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Time pressure and exhaustion

Regularly, international negotiations between countries (e.g., under the UN or World Trade Organisation, WTO) are characterised by negotiations around the clock during the last days of the session. In this final phase, working groups draft decision texts on particular issues, ministers or other high-level country delegates negotiate outstanding issues, ‘friends of the President’ groups are formed to facilitate more informal talks, etc. Lack of time to complete negotiations could lead to unexpected outcomes where Parties suddenly give in because they do not want to be blamed for the failure of the negotiations. Or, instead, a lack of time could make

Parties reluctant to accept a proposed deal, even it would in principle meet the criteria for a win-win case, simply because negotiators have insufficient time to carefully judge the proposal. Climate negotiations have shown examples of both effects. The negotiations in Kyoto in 1997 came under a time pressure, because several exhausted delegates had to catch their planes, especially delegates from developing countries who often had low-cost, fixed tickets (Depledge 2004, p. 24), and, although not all legal texts had been discussed in a plenary meeting, the protocol text was adopted. On the other hand, the COP-6 talks failed in November 2000 because the EU negotiator was not convinced that the last-minute proposal for a deal adequately covered the EU concerns (see earlier in this chapter).

Another problem that may arise in this phase is that exhaustion of delegates particularly affects relatively small delegations (e.g., of some developing countries) (IISD 2013, p. 29). Negotiators from small delegations must often follow the round the clock schedule, whereas delegates from the larger delegations are regularly replaced by ‘fresh’ colleagues. This unbalance could have an impact in two directions: either exhausted delegates agree on texts that they would otherwise not have agreed on, or they refuse to agree on draft decisions simply because they have lost view on the consequences of the text. One option for smaller delegations is to collaborate within larger negotiation groups, as described in Box 2.1.

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