COP21 hailed as shining example of French diplomacy

Laurence Tubiana, France's ambassador for the international climate negotiations. [OEA - OAS/Flickr]

Establishing a consensus on climate change between 195 countries was an enormous challenge. France’s diplomats have been universally congratulated for their considerable achievements at the COP21. EURACTIV France reports

The last two weeks were an unprecedented success for France. Reaching an agreement between 195 parties on an issue as important and delicate as the climate was no easy task. “We have witnessed exemplary diplomacy, at a really exceptional level. I’ve never seen anything like it before,” said Nick Mabey, the director of the NGO E3G.

The good management of the negotiations and the evolution of the final text towards a level of ambition that nobody had dreamed of just a few weeks ago bore the hallmarks of one person: the French ambassador for the climate negotiations, Laurence Tubiana.

A specialist on both the climate and international relations, the director of the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI) spent the past 18 months thoroughly immersed in her job. Supported by the French diplomatic service, she and her network had been mobilised since 2014.

>> Read: Warsaw breaks ranks with Poland on 2030 climate goals

Tirelessly, Tubiana has travelled around the globe several times this year, never letting up in her quest for international commitment and consensus. And it was not all plain sailing: in spring this year, she could be seen hobbling through the world’s airports on crutches, and one week before the COP21, she spent 48 hours in hospital with appendicitis.

But despite the immense pressure, Tubiana managed to keep her cool. She was the direct point of contact for the 195 countries involved in the agreement on the future of the planet, and only turned off her phone to go under the knife.

Hers was the idea of inviting the heads of state to the opening of the conference, and not to the end. The management of the meals, the lighting and attending to the whims of the delegates during the conference was also down to her.

She was also responsible for breaking with the usual sombre dress code of UN meetings: she was the only person navigating the never-ending corridors of the Bourget site in trainers, among so many high heels and ties.

“We are grateful to the French diplomatic service for its faultless organisation,” said Nozipho Joyce Mxakato-Diseko, the ambassador of the G77 group of developing countries.

Soft-touch diplomacy

This approach to diplomacy was aimed at winning over the stomachs of the delegates, as much as their hearts and minds. On the last day of the conference, the historic Saturday 12 December, while the final text was yet to be translated or printed, Laurent Fabius suggested that they adjourn for lunch. This struck a chord among the delegates, who had not been treated to dinner the previous evening.

While certain countries questioned the methods employed at the COP21, Tubiana remained calm and argued that such questions always arise at negotiations. “Up to now we have always offered solutions that have responded to the expectations of the parties. So there is no reason why it should be any different this time,” she said.

Questioned over the role of Saudi Arabia at the negotiations, she remained characteristically calm. “Saudi Arabia has published a contribution to the COP21, you can read it just as I did,” she replied, soberly. In the document in question, the oil-producing country, which is also one of the richest in the world, asked for money to help it cut its CO2 emissions.

Tubiana’s soft-touch method contrasts starkly with the outsized egos that surround her. Between Laurent Fabius and Ségolène Royal, who hardly speak to one another, the heads of state from around the world, the various environment and foreign affairs ministers who often team up, she found another way, paved with respect and good humour. 

The pros and cons of the climate deal


1. Reference to 1.5° target in final text

2. New market based offset mechanism, the ITMO (Internationally Transferred Mitigation Outcomes)

3. Plea to “avoid double accounting” of climate finance

4. A whole article to specify loss and damages mechanism


1. $100 billion dollars finance target put back in COP decision, rather than stronger COP agreement

2. Developing countries “should”, and not “shall” contribute to help finance for energy transition

3. No compensation planned in loss and damage article

4. No reference to “carbon price” or carbon market

5. No reference to decarbonisation, carbon neutrality, shipping & aviation


Life Terra

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