Preparing the ground
Key organisers and facilitators
Informal dialogues
Non-party stakeholders
Convergence strategies
Building trust and relationshipsHand-overs and briefingsOutreach by organisers

  • General outline

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    Incoming host governments will often meet with the outgoing host and the secretariat for hand-overs and briefings. This allows the new host government to use information, best practices and outcomes from the past to make progress in the upcoming negotiations.



    Hand-over of information, practices or outcomes from past processes is particularly important for teams that are elected for a limited period of time and will need to hit the ground running. There are several benefits from learning from and building on past negotiations:

    • Identification of potential landing zones: Information about party interests from past negotiation rounds can make it easier to identify zones of agreement and craft compromises. If a negotiating party has already accepted or rejected certain proposals in the past it is more likely that it will do so again in the next round.

    • Leveraging previous outcomes: Past outcomes, including agreements on previously agreed text, can be used as a basis for new drafts so organizers do not have to start from scratch.

    • Legitimacy and efficiency: The use of practices that have precedence and are already accepted, such as informal consultations, can enable a more streamlined and effective process without a loss of transparency. Parties will often feel more comfortable with a setup that appears familiar to them.

    • Innovations: A good understanding of past negotiations and the people involved makes it easier to develop new and innovative approaches for future negotiations. Importantly, advice from past experience should not be understood as precluding any form of innovation. But even innovative approaches need to be grounded in lessons from the past.

    • Identification of key individuals: Information on “who’s who”, personalities, and agendas make it easier to identify potential influencers, brokers and blockers. This can be particularly helpful when appointing individual chairs or forming informal groups. The outgoing hosts and the secretariat will usually have helpful contacts to share.

    • Access to institutional memory: The secretariat represents the “memory” of the regime and negotiations and can point to practices, pitfalls and solutions from the past. Its expertise is indispensable, in particular if an incoming facilitation team does not include process veterans.


     Organisers who do not seek to learn from and build on the past suffer an increased risk of failure. 

    • Inefficiency: Failure to use information from past negotiations increases the risk of wasting time re-tabling proposals or negotiating issues that are better left to one side. Repetitions and pitfalls can consume time and/or upset parties who have already made their opposition to certain issues and other sensitivities clear in the past.

    • Failure to identify compromises: Failure to use information from the past about party interests increases the risk of overlooking potential compromises that could have benefitted both sides.

    • Exposure: Host governments who have not been properly briefed will be less able to manage the complexities of the negotiation process. They may also find it more difficult to respond effectively to challenging situations and conflicts, such as attempts by obstructionist parties to delay progress.

    • Failure to identify the right facilitators: Organisers that have not been informed about ‘who’s who’ run a greater risk of appointing ineffective and/or controversial people as facilitators.

    • Failure to innovate at the right time and place: Without proper hand-overs and briefings host governments may not understand where innovation is needed and possible, and where it is not. Futile or poorly timed attempts to innovate, even if well-meaning, can cause inefficiencies and upsets. 



    Effective and complete hand-over from outgoing hosts or the secretariat may be difficult for a number of reasons: 

    • Lack of experience, misunderstandings and cultural differences: An incoming host government may find it difficult to ‘tune in’ to the advice, or even the lingo and expressions, used by the outgoing hosts or the secretariat. This can result from a lack of experience in recent negotiation rounds or in negotiations in general. It may also from cultural differences between the incoming host government and the secretariat or the outgoing team.

    • Limited time or resources: Efficient briefings and hand-overs from the outgoing hosts or secretariat to the incoming hosts may be hampered by limited resources on both ends. In some cases, the outgoing organiser – having already spent significant resources completing its own term – may also invest less in hand-overs and briefings.

    • Different motivations, interests or ambitions: Briefings and hand-overs may not be coordinated or appreciated if different individuals or institutions within the host government, or between the hosts and the secretariat, have divergent perspectives or interests. 

    • Failure to understand the role of the secretariat: Host governments may (intentionally or not) overlook the important role and   experiences of the secretariat. Secretariats, such as those in the WTO or UNFCCC, represent long-term institutional memory and will often be able to supplement or qualify advice from the outgoing hosts.


  • Best practices

    • Follow relevant workstreams in the negotiations even before you take over the role as organiser. Build relations with negotiators from other parties and secretariat staff, and ensure that experts stay on the team throughout the entire term.     

    • Organisers of past, current and future negotiations should meet up early and often to discuss how to best use existing information, outcomes and practices.  

    • The outgoing 2014 Peruvian Presidency and the incoming 2015 French Presidency cooperated smoothly, often working essentially as a single team, to facilitate the negotiations that culminated in the adoption of the Paris Agreement. Meetings were held early in the process to discuss how outcomes from the Peruvian Presidency in 2014 could best pave the way for success in 2015, and some Peruvian delegates, most notably COP President Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, retained an active role even after the French had formally taken over.

      This effective and complete hand-over between Peru and France helped the teams achieve success with the Paris Agreement in December 2015. Some observers have pointed out that France and Peru enjoyed particular legitimacy and trust because they, as a pair, represented both developed and developing country constituencies.    

    • Different organiser teams with responsibility for the previous, the current and/or the next negotiation rounds can work in tandems/troikas, almost as one single team that shares responsibilities, successes and failures. Tandems and troikas may be particularly efficient and legitimate when they cut across different groups and countries, such as ‘developing’ and ‘developed’ countries.    

    • Divergent views between outgoing and incoming organisers are not uncommon. Identify the differences upfront and work on them constructively from the start rather than smoothing them over and risking a larger conflict later in the process.     

    • As early as possible, arrange for briefings with the international secretariat. Absorb knowledge and inputs while staying mindful of the different roles and responsibilities of the secretariat and the host government.

    • Avoid innovation for innovation’s sake. Examine how practices used in the past – including meeting formats, drafting techniques or decision-making procedures – can promote progress. If it is necessary to test new practices, do so carefully and do not push beyond what is acceptable to the negotiating parties. Consult with parties first to probe whether they would be comfortable with it.

    • The 2015 French Presidency of COP21 successfully used an innovative meeting practice, the so-called ‘indabas’, established by the 2011 South African Presidency. In an ‘indaba’ – a cultural term that refers to the custom of traditional village meetings – negotiators would meet to sort out particularly difficult issues. As per the tradition, every party would have a voice and focus would be on joint problem-solving. Being able to prefer to the South African precedent helped the French Presidency to achieve buy-in for this outside-the-box negotiation format. 

    • There is no need to re-invent the wheel. Text already accepted by a party in one setting is generally more likely to be acceptable in another. Work with previous organisers and the secretariat to identify textual elements that have already been accepted (or rejected) by relevant parties. Organisers can also identify text that has been used in other settings, e.g. other UN processes or bilateral agreements.