Toxicity at High Level Summits


The picture of COP24 President Michal Kurtyka standing on a table and celebrating this success went viral in the media and the world like a lightning bolt. It was a success to be celebrated after the catastrophe of COP15 and finally getting 193 UN member states agreeing a deal on how to improve our climate. The last United Nations Climate Summit COP 24 provided the now famous “Katowice Climate Package (KCP)”. It sounds like a happy ending but talks surrounding environmental protection is highly toxic with many devastating failures and consequences.

Climate negotiations are very political, dividing member states into various camps that leads to very slow progress in a fasting declining and global issue.

Working at an immense diplomatic occasion of this caliber gives the unique opportunity to look behind the scenes. The actual COP negotiation took 17 days of daily talks to accomplish the KCP.  However, within these short days included face-to-face high-level summit meetings from a wide range of representatives with all manner of personal and national interests that not always aligned to the true cause of climate change protection. Preparations for the COP is a full year job including constant communication with delegations and organizations from all over the world. Some officials have been working for COPs since the very first time in Berlin in 1995 – sometimes referred to as Mr or Mrs COP.

The preparations are intense. But the only real publically known agreements are the 1992 Kyoto Protocol, the 2015 Paris Agreement, and the recent 2018 KCP. What about all the other conferences that took place over the other 20 odd years? They exist and bring their own level of results, such as the Talanoa Dialogue from COP23 in Fiji, but other COPs develop know-how for insider circles who are actively engaged in climate issues. This is particularly true of country delegates who are under very high pressure from their governments, the UN and the public because they have been noted to not deliver under terms and conditions of other climate negotiations. This task is challenging, and burdens so much responsibility on delegates who do not sleep, eat or drink when trying to come up with solutions in such conferences.

Environments such as these can be highly toxic for one’s own health and mental well-being, increasing high levels of stress caused by work-related pressures. If you catch participants during a moment of silence, they seem very frustrated. Many diplomats engaged in such summits and conferences spend a lifetime managing extremely tough tasks without much downtime. They rarely get appreciation for tasks mandated by their governments, their bosses and members of civil society. It is not unusual to meet Mr  or Mrs COP who isn’t desperate in wanting to solve an unsolvable issue. There are the false assumptions that veterans can easily handle the most challenging situations, but this isn’t necessarily true.

Staying constructive allows you to overcome big problems and potentially transform them into great achievements. Staying focused on passion and vision for the future can help to keep up with the daily struggle. For example, if you give your life a specific purpose, such as diplomats do during this kind of summit, you might feel significant fulfillment and excitement in your life. Every individual has the opportunity to create positive working environments with the right frame of mind. With enough soft skills training, you can positively impact the environment around you.