Protestors as Nonparty Stakeholders

Today at COP23, the United States Climate Action Center event “America’s Pledge on Climate Change,” had speakers that included Walmart’s Senior Vice President of Sustainability, the Mayor of Pittsburgh, California Governor Jerry Brown, and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. They reassured the world that America’s Paris contribution would be met regardless of inaction at the federal level. Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto showcased Pittsburgh’s work to turn around its recession by creating new opportunities for industry workers in a post-industrial city; he cited the BlueGreen Alliance, which was formed between the United Steelworkers and the Sierra Club on a mission that there should not be a choice between jobs and the environment.

Germany US Climate CampaignGovernor Jerry Brown was the star of the morning because of the immense leadership role he and the State of California have taken on climate. However, he was interrupted by groups of vocal protesters who stood up from the crowd with big banners shouting, “Keep it in the ground.” The protest was organized by the It Takes Roots delegation, a group of indigenous and marginalized peoples working on climate justice issues, who were speaking out against local industry pollutants in communities. This head-to-head confrontation immediately chilled the room, which was enjoying the congratulatory atmosphere of the event. Before long, someone attempted to initiate a pro-Governor Brown chant.

Making sure the world recognizes that American cities, states, and businesses are committed to tackling climate change is a worthwhile endeavor. This strengthens negotiations, especially when there has been emphasis placed at the COP on increasing ambition before 2020. However, the way the protesters were approached at this morning’s event was not in the true spirit of COP23. The ‘Pacific COP’ is a COP that prides itself on hearing Indigenous voices and nonparty stakeholders. This would have been an opportunity to showcase this effort. This also serves as a reminder that in the face of not only climate change but also a transition to a low-carbon economy, it is imperative that vulnerable communities are not left behind.


Financing Loss and Damage from Climate Change

Loss and Damage (L&D) encompasses both sudden and slow onset events and is an incredibly important issue to developing countries at COP23. Although the economic costs of slow onset events have yet to materialize, sudden onset events have proved deadly and costly for developing countries. It is estimated that hurricanes wipe out 1% of the Caribbean’s GDP each year. From Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, the devastation has been so extensive on islands such as Barbuda and Dominica that many people cannot return or have lost their homes. This displacement adds to countries’ L&D from climate change.

Financing for L&D has overshadowed COP23’s discussions around the slow but steady work of the Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss & Damage (WIM) Executive Committee. According to Julie-Anne Richards with the Climate Justice Program, the WIM has a “clear mandate” to enhance Action and Support for loss and damage but as yet, the WIM has largely focused on financial instruments, like insurance, rather than finance mobilization. Richards posits that while insurance mechanisms for sudden onset events may assist developing countries in addressing L&D, insurance mechanisms simply cannot address slow onset events (SOEs).

Causes-and-Effects-of-DesertificationDavid Simmons of Willis Towers Watson risk management company explains that the insurance industry currently focuses on short-term risk – the only type of insurance that deals with long-term, inevitable risk is life insurance. However, for this reason, Simmons argues that insurance could be reconfigured to address SOEs. Julie-Anne Richards, on the other hand, argues that other instruments such as funds or levies are more appropriate ways to finance SOEs. An example of a fund working on an SOE is the Land Degradation Neutrality Fund, which pools capital from the public and private sector to finance projects that both prevent land degradation and support revitalization of degraded land. The UN Convention on Combating Desertification estimates that 12 million hectares of land are degraded each year, which is around a third of Germany’s land area. This adds to the bank of 2 billion hectares of already degraded land, which is around the size of the South American continent. Desertification, soil degradation, and the loss of ecosystem services that comes from degraded land are all considered slow onset L&D.

Julie-Anne Richards and the Climate Justice Program are currently working on a new form of finance for L&D – the “Carbon Levy Project.” A tax would be placed on the extraction of fossil fuels, which would then be distributed based on the level of development of the country. If the fossil fuel is extracted by a developing country, the money from the tax would be kept for use domestically. However, if the tax is collected from a developed country, a large percentage of the funds would be placed into a global L&D Fund managed by the WIM.

There is general agreement that L&D needs to be addressed and that this will take money. However, there is divergence on how to finance L&D. From insurance mechanisms and global funds to more innovative approaches, there is momentum behind this issue.


The Rising Need to Address Climate-Induced Displacement

Fiji’s role as a developing island state and President of the COP brings Loss and Damage (L&D) into sharper focus at COP23. At negotiations thus far, differences have emerged between developing and developed countries. Developing countries generally want the Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage (WIM), established at COP19, to have a broader scope, increased capacity, and more international cooperation on addressing L&D. Developed countries, on the other hand, are satisfied with the work of WIM and requested that WIM be given a chance to carry out its three functions: enhancing knowledge around comprehensive risk management of L&D; strengthening cooperation between relevant stakeholders; and enhancing action and support, including finance, for addressing L&D.

Screen Shot 2017-11-08 at 3.11.19 PML&D is an especially important issue to developing countries and one noneconomic form of L&D is human displacement by climate change. On average, sudden onset disasters (i.e. extreme weather) displace around 25 million people per year and slow onset events will displace many more. Moreover, people in low and lower-middle income countries are five times more likely to be displaced than people in high-income countries. Mandated by the COP21 Paris Decision, the Task Force on Displacement was created under WIM to recommend ways to address, avert, and minimize displacement. These recommendations will be delivered to the Parties at COP24 in 2018.

The many extreme weather events that have affected communities worldwide in 2017 frame the current conversation on climate change-induced displacement. This conversation requires discussions on many questions including: what to call environmental migrants (the term “climate refugee” as largely been rejected); how can countries prepare for inevitable displacement; and, what rights and resources will displaced peoples have?

At the side event “Uprooted by Climate Change: Responding to the Growing Risk of Displacement,” His Excellency Anote Tong, former President of Kiribati, expressed his concern for the future of Kiribati. He explained that Kiribati will inevitably be destroyed by climate change, despite mitigation efforts, either by extreme storms or eventual sea level rise. His call is to prepare these future climate migrants through training and education programs so they can easily be assimilated into a new country. He called this strategy “Migration with Dignity.” The former President does not like the term refugee – in this case, people would have choice and agency in how they move.

Today’s side events on displacement highlighted the swath of agencies working on this issue including the UN Refugee Agency, UN Migration Agency, the Platform on Disaster Displacement, and even the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and World Meteorological Society, among many others. Collectively, speakers from these agencies highlighted the need to put protection of people at the center of displacement discussions, especially concerning legal rights, and that internal displacement will continue to strain governments. Forced relocation was emphasized as a last resort for communities.

In the words of His Excellency Anote Tong, “What do we do for whom it’s too late” and displacement from climate change is inevitable? COP23 has continued the discussion on displacement yet, much more needs to be done to ensure that when people relocate, they can call a new place home.


Climate Change and Indigenous Governance

CMARI Reservation, the location of the pilot project of RIA in Colombia. Photo by Rodrigo Durán Bahamón

CMARI Reservation, the location of the pilot project of RIA in Colombia. Photo by Rodrigo Durán Bahamón

COP23 commenced its series of Thematic Days with Indigenous Peoples’ Day, which included a series of side events on the protection of traditional indigenous knowledge and how this knowledge is being used in climate change action. Indigenous people are directly connected with the land and therefore feel the effects of climate change on the ground very acutely, although they are not typically involved in the climate change policymaking process. As indigenous communities are uprooted and impacted by climate change, these cultures and their traditional knowledge are threatened.

Loss of cultural heritage and indigenous knowledge has been classified as a noneconomic form of Loss and Damage (L&D). L&D is broadly defined as the unavoidable and irreversible effects of climate change and encompasses both extreme weather and slow onset events. Examples of slow onset events include sea level rise, desertification, ocean acidification, and loss of ecosystem services. L&D is also categorized by economic losses – such as loss of property, infrastructure, and agricultural production – and noneconomic losses. Some noneconomic losses are loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services, human displacement, and the loss of heritage, culture, and indigenous knowledge. However, far from being entirely about loss, Indigenous Peoples’ Day highlighted the protection of traditional knowledge currently undertaken by indigenous communities around the world.  

The side event “Traditional Knowledge, Paris Agreement and Indigenous Territorial Organizations” featured Coordinadora de las Organizaciones Indígenas de la Cuenca Amazónica (COICA), an indigenous organization that works for the protection and security of indigenous territories within the Amazon Basin. Indigenous peoples have revered and relied on the Amazon for hundreds of years. Research through Rede Amazônica de Informação Socioambiental Georreferenciada (RAISG) found that indigenous territories only contribute to 8% of all deforestation in the Amazon, and 90% of deforestation takes place in unprotected areas in the remaining 48% of land. Initiatives, like REDD+ Indigenous Amazonian (RIA), promote shared management between indigenous peoples and governments where indigenous land protection knowledge is implemented utilizing government capacity.

The side event “Protecting and promoting indigenous territories and knowledge” highlighted indigenous practices in Africa that are working on climate change adaptation. Here, too, speakers highlighted that good governance must be based on the integration of local indigenous values and management systems with resources from the state. A speaker from the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee (IPACC) highlighted several examples of traditional knowledge for adaptation. One example is a traditional grazing practice in Morocco called Agdal, which seeks to create a balance of biodiversity by closing off areas to grazing during certain times of year.

A request that IPACC had for COP23 was the creation of a list of indigenous practices on climate change action. The hope is that this list would be shared internationally and eventually included in school books so the knowledge could be passed on through generations. RIA and other governance initiatives also serve as a model for governments and indigenous communities around the world. These efforts, from just two parts of the world, highlight the incredible emerging role for indigenous involvement in climate change governance.


Engagement of Nonparty Stakeholders at COP23

Bula.zone_COP22 in Morocco was the first COP to stress public participation of non-party stakeholders. This built off of Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, which emphasizes the inclusion of civil society. At COP23 this year, Fiji wants to continue this new practice of including civil society in climate change discussions with a first-ever dialogue between the Parties and nonparties — the Talanoa Open Dialogue. In a COP23 side event titled Yardsticks for Success, speaker Jenny Jiva from the Pacific Islands Climate Action Network highlighted the importance of multi-stakeholder governance in climate action. This sentiment was affirmed by Fiji Ambassador Deo Saran who emphasized the need for inclusivity in the COP, especially concerning marginalized voices and indigenous peoples. The event also highlighted the need to engage people in climate action; not only do people need to be able to see how the COP affects mitigation and adaptation efforts on the ground, but people should feel they have an effect on how climate action occurs. This emphasis on inclusivity should manifest in the Talanoa Open Dialogue on November 8, 2017, which is an open dialogue where Parties are encouraged to share stories and build trust. The inclusion of civil society in this event is indicative of the inclusive environment the Fiji Presidency is aiming to create.


Continuing to Decouple

Photograph by Carlos Barria - REUTERS

Photograph by Carlos Barria – REUTERS

For the third year in a row, the International Energy Agency (IEA) reported that carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the energy sector remained level while the global economy grew. This continues to buck the economic thinking that economic growth, typically measured with gross domestic product (GDP), cannot be decoupled from environmental degradation. The current trend of decoupling GDP from CO2 emissions is largely due to the global growth of renewable energy use. Solar energy was the fastest growing source of renewables in 2016, while hydropower supplied the largest portion of global electricity demand growth of all the renewables. 

A recent report from PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency released September 28, 2017 found that of the five largest emitters, which account for 68% of global CO2 emissions, only India showed a significant rising trend of greenhouse gas emissions. China, the U.S., the E.U., Russia, and Japan all had flat or decreased greenhouse gas emissions in 2016. However, in a departure from the IEA report from March 2017, this report found that global emissions of non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions rose in 2016. Of these non-CO2 greenhouse gasses, methane emissions represented the largest portion—19% of global emissions. The primary sources of methane include fossil fuel production, cattle, and rice—a staple crop in the developing world.

Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Meanwhile, another recent study released in September 2017 in Science revealed that a thinning of tropical forest density has led to a net carbon loss across every continent. This indicates that forests are no longer behaving as sinks because they have been degraded through logging, fire, and drought, among other factors. Forests provide a vast natural resource for developing countries yet increasing the sink capabilities of forests through afforestation, reforestation, and decreased forest degradation are among mitigation goals of these countries. This study highlights both the importance and the challenge of those goals. The international target of limiting warming to no more than 2˚C is unattainable without vast carbon sinks like these forests.

The decoupling of emissions from economic growth globally is cause for celebration. However, as seen with India, this trend is still tentative as developing countries work to increase economic growth, which could include increased agricultural production, forests use, and energy use. To continue decreasing global emissions, more work is required to assist the developing world with sustainable development. Increased methane emissions from the agricultural sector and increased CO2 emissions from loss of forest mass are among several challenges facing the developing world as they seek to grow. There are viable solutions to many of these problems. Yet these solutions require significant assistance and resources from the international community.

The developing world requires assistance in electrification and energy diversification in the way of hydropower and other renewables so the decoupling trend can continue. These countries also require capacity building to bolster forestry sector projects; the transfer of technology and best practices to assist with the growth of sustainable agriculture; and of course, continued mitigation efforts from developed countries.