Unity refers to a common understanding of goals and strategies, aligned communication, and a clear distribution of roles.
An international organisation brings together governments to decide upon international policy and provides the institutional architecture within which international negotiators conduct their work. They are responsible for the administrative and logistical organisation of multilateral negotiations. Often, this role falls to the secretariat team.
For example, in the case of trade, the international organisation is the World Trade Organisation (WTO), which deals exclusively with trade matters. In the case of climate change, the international organisation is the United Nations (UN), which deals with multiple issue areas. The responsibility for supporting climate negotiations is delegated to the UNFCCC Secretariat, which is based in Bonn, Germany. This is a sub-organisation of the UN, which is headquartered in New York.
The international organisation supports the facilitation team in both procedural and substantive aspects of the negotiations. When an international organisation works as one with clearly defined positions and responsibilities, it is able to allocate time, staff, political leverage and expertise most effectively to the negotiations. When roles are clearly distributed, the activities of international organisation and its sub-organisations can complement each other.
A lack of unity within the international organisation can lead to duplication of efforts, poor flows of information, power struggles and a loss of time and energy. Although less commonplace and disruptive than a fractured facilitation team, disunity within the international organisation can undermine the team’s ability to support the host facilitation team and the negotiation process. When roles are not clearly distributed, it can create confusion and mixed messages.
The main barriers to the unity of an international organisation are:
Role confusion: When an international organisation is split into different sub-organisations (for example the UN headquarters and the UNFCCC Secretariat) there is a risk that their respective roles and decision-making responsibilities are not clearly defined or aligned, particularly when the sub-organisations are geographically remote. In turn, this can lead to duplication of efforts or conflicting approaches.
Organisational culture: A working culture within an international organisation that promotes competition over cooperation can stand in the way of a unified international organisation that assumes a coherent approach to supporting the negotiations.
High stakes: The stakes in multilateral negotiations are often high, and with this comes considerable publicity for key organisers. Rivalry for publicity can cause tension and disunity within an international organisation, particularly when there is role confusion and/or a competitive working culture.
Clashes of personality: As with any kind of organisation, friction can arise between different individuals or groups within an international organisation. Personality clashes, especially between senior management, can threaten the unity of an international organisation.
Speak with one voice
In the run-up to the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit, a divide emerged between the UN headquarters in New York and the UNFCCC Secretariat in Bonn, that mirrored the two competing factions of the Danish Presidency (insert hyperlink to unity of HFT eg). The divergent approaches within the UN organisations both exacerbated the conflict within the Danish Presidency, and inhibited the ability of the UN organisations to provide effective support to the Danes.
Differences of opinion are always present within large organisations. The UNFCCC under Christiana Figueres’s tenure as Executive Secretary is generally considered as a model of best practice, yet divergences would still arise between the Bonn-based Secretariat and the UN headquarters in New York. In such instances, Figueres would call the New York team to talk through their differences and settle on a unified approach.
Clear division of roles
The UNFCCC Secretariat, led by Christiana Figueres, coordinated closely with the UN headquarters in New York in the run-up to the 2015 Paris summit and worked in harmony at different levels to ensure the most effective use of their comparative advantages and avoid duplication of efforts. The UNFCCC supported the French Presidency with the negotiation process, whereas the team of the UN Secretary-General operated at a higher-level to build momentum for the negotiations through initiatives such as the UNSG Climate Summit and the People’s March.
Sources suggest that the UNFCCC under Yvo de Boer’s leadership in 2009 competed with the office of the UN Secretary-General for the publicity that came with the high-stakes summit instead of effectively aligning their roles. As a result, resources were duplicated and their respective roles were unclear.
Senior management takes the lead
When she took over as UNFCCC Executive Secretary, Christiana Figueres invested heavily in instilling a “one team” approach. Under her leadership, a strong and unified organisational culture developed in all levels of the climate Secretariat, which was one of the factors that allowed them to provide such effective support to the various Presidency teams that laid the foundations for the eventual adoption of the Paris Agreement.