Thinking Globally, Acting Locally

“The only people with the power to actually change anything are the local elected officials.”
– the Environmental Minister of Ghent, Belgium

No matter what happens in the international climate change negotiations, there is one thing everyone can agree on: the impacts of climate change, and the actions taken to address it, will ultimately happen on a local level.

This was recognized by the United Nations during the first-ever “Cities Day” on Thursday (full title: “COP Presidency Cities and Sub-national Dialogue of the Cities Day”), which would have been a real milestone if not for what Christiana Figueres called “the elephant in the room”: the delegates negotiating the ADP had cut the provisions that many in the room had worked so hard to get in.

“I know you were delighted to see the original text [proposed] by the chairs… and know you must be disappointed by the version this morning,” the Executive Secretary stated.

It’s been a bit of a ride this week for organizations like ICLEI, and C40, groups representing coalitions of cities or mayors working on climate change. They’re more or less in the same role as the rest of the ENGOs hanging around the COP, as cities cannot be Parties to the UNFCCC. Although I do hope that a mayor would have a little bit more luck getting a meeting with a negotiator.  Regardless, they are in the same place as everyone else right now; waiting to see what final product the ADP negotiators’ late-night last-day quarterbacking will produce.

Nantes Declaration of Mayors and Subnational Leaders on Climate Change (Sept. 2013, adopted by 50 cities and over 20 regional or intergovernmental coalitions of local governments), the ADP hosted a workshop on Thursday, November 14.  The ADP workshop on pre-2020 ambition: urbanization and the role of governments in facilitating climate action in cities directly informed the draft text that was on the negotiating table as of Monday this week.

Monday’s draft included a vague “activities to identify and implement adaptation and mitigation actions”, and a sub-national forum to be held in conjunction with the next ADP session in June 2014.

4(f) Welcoming and encouraging activities to identify and implement adaptation and mitigation actions, including through cooperative initiatives, at the national and multilateral levels and by subnational and local governments and non-State actors;

5(b) The organization of a forum to identify key priority areas for collaborative work on mitigation and adaptation at the sub-national level, to be convened in conjunction with the session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action that is held concurrently with the fortieth sessions of the subsidiary bodies (June 2014);

In Thursday morning’s draft, that language disappears, replaced by a plan for a new –something- to facilitate sharing of best practices by cities in order to enhance mitigation ambition, under an entirely new number. The ADP negotiators have a funny way of saying “Happy Cities Day”.

7. Resolves to enhance mitigation ambition, as a matter of urgency and guided by the principles of the Convention, by accelerating the full implementation of the decisions constituting the agreed outcome pursuant to decision 1/CP.13 (Bali Action Plan)1 and the Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol2 and by launching the [X] to ensure the highest possible mitigation efforts under the Convention by:

As of Friday morning, the text looked much better. ICLEI President David Cadman encouraged people in the morning Cities Day events to talk to negotiators to get the original language back in, and seems to have succeeded. Cities and subnational governments are included in plans for technical meetings in conjunction with the next ADP session in June; the sub-national forum to be held in conjunction with the next ADP session in June 2014 returns (4d); and facilitation of exchange of info between cities included.  What it means practically is more meetings and reports and business as usual for the UNFCCC, but it may mean more resources for the people actually doing the work on the ground in the future.

4. The ADP requested the secretariat to conduct the following activities in order to implement decision -/CP.195:

(b) In relation to paragraph 4 of that decision, enhance the visibility on the UNFCCC website of quantified economy-wide emission reduction targets, quantified emission limitation and reduction commitments and nationally appropriate mitigation actions;

                      (i) Organize, under the guidance of the Co-Chairs of the ADP, technical expert meetings at the sessions of the ADP in 2014 to share policies, practices and technologies and address the necessary finance, technology and capacity-building, with a special focus on actions with high mitigation potential, including those identified in the technical paper “Updated compilation of information on mitigation benefits of actions, initiatives and options to enhance mitigation ambition”,6 with the participation of Parties, cities and other subnational authorities, civil society and the private sector;

(d)In relation to paragraph 5(b) of that decision, convene, during the session of the ADP to be held in conjunction with the fortieth sessions of the subsidiary bodies, a forum to help share among Parties the experiences and best practices of cities and subnational authorities in relation to adaptation and mitigation.

5. Decides to accelerate activities under the workplan on enhancing mitigation ambition in accordance with decision 1/CP.17, paragraphs 7 and 8, by

(b) Facilitating the sharing among Parties of experiences and best practices of cities and subnational authorities in identifying and implementing opportunities to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change, with a view to promoting the exchange of information and voluntary cooperation;

The Final Conclusion
Late on Saturday afternoon, COP19 adopted a final text on ADP.

“Facilitating the sharing among Parties” seems to have hit the cutting room floor, but it appears that cities will in fact have a place at the expert meetings and the forum during the next ADP meeting

4. The ADP requested the secretariat to conduct the following activities in order to implement decision -/CP.19:3

(c) In relation to paragraph 5(a) of that decision:

(i) Organize, under the guidance of the Co-Chairs of the ADP, technical expert meetings at the sessions of the ADP in 2014 to share policies, practices and technologies and address the necessary finance, technology and capacity-building, with a special focus on actions with high mitigation potential, taking note of those identified in the technical paper “Updated compilation of information on mitigation benefits of actions, initiatives and options to enhance mitigation ambition”,4 with the participation of Parties, civil society, the private sector and cities and other subnational authorities, where appropriate;

(d) In relation to paragraph 5(b) of that decision, convene, during the session of the ADP to be held in conjunction with the fortieth sessions of the subsidiary bodies, a forum to help share among Parties the experiences and best practices of cities and subnational authorities in relation to adaptation and mitigation.


Stop Climate Madness!

CAN protest Nov 22 COP19

As I approached the stadium after a kebab dinner near Rondo Warzyngtona, I heard what sounded like people singing from inside the stadium.  A lot of people.

Not having Tracy’s patience to sit in line, I went in search of the commotion.  My guess to go inside the stadium on the elusive Level 0 was correct, as I could hear the chanting much more clearly.

“Stop climate madness! Stop climate madness!” they chanted.

CAN protest Nov 22 COP19

The canny organizers of the Climate Action Network had cleverly exploited an underutilized feature of this venue, where the plenary rooms are temporary structures set up on the playing field; stadiums echo.  The 100 people or so chanting at the wall of Plenary 1 sounded like 1000.  And apparently they had gone through the proper channels to arrange this too, as there was no problem from security, even when it ended and people headed away.  The United Nations does allow protests, if you schedule it with them.

“We Stand With You! We Stand With You!” the protesters chanted, in support of the Philippines.

Will it make a difference?  As Tracy said, the delegates could hear it. And she was in the room on the other side of the stadium.

CAN protest Nov 22 COP19

Cities to COP19: We’re taking action, you’re not.

Yesterday, when 134 countries walked out of the negotiations on Loss and Damages, the COP19 President was fired from being Poland’s Minister of the Environment for his lack of action to promote fracking, and negotiations generally seemed to be disintegrating, I found myself with an invitation to attend the Warsaw Dialogues on Scaling-up Local and Subnational Climate Action. It was a breath of fresh air and action compared to COP19.

CTA Green RoofOrganized by the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI), The C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, and EUROCITIES, the event brought together city leaders from around the world to highlight the work that is already happening on the ground in local municipalities, and solicit feedback on what support is needed from the national and international level.

Integral to this process were roundtable discussions with participants, representing municipalities from around the world, focusing on four key areas: adaptation, transportation, waste, and buildings.

General themes from the discussions included:

  •  the lack of awareness of the public or national governments on the actions that cities are taking, and why they are taking them;
  • the clout that cities have, financially, politically, and in terms of GHG emission reduction potential;
  • the need for regulatory flexibility in order to act innovatively and swiftly; and
  • the potential for enhancing a bottom-up approach and empowering local governments by creating a platform for continuous dialogue between national government, cities, and members of UNFCCC parties.

Navigate Change: How New Approaches to public procurement will create new marketsIn the “Buildings” session, we discussed the need for long-term consideration for decision-making, infrastructure investment, plans, and national policies. Have you ever thought about public procurement practices as a source of massive change?  Neither had I. Apparently, tremendous emphasis is placed on green public procurement within the European Commission. Procurement rules can be modified to value life-cycle costing, incorporating life-cycle analysis from an energy and environmental perspective, and driving innovation. It may mean purchasing things that are more expensive up front but will be less expensive over their lifetimes. Key to implementation is training the public servants.

| no.7|  THE GREENEST CITY IN THE WORLD BY 2020Actions already taken by cities were highlighted in an awards ceremony for the World Green Building Council Government Leadership Awards. Vancouver, Canada, won overall for “Greenest City 2020 Action Plan for Green Buildings“, which requires all new buildings to be carbon neutral by 2020, and utilizes a green building code introduced for all developments and a retrofit policy for all buildings seeking renovation permits.

Speaking with various attendees afterward, the general sense is the cities are not going to sit idle (nor have they been!) waiting for the UNFCCC to act. They have work to do.

Gender and Climate Change

Today is the Day of Women here at COP19. Appropriately, I was able to get a glimpse of Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC as she made a brief appearance to congratulate the winners of Momentum for Change: Women For Results, which recognizes replicable projects allowing women to make a difference in climate change.

Last week Taylor Smith from our delegation did a fantastic job blogging about women, gender, and climate change. Here’s a shout-out to the writing of another powerful woman in the making!

More on the High Level Panel Event on the Land Use Sector and Forests

This post adds a bit more detail to Chris Knowles’ earlier post. The President of the Conference of Parties convened a “High-level panel event on the land use sector and forests” on Monday 18 November at COP19 . The President himself was in attendance, but his representative opened the meeting emphasizing the importance of the land use sector in both sources and sinks of greenhouse gases.

“It is clear we need to continue to include the land use in future agreements,” a representative read on behalf of the President. “This week we have the opportunity to have an open dialog on the land sector. We can send a strong signal that the land sector is important to all parties of the conference… The outcomes of this meeting will be shared with the COP President and ADP co-chairs.”


Co-chairing the meeting were the Minister of Environment of Finland and the Special Envoy for Climate Change in Indonesia. It was made clear that the point of the meeting was not to interfere with ongoing negotiations on other tracks (such as the REDD+ draft decision language that was recommended by SBSTA to COP for consideration), but rather to share ideas.  It appeared to be a boundary-less discussion of all three distinct land-use issues before the COP in Warsaw.

“Humankind is dependent on productive land resources,” the delegate from Finland explained. “Without the ability of trees and other vegetation, we would have already missed out ability to meet our 2° goal. This sector is too significant to be ignored.”

The Indonesian co-chair emphasized the importance of rural livelihoods to the economies and sustainability of many nations and protecting the rights of forest-dwelling and indigenous peoples.

What are we talking about?
Many countries stated that REDD+ is an important mechanism (Mozambique, Slovenia, Norway, Switzerland, Canada, Uganda, Brazil, and Gabon). There were nuances in the statements made regarding mechanisms for the land use sector in the future. Many emphasized the need for a REDD+ agreement with an established measurement, reporting, and verification system in the upcoming 2015 agreement, recommending that it be incorporated in the ADP negotiations (Namibia, Mexico, Ireland, Norway, and France).

Russia, the United States, Australia and New Zealand, on the other hand, talked about a “post-2020 new agreement”. In some ways, you might think that they are saying the same thing; the agreement to be made in 2015 is expected to go into effect in 2020. However, the United States’ statement gives you more of an impression of “kicking the can down the road”: “Formal negotiations on land sector should start after the framework of the 2015 agreement is clear.” This seems ominous.
This group of countries, all part of “The Umbrella Group”, also all mentioned the need to include all parties, or “include new parties”, a nod to the post-Durban agenda of moving away from the Annex I / developed vs non-Annex I / developing country split which has caused such strife with the Kyoto Protocol, as China, India, and other major economies were not considered “developed” at the time. The U.S., Canada, and Australia also all mentioned that the focus should be on man-made (“anthropogenic”) changes in land use. I suspect this is due to the large forest fires that the US and Australia are prone to, and the large quantity of permafrost in Canada which, when it melts, will emit huge amounts of methane, which has 34x the global warming potential of carbon dioxide.

Quite a few common themes emerged from the statements given by the various countries regarding any new land sector mechanism:
  • The need for technical and financial support, and calling on Annex I countries to meet their commitments in this realm (Philippines, Uganda, Kenya, Bolivia, Papua New Guinea, Ecuador, Slovenia, Norway)
  • Simplicity (USA, Russia, Canada, Kenya, Papua New Guinea, Slovenia, Japan)
  • Flexibility (USA, Norway, Japan, and Gabon)

Themes that reflected some of the wisdom from the Global Landscapes Conference included:

  • Include both mitigation and adaptation; land sector projects have a strong synergy with both (Philippines, Portugal, Lithuania, Bolivia, Ireland, Austria, Gabon)
  • Take a holistic approach (Lithuania, Bolivia, Papua New Guinea, Mexico, New Zealand, Austria)
  • Use local methods, connect the grassroots to national policies, support for Traditional Ecological Knowledge for adaptation and mitigation (Philippines, Brazil, Kenya, Namibia)

Indonesia, Bolivia, Ecuador and the Philippines all spoke to the need to protect indigenous rights. Indonesia in particular sees REDD+ as an opportunity to benefit indigenous peoples. Canada spoke of “aboriginal involvement” but stopped short of mentioning rights or protecting indigenous lands.

Some very unique statements included Belarus’s emphasis that soils, and wetland/peatland rewetting, needed to be included; Sweden’s desire to link the land sector with energy sector, particularly in terms of biofuels; New Zealand and Ireland’s concerns that inclusion of agriculture not be detrimental to their agriculture-based economies; and Bolivia’s criticism of market-based approaches as “further commodification of Mother Earth”. More on this later.

Landscape Scale Approaches


The Global Landscape Forum at the University of Warsaw brought together NGOs from all over the world.  It is a new combination of what used to be two different events discussing forests and agriculture in mitigating and adapting to climate change: Forest Day and Agriculture, Landscapes and Livelihoods Day.

Many of the NGOs have projects in Indonesia, East Africa, and Latin America, primarily in the 16 countries which are supported by UN-REDD funds.  All 16 of these countries have submitted and had approved National Programme Documents.

Exhibitors NGO projects highlighted the role sustainable landscapes can play in providing food, shelter, income and ecosystem services and environmental goods.

“The objective [of the Global Landscape Forum] is to develop the potential of the landscape approach to inform future UNFCCC agreements and the achievement of the proposed Sustainable Development Goals.” – conference website.

At the moment, it appears many countries are continuing forward in building the internal mechanisms for REDD+ implementation, monitoring, verification, and reporting in anticipation of it being incorporated into the next international agreement, which everyone seems to be expecting in two years in Paris.


The permaculture practitioner in me was excited by the projects discussed in the “New generation of integrated watershed management (IWM) programs for rural development, resilience and empowerment” session. In particular, the work in Burundi, Tanzania, and Ethiopia discussed by Sally Bunning, of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Land and Water Division, is using techniques such as “contour trenches” (“swales” in permaculture terminology) to infiltrate the small amount of rainfall that falls on very arid areas.  The transformation of desert to green, productive landscapes were stunning.  Key to doing this was working closely with the farmers, using farmer field school approach in which farmers learn by doing, monitoring, and determining the progress for themselves.  In doing so, the farmers become advocates themselves and teach others, spreading the impact.


“Landscape scale approaches” are the hot topic here at the conference. What they’re talking about is the need for systems thinking that permaculture has developed and continues to refine, but they don’t use the word “Permaculture”. It starts with looking at the needs of farmers, the inputs, outputs, and small changes that can have large effects, and integrating issues at the small scale with consideration of patterns across the landscape. Designing from patterns to details.  Tony La Viña, a negotiator from the Philippines and one of the key negotiators on LULUCF in the Kyoto Protocol, calls the landscape approach “an integrated adaptation / mitigation approach to climate change.”

The final concluding remarks on this conference by CIFOR Director Peter Holmgren highlighted three key points for REDD+ and the UNFCCC:
  • more integration, of people and communities to landscape and national scale
  • get action going on the ground
  • be people-centered

Incorporating Indigenous Rights and Perspectives

“It is not the institutions that define the work we do… it is our relationships.” — Tim Bull Bennett

When considering what topic to follow through the chaos of COP19, and feeling somewhat overwhelmed by the acronym soup, I retreated to a topic I know: advocating for incorporation and respect for Indigenous perspectives, drawing on my six years of work with the Onondaga Nation. The Onondaga Nation (one of the six nations of the Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois Confederacy) has been involved in advocating for indigenous rights at an international level with the United Nations since 1977, and was instrumental in the creation of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2007.

Dan Wildcat, Oren Lyons, and Lindsay Speer

Dan Wildcat, Oren Lyons, and Lindsay Speer

My initial thought was to track how indigenous rights, as embodied in the Declaration, were being considered, incorporated, or ignored by the UNFCCC. REDD and REDD+ have been of particular concern to indigenous peoples, and it seemed important to watch the negotiations carefully and critically.

The Indigenous Peoples Climate Change Working Group meeting at Dartmouth College on November 4th and 5th reminded me that the indigenous stance is not only protective; it is equally proactive. Just as indigenous peoples will feel the brunt of climate change, as land is lost to the sea and plant and animal populations shift, they also have many of the answers. Their stories, songs, and oral histories contain baseline data about the state of the environment. So many of their communities have already experienced relocation during the 1800s; they have significant lessons to share about cultural harms of relocation and strategies for cultural resiliency.

Corn, beans, and squashThe meeting spent a good portion of the first day discussing traditional ecological knowledges (TEK – and the “s” is not a typo; rather, it is a deliberate nod to the diversity of kinds and ways of knowing), their applicability to climate change, as well as the importance of ensuring that the knowledge is not just another thing taken, misunderstood, and misused by the dominant culture.

Robin Kimmerer, Potawatomi, professor, and author of Braiding Sweetgrass, presented a possible structure for good relationship between TEK and traditional western science. She used the metaphor of the Three Sisters, a traditional companion planting methodology of corn, beans, and squash used by the Haudenosaunee. The corn is planted first, providing the structure for the beans to grow up, and the squash shades the ground and suppresses the weeds. Traditional ecological knowledges are the corn; western science is the beans. Without TEK, western science just grows itself into a tangle all over the place. But if western science can look to TEK to point the way, it can grow up into the light in an orderly way, and find the solutions we need. The squash is ethics, and we all are the gardeners.

What would the negotiations look like if the UNFCCC were to think in this way?