Progress Report on an Ocean COP25

The moment we have all been waiting for; IT’S OCEANS DAY! The Ocean Pathway made a splash today with all the ocean-related events today, spanning from 10am to 8pm. The past two days have had some great events, highlighting the importance of ocean health and what countries are going to implement marine conversation platforms moving forward.


The opening event (actually held yesterday) began with a Because the Ocean event. This initiative, adopted in COP21, is where countries vowed to push for more ocean-related policy into UNFCCC matters. To date, the countries have held multiple conferences and workshops on marine policy, made great efforts to include oceans in NDCs and in future COP agenda items, and implemented various conservation projects. Below are just some examples on how countries are healing our neglected oceans.

Fiji and Sweden both co-chaired the Ocean Pathway, a platform to encourage an ocean-theme COP agenda item. Fiji, a now “large ocean state” (instead of a small island country, the typical name) realized that the parties needed the ocean to achieve the Paris Agreement goals. It believed that climate change and the ocean are “different sides of the same coin.” The Swedish representative described different ocean strategies they incorporated into their national policies. She also stressed the importance of the youth stepping up to the governments and demanding change in environmental protections, using Greta Thunberg as an example.

Spain has taken the initiative to host multiple workshops and conferences these past few years. It announced its intent to release a special report on the oceans and host a special event for all the ministries in the E.U., but sometime next year. I personally will try to attend the workshop in Madrid next April.

The U.K. has done a great job cutting down their marine plastic pollution contributions. It has also allocated 5.8 billion pounds to ocean/climate funding. The British representative expressed her passion for mangrove (or “blue forests”) protection, and has pushed in her government to increase those efforts. In fact, the U.K. has protected marine ecosystems in their territories as well as their own coastline. “All of our blue places are just as important as are green places.”

Indonesia summarized the role of oceans perfectly: “the ocean does not need us, but we need the ocean.” The country has many important marine ecosystems that act as major carbon sinks, and it wishes to protect them from dangerous activities like illegal fishing, dangerous aquaculture practices, coastal erosion, sea level rise and frequent flooding, and using petroleum.

Canada has longest coastline in the world, and recognizes that oceans are at risk due to dangerous stressors, including climate change. It too is making a lot of efforts to reduce its marine plastic pollution.

Australia is focused on blue carbon ecosystem protection, and has spearheaded the international blue carbon policy platform. It is a huge supporter of coral reef conservation, since the Great Barrier Reef is along its coastline. Australia pushed observers to collect more research to make politicians more confident to act.

So next stop, OCEAN COP25! (hopefully!)

Not a Happy Camper: Negative Reactions to the First Round of Iterations.

udsmcducmvd0rebfmfu3Despite the extreme cold (even for Vermont standards), the negotiations sessions were really heating up today. Yesterday, the secretariat released the first round of iterations–basically edits to the draft text the parties were negotiating during this past week. Theoretically, iterations are suppose to capture all the parties’s options they would have to decide on next week. But if I had a dollar for every time a party said the word “disappointed” in their interventions, I’d have enough to buy my ticket back to Vermont.

Of the many disappointments, the most heated I’ve experienced was during the common time frame negotiations. The discussion here is about (1) when to require the parties to communicate their second NDCs, and (2) whether that decision should apply to all subsequent NDCs. The original draft text (page 41) contained four options: (1) communicate every five years, (2) communicate every ten years, and either communicate or update the NDC every five years, (3) communicate by 2025 and decide on either a five or ten year timeframe (yeah, it is a blend of options #1 and #2), or (4) each country can nationally determine when they want to communicate their NDCs.

These discussions had distilled the options to two main proposals: China’s flexible proposal or “5 plus 5” proposal. China wants the second NDC communication to start in 2025 (5 years after the first NDC, as required by the Article 4.10 of the Paris Agreement), and have the NDC submitted by either 2030 or 2040. This proposal purposely excludes language mandating a five or ten year time frame to keep flexibility in the process. It also wants to decide on subsequent NDC time frames later for the same reason. The “5 plus 5” proposal suggests that parties will have the option to either submit or start working on their NDCs every five years, but can choose to extend it another five years if they want. This is basically option #3, but eliminates the need for options #1 and #2.

The newest iteration for this agenda item contained two options that were nothing like the proposals that the parties wanted to debate. It essentially blended together every parties’ proposal instead of listing each of them out separately for deliberation. Of all the parties upset, Saudi Arabia was the most emotion. Apparently, in the intercessional meeting the parties had in Bangkok in September, the co-facilitators promised Saudi Arabia that certain text discussed there would not end up in any iterations of COP24. Guess what was in this iteration. Saudi Arabia even went as far to express his distrust in the co-facilatators moving forward.

How can they mend the broken hearts of the session in the second iteration? Well first, put what the parties actually want! Parties worked long hours to get to those two proposals. It’s a shame that the hard work of everyone’s original proposals was lost when morphed together in an incoherent way. Second, no more new proposals. The Marshall Islands always makes a point to remind the parties they must come to a decision this COP. Adding more ideas to debate is pointless if countries already agreed on those two proposals. Third, find time for parties to hold more informal negotiations outside of the sessions. Parties have consistently complained about the lack of time, so work with them to secure some additional time.

If all else fails, at least they all agreed that they hated the text.



Indigenous Women May Just Be the Key to Successful Latin American NDCs


Perempuan_Adat_Harus_Dilibatkan_dalam_Negosiasi_Perubahan_IklimDelfina Katip, a preeminent Peruvian advocate for indigenous women’s rights, gave an incredible presentation on the power of indigenous women in climate change adaptation for a side event called Minga NDC and Talanoa Dialogue: Indigenous strategies for climate ambition. The panel began with opening remarks on the importance of including the interests of indigenous people in the Peruvian NDC. International climate change negotiations have been somewhat isolated in the past, not acknowledging other groups’ interests–especially native populations. Achieving the ambitions outlined in NDCs will be a collective job, and the Peruvian presenters made it clear that the country cannot move forward without the national government acknowledging indigenous people’s needs.

Katip’s message was very clear: indigenous women need to participate in climate change actions and projects in Peru.

These women know how to utilize native biodiversity, and how to adapt to changes in the environment. In Peru, climate change has affected both the forestry and clean water availability, thus changing the biodiversity in those areas. Yet these women have learned to keep producing food in their regions. They possess amazing skills to analyze the consequences of climate change,
positive and negative, and develop successful solutions. She described multiple government projects that have failed because officials never thought to ask the local women important factors (like the effects on agriculture, the youth, or biological factors that would negate there projects) they should consider. The role of the woman has always been under appreciated, but NOT today.

The overarching theme here is that NDCs cannot stay as just a document with fancy words. It is time to apply the experiences that women, and men, have with climate change consequences to adaptation strategies. If we can start analyzing conservation through the eyes of adaptation, that will lead to success.

Adaptation in NDCs: To Include or Not To Include, That is the Question.

You could definitely feel the awkwardness in the conference room during the APA 1-7 agenda item #3 negotiations.This agenda item addresses the mitigation section of the 1/CP.21 decision (where we got the Paris Agreement). What caused such tension? Well, the parties have different positions on what to do with adaptation in NDCs, but were hesitant to speak about it during the session. The draft text for this negotiation issue briefly mentions suggested language for mandatory adaptation commitments within NDCs. But the history of international climate change negotiations hasn’t given much guidance on the issue.


The UNFCCC first mentioned adaptation, but only to build climate change resilience in least developed countries. The Kyoto Protocol essentially ignored adaptation, and favored very stringent mitigation commitments for Annex I countries (a designation, assigned for the UNFCCC, for a party who could provide financial support to other countries). After over a decade of focusing solely on mitigation, the parties at COP21 decided to develop a new agreement with balanced representation of both adaptation and mitigation. As you can imagine, old habits are hard to break. And that was quite apparent in today’s session.

The developed countries tried their best to eliminate adaptation discussions from today’s informal consultations. The general statement in their interventions basically said that talks about adaptation were inappropriate at this session because it was being discussed elsewhere. If a party did decide to speak more on adaptation, the next typical response would reference the history of mitigation priority in previous COP decisions. The history of previous commitments shows an obvious pattern for making mitigation the priority for achieving UNFCCC climate goals. And although COP21 wanted to balance adaptation and mitigation, subsequent decisions did not reflect that goal. Instead, past guidance on NDCs has emphasized mitigation more than adaptation. Furthermore, the language of Article 4 (National Commitments) of the Paris Agreement (the treaty that created the concept of NDCs) outlines the general commitments of the parties without leaving any room for anything adaptation related.

Alternatively, the developing countries–primarily the African countries–(briefly) noted in their inventions the importance of including adaptation into NDCs. Though this issue has its own agenda item, some developing countries expressed their concerns about discussing adaptation at this session. Looking at the language of the Paris Agreement, Article 3 (NDCs) is ambiguous enough to include adaptation into the NDCs. Also, Article 7 (Adaptation) paragraph 11 lists NDCs as a document that may include adaptation communications. The purpose of the Paris Agreement itself is to increase adaptation consideration into climate change action. With such an open door, why not require adaptation commitments within the NDCs?

Negotiations are successful when parties talk through their differences to reach an acceptable compromise. Though today was just an informal consultation, it foreshadowed a rather frustrating next few days. With the constant dismissal of adaptation in this negotiation, it’ll be interesting to see how the advocates for adaptation will respond to the lack of dialogue at the table. Parties won’t be able to ignore the oversized elephant in the room for much longer.

Africa Day at COP24


Africa Day is a traditional day where the African countries bring awareness to the impacts of climate change on their peoples. This day is a way for African countries to make concrete commitments for addressing climate change. At COP24, Africa Day is used to table all the climate change issues African countries face, and learn how to effectively present them to all the other COP parties. Today, African nations hosted multiple presentations addressing their efforts and challenges in implementing their NDCs. Of the many discussed, I want to highlight two important issues: international support and the power of the next generation.

1. (Lack of) International Support

One presenter joked about how Africans should have intellectual property rights over the term “poverty” because everyone thinks everywhere in Africa is basically poor. In all seriousness, the presenters did make some valid arguments in response to the lack of international (mostly financial) support for implementation of African NDCs. Collectively, the continent of Africa only emits about 2-3% of global GHG emissions. Here, African officials expressed their frustration with other Parties’ expectations from African countries, yet do not want to assist the African countries financially to achieve those expectations. Moreover, African countries stressed the importance of including adaptation measures in their NDCs, whereas most developing countries would like to focus more on mitigation. It’ll be very interesting to hear the negotiations on whether to mandate adaption in NDCs, and I will be sure to keep you all updated on that process.

2. African Youth

Several African students and young professionals used these sessions as opportunities to confront their nations’ leaders on improving conditions to keep more young people in Africa. Last year alone, about 17 million young Africans migrated to Europe in search of food, work, and education. Both the young advocates and officials had constructive dialogue on how to keep more youth in Africa while tackling tough climate change issues. Some suggested to restructure budget allocations so the majority of funding no longer goes to agriculture. Food security is very important, but, according to the youth at this event, not at the expense of stimulating the economy or educating the next generation to lead the African nations.

Oops! How Will a Mistake in a Major Scientific Report Affect the Future of Oceans at COP?

Earlier this week, scientists from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography corrected their most recent study regarding the ocean’s heat absorption capacity. This study, published in the journal Nature, initially reported that the oceans absorbed about 60% more heat from the atmosphere than originally determined. The scientists working on the study used a new method—collecting gases (mainly oxygen and carbon dioxide) that escaped from the ocean to calculate their amounts in the atmosphere. However, the scientists had not considered some “inadvertent errors” in these calculations, which suggested a degree of scientific uncertainty lower than what it actually was. (A more detailed explanation on the corrected errors can be found here). Though their conclusions align with other studies on marine heat absorption, this error triggered a tsunami of doubt on the reliability of the scientific evidence used to develop Climate Change policy.

The ocean just recently got the attention it rightfully deserves. As a major carbon sink, we must pay attention to ocean health if we want to achieve the UNFCCC climate change goals. The Ocean Pathway, established at COP23, was a recent success to bring more awareness to the important role the ocean plays with climate change. The momentum from this looked promising for COP24, but can we expect a change in course?

Science acknowledges that there will always be some level of uncertainty in scientific conclusions. However, developing policy demands the exact opposite—the tolerable level of uncertainty is set as low as possible. These two principles conflict when science is needed to develop environmental policies. How can we reconcile using data with uncertainty to create policy that operates without uncertainty?

This issue is not new to international climate change regime. The ocean’s introduction into climate change negotiations resembles the path agriculture took only a decade ago. Several years ago, before agriculture made it onto a COP agenda, the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) released a contradictory report shortly after AR5. The IPCC’s AR5 reported a “risk of food insecurity linked to warming, drought, and precipitation variability, particularly for poorer populations.” The NIPCC reported the exact opposite, suggesting that global warming is actually benefitting farmers in Africa and Asia. Though the NIPCC introduced contradictory information to suggest scientific uncertainty with agriculture and climate change, the NIPCC—a nonprofit organization founded by the famous climate change skeptic Dr. Fred Singer—frequently uses their own “scientific analysis” to negate IPCC studies on global warming. This fun fact may have influenced the amount of reliance on this data in subsequent negotiations. There was also some controversy with scientific data cited in AR4. Apparently, the studies on African agriculture were “gray” literature, meaning that have not been peer-reviewed to ensure scientific reliability. Critics making this assertion claimed the same advantages of global warming for African farmers (also using “gray” literature, but that can be for another blog post). Yet, Parties were able to plant agriculture into the COP24 agenda despite the doubt skeptics tried to cast.

The corrected Nature article on ocean heat absorption may have casted doubt on the importance of the ocean in the international climate change regime. But, if agriculture could survive the skeptics, the ocean can survive a miscalculation.

Working Towards an “Ocean COP”

Ocean health is a big deal. It provides food security and resources to sustain our economies. It regulates our weather patterns. It absorbs heat and our carbon dioxide emissions. We often forget how dependent we are on the oceans. But lucky for us, UNFCCC Parties recognize that the “well below 2˚C” goal is not achievable without the ocean.

In June 2017, Fiji and Sweden co-chaired the first UN Ocean Conference in New York City—a conference on ocean health and sustainability. Fiji used that momentum as the COP23 President to bring awareness of ocean health to climate change discussions. Partnering again with Sweden, this dynamic duo co-chaired the Ocean Pathway. In total, 10 parties and 14 Advisory groups committed to the Ocean Pathway at COP23. Participation is likely to increase at COP24 following a year of devastating weather events.


The Ocean Pathway is a new innovation to incorporate ocean conservation into the international climate change regime. This two-track strategy will (1) “increase the role of ocean consideration in the UNFCCC process” while (2) “significantly increasing action in priority areas impacting or impacted by [the] ocean and climate change.” 

The first track aims to develop a strategy to implement the ocean into UNFCCC negotiations with the “Friends of the Ocean” process—an open forum for Parties to discuss, debate, and implement measures to combat ocean concerns for the next two COPs. The goal is to make COP25 the “Ocean COP” by developing an effective work programme and potential agenda item by 2020.

The second track will strengthen previous ocean and climate change actions by developing new partnerships and platforms to increase momentum in the ocean conservation movement. Such actions include reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, reducing fossil fuel consumption, and increasing protection of blue carbon areas. Most important to COP24, the Because of the Ocean Coalition encourages Parties’ to include ocean-related measures in their NDCs! Not only will Parties combat climate change, but they can also tackle important concerns like ocean acidification, sea level rise, and pollution. A major win in the marine conservation realm!