Reflections on a Week in Marrakech

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As our 787 banked right to begin our final descent into Casablanca I caught my first glimpse of the Moroccan landscape. It was greener than I expected. On the ground I was struck by the warmth of the weather and the people. At the airport I was given a free sim card and then met the host with whom Jonas and I were staying the first night. He told us about how Marrakech has developed over the years, his passion about how great the city is on full display. After dropping our stuff at the riad we began to explore the area, talking with street vendors and taking in the sights, smells, and sounds of this city. The pride of the Moroccan people was on display everywhere we went, clearly demonstrating how proud they were to host the UNFCCC COP for the second time. Giant red banners reading “ACT” lined the streets and reminded us that this COP is one of action and implementation.

At the COP, the negotiations went far smoother than I expected, with very few disagreements between the Parties in the meetings I attended. Of course much of this was due to the extensive bilaterals and informals that were going on in the background. We were not privy to these discussions, where I’m sure most of the fireworks and arguments were occurring. However, there were some disagreements during the final plenary, which had to break multiple times to help the Parties reach consensus. Bolivia and Brazil engaged in a back-and-forth about whether the adopted text was balanced enough, with the former refusing to support the language. During the breaks, China and a few other Parties worked with both sides to help all involved reach consensus. The COP President worked hard throughout the night to keep the mood light and encourage cooperation. He even had everyone in the room sing Happy Birthday to the Mali delegate before he had to rush off to catch a plane to Madagascar. The Parties ultimately reached consensus and concluded COP 22/CMP 12/CMA 1 around 1AM on Saturday.

The side events at COP 22 covered a wide variety of topics and all the ones I attended were rewarding. I had anticipated that some would fall flat but my expectations were exceeded. I was able to attend a few sessions held at various country’s pavilions, which exposed me to many different perspectives. Often these events had refreshments too; -an immense boost during the long days. While some ran a little late, almost all had an opportunity for questions at the end. I think the best part of the side events was the Q&A sessions that followed each because the speakers were less constrained than during their presentations. Many of the speakers stayed after the sessions were over and answered questions one-on-one. A couple of times, when I didn’t have to run off to another session, I was lucky enough to speak with a few of them.

The most rewarding part of our COP experience was working with our service-learning partners to help them better understand the process and participate in the negotiations. Like most LDCs, our partners struggle to procure the resources needed for sufficient staff to attend all the meetings and negotiations that impact their interests. During our briefings we presented on the negotiations and a few relevant side events we attended and then answered any questions that our partners had. After the more formal presentations we broke off into one-on-one conversations and were really able to dig into the issues. It felt great to see how our work was helping them. Despite everything going on at home and around the world the COP was uplifting and inspiring. The progress set in motion in Paris cannot be stopped.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Mobilizing the Private Sector to Finance Adaptation

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Today at COP 22 the Japanese delegation hosted a side event at their pavilion about mobilizing the private sector to finance climate change adaptation. The panelists discussed ways to involve the private sector from regional, business, and public policy perspectives. The panelist from Bangladesh, Dr. Saleemul Huq, then present specific examples of how the private sector has helped mobilize adaptation finance in his country. The World Bank estimates that $70-100 billion will be need annually from 2010-2100 to adapt to the impacts of climate change. It also estimates that the private sector could mobilize $140-240 billion for adaptive measures annually during the same period. However, very few companies are pursuing these adaptive measures, due in large part to the lack of profitability. To mobilize the private sector, governments and international organizations must incentivize investments and enhance monitoring and reporting efforts to ensure sufficient return on investments. The private sector will only finance adaptation measures that are also good for their bottom line.

Dr. Saleemul Huq, director of the International Center for Climate Change and Development at Independent University and lead author of chapters in the IPCC’s Assessment Reports provided an example of a good adaptation measure and a bad, or maladaptation, measure. Both projects involved mobilizing private sector finance to adapt to climate change . But the latter created more problems than it solved. In the good example, a private agricultural business developed and sold salt-water resistant rice to combat the inundation of rice fields by salt water. The company turned a profit and made a vulnerable population more resilient. In the maladaptation example, a private aquaculture company bought up inundated rice fields, turned them into shrimping operations, and then leased the operations to the farmers. These shrimping operations are good for the companies, who turn massive profits, and the government, which taxes the shrimp exports. While this practice is aimed at adapting to an increasingly saline ecosystem, it is highly exploitative of the rice farmers, most of whom lost their jobs after selling their farms, and drastically altered the landscape by making it entirely salt-water based. The company turned a profit but the social and environmental impacts made a vulnerable population more vulnerable. These examples underscore the opportunities and challenges associated with mobilizing private sector finance to adapt to climate change. We have to remember that in board rooms and commercial banks, money talks and altruism takes the backseat. 


Implementing Adaptation for Resilient Mediterranean-climate Regions

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One of the side events at COP 22 today presented best practices and case studies for implementing adaptation in Mediterranean-climate regions, with a focus on: consumer behavior; stakeholder and citizen participation; health; and climate policy. The speakers identified ways that sub-national governments can increase adaptation efforts. Surprisingly, few of the case studies involved countries along the Mediterranean Sea. Instead, the speakers focused primarily on initiatives and policies in South Africa and California, both of which are primarily mediterranean climates. In fact, mediterranean-climate regions can be found on every continent but Antarctica.

The Mediterranean basin gives the climate its name, and more than half of world’s mediterranean climates are found in this region. However, the mediterranean climate can also be found in regions in southwestern Australia, central Chile, coastal California, northern Iran, and southwestern South Africa. Mediterranean climate zones are characterized by hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters. These regions experience pronounced climactic changes between season, most notably in terms of temperature and rainfall changes. Mediterranean climates cover just 3% of world but account for 20% of plant biodiversity and house over 200 million people.  Most large, historic cities of the Mediterranean basin, including Athens, Barcelona, Beirut, Jerusalem, Rome, and Tunis, lie within mediterranean climatic zones, as do major cities outside of the Mediterranean basin, such as Casablanca, Cape Town, Perth, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Many of these cities are major coastal cities and biological hotspots supported by tourism-based economies that are especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

The dense populations in these cities concentrate the demand for services and infrastructure, which increases the city’s vulnerability to climate change. These regions will experience an increase in their average temperatures, declining air and water quality, increased frequency and intensity of droughts and heat waves, and an increase in ground-level ozone. These impacts will lead to loss of habitat, decreased biodiversity, and water shortages. Climate change will also greatly impact human health. For example, during a prolonged heat wave in Los Angeles in 2006 more than 16,000 excess emergency room visits were reported. Just last year Jerusalem experience 5 straight days of snowfall, something that has not happened in decades, which shut down highways and crippled the city’s infrastructure. Additionally, as food and water become more scarce, populations will begin to migrate to cities in search of subsistence and further exacerbate the impacts of climate change. The first step governments should take in addressing this problem is changing how they view these migrants. Instead of seeing migrants as a political issue that is separate from climate change they must change the paradigm to one that views them as what they really are: climate refugees.

While cities are the source of many climate-related problem, they can also be the source of the solutions. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change underscored the urgent need for cities to act in its last assessment report. The building sector has the greatest potential for delivering significant and cost-effective adaptation benefits through improved design and smarter technologies to conserve energy. Many of these measures would have co-benefits too, including reductions in noise and waste. Cities can also adapt to climate change by improving their infrastructure. For example, Los Angeles is investing in bus line, pedestrian walkways, and improving bike safety. Cities must continue working to keep the lights on, people employed, and emissions down. These concerns are not limited to mediterranean-climate regions and should be comprehensively addressed by all levels of government to reduce their vulnerability and increase their capacity to adapt to climate change.


Can Trump Trump the Paris Agreement?

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“How do you see the future of the Paris Agreement without, possibly, you?”

On Thursday, Venezuela posed this question to the U.S. delegation during the facilitative dialogue for enhanced action and support. The U.S. delegate spoke about how a Trump presidency may impact international efforts to combat climate change. South Africa asked the U.S. a follow-up question, giving the delegate some additional speaking time to elaborate. While acknowledging he could not speak to the intentions of the new administration, the delegate pointed out that the global effort is strong, as evidenced by the rapid entry into force of the Paris Agreement. His candid and articulate responses drew applause from those in attendance, but is he right?

The Paris Agreement entered into force on November 4, 2016, less than a year after it was crafted at COP 21. The Agreement provides Parties with more flexibility than previous international climate agreements. The Parties agreed to adopt a bottom-up approach in which all Parties pledge contributions to the global effort. This approach resulted in 190 climate plans based in national priorities and interests.  Even if the U.S. reneges on its contribution, the other parties are still committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to the effects of climate change. The status of the U.S. in the Paris Agreement has nothing to do with China and India’s need to clean up their cities and protect the health of their citizens.

During his campaign, Mr. Trump promised to withdraw U.S. support for the Paris Agreement if elected. He believes that the Agreement gives foreign governments control over how much energy the U.S. uses. This understanding is inaccurate, as the Agreement does nothing to impose limits on energy use. There are no top-down limitations.

To withdraw from the Agreement the U.S. would need to meet the obligations in Article 28. No party may withdraw from the Agreement until three years after it enters into force. Additionally, the withdrawal only takes effect one year after the date of receipt by the Depositary of the notification of withdrawal. However, withdrawal from the UNFCCC, which takes effect a year after written notification of withdrawal is received, constitutes withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. Thus, the U.S. withdrawal could be effective as early as January 2018.

The election of Donald Trump does not guarantee that all is lost when it comes to the global effort to combat climate change. Many participants at COP 22 have said that it is now up to the rest of the world to lead the charge and redouble their efforts. Others remain hopeful that Trump will change his tune now that he no longer has to cozy up to the oil industry. However, the U.S.’s action could establish a bad precedent going forward and may encourage other Parties to withdraw their support. Dana Fisher, director of the Program for Society and the Environment at the University of Maryland, said “[t]he Paris Agreement and any U.S. leadership in international climate progress is dead.” But is he right?

Only time will tell.


Combatting HFCs with the Most-Effective MEA

Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are greenhouse gases commonly used in a variety of applications, including refrigeration, air conditioning, building insulation, fire extinguishing systems, and aerosols. HFCs are a synthetic gas and have a high global warming potential, with some estimates putting their global warming impact at up to 10,000 times that of carbon dioxide. This global warming potential is especially troubling because HFC emissions are projected to increase nearly twentyfold in the coming decades. Without a reduction in emissions, HFCs could contribute the equivalent of 100 billion tons of carbon dioxide and lead to more than 0.5°C of warming. This increase in HFC emissions would offset many of the climate benefits that the Montreal Protocol has achieved.

The Montreal Protocol, which is an implementing instrument of the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer, was adopted in 1987 and is widely accepted in the international community as one of the most successful multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs). The purpose of the Protocol is to reduce the production and consumption of ozone depleting substances in order to reduce their abundance in the atmosphere, and thereby protect the earth’s fragile ozone layer. Since adoption, nearly 100 ozone-depleting substances have been phased out world-wide. The Protocol is estimated to have averted greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to more than 135 billion tons of carbon dioxide. The Protocol is most well-known for its success in eliminating emissions of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), a common component in refrigerators. CFCs emissions contributed to the hole in the ozone layer, and their phasing out will allow the ozone layer to recover by the middle of the century. Now, the Parties are using it to combat HFC emissions.

From November 1-5, 2015, the Parties to the Vienna Convention debated whether to address HFCs through an amendment to the convention or to try and combat the problem through the UNFCCC. The Parties ultimately agreed to a “Dubai Pathway” for negotiations on an amendment to phase out HFC emissions. “After seven years of efforts, we have at last agreed to amend the Montreal Protocol next year to phase down HFCs,” Jeem Lippwe, a negotiator for Micronesia, told reporters on the conclusion of the talks. This Pathway helped the Parties agree to an amendment, which was adopted at the Conference of the Parties to the Vienna Convention this year.

On October 14, the nearly 200 Parties to the Vienna Convention agreed to the Kigali Amendment. This Amendment outlines a plan in which developed countries, including the US and the EU, will start phasing out HFC emissions by 2019. A group of developing countries including China, Brazil, and most of Africa will follow with a freeze of HFCs consumption levels in 2024. All Parties will significantly reduce consumption of HFCs by the late 2040s. The Parties also agreed to provide financing for HFCs reduction, with an exact amount to be determined at their next meeting in 2017. The ambitious Kigali Amendment sends a clear statement by world leaders that the transformation started in Paris is irreversible and unstoppable.