A new kind of COP with new challenges
After five days of back-to-back meetings and plenary sessions, the seventh meeting of the conference of the parties (COP7) has wrapped up. The Framework Convention Alliance provides a round-up of the week.
COP sessions are always intense and tiring, with moments when it seems like Parties will never be able to reach consensus.
But this time really was different, with agreement unusually difficult to find on a number of issues.
While we hope there will be a few last-minute miracles today on some agenda items, it is worth thinking about why the frustration level was higher than normal this week.
There are multiple reasons. One was probably a changed (or better executed) tobacco industry strategy. Without wishing to sound paranoid, it seemed that some delegates were actively seeking to slow down or even sabotage discussions, possibly in a coordinated fashion. Sometimes this involved raising procedural or legalistic arguments, sometimes proposing provocative new language when Parties were close to agreement on a controversial item.
It is hard to defend against this type of strategy, except by Parties recognising early on which delegates fall into this category and seeking to negotiate around them. This is something we will all need to think about seriously ahead of COP8.
A second difficulty was some Parties forgetting the lesson of past COP sessions: five and a half days is a really short time to get through a long agenda, so negotiating time is precious. For example, COP7 spent many hours on ENDS/ENNDS, though it was predictable from the outset that the final decision would be broadly similar to the one adopted at COP6.
But there is perhaps a deeper reason why this COP session was challenging, and that has to do with the maturing of the FCTC. Parties have got very used to negotiating guidelines and other forms of policy prescriptions, but there was little of that on the COP7 agenda. Instead we had a range of implementation issues and governance issues (including 5.3-related COP governance) that we are al less used to grappling with.
The good news is, COP7 actually did decide some important things.
One example was the decision to develop a strategic framework for the FCTC and to look more closely at the role of implementation review in helping to capture Parties’ technical assistance and resource needs.
This will probably not make the front page of any newspapers, but is potentially a big step forward, including to streamline future COP sessions. Yes, agreeing where the COP and the FCTC are going, and how they will get there, will take a good deal of work. Once the COP has agreement on its overall strategy, however, it will be easier to organise COP discussions, easier to meet Parties’ top technical assistance needs, and easier to meet the ambitious target of 30 percent reduction in prevalence agreed to at COP6.
It should also make it easier to raise money for the Secretariat, for the COP and for country-level implementation of the FCTC.
Speaking of money: early in the week, the United Kingdom announced a significant investment of development funds into FCTC implementation. One can only hope this decision will attract imitators from other countries; it is an early tangible sign that the inclusion of the FCTC in the Sustainable Development Goals will have real-world effects.
Another piece of good news was the discussions on the ITP. As we move closer to having 40 ITP Parties, it is important to put more work into preparing for entry into force – and on that point at least, there was broad consensus. The disagreements on the Protocol were on the means to prepare, not on the ends.
Finally, the decision to establish an Article 5.3 knowledge hub should come as some comfort to delegates who are faced with tobacco industry interference in their home countries.
On that note, the FCA wishes delegates from Parties and observers safe travels, and productive work on implementing the FCTC in their respective countries.
* This article first appeared on the website of the Framework Convention Alliance.