Image of Paris skyline during a red sunset.


Gillian Bowser
Dec 17, 2015

Was Ringo at COP21 or was that RINGO?  

The Research and Independents Non Governmental Organization (RINGO) is one of nine recognized constituency groups under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). These groups give "voice" to their constituencies and are the points of contacts for civil society observers at the UN meetings.

Civil society has always been an important aspect of UN conventions and the UNFCCC has an active and vocal civil society element that participates in side events, organizes public outreach, and attends open negotiation sessions. Protesting, advocacy, and voice has always been an element for civil society observers at the UNFCCC with perhaps a high point during the COP15 in Copenhagen where almost 100,000 observers attended events associated with that COP. However, of the nine constituency groups of the UNFCCC, the RINGO tends to be more of a subdued and intellectual home for researchers and academics at the COP where daily briefings provide good academic views of the proceedings. While the RINGO does not assume an advocacy position other than for science writ large to be considered in all steps of the negotiations, it does provide an opportunity for scientists to network across disciplines, share research and identify research knowledge gaps with institutions from around the world.

Eiffel Tower RINGO

The Paris Agreement from COP21 is historic in many ways and sets an unprecedented path for global discourse on climate.  However, the agreement also contains two important elements that have been overlooked by the media that are critical for scientists and other members of civil society interested in climate issues. 

For the first time, the Paris Agreement sets up two high level champions (Paragraph 122) who will interact with non-party stakeholders and civil society observers. These champions will "provide regular opportunities for dialogue (Paragraph 121d)" and "provide guidance on the organization of technical expert meetings (para. 122c)." During the COP21, the idea of a high level champion was tested with COP20 President, Minister of the Environment for Peru, Manual Pulgar-Vidal, who acted as a special envoy to civil society and an advisor to the COP21 president, thus providing a close link for the presidency to hear concerns of civil society and to express those concerns during subsequent high level debates. In the high-speed atmosphere of the COP, the briefings with Mr. Pulgar-Vidal provided an important pathway to directly express concerns of issues during the current negotiations. By incorporating these champions into the Paris Agreement, the role of civil society and other non-Party stakeholders as a voice in the COP is both protected and enhanced.

The second element, also buried in the body of the agreement, is a small reference on education, training, and public awareness (Paragraph 8 and Article 12) as critical parts of capacity building. The role of research and scientists in capacity building and technology transfer is clearly highlighted and echoes the RINGO's yearly statement to the COP as a constituency focused on research and education. Incorporating science into the negotiations has several paths outside of the IPCC and in many cases, current and new science on emerging trends gets voiced through constituency groups who advocate for the inclusion in negotiated text. For example, several groups worked hard to get individual phrases associated with environmental impacts on ecological systems such as oceans, mountains and glaciers to appear directly in the agreement with little success (oceans appears once and mountains not at all).

The addition of a champion and the focus on education and research as part of capacity building provides great hope that rapidly emerging science on climate change impacts on ecosystems and the communities within those systems will have a clearer and perhaps enhanced path of communication into the next round of negotiations at COP22.

The Paris Agreement is historic and highlights the continuing need for science as a critical part of diplomacy. The voice of independent researchers and academics through the RINGO and the high level champions may provide unprecedented access to the COP presidency and given the new emphasis on individual country targets and transparency, the need for science diplomacy is greater than ever before. French President Hollande said that the agreement represented the "third revolution" for Paris, but the first for the climate. The voices of science diplomats are needed now more than ever as part of that revolution.


Photo by Gillian Bowser
Image Courtesy of Pedro Kummel /


Gillian Bowser

Gillian Bowser, PhD. is a former AAAS Science and Diplomacy Fellow at U.S. Department of State, Office of Marine Conservation.  Currently Dr. Bowser is with Colorado State University working on ecosystem indicators and sustainability issues and teaches in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability.  On the side, she is a member of the Womens Major Group to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and to the Commission on the Status of Women. One of her passions is engaging underrepresented minority students in science and sustainability using citizen science.


This blog does not necessarily reflect the views of AAAS, its Council, Board of Directors, officers, or members. AAAS is not responsible for the accuracy of this material. AAAS has made this material available as a public service, but this does not constitute endorsement by the association.

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