Draft Gender Decision Available!


A local farmer from North Kivu Province, DRC. Credit: UNPhoto / Sylvain Liechti (from Mary Robinson Foundation: Climate Change)

Following up on my post from December 3rd, the advance unedited version of the draft decision on the Lima work programme on gender has been released. The decision varies considerably from the conference room paper presented by Malawi at the first session on gender at COP20, but it still includes the same underlying value that women and gender incorporated into the UNFCCC. Among other provisions, the decision “Encourages Parties to support (a) training and awareness-raising for female and male delegates on issues related to gender balance and climate change, and (b) building the skills and capacity of their female delegates to effectively participate in UNFCCC meetings via training on, inter alia, negotiation skills, drafting of legal language and strategic communication; . . . Decides to clarify the meaning of the term “gender-responsive climate policy” from an implementation perspective and improve the development and effective implementation of gender-responsive climate policy; . . .[and] Requests the Executive Secretary to appoint a senior gender focal point, who is an expert in this subject matter, to develop and ensure the implementation of, within existing resources, an action plan for the two-year work programme on gender and climate change.”

As Mary Robinson said “No society can develop – economically, politically or socially – when half of its population is marginalised.” Hopefully this decision will lead to furthering the participation of women in the UNFCCC and in sustainable development policies generally.

2014 the Hottest Year on Record!

2014 hottest year on record : 134-Foot-High Thermometer in Baker, California

“The time has come to be respectful with time.” The board reads in front of me as I wait for a meeting to start (delayed I might add). The time has come to be respectful not just of session time, but climate time. Climate change is no longer a future prediction, the climate has already begun to change. The World Meteorological Organization just released a report, based on temperatures from the past ten months, that shows that 2014 will be one of the hottest years on recordlikely the hottest. Every year since 2000 has been one of the hottest 15 on record. As we listen to Parties debate the semantics of decisions, it is important to keep the reality of the consequences in mind. The world has already begun to feel the effects of anthropogenic changes, and this is only increasing.

(The WMO is an active participant at the COP here in Lima, and a number of its activities and recommendations can be found on the WMO website.)

Behind Closed Doors: Adaptation Fund Negotiations

logo adaptation fundThe last session of the informal consultations on the second review of the Adaptation Fund was scheduled for today, but the parties took longer than planned in their previous negotiations, so the final meeting was pushed back until tomorrow. Today’s meeting instead became a continuation of earlier negotiations, and as it was announced at the start of the session, observers were asked to leave. As one of those observers who had to vacate my seat, I wonder what progress this review is undergoing. The Adaptation Fund was first established in 2001 to finance adaptation projects and programmes in especially vulnerable developing countries that are parties to the Kyoto Protocol. These funds come from a percentage of the clean development mechanism (CDM). The status of funds contributed and projects approved are available in handy maps and charts on the Climate Funds Update website.

What changes and positions were proposed at today’s session, only the lucky parties in attendance will know. Observers, such as myself will just have to wait to see final product.senegal adaptation fund

Least Developed Country Fund: Meeting the Threshold Criteria of “Least Developed Country”

The Parties here in Lima have been discussing the Least Developed Country Fund (LDCF), which provides funding only to the Least Developed Countries (LDCs). Due in part to its specificity, these sessions have not garnered as much publicity as many of the others. Of course the ADP sessions, as they are the prep work for the hoped for agreement to come out of Paris next year, are main attraction here, but LDC specific interests hold a different position than other more narrow topics due to the position of the LDCs themselves. The LDCF as a specific topic within LDC issues, has an even tighter invested audience. However, for many of the LDCs, the LDCF is a contentious and important issue for debate.

In yesterday’s meeting certain parties (not only LDCs) brought up criticisms of the LDCF. These include Bangladesh’s insistence that constraints for funding under the LDCF be removed as they are demonstrations of funding countries mistrust of the LDCs; Bolivia’s comment, on behalf of the G77+China, that adaptation financing in general is in a crisis in this convention; and that the LDCF offers only a very small fraction of the necessities for LDC countries, both in terms of the dearth of money currently available as well as the narrow prescribed use of these funds. But as Bhutan stated, the LDCs need strong financial assistance in climate change adaptation. And Liberia specifically stated that the LDCF has been very useful there.

What exactly is the LDCF? The LDCF is one of the funds established under the Global Environment Facility (GEF) (the other is the GCF). The parties established the LDCF to support Least Developed Countries (LDCs) prepare and implement national adaptation programmes of action (called NAPAs in UN acronym speech).  The LDCF is still being adapted, and the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) recently published recommendations for the LDCF (the recommendation was largely based on an LDC submission). This recommendation and party submissions are currently under discussion.

human asset index

But what exactly is a “Least Developed Country”? An important question as the first caveat to receiving LDCF funds is that the receiving country must be an LDC. There are 48 LDCs that form a negotiating group for the UNFCCC. Nepal, in its statement on behalf of the LDCs at the Opening Plenary on Monday, described the LDCs as “the 48 poorest and most vulnerable countries which contribute least to the problem, yet suffer the most.” The UN has formed specific criteria for what constitutes an LDC, and the LDC listing applies UN wide, not only for the UNFCCC. For inclusion in the LDC list, a country must meet the following criteria: http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/policy/cdp/ldc/ldc_criteria.shtml (1) per capita gross national income under a certain threshold (in the 2015 review this threshold will be $1,035), (2) meeting the human assets index threshold and 2014-0110-CDP(3) meeting the economic vulnerability index. Additionally, the country must be recommended by the UN Committee for Development (who reviews the LDC list every three years), then endorsed by the Economic and Social Council, and approved by the UN General Assembly. Finally, its population cannot exceed 75 million. This multi-variable criteria has been emended over time and likely will continue to adjust as parties demand. Graduation off the LDC list uses a different assessment to ensure graduation only happens if development can be sustained.

Meeting the requirement of “Least Developed Country” is only the first bare-bones step for LDCF support. After that, the process becomes more complicated, and may still be in flux. For more links on the LDCs under the UNFCCC, see the Least Developed Countries Portal page.

“2 steps ahead”: Malawi Moving the Parties Forward on Gender in Climate Change

Today in the informal consultations on gender and climate change, Malawi, on behalf of the LDCs (Least Developed Counties negotiating group), presented a conference room paper as a draft of a decision to establish a 2-year work programme for gender under the UNFCCC. This paper was seen for the first time by most parties in attendance (as well as us lucky observers in the room), but almost in consensus they decided to use this paper as a basis for further negotiations on gender. Though, the parties of course reserved the right to add and subtract to the draft at their next meeting. Malawi’s proposal draws upon previous decisions and conclusions of the COP, namely decisions 36/CP.7  and 23/CP.18 and conclusions SBI/2013/L.16, to establish a framework for gender in climate change under the UNFCCC. In addition to recalling the previous decisions and conclusions and proposing a 2-year work programme, Malawi recommends the parties also strengthen thematic areas on gender though in-session workshops, create a platform for dialogue on gender in climate change by training both men and women in the issues, build skills for females (especially for the most vulnerable women), provide information relating to gender and equality, appoint a Senior Gender Equality Expert, and provide means for implementation, including making finances available.

Though the co-chair praised Malawi for being “two steps ahead,” it is because the UNFCCC is “two steps behind” that this issue doesn’t have a work programme yet. The UNFCCC was born at the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit in 1992, a conference that included many statements on the importance of women in the path forward on environmental issues. For example Agenda 21, the cornerstone of the Earth Summit contained many references to gender and the importance of including women as key participants, both due to their vulnerability as well as their capacity to be leaders in climate change. Principle 20 of the Rio Principles, also created by the parties in Rio, states: “Women have a vital role in environmental management and development. Their full participation is therefore essential to achieve sustainable development.” In the more than 20 years since Rio, other agreements have reiterated the need to incorporate gender with environmental discussions, including the recently proposed UN Sustainable Development Goals and indicators which include one specific goal on gender with regard to sustainable development, but also synthesize gender issues throughout the Goals.

The same understanding on the importance of gender and women in environmental policies must be fully incorporated into the UNFCCC. Though progress has been made (in part demonstrated by the decisions and conclusions referenced above), not enough has yet been to done for gender balance under the UNFCCC. At COP19 in Warsaw, the parties agreed to this, that not only is gender equity and women’s involvement important to the UNFCCC, but also there is much work left to be done. (To learn more about the gender discussions from Warsaw read last year’s posts by Heather Crowshaw, Tracy Bach , and Taylor Smith).

Photo from UN Women

Photo from UN Women

Tomorrow and again later in the week, the parties will reconvene to discuss Malawi’s conference room paper, and thanks to the parties allowing observers back in the room, I’ll do my best to post on their progress within the week. Maybe the UNFCCC can finally take the 2 steps up to where it should be and agree to a convention on gender equity and the role of women.

Framing Loss and Damage? Formal Party Session vs. NGO Side Event


Today COP20 held its first meeting to discuss the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts (LDM), which the Parties agreed to under decision 2/CP.19. This nascent Mechanism still has many unresolved issues. In Warsaw the Parties decided that in 2 years’ time they would review progress of the instrument, specificall, with an aim to finalizing the executive committee and workplan on the mechanism by 2015. In accordance with the decision, the interim executive committee has finalized a draft workplan. Here in Lima, the Parties are negotiating finalizing this workplan as well as the organization of the executive committee. Their decision must be finalized by Friday, which gives them only four days, and three formal half hour sessions, to finalize one of the most contentious issues from COP19.

Accordingly, today’s meeting focused on the timing and scheduling of the negotiations. Rather than deciding any of the substantive issues, the session agreed to homework to prepare for substantive discussions at tomorrow’s mid-day meeting. Specifically, the Parties are to (1) clarify their issues of concern in proposed workplan, and (2) discuss the composition and procedures of the Executive Committee. The first of these homework issues was specifically directed at the G77+China, because they stated they had a number of concerns regarding the overall big picture of the mechanism as well as specific issues in the draft workplan. However, they were not prepared to fully explain these concerns at the session. As Norway pointed out (and the US seconded), it is very difficult to respond to unknown concerns. So, the G77+China, agreeing with their “distinguished colleague from Norway on clarity,” stated they would be prepared by tomorrow on the issue. Thus, the Parties agreed to reconvene to discuss those issues rather than reopening LDM then and there.

The formal tone of the polite but disparate Party negotiations was offset by an NGO outside event “Adaptation & Agroecology: Women’s Strategies for Climate Change,” which also revolved around the concept of loss and damage. Here the tone was much more informal, and the panel presented a united position that systemic change was needed if people were actually to adapt to the losses and damages caused by climate change. Though the panel focused on women in food production, as one of the most vulnerable yet crucial people, the theme called for a more integrated approach to climate change discussions. Rather than giving mitigation the center stage, adaptation deserves its weight as well. Additionally, as loss and damage is the effects that go beyond those which people can adapt to, the panel voiced the need for loss and damage to become its own pillar under the UNFCCC and receive the attention it deserves.

The presenters were: Teresa Anderson from Actionaid International, Chris Henderson from Practical Action, and Manu Shrivastava from Centre for Community Economics and Development Consultants Society. They passionately discussed their programs and involvement with women and communities in agroecology and highlighted a few case studies where women were facing climate induced hardships. Some of these case studies presented optimism by demonstrating the resiliency of women and new solutions they were developing. Other studies merely demonstrated the losses. Together the studies depicted a conceptual whole, and the panel emphasized this conceptual piece. They engaged the audience for more examples, questions, and discussions, then closed by reiterating the need for a systemic change. These case studies, they said, showed solutions were possible, but currently they were mere islands in a sea of chaos.

Image from Centre for Community Economics and Development Consultants Society

Image from Centre for Community Economics and Development Consultants Society

Whereas the Party negotiation focused on formal tasks such as timing, the NGO’s focused on narrative and concept. The NGO panel showed photos and criticized politics, but the Parties stoically mentioned concerns not yet prepared for open air. The NGOs talked about the losses and damages to individuals and regions, while the Parties spoke of timing and organization only. If one didn’t know the two sessions were on the same topic going in, they might have left equally unaware. But, the two are interrelated. The NGO sessions discuss work on the ground and influence the way Parties view issues. NGOs may have the space to articulate, without political niceties, the same concepts that drive Party platforms. Yet, NGO debates are framed within the UNFCCC decisions, and are driven by the national policies created in accordance with them. This seeming dichotomy between civil society and Party negotiations is actually what breathes life into COP functions, as the conference offers a ground for these two forms of sessions to occur one after the other with likely overlapping attendees.

Carbon Capture Use and Storage: Still Deep in Controversy

At the ADP’s Technical Expert Meeting: Carbon Capture, Use and Storage (CCS), a panel of State Party and industry representatives discussed CCS challenges and ccs imageopportunities, focusing on financing and technology. CCS is the process for separating and then capturing CO2 from industrial and energy-related sources, then injecting it deeply into porous rock reservoirs. Though growing, there are currently a limited number of CCS projects worldwide. While addressing some of the some of the barriers to wide implementation, the panel on Tuesday presented an optimistic future for CCS in deceiving climate change mitigation targets.

Industry experts on implementation asserted that CCS is safe and that its main challenges come from lack of stable government regulation and financing, not inadequate technology. To demonstrate CCS technology’s safety, Norwegian Olav Skalmerås said his offshore natural gas processing plant had not seen any “surprises” since the project started in 1996. However, describing a regulatory barrier, Scott McDonalds, a biofuels development director from the US, said a developer must spend $10-15 million–just for permitting. Finances were mentioned in each presentation and the experts explained how current CCS projects depended on public financial incentives (or disincentives). For example, Shell’s David Hone said Canadian projects relied on $865 million in support from the Canadian government. Similarly, the US government has given subsidies for CCS projects. However, in contrast to projects depending on government aid, Norway’s high carbon tax served to precipitate CCS projects there.

Despite these hurdles, the panel envisioned a bright future for CCS. State party representative Matthew Bilson said that CCS is the cheapest way to fight climate change and is an absolute necessity for the UK, since it is a “small island” with little room for nuclear energy options. Though developing CCS infrastructure is currenlty hugely expensive, Bilson hopes that by the mid-to-late 2020’s CCS projects will be fully commercial, receiving “virtually no government support.” To increase implementation of CCS, the panel advocated greater collaboration between nations in transferring technology, regulatory models, and finances.

But, while these panelists painted a positive picture of CCS’s future, others would prefer to see a future with little or no reliance on CCS for climate mitigation. The concerns with CCS are numerous and come from sources as varied as AOSIS, Greenpeace, and Stanford. And even the panelist, when stressed during questions, admitted some other areas of concern, such as leaks or spills during transportation or blowouts in pre-injection processes.

Concerned with the injection itself, a group of Stanford researchers argue CCS, like other forms of geological injections, is likely to cause earthquakes. These researchers state, “Because of the critically stressed nature of the crust, fluid injection in deep wells can trigger earthquakes when the injection increases pore pressure in the vicinity of preexisting potentially active faults.” Brittle crusts, or potentially active faults, exist nearly everywhere on earth. Even if seismic activities are not strong enough to endanger people, they could compromise storage seals, causing leaks of stored CO2. Earthquakes from natural causes in the vicinity could similarly compromise CCS storage. Both resulting in negating the benefits of CCS. These researchers noted that highly porous, permeable, and weakly cemented geological formations may provide the safest storage locations, but limiting CCS to these areas makes it improbable or impossible as a method for significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Greenpeace attacks CCS on a number of fronts, including those mentioned above, like the high financial costs and potential for leaks. But adds the additional concern that CCS “uses between 10 and 40% of the energy produced by a power station,” so a power station must make more energy just to support its CCS process. Thus plants using CCS must increases their environmental impact. Greenpeace argues adopting CCS on a wide scale would “increase resource consumption by one third.” Accordingly, Greenpeace does not see CCS as a viable climate mitigation strategy.

In 2011 submission, the Aliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) expressed concerns with CCS and part of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of the Kyoto Protocol. Though the Kyoto Protocol and its CDM may not be the vehicle driving future climate mitigation, AOSIS’s concerns are still relevant to future international climate discussions. AOSIS acknowledges the potential problems discussed above, involving leaks, impermanence, and negative environmental impacts, but still recognizes CCS as a valuable technology. AOSIS’s main issue with CCS is not its use generally, but its use as an offset mechanism. “Offset mechanisms do not contribute to global emission reductions,” so nations implementing CCS should not view those projects as a means of shirking emission reduction targets.  ADM-Plant_2

At the heart of the CCS debate is an issue of principles: CCS enables people to continue burning fossil fuels. This has its benefits: it has strong industry support and doesn’t threaten changing day-to-day lifestyles. But it also has its drawbacks. CCS encourages business-as-usual greenhouse gas emissions, but to stay below the IPCC’s target (raise global temps by no more than 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels), we may need a much bigger shift in the way we live and work.

The question is whether CCS should be one part of this shift or if it is antithetical to the goal. CCS requires huge monetary and resource investments that could perhaps be more fruitfully spent in other sectors. However, the industries with the means have the most interest in CCS, so why not let them finance it? (Here we can see the implications from different approaches: Norway’s high carbon tax strategy incentivized CCS without taking public funds away from other investments. The same can not be said where the US and Canada directly funded projects.)

Whether people should invest in CCS, they certainly are. As the first commercial scale CCS facilities are switched on, these benefits or banes will soon manifest. And as technology continues developing new techniques, concern and praise may have to adjust accordingly.  For example, a Texas company recently launched a project that not only captures the CO2 but recycles it by creating sodium bicarbonate and other products for sale. In a few decades, these efforts may surpass current expectations and leave us with a different world of CCS discussion.

Over 400,000 Come Together in NYC for People’s Climate March

Yesterday over 400 thousand people marched through the streets of New York City yelling, singing, drumming, and clamoring for climate change justice. The march made the front page of the New York Times as the largest single environmental gathering in history, but across the world yesterday cities came together: 30,000 in Melbourne, almost 5,000 in Paris, 40,000 in London, 15,000 in Berlin, and 5,000 in Rio de Janeiro, to name just a few of the other 2,500 events around the globe. In New York, six of our delegation joined the march, myself included.

For march5me, the trip started at 3 A.M. in Vermont when a group of us left the V.L.S. parking lot, car-pooling to a bus in Montpelier filled with climate marchers, headed straight to N.Y.C. As we boarded, I took a glimpse up at the stars remembering my awe of the natural wonders of this world and wondered whether future generations would have clear skies to view these celestial lights. In my excitement, I anticipated singing, speeches, and storytelling on the bus, but in the early A.M., mostly we all just slept. It wasn’t until we approached the city that people really started stirring, and to fulfill our expectation of civil demonstrations, we quietly sang one song. But as soon as the bus parked, the activity started. The first sound to hit us of the streets of New York was the strong rhythm of a band of African drummers, playing as they made their way down the sidewalk to the March. On the same block, posters were set out with markers, the top stated in bold: “I’m Marching For” with a blank underneath for each person to write their own reasons for marching. In the blanks some wrote, “the Humans,” My Unborn Children,” or “My Mom.” As we moved closer to Central Park, the crowds drew denser; I saw more signs with messages from organizations and individuals with declarations of hope, anger, representation, and action. In the running for cutest sign was one carried by a little boy around three or four. Next to a drawing of a tiger, it said, “I like tigers,” and on the back it said “Save the tigers.”

We stood without moving in the masses for nearly two hours, marchmarchoccupying ourselves by meeting strangers and hollering out chants, such as, “What does democracy look like? This is what democracy looks like!” and “Divest, divest, put fossil fuels to rest!” Eventually real marching commenced. The march stretched a mile through N.Y.C.’s busy streets, down Central Park West, through Times Square, and eventually culminating in a block party on 42nd. I realized at Columbus Circle exactly how incredible it was to to be standing in that street, the rush and isolation of the automobile, for that moment, completely displaced for individuals in collective procession. My reverie ended when another chant broke out: “What do we want? Climate Justice! When do we want it? Now!” Perhaps the most powerful moment during the march was the moment of silence, where thousands of people stood together completely silent honoring those already lost due to climate change. The moment ended in a grand alarm with ringing bells and shouts; we must have action now.

For those interested in celebrity sightings, there were plenty, including Leonardo DiCaprio and Joseph Gorden Levitt, I was happy to spot Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org, but also would have loved to see Ban Ki-Moon, who was marching with New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, Al Gore, and Jane Goodall. But Ban Ki-moon at Climate Marchmore impressive than any particular individual in attendance was the vast diversity of the populace represented. There were blocs for the youth, for energy, for different states (I started the march in Vermont’s bloc); there were Buddhists and vegans, Indigenous groups, Unitarians, people of all ages (the youngest not yet even born)–all marching in solidarity. At one point I saw a huge arc that exemplified the feeling. On it stood a man carrying a sign, which read: “An atheist on the arc? Unite for climate justice!”

The big question at the end of the day as we all stood around exhausted but still warm with excitement, was “what next?” How do we keep this energy up and move it onto the next project of building new systems and policies to bring our march chants into pragmatic codes? Of course, many are already deep in the process of building changes to battle climate change. The UN will be continuing its work tomorrow at the UN Climate Summit. Millions are already working within their communities, but there is still more to go, and I hope we can keep our voices up as we all head back to our respective homes and keep that global solidarity with us and we continue working for climate justice in our own communities and projects. I got home exhausted, sweaty, and hopeful.