Defining Climate Refugees

Climate RefugeeUnder the Geneva Convention, a refugee is someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion. However, when migrants flee a country due to climate change, they cannot seek refugee status because the Geneva Convention does not cover persons not being able to return to their country due to climate change destroying their livelihood or their homes.  So when the 2010 Haiti Earthquake struck, all the displaced Haitians were unable to seek refugee status. Luckily, Brazil still accepted the Haitians into its country and allowed the Haitians an opportunity to make Brazil their legal residence. However, that is not true for all environmental migrants.

Throughout the world, there are groups of migrants who are forced to leave their country in search of new opportunities because climate change has destroyed their way of life. Whether it would be droughts, floods, typhoons, earthquakes, rising sea levels, or pollution, these climate refugees are forcibly displaced to go elsewhere. However, migrants moving to other countries without refugee status is a terrible situation to be in. On top of losing their monetary possessions, climate refugees are not allowed refugee rights under the Geneva Convention: access to the courts, to primary education, to work, and the provision for documentation, including a refugee travel document in passport form.


At the COP24 side event Implementation of Article 8 of the Paris Agreement and decision 49/CP.21, Panelist Shérazade Zaiter shared that the International Center for Comparative Environmental Law (CIDCE) is working on creating a legal framework for climate refugees. To start, CIDCE is working to define the term climate refugee like the Geneva Convention has done for refugees. Without the benefits and rights of refugees, climate refugees will struggle to find opportunities for a new life elsewhere. Sherazade mentioned that even if countries began implementing the recommendations from the Task Force on Displacement (TFD), the lack of legal infrastructure for climate refugees will make the benefits from the recommendations difficult to reach the climate refugees. The solution from the TFD to address displacement is enhancing opportunities for regular migration pathways, including through labour mobility, consistent with international labour standards.

However, environmental refugees will be unable to work under the Geneva Convention. As of now, climate refugees need to rely on countries to behave like Brazil and accept and provide rights to climate refugees regardless of the lack guiding international law. To provide climate refugees rights, CICDE is also working on a proposal for a Convention to establish a legal framework to guarantee rights under international norms to climate refugees. Even though the legal term is not exactly “climate refugee,” the classification of a climate refugee is the same as “déplacés environnementaux.” Chapter 4, Article 12 of the draft provides climate refugees sixteen defined rights which allows them to live, work, and gain an education. Moving forward, this Convention is definitely necessary for the future of climate refugees and needs to be discussed at a higher level.

Dress the Dream! Innovation from the Youth

Thai NDCThe youth at COP are simply awe inspiring. The Thailand Pavilion held a Youth Leaders panel that consisted of youth leaders from Taiwan, Japan, and Thailand. For this post, I want to focus more on the presentation from Thai youth leader, Putthisak Panomsarnnarin, also known as Philips. In Thailand and in other Asian countries, fast fashion has caused great concern because of how quickly it produces waste and GHGs. According to Philips, fashion companies rotate their clothing lineup every two weeks, discarding the unsold stock in landfills. This causes large amounts of clothes ending up in the trash, but even worse is that the material of the clothing is usually made of synthetic, non-biodegradable fibers such as polyester because of the cheap production costs. Furthermore, the affordability of these clothes makes shopping very attractive and leads to more fashion consumption.Dress the DreamTo tackle this issue, a group of Thai students initiated Dress the Dream, a second-hand clothing non-profit aiming to reform the culture of fast fashion. Generally, Asian countries have a negative view of second-hand clothing as lesser. Dress the Dream hopes to change this view by taking discarded clothing and donations and showcasing and selling the clothes at its events. 70 percent of the revenue generated from the sales is invested into researching the negative impacts of fast fashion. Afterward, Dress the Dream provides reports to the government to encourage policy-makers to enact regulations against fast fashion. Through activities that attract the youth, such as fashion pop-ups and social media, Dress the Dream hopes to also influence future generations to rethink their fashion consumption and rebrand second-hand clothing as cool and environmentally friendly.

Amazingly, Dress the Dream has partnered with many organizations to join and expand the effort to eliminate wasteful fast fashion and support recycling clothing. Seeing how the youth may be involved in the fight against climate change and helping a country reach its Nationally Determined Contribution goals is astonishing. These youth initiatives are essential in providing an innovative prospective to spread awareness of climate change and tackle climate change issues. Sponsors of Dress the Dream

Looking Inside an Informal Informal Negotiation: Protecting Vulnerable Groups in COP Decisions

The tim47086760_495482350942639_1883073697342816256_ne is 10:00 am. The crowd of negotiators briskly walk into the meeting room while the observers patiently wait outside the hall, hoping for a place to sit in the negotiation. It is the third informal informal meeting of the Subsidiary Bodies (SB). On the table is drafting the decision to the COP about the 2018 report of the Executive Committee of the Warsaw International Mechanism (Excom). This arm of the UNFCCC is responsible for providing recommendations to the COP regarding the issue of loss and damage due to the adverse effects of climate change. As I take a seat on the floor, I can see the negotiators carefully reading the updated draft decision. Immediately, the negotiators are addressing their concerns about the updated text. However, Honduras, on behalf of the Independent Alliance of Latin America and the Caribbean (AILAC), raised a novel concern. AILAC intervened that the issue of gender has not been brought up as a recommendation by the Excom report. Under a new section of paragraph 5 of the draft decision, AILAC proposed that a sentence addressing the issue of gender equality be included.

There was an awkward silence in the room. A majority of people’s heads nodded, including mine. I immediately thought, “Wow.” But it was not just me who thought so. Placards were flipped up and eager faces were glowing. In succession, other negotiators were agreeing: United States, European Union (EU), Canada, Australia, St. Lucia on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), and Timor Leste on behalf of the Least Developed Countries (LDC). However, other negotiators did not agree. Kuwait, who arrived slightly late, missed the comment and heard of it after the co-facilitator announced that the language would be included under paragraph 5(e). Afterward, Kuwait declined to include gender quality in the decision because climate change impacts everyone equally. Therefore, it argued, the language was unnecessary.

In response, Australia, Norway, and EU cited data that support differentiated impacts of the adverse effects of climate on different groups, especially women. Women are affected more because of their traditional roles as caretakers and vulnerability to violence in stressful environments. However, China also proposed that the gender text should not be included because of the short notice of time. China believes that the issue of gender equality deserves more dedicated time to thoughtfully implement the language as well as including other vulnerable groups such as children. As a result of these contentions, the co-facilitator called for a huddle to propose new language for the issue. What came out was, “To give greater consideration to gender and vulnerable populations, including youth, in the implementation of its 5-year rolling workplan.” Tension again rose over the use of the word gender and vulnerable populations and whether it was necessary to address both at the same time. Eventually, a compromise was reached when Australia proposed the text to read, “To increase its consideration of groups vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change when implementing its five-year rolling workplan.”GAP

Despite the effort, the gender equality was swept under an umbrella term. However, are negotiators responsible for promoting gender equality or the protection of vulnerable populations? Canada made an excellent point when stating that the gender inclusion proposal aligned with decision 3/CP.23—the establishment of a gender action plan (GAP). Under paragraph 3 of the Annex, “GAP recognizes the need for women to be represented in all aspects of the UNFCCC process and the need for gender mainstreaming through all relevant targets and goals in activities under the Convention as an important contribution to increasing their effectiveness.” Furthermore, under paragraph 10 of the Annex, “GAP aims to ensure the respect, promotion and consideration of gender equality and the empowerment of women in the implementation of the Convention and the Paris Agreement.” As GAP is part of COP, it can be said that negotiators do have a duty to promote gender equality and not other vulnerable groups. If COP wanted to protect other vulnerable groups, it could have included those groups in the GAP decision or in another decision. On the other hand, the GAP decision text does not mandate the negotiators to take gender equality, but is more of a suggestion. Under this interpretation, protecting all vulnerable groups may be the balanced choice because then the text will incorporate women and other groups who are disparately affected by climate chance, like youth, elderly, minority, indigenous, and disabled. In the end, the acknowledgment that there is a need to protect vulnerable groups is an immense feat in moving forward on UNFCCC decisions. The fact that the negotiators agreed that more can be done to ensure these groups are protected is the future of what COP decisions will ensure – equality.

Climate Change and Health Unite!

COP24 SREver since the first IPCC assessment report in 1990, the international community has known of the health dangers that climate change imposes on humans. From increasing rates and ranges of water borne and vector borne diseases, frequencies of natural disasters, and exposure to climate pollutants, people have been suffering from the immediate effects of climate change. However, the UNFCCC has been quiet on this issue. Despite acknowledging the “deleterious effects . . . on health health and welfare” from the adverse effects of climate change in Article 1 of the UNFCCC, the UNFCCC has yet to create substantial progress in addressing the issue. Moreover, UNFCCC Article 4.1(f) mandates the parties to conduct impact assessments with a view to minimize the adverse effects of climate change on the public health. Focusing primarily on mitigation efforts, the UNFCCC has been set on completing long-term goals of decreasing carbon emissions to stop the global temperature average from increasing to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Unfortunately, this narrow sight forward has left resources dry for efforts to adapt to the adverse health effects from climate change. According to statistics, only 15 percent of INDCs submitted included health and only 0.5 percent of funds disbursed by the Global Environmental Facility, the Adaptation Fund, the Pilot Programme for Climate and Resilience, the MDG Achievement Fund, and the Green Climate Fund went to health projects. That is, until today. Air Pollution

On December 5, 2018, a side event sponsored by the UNFCCC and WHO revealed a special report by WHO: COP24 Special Report Health & Climate Change. During COP23, the Fijian Prime Minister Bainimarama called for WHO to develop a report on health and climate change to be delivered at COP24. At this event, a panel consisting of members from UNFCCC, WHO, WMO, Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants (CCAC), Health Care Without Harm, and International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations (IFMSA) delivered the report.

AOSIS Chief Negotiator, Amjad Abdulla, held opening remarks, reminding the audience that the adverse effects of climate change is already upon us. There is a dire need to build facilities that can withstand the dangers of climate change. If countries are not resilient, then they will succumb to the devastating effects of climate change. The air pollution problem that kills 7 million people a year must be resolved. The UNFCCC has pushed for a transition into a low-carbon economy. However, Mr. Abdulla stressed that the transition cannot be just for a low-carbon economy, but also for an air pollutant free economy. According to Dr. Kumar, a surgeon from New Delhi, hazardous air pollutants from fossil fuel emissions must be stopped or humanity will become the fossils that we burn. However, there are also implications to switching to a renewable economy. According to Elena Manaenkova, the WMO Secretary General, the connection between air quality and climate change is complicated. Sometimes, solutions that promote air quality is detrimental to the efforts to address climate and vice versa. Therefore, there is a need to carefully strategize every solution to ensure there is synergy to promote both air quality and lowering carbon emissions.

With the information provided by WHO about health and climate change, there are hopes that the UNFCCC changes the way it has advocated for health and climate change. The report provided nine recommendations which COP may welcome to provide a safe, prosperous journey to a low carbon world.


Enhancing the Role of Academia and Improving Knowledge Sharing in Capacity-building

COP24On December 3, 2018, the UK Pavilion hosted a work shop to provide a space for capacity-building (CB) experts, academics, and stakeholders to get together and discuss the future of CB knowledge sharing. Under the Paris Committee on Capacity-building (PCCB), knowledge sharing methods typically consisted of the utilization of knowledge databases by Parties and in-depth discussions between Parties and CB experts. The Paris Committee on Capacity-building (PCCB) has done excellent work on creating and updating the NDC Partnership Knowledge Portal; however, this left a question as to how a Party may not only benefit from taking knowledge from others, but to use this knowledge to create a lasting effect. UNDP held concerns that capacity-building efforts have often come into a country and left after the issue at hand was resolved. This may cause a Party to continually rely on outside help to fix their capacity gap needs, which is an unsustainable method to actualize every Parties’ NDCs. Therefore, UNDP stressed the need for CB to be generated and sustained from within the Party so that there is a growth of domestic climate experts. This is extremely important to ensure that the Party is able to empower its own leadership on climate change issues and not continually rely on outside help. During COP22, representatives from more than twenty-five universities met and sparked discussion about the role of universities in implementing Article 11 of the Paris Agreement and to provide the missing support for PCCB. As a result, the Universities Network on Climate Capacity (UNCC) was created.


Universities are centers of learning and innovation that may build long-lasting capacities. By sharing knowledge across universities, a country may utilize that knowledge to expand educational resources and opportunities to create a sustainable effort to combat climate change. Using a network of universities specializing in climate change, the UNCC hopes to “develop and implement research, education, training and climate communication capacity-building programmes that promote long term climate change response actions at local, national and international levels.”

Vermont Law School is one of the early members of the UNCC, and Professor Tracy Bach is a member of its Steering Committee. Officially involved in COP events and reports since COP23, the UNCC is a brand new organization and welcomes interested parties. Universities are highly encouraged to become members of UNCC and join this revolutionary network. Moving forward, the UNCC plans to develop a work plan to educate and improve the capacities of countries all over the world.


Preventing the Proliferation of Pestilence


The shifting temperature from climate change is increasing the range of unwanted pests, spreading deadly diseases and endangering human health. For example, the warmer temperatures are expanding the habitat of mosquitoes that carry diseases such as Zika, malaria, and dengue fever. The COP noted that in 2015, changed climatic conditions in Florida and Louisiana creates the environmental suitability for the Zika virus vectors to expand into the United States.

Climate Change DiseasesIn 2005, COP11 established through DC2/CP.11 the “Nairobi work programme on impacts, vulnerability, and adaptation to climate change” (NWP). The NWP’s objective is to assist all Parties improve their understanding and assessment of impacts, vulnerability, and adaptation in order to make informed decisions on adaptation actions. Under the guidance of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) chair, the NWP gathers technical information on adaptation and seeks to identify knowledge gaps within the international community by engaging with over 350 expert organizations and other COP bodies such as the Adaptation Committee (AC) and the Least Developed Countries Expert Group (LEG). Using a multi-step plan, the NWP streamlines the adaptation information to Parties, allowing health health risk strategies to be easily accessible.

Nairobi BannerAccording to the key findings in the 10th Focal Point Forum, climate change negatively impacts human health because it lengthens the transmission season and expands the geographical range of many diseases. Using this information, in March 2018, the NWP created the Adaptation Knowledge Portal to conveniently hold hundreds of case studies and tools for Parties to access when establishing their NAPs. Looking forward, the SBSTA encourages Parties to use this information when creating or implementing their NAPs. For example, St. Lucia included in its NAP an adaptation measure to “model and map the risk of climate-sensitive disease with climate change scenarios to support long-term planning” and to “improve data collection and analysis for modelling and mapping climate-related disease.” This measure is a great solution that other Parties can also implement to deter the health effects of expanding diseases.

Recently, the risk from expanding diseases seems to be placed as a low priority for COP. The 11th FPF did not discuss increasing disease transmission nor will the upcoming 12th FPF discuss the topic. Even in the realm of loss and damage, the Warsaw International Mechanism recognizes that non-economic losses do cover human health impacts, but has not explicitly addressed this issue. In the 2018 WIM Excom Report, SBSTA stresses the issues of slow-onset and extreme climate events, but does not expand on health related non-economic issues. Although WIM Excom has not been vocal on the issue, World Health Organization (WHO), UN Environment, and World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has recently, jointly launched a new global coalition on health, environment, and climate change to reduce the annual 12.6 million deaths caused by environmental risks. However, this coalition focuses mainly on the negative effects of air pollution. I believe it is pertinent for the UNFCCC to join the coalition to begin a dialogue about human health risks at the COP and then to take initiative to bring climate-related diseases onto the COP agenda.

Early Warning to COP

Aftermath HD

Climate change is causing an increase in natural disasters while vulnerable countries lack the proper infrastructure to counter them. To tackle this issue, vulnerable countries have been working on implementing early warning systems (EWS). In addition to saving lives, EWS provide reliable risk information which allows sound investments into a country’s infrastructure. However, these vulnerable countries often lack the capacity to install EWS and require cooperation from the international community to implement them.

IAftermath Bridgendonesia’s recent struggle with its EWS exemplifies the lack of capacity building. On September 28, 2018, a 7.5 magnitude earthquake created a series of tsunamis that devastated the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. Over 1,200 people were killed and over 61,000 displaced. A network of 22 buoys connected to seafloor sensors float off Indonesia’s coast, intended to warn the Indonesian Agency for Meteorology, Climatology, and Geophysics of tsunami activity. This high-tech EWS was installed after the 2004 tsunami that killed nearly 150,000 people. However, the detection buoys were defective, leaving thousands of people helpless in the wake of the disaster. The agency did issue a tsunami warning, but lifted the warning after 34 minutes because  the tsunami detection system did . According to Indonesia, the EWS has been malfunctioning since 2012 because it did not have the funding to repair or perform routine maintenance on EWS.


The UN has stressed the importance of implementing EWS since the World Conference on Disaster Reduction in 2005. However, the UNFCCC did not address early warning systems until COP16 created the Cancun Adaptation Framework in 2010. Nonetheless, the talks were important to build momentum to have EWS explicitly included into the Paris Agreement (PA) under Article 7(7)(c). This provision reads that Parties should strengthen their cooperation on enhancing action on adaptation by “strengthening scientific knowledge on climate, including research, systematic observation of the climate system and early warning systems, in a manner that informs climate services and supports decision-making.”

The inclusion of EWS in the PA–a binding treaty–is crucial in helping vulnerable countries develop early warning systems to reduce the impacts of disasters. According to the WMO, 54% of surface stations and 71% of atmospheric weather stations emit no data. To address this issue, decision 1/CP.20 invited Parties to consider including an adaptation plan in their INDCs, and a majority of the Parties defined EWS as a priority for adaptation.

COP24 is especially important for the implementation of EWS because this COP will finalize the implementation rules for the PA. With the fifth anniversary of Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) being held in Poland, loss and damage will likely be a prioritized negotiation which relies heavily on EWS. The 2018 Report of the Excom of WIM recommends cooperation to support preparedness through EWS — a hopeful sign for aiding vulnerable countries to maintain functional EWS and prevent another incident like Indonesia’s from happening again.