under pressure from the need to sleep and to catch their flights home, important parts of the SPM were deleted wholesale. These were sections where no compromise had been achieved. I was shocked to see this destruction. I have told the story' of it elsewhere (Broome, 2014).

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