After 25 years of frequent and at times intense global negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Covid-19 pandemic led to a sudden halt in face-to- face meetings. The 26th session of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (COP26), scheduled to take place in Glasgow, UK, in November 2020, was postponed by a year. Two sessions of the subsidiary bodies to the UNFCCC have also been postponed, while smaller constituted bodies under the UNFCCC have convened online.

Even before the pandemic struck, a growing number of people had begun to question whether or not the annual COP sessions – mega-events with ten thousands of people flying in from all over the world to engage in often both exhausting and frustrating negotiations – were still fit for purpose . But up until recently, suggestions to alter the format or frequency of the climate negotiations, for example to reduce their carbon footprint, were swiftly dismissed.

The uncertain duration and global impact of the Covid-19 pandemic is now forcing UNFCCC Parties and the Secretariat to reconsider the massive climate negotiation gatherings that until recently seemed inevitable. That’s why the Swedish Ministry of Environment has asked SEI to explore the feasibility of what appears to be the most obvious alternative: to hold negotiation sessions and related meetings at least in part or even primarily online – and to assess the merit of such an endeavour.

An important challenge of the project will be to ensure that any new format benefits rather than harms the quality of the negotiation process and its outcomes, for example by making them more accessible and inclusive, especially for developing countries.