In conversation with Jesse Medlong
What inspired you during the project?
The thing that always strikes me during these talks is just how difficult and demanding the work is—and the enormity of the problems we aim to solve. Diplomats serve clients just like lawyers. But instead of advocating and maneuvering across from a single adversary, you’re negotiating with several dozen other parties at a time, each with unique interests and perspectives, and no one exactly in charge. It would be like participating in mediation where the only way to prevail is by getting everyone to agree, and the mediator has no actual authority and is only there to keep the process moving. The difficulty of that environment is why countries negotiate literally for years to obtain crucial outcomes, and why negotiating sessions near the end of a conference often end closer to sunrise than to sundown. Despite all that difficulty, though, everyone seems to appreciate the magnitude of what we are working to achieve: preservation of a habitable world for future generations. That has a way of uniting even the most seasoned climate diplomats, even in the face of profound and seemingly intractable differences on the best path forward
What was the most fulfilling aspect of the work?
I love this work and find it fulfilling for several reasons. But two of those reasons in particular stand out. First, the problem we seek to address at the UNFCCC is nothing short of existential. If the countries of the world will rise to meet humanity’s gravest challenge with determination, sacrifice, and hope, we will learn of it first from the negotiating halls of some future COP. A global challenge requires a global response, and the UNFCCC is where countries work to find enough common ground and compromise to make that response not only possible but plausible. Knowing that I am working on the frontlines of this issue, putting to use my legal skills but also my graduate work in international relations, is fulfilling beyond description.
Second, I love helping our client, the country Georgia. As a developing country, Georgia has fewer resources than many other countries. Yet Georgia is truly a model for how committed and ambitious a developing country can be despite its challenges. Knowing that I am a part of helping Georgia contribute to this process and ensuring that Georgia’s interests and concerns are heard gives me deep personal satisfaction.
What one word describes your trip?
Resolve. As I noted, this work is hard. The negotiators arrive from all over the world, jetlagged, exhausted, overworked. Each has too many negotiating tracks to follow, issues to keep straight, names to remember. And more than that, they are tasked with threading the needle between their countries’ national interests and negotiating solutions to literally the greatest danger ever to face humanity. But despite those hurdles, and the crisis looming on our collective horizon, the delegates approach their task with dedication, aplomb, and even good humor. The negotiations are tense but generally genial. You cannot routinely face conditions like these without truly ample resolve—and every year I go, I am swept up in it. I am proud to number myself among these dedicated public servants, even if I sometimes feel like a bit of a tourist among them.
About Jesse Medlong
Jesse is an associate in DLA Piper's San Francisco office.