Climate negotiators in Paris have turned to a traditional South African consultation process in a quest for common ground among the nearly 200 nations seeking a global deal to curb rising temperatures.
South Africa's Zulu and Xhosa communities have long used the indaba, a gathering of community leaders summoned by the chief, to resolve important issues, said Brian Mantlana, an official with the South African delegation in Paris.
Although only principal elders and headmen are at the table in an indaba, the meeting is open to all. That provides a forum to hear all views, while vesting decision-making power in a limited group of leaders.
"It is a public gathering with no limitation," Mantlana said. "It is not a festive event, but a participatory one where everyone has a say and the community is consulted to get their views on decisions."
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who is chairing the U.N. negotiations, first opted for the South African model last weekend as a way to streamline discussion on the most contentious issues.
As with an indaba, only ministers with decision-making clout and a single aide were at the table.
Fabius added more groups as the week went on, each led by ministers from countries in both the northern and southern hemispheres.
By Wednesday night, with agreement on many issues still elusive, Fabius compressed the indaba into two groups. Both worked into the early hours of Thursday morning.
As the negotiations entered a crucial stretch late on Thursday night, Fabius convened a final meeting, which he called "an indaba of solutions," to resolve three key issues.
"I'll be presiding over another indaba meeting but this time, it will be exclusively oriented towards finding compromises," he said.
The indaba did narrow differences, reducing 900 bracketed points of contention in the draft text to about 300 before the last session.
But the politics of climate deals is proving stubborn, even for the South African model of consensus-building.
"It is a transparent and credible process," Mantlana said. But he offered only a tired smile when asked if it can get the negotiators across the finish line.
"It can get you to crunch time," he said. "But we are not there yet."