A Young Lawyer’s First COP: International negotiations and the state of the environment

By Sabrina Nick - Young lawyer and WCEL Early Career Group Applicant, Sabrina Nick, shares her experience attending the UN Biodiversity COP 14 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt in November, 2018.

COP 14

Have you ever wondered what happens at a UN conference? In November 2018, I had the opportunity to attend the CBD COP 14 in Sharm el-Sheikh. As an Academic Trainee of the Federal Office for the Environment, I had the main task to coordinate the Swiss negotiation positions and to support the Swiss Delegation in general.

After intense weeks of preparation I couldn’t wait to get the Conference started. One day before delegates from all over the world would arrive at the venue, I had the chance to walk through the empty facility. Standing in front of the Conference room and looking at all those empty seats, I tried to picture what these rows would look like filled up with experts.

Well, I couldn’t anticipate what it feels like to be seated in the opening ceremony, sitting in one room with people from literally every country of the world. That is definitely an experience to remember! Representatives of States and experts on biodiversity, all coming together for one and the same cause: to discuss biodiversity and ecosystem services.

As soon as the official opening had finished and the first negotiation of agenda items had started, a hive of human activity emerged within the venue. People were meeting and exchanging spontaneously in the corridors on the way between the numerous side-events and the negotiations. Individuals from different backgrounds were encountering and cooperating.

One of the most interesting thing to me as a young lawyer was the event in the main conference room. This is where policy and law was being developed. During my studies I had mostly learned how to apply the law, but to witness first hand the law setting process, fascinated me. Dynamics of negotiation, long working hours, red lines and the spirit of compromise, and States defending their interests and carefully prepared positions. It was amazing to see how all the specific intentions ended up in one decision expressing the common interest. To experience these long hours of negotiations, sometimes just about one part of a sentence or even words, has definitely changed the way I read a decision.

What would an environmental conference of this kind be without a field excursion? I had the honour to attend the green list award of IUCN taking place in the Ras Mohammad National Park a few kilometers south of Sharm El-Sheikh. As soon as our buses had passed the checkpoints and we left the UN security zone, I got a queasy feeling. Picture one street on a reddish sandy plane leading to the mountain massive of South Sinai, on the left hand side some unfinished construction can be spotted in the far, on the right hand side the rocky sand merging with these wonderful stone mountains I could see from the conference center. But next to the street, rubbish is scattered all over the landscape. Welcome back to reality outside the conference rooms! A lot of work to do…

About the Author

Sabrina Nick Photo: Sabrina Nick Sabrina Nick was an Academic Trainee at the Federal Office for Environment in the International Affairs Division. After having studied Swiss and International Law in four languages, she received her Master of Law at the University of Bern in 2019. In her master thesis she analyzed and interpreted an Article of the CBD under the aspects of international environmental law.

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