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Mediation And Climate Change

Climate change and its effects are no respecters of national borders. We are told that we face unprecedented alterations to weather patterns across the globe. Disruption of this sort may pose potentially serious security risks for many countries as competition for scarce resources grows and the pace of change outstrips our ability to adapt. Mass migration is one such threat. This could bring about dangerous conflicts within and between states. We will need to find ways to address these.

More pressingly, prior to the forthcoming Copenhagen summit, we see positions being staked out and political and economic interests predominating as impasse grows over the relative roles of developed and developing nations. There is the danger that those charged with making decisions will be driven into taking stances which will lessen rather than enhance the prospects of a successful outcome. It is hard to act unilaterally to break a deadlock if you fear conceding too much and being disadvantaged as a result.

In a report to the Security Council in April this year, the UN Secretary General identified the potential benefits that skilful, impartial third party mediation can bring to peaceful settlement of disputes. Mediation, unlike arbitration, does not result in a decision or judgment. The parties themselves have control over the outcome. That approach may be essential in the kind of international conflicts which global climate change will bring. It seems essential even as Copenhagen looms. Such an approach will require a new kind of leadership, and skill in collaborative decision-making which transcends national interests, but how else are we to tackle what is to come without impasse and breakdown?

The UN report called for increased use of mediation and enhanced capacity in government and civil society to achieve constructive resolution of disputes. With that in mind, the organisation Mediators Beyond Borders, the only non-government dispute resolution body with observer rights at Copenhagen, is calling for the inclusion of mediation in the Copenhagen protocols. This move has been endorsed by individuals and organisations from around the world. MBB’s President, Dr Kenneth Cloke, who will lead the MBB delegation in Copenhagen of which I am privileged to be a part, was recently in Edinburgh and addressed a meeting at the Scottish Parliament. He suggested that Scotland has an opportunity to support this initiative and could itself play a third party role in an increasingly complex world.

In a powerful article in the September/October edition of Foreign Affairs, entitled Copenhagen’s Inconvenient Truth, Michael Levi said that “realistic expectations and the right negotiating strategy are essential.” In other words, it seems crucial that the way in which discussions about climate change are conducted creates the proper context for really innovative thinking and open debate. Parochial or partisan negotiation will not take us to where we need to be. We need to find ways to add value and to focus on common ground and mutual interests.

This is where mediation comes in, helping all parties feel a sense of active participation, respectful engagement and genuine recognition of their concerns and aspirations, hopes and fears, achievements and limitations. That in turn requires getting beneath the surface, and really exploring what needs to be done. It will take courage to lead on this and will test the mettle of our statesmen and women worldwide.

There is an old folk tale which nicely captures the mediator’s role. On the death of their father, three brothers inherited the old man’s camels, which he had left to them in proportions of one half, one third and one ninth respectively. Unfortunately, there were only 17 camels. They argued about what to do until a wise old elder in the village offered the brothers his own camel, giving them 18 in all. They divided up the camels accordingly, giving them 9, 6 and 2 respectively, a total of 17. One camel was left, that of the elder. He rode off into the night.

Scotland could play that “third side” role, helping to find the 18th camel: offering real value, assisting other countries to find a solution and then gracefully moving on. We desperately need such contributions today. It may be the way in which this country can make a difference.


John Sturrock

John Sturrock is the founder and senior mediator at Core Solutions, Scotland's pre-eminent provider of commercial mediation services. As a pioneer of mediation throughout the UK and elsewhere, his work extends to the commercial, professional, sports, public sector, policy and political fields. He is a Distinguished Fellow of the international… MORE >

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