What it’s like negotiating at COP26 as a small island state

Climate negotiators from small islands nations reflect on their experience after two tough weeks at the Glasgow summit.
On Thursday, a Marshall Islands delegate attended the COP26 summit. Alastair Grant/AP/Shutterstock

Climate summits can be emotionally draining, complicated and long. These talks are crucial to everyone whose lives are affected by climate change, including negotiators from island nations.

Kristin Qui, a negotiator representing Trinidad and Tobago at the COP26 climate summit, said, "It's two week away from your family and from your friends eating very poor food and not sleeping."

She started work on Thursday at 8am, and completed negotiations at 10pm. She says, "That was an early end." She claims that she has slept an average of six hours per night for the past two weeks.


Qui is negotiating for the Alliance of Small Island States coalition at the COP26 climate summit. It is made up of 39 countries, mainly from the Caribbean and South Pacific.

Frances Fuller, a negotiator in Antigua and Barbuda, says that "we are a small group of countries that don’t have a lot of political leverage." "But, we have strength and moral high ground, though sometimes that's not enough to move things along."

Qui says that negotiations can be physically and emotionally exhausting. "But you must compartmentalise because your body will feel like this if you get involved with that exhaustion.

Climate negotiations include both private and public meetings. Public meetings allow countries to decide which parts of the climate agreement they like or don't. Qui says, "It's the place where the theatrics take place."

Facilitators moderate smaller closed-door meetings that focus on specific topics like climate finance or emission pledges. Qui, for instance, spent the summit negotiating Article 6 (the Paris Agreement) which details how carbon markets work.

She says, "But the real discussions take place in informal meetings where there is no facilitator."

Qui says that these discussions often take place late at night. Fuller said that she had to find a South African negotiator at the conference centre on Thursday night so they could have one last discussion about emission-cutting steps.

Fuller says that leaders are feigning a lot of talk about 1.5 degrees and science. "But when it comes to the technical discussions... there's another party in the room who just wants to erase all references to real science."

To remain calm, it takes effort. She says, "Here, I have a job and if I went into hysterics now - nobody would listen." She says this is much harder at home. She says, "When you see not enough being done, you can't compartmentalise."

Pearnel P. Charles Junior, Jamaica's environment minister, is one of the co-facilitators for the negotiations. He says that he, like Qui and Fuller has a job. He says, "I don’t have the time to worry about who doesn’t get it [the severity and impact of climate change]," "I must be focused and ensure they get it before I leave.

He adds, "If these negotiations were easy, we wouldn't have to wait two weeks." "I didn’t come here expecting to have some grand nice affair... We are pushing every second for the COP that succeeds so that all of our children... will look back on what we did here, and see that they saved them and not that they failed them."

Despite COP26 being scheduled to end yesterday, the third draft agreement for the summit was released today. It is hoped that today will see the publication of the final pact.