“We need to design a process people didn’t know they needed.” This observation, coming from a technical expert at one of the project’s stakeholder roundtables, captures well the challenge for the UNFCCC process in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2019, few participants in, or observers to, the UNFCCC process would have likely claimed that designing an online UNFCCC process was desirable or necessary. But many would have argued for broader reform of the process, noting the current lack of trust and power imbalances. In many ways, our analysis finds that the fierce debate about whether to move more of the process online can be seen as a proxy conflict for these long-standing and diverging interests and perspectives.

This report reflects the sentiment of many stakeholders that there is an opportunity to harness the interruption and introspection that the pandemic imposed into a “positive disruption” of the process. If actions taken now can transcend the tendency to return to “business as usual” as soon as circumstances allow, and instead work towards a meaningful transformation of the climate talks, the UNFCCC process can be made more fit for purpose for tackling one of humanity’s greatest challenges. This will require creativity, courage, and active and decisive leadership.