Side events can more than occupy one’s time at a COP. Presented by a range of actors — academics, activists, businesses, government agencies — they can range in content and quality. Thus I was fortunate that the few I attended at COP19, given my focus on tracking the ADP negotiations, were fascinating and informative.
On the Saturday mid-COP, a day-long conference on human rights and climate chance organized by the Yale University Governments and Environmental Markets Initiative, UNITAR, and the law faculty of the University of Warsaw (that Heather covered well) sought to bring together activists and academics “to
examine how substantive and procedural rights can be used to support, design, and implement effective and equitable solutions to address climate change.” The third session of the day addressed “human rights, safeguards, and climate mechanisms.” Dr. Constance McDermott of the University of Oxford Centre for Tropical Forests & Environmental Change Institute provided an overview of forest program safeguards, noting that while the context for the COP19 discussion is REDD+, that these safeguards are rooted in financial institutions like the World Bank. Joana Abrego of the Centro de Incidencia Ambiental encouraged academics to research the actual implementation of public participation requirements of CDM and REDD+ programs, not just their theoretical constructs. She described conditions in Panama, where 33% of the territory is protected area, 76% is inhabited by indigenous peoples, and more bird species exist than in U.S. and Canada combined. She spoke of Panama’s interest in hosting CDM projects, almost all hydropower projects. With 19 registered projects and 48 in the pipeline, required community engagement and participation have varied significantly. Abrego described one proposed CDM project, Barro Blanco, which indigenous people fought because of the effect on their river but was nonetheless approved for CDM registration, and Bonyic, another dam project within indigenous peoples’ territory that was rejected by the CDM. Given this uneven human rights track record, she underscored the need for both research and activism on developing clean energy while protecting IP rights.
Allie Silverman of the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) focused on safeguards within the REDD+ program of the UNFCCC. She began by acknowledging that these safeguards, which are procedural and substantive in nature, can be seen by different beholders as either a market-based way to reduce emissions by protecting forests and communities or an attack on indigineous communities, given their traditional place outside international markets. While CIEL doesn’t take a pro or con position on REDD+ safeguards, it does see the risks of the relatively minimal safeguards, especially as they are put into play on the ground. Allie, VLS’12, who is one of my amazing former students, described CIEL’s rights-based approach to REDD+ project development, implementation, and ongoing monitoring (harkening back to Abrego’s point) and specific projects to extend its reach. For example, she previewed a web tool (currently in beta form, undergoing peer review) that will provide access to a variety of legal instruments for countries considering REDD projects (e.g. those on self-determination, right to participate, ILO 169, information and consent), intended to help lawyers and legal activitists do their work more effectively. CIEL is also creating a community guide that builds on the more technical legal information in the web tool to strengthen work with civil society groups like indigenous peoples groups.
In sum, an incredibly exciting side event session, where I learned about one slice of international climate change law as applied and studied from both the ground up and the top down.
And had the joy of watching a former student show her passion for her work post VLS. Lex pro urbe et orbe. Law for the community and the world.