“This is not a choice between one word or another.”

Today was the last day of the first week of COP24. The SBSTA plenary meeting began late, as expected. Many Parties are still attempting to find common ground on texts, which has delayed start times for plenaries.

During the SBSTA plenary, many Parties spoke about the need to accept the IPCC 1.5°C Report and make sure that the world does not see warming to 3°C. The report is part of SBSTA’s agenda item #6 on research and systematic observation. To the dismay of many countries in the room, paragraph 11 only “noted” the IPCC report. Thus the Maldives, on behalf of AOSIS, proposed to “welcome” it instead.  Parties discussed this language for more than an hour, because “note” connotes a weaker way of accepting this report.

This back and forth debate is what climate negotiators do: sit in meetings and small rooms all over the world to discuss the specific language that makes the international law of climate change.

Tonight, one negotiator spoke out about considering the lives of everyone. Rueanna La Toya Tonia Haynes, of Saint Kitts and Nevis, made a brilliant intervention about the IPCC and the acceptance of the report. Part of her speech is below:rueanna haynes

“This is not a choice between one word or another. This is us, as the UNFCCC, being in a position to welcome a report that we requested, that we invited the IPCC to prepare…If there is anything ludicrous about the discussion that is taking place, it is that we, in this body, are not in a position to welcome this report.”

After her intervention, she received a well-deserved round of applause. We, as lawyers, are often so caught up in language that we forget what brought us together in the first place. Sometimes we need an upfront and real speech to remind us of the important things. The UNFCCC is the body to help everyone confront and slow down the pace of climate change. To argue about this language in a report that essentially says we are running out of time is ludicrous. The UNFCCC should move forward and accept the report. After all, the UNFCCC did request it.

Ms. Haynes was steadfast and showed fearlessness while addressing her colleagues. Her tenacity and courage is what I hope others would show. I, too, am giving her a big round of applause. Well said, Ms. Haynes.

You can view the entire plenary here.

Finding Balance: the Future of Gender and Climate Change Under the UNFCCC

UN gender photoCOP 22 has commenced! With the ratification of the Paris Agreement (PA) coming less than a year after the adoption of the Agreement (and four years before most Parties thought would be possible!) there is a sense of urgency in the air. Parties are scrambling to develop a framework in which to begin implementing the PA, which also means tight deadlines. Today, during the informal consultation on gender and climate change, Parties were reminded that a draft decision on gender and climate change was needed by 13:00 this Friday at the latest. Fortunately, Costa Rica, on behalf of the Independent Association of Latin America and the Caribbean (AILAC), had already drafted a decision. AILAC distributed a draft decision to the Parties, which will be reviewed and discussed in subsequent meetings this week.

Women disproportionately experience the harmful effects of climate change. The majority of the world’s poor are women, and more women rely on climate vulnerable natural resources for their livelihood. Over the past 15 years, UNFCCC Parties have started recognizing the important role women can have in climate negotiations, and the many barriers that prevent them from participating. Since COP 7 in 2001, gender has been formally recognized by the COP. There, Parties approved a decision to improve the participation of women in the representation of Parties in bodies established under the UNFCCC or the Kyoto Protocol. In the following years, negotiation efforts led to a COP 18 decision to promote gender balance and improve the participation of women in UNFCCC negotiations and bodies. Later at COP 20 in 2014, Parties adopted the Lima work programme on gender. The Lima work programme is a two-year program promoting gender balance and gender-responsive climate policy to help guide the participation of women in UNFCCC bodies. COP 22 marks the end of the Lima work programme, which means that this week Parties will be discussing whether and how to extend the programme.

Lorena Aguilar, Costa Rica, at SB 44 in Bonn. Source: iisd.ca

Lorena Aguilar, Costa Rica, at SB 44 in Bonn. Source: iisd.ca

After brief discussions today, it appears that most Parties support the programme and would like to see the work furthered in some capacity. Parties acknowledged the progress made in working towards gender balance. Malawi, on behalf of the least developed countries (LDCs) negotiating group, recognized the impact the Lima work programme has had in enhancing the understanding and awareness of gender and climate change. In moving forward, inclusivity appears to be a common theme. Several Parties stressed the importance of including women at the local or grassroots level to ensure full participation. Australia made a call for the gender and climate change workstream to expand its focus to observe how gender can be incorporated in other UNFCCC workstreams. Additionally, Zimbabwe addressed the importance of ensuring that all Parties use the same definitions when discussing terms such as gender balance, gender-responsiveness, and gender-inclusiveness.

Despite the progress towards creating a more gender balanced UNFCCC, which ultimately will lead to more gender-inclusive policies, much work remains. In reviewing AILAC’s proposed draft, Parties will discuss what this work should look like in the coming years. It is a particularly exciting time because decisions made this week could effectively influence the outcome of how the Paris Agreement is implemented. The mood is optimistic and Parties appear motivated to continue widening pathways to ensure that all women’s’ voices are heard, particularly the most vulnerable.

COP21 Begins in 24 Hours: Will a Paris Agreement [Decrease] [Solve] [Do Nothing On] Climate Change?

imagesIf all politics are local, but greenhouse gases find their way into the atmosphere’s international space, how can the global community act collectively on climate change? In 1992, the solution was to adopt an international treaty. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) declared climate change a “common concern of mankind,” and committed 166 countries to tackling it. Most UNFCCC parties were developing countries, who had contributed relatively few emissions given their pre-industrial poverty but were nonetheless already experiencing the irreversible, negative effects of climate change. Under the convention’s principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capacities” (CBDRRC), developed countries and top greenhouse gas emitters like the European Union and the United States agreed to take the lead.

Yet, progress has been slow. In 2007, this leadership took the form of the UNFCCC’s Kyoto Protocol, which placed clear greenhouse gas emission limits on developed countries while imposing none on developing countries. When the United States refused to ratify, its emissions, along with those of rapidly industrializing developing countries like China, India, and Brazil, escaped international regulation. Consequently, when negotiations for continuing the protocol beyond its first 2008-2012 period faltered at COP15 in Copenhagen, a new approach to international limits on greenhouse gas emissions began to CO2take shape. It gained momentum at the two subsequent conferences of parties (COPs) held in Cancun and Durban. Now, almost six years on, there is emerging agreement that all parties—developed and developing countries—should make individual, international climate change mitigation pledges determined by each party’s national government.

At COP21 in December, the current 196 UNFCCC parties will decide if they can sign on to this new paradigm of international climate change regulation. The Durban Mandate requires the parties to “develop a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all Parties” by the end of 2015. In Paris from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11, 2015, the parties will have their last opportunity to shape the international climate change law that will take the place of the Kyoto Protocol when it ends in 2020.

copDuring four negotiation sessions this year, the parties drafted a “Paris Package” that consists of a core legal agreement based on a system of nationally determined contributions and several COP decisions addressing implementation and political issues. The current 31-page draft agreement outlines how parties’ individual contributions will be internationally measured, reviewed, and verified. These pledges no longer focus solely on mitigation. Consistent with appeals from the developing world, the draft agreement pays almost equal attention to adaptation and finance actions. Likewise, it sets out conditions for transparent international reporting. Under it, parties take responsibility for determining whether their national efforts collectively keep global temperature rise below the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s recommended upper limit of 2 degrees Celsius.

This new system of national pledges that are internationally made and scrutinized for sufficiency had a World Resources Institutetrial run this year. By Oct. 1, 2015, 147 parties had submitted their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), covering approximately 86 percent of total global emissions. While each INDC derives from national priorities, overall they tend to include substantive contributions on mitigation, adaptation, and finance, as well as important process pledges on reporting and verification, technology transfer, and capacity building. Developed countries have pledged absolute mitigation targets and resources for vulnerable developing countries. Higher-income developing countries like Brazil, China, and Mexico have made concrete greenhouse gas mitigation pledges. Other developing countries have described their mitigation and adaptation efforts and goals, but made them conditional on receiving financial assistance. Transparency in this pledging process has been prioritized: INDCs are publicly available at the UNFCCC website and have been reviewed closely by the UNFCCC secretariat, non-governmental organization (NGOs), and the press.

CAT_thermometer_20141207That’s the good news. The bad news is that, at least in the short term, these intended contributions do not add up to keeping atmospheric warming below the 2-degree Celsius goal. A Nov. 1, 2015, UNFCCC report concluded that while the INDC pledges—if fulfilled—would slow down the global rate of greenhouse gas emissions, they will not maintain the global temperature increase below 2 degrees Celsius. Likewise NGOs like Climate Action Tracker (CAT) and Climate Interactive reach the same conclusion. CAT calculates that achieving the unconditional INDC pledges would still likely lead to a 2.7-degree Celsius increase. Climate Interactive’s math adds up to a predicted 3.5-degree Celsius increase.

So how could COP21’s Paris Package address this shortfall and result in a new international agreement that leads parties to bend the global emissions curve to a 2-degree Celsius or lower pathway?

  • First, it would use these INDCs as a starting point only and include provisions in the new agreement that require all parties to increase their contributions in regular, transparent cycles. In this way, COP21 serves as “a way station in this fight, not a terminus,” as Bill McKibben recently wrote.
  • Second, it would emphasize the need for all parties to adapt to changes already locked in by historical emissions, and recognize the permanent loss and damage experienced by the most vulnerable developing countries.
  • Third, to achieve these first two, it would show agreement on the amount and kind of financing available for developing countries to achieve their pledges. COP15’s promise of mobilizing $100 billion per year by 2020 for mitigation and adaptation activities is still on the table. A recent OECD report indicates that climate finance reached $62 billion in 2014. But many note that mobilizing private finance is not the same as pledging public funds, and call for developed country governments to do more.
  • Fourth, it would include a COP decision that ramps up the INDC pledges before the new agreement takes effect in 2020. From now until then, non-state actors like cities, states, and provinces, as well as businesses and consumer groups, have focused their subnational powers on renewable energy and energy efficiency actions intended to narrow the emissions gap.
  • Fifth, it would reflect a new understanding of CBDRRC. While this core principle no longer translates into developing countries getting a bye on greenhouse gas emissions limits, it also does not exempt developed countries from their historical responsibility for climate change and their capacity to provide finance and technology for low- or no-carbon development. The deep tension over how to fairly bring all parties into a common framework that recognizes different starting points permeates the draft text through heavily [bracketed] language.

The UNFCCC requires consensus to lift these brackets. The negotiations thus far have produced little of it. Instead, despite its fractured international politics, the G77+China has flexed its negotiation muscle IMG_0920through disciplined coordination of member countries that otherwise align with the diverse agendas of the Africa Group, Arab Group, and Like Minded Developing Countries (LMDCs). AOSIS, which represents low-lying countries whose very existence is threatened by sea level rise, works with the least developed countries group (LDCs) to press for strong adaptation and loss and damage provisions. The E.U. and U.S. are committed to market mechanisms for achieving mitigation reductions and private climate financing along with government contributions. Two negotiating groups, the Environmental Integrity Group (EIG) and AILAC, seek to find common ground. The EIG is the only group that includes both developed and developing countries. AILAC’s members are middle-income Central and South American countries that are growing rapidly yet can still reorient toward low-carbon pathways. But these national negotiators can go only so far: While they are masters of the technical details and crafting precise legal language, it appears that the true power to compromise resides in their national capitals.

Leading up to COP21, weekly meetings of heads of state and their environmental, foreign affairs, and finance ministers have taken place. In this way, local politics are actively engaged on the international problem of climate change. All parties preparing for Paris have said clearly what they want to avoid—no repeat of COP15, no “ghosts of Copenhagen” haunting COP21. It will be a day-by-day proposition with some bumpy rides along the way. Follow the journey here till its finish!


The Fossils of the Day

photo 1Today Australia and the European Union (EU) took home the Fossil of the Day Award presented by Climate Action Network (CAN). Australia received the gold medal after stating in an Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) session that loss and damage should be an element of adaptation, not a stand alone part of the Paris Agreement.  This stands in direct contrast to the positions of the countries most vulnerable to climate impacts. Developing countries, including those from Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), the Africa Group, and Independent Association of Latin America and the Caribbean (AILAC), want to see the agreement feature loss and damage as a separate issue, not bundled into adaptation. Developing countries argue that it is not possible to adapt to losing your land due to rising sea levels, nor is it possible to adapt to farmland lost to desertification.

The EU won the silver Fossil of the Day Award, calling for a ten-year commitment period. Critics claim this is a sure fire way to lock in low ambition in the future climate deal. The length of the current five-year commitment period for climate action is key to an effective 2015 climate agreement in Paris. Proponents of a five-year commitment period say a shorter commitment period avoids locking in low ambition, incentivizes early action, avoids delay tactics, and maintains political accountability. Those calling for progressive climate action urge Parties to decide on a common five-year period here and now in Lima.

Chile: 100% Attitude

1_12082009_6346_presidentabacheletChile has taken the lead in the fight against climate change, uniting its intentions and actions. The Chilean Congress has recently approved a carbon tax program to help reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions and meet its voluntary target offered at COP16 of cutting these gases 20 percent from 2007 levels by 2020. Michelle Bachelet, President of Chile and former Executive Director of UN Women, supported the new environmental tax legislation, making the country the first in South America to tax carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

Part of a broad tax reform, Chile’s carbon tax will target the power sector, particularly generators operating thermal plants with installed capacity equal or larger than 50 megawatts. As of 2010, thermal power accounts for about 65% of total installed capacity in the Chilean electricity sector. These installations will be charged $5 per tonne of CO2 released, except for those fueled by biomass and smaller installations, which will be exempt from the measure. The new tax is meant to force power producers to gradually move to cleaner sources. Since the country supplies only around 30% of its  domestic energy, renewables could put a sizable dent in fuel imports. Chile’s government will start measuring carbon dioxide emissions from thermal power plants in 2017 and the new tax will going into effect in 2018.

In the region, Chile’s greenhouse gas emissions are about 7 percent of Brazil’s, and 22 percent of Argentina’s emissions, according to 2011 data santiagochile1compiled by the World Resources Institute.  Globally, Chile represents only 0.27 percent of GHG emissions, according to the Chilean Environmental Ministry. Even though this means that Chile’s potential GHG decreases due to this tax will be modest on a global scale, it nonetheless represents an important beginning.

Worldwide these are rough times for carbon taxes aimed at mitigating global warming. Countries with more developed economies, such as Korea with a GDP valued at US$ 1.305 trillion, South Africa (US$350.6 billion) and Australia (US$1.561 trillion) have changed their minds about carbon tax programs, setting back the results of the Conference of Parties negotiations under the UNFCCC. Chile, on the other hand, as one of Latin America’s fastest growing economies with a GDP calculated at US$ 277.2 billion in 2013, conducted a major national political discussion and chose to go ahead, challenging those who believe otherwise. Chile’s forward thinking and real courage has developed something that is robust in terms of policies, taking the plunge to meet its international commitments and consolidating its leadership under the Independent Alliance of Latin America and the Caribbean (AILAC) and the world.

Would you like a balcony seat for COP20?

William Ury, a recognized expert on negotiation and mediation, has the secret to negotiating difficult world conflicts. He calls it the “third side”. He reminds us that in most conflicts there are two sides angling against each other to determine who is right. But there may also be another angle to consider – a third side “balcony view” that can imbue a broader perspective. classic theatre balcony

The fundamental role of the third side is to remind parties of what is at stake and to move beyond positions, recognizing the underlying interests of the stakeholders, and in this way moving toward reconciliation for the greater good.

So is there a “third side” for ongoing global climate negotiations?

Perhaps. A recently created negotiating group known as the Independent Association of Latin America and the Caribbean (AILAC), representing six countries – Colombia, Costa Rica, Chile, Peru, Guatemala and Panama – have come together and carved a niche that many believe may bridge the North-South gap in U.N. climate negotiations. Notably, AILAC has stepped away from the powerful Group of 77 + China, and is now pursuing its own ambitious interests for low-carbon development; it is setting an example by putting up its own money and financing projects that reduce GHG emissions domestically.

By creating this space for ambition, AILAC is becoming a recognized leader in climate negotiations. AILAC logoTimmons Roberts, a professor of environmental studies at Brown University, referenced AILAC’s approaches as “a third way in Latin America.” AILAC has bridged negotiating bloc divides and formed important alliances with the EU and developing nation groups, which in turn has helped catalyze movement toward a legally binding agreement in 2015.

And at last week’s ADP2-6 meetings, while there was a recognized divergence in Party positioning about how to form the foundation, content and legal framework for a 2015 Agreement, AILAC referred to its own “ambitious yet pragmatic” approaches as “solution oriented and flexible”. The group specifically referred to itself as “bridge building engineers,” favoring a consensus approach, and urging bold actions in Lima that recognize top-down elements as necessary for delivery on objectives. Indeed, AILAC was recognized as a potential “bridge builder” through its more concrete proposal addressing short- and longer-term goals for finance.

Ury proposes that the “third side” perspective can help remind parties of what is at stake.


Last week AILAC provided its vision of this broader perspective for reaching a carbon neutral global economy, stating “We want a planet that is resilient to the impacts of climate change and where all investments are directed towards low carbon and climate resilient development. This will provide the required longer-term guidance that will support a global transformation.”

Even while some Parties acknowledge disappointment at the outcome of last week’s meetings, and lament the significant work yet to be accomplished in Lima, AILAC asks that we “keep the focus” on defining a long-term system to operationalize an effective and meaningful 2015 agreement: one with a balanced outcome that reflects all the elements of the ADP and not just mitigation. Lastly, it urges that work under ADP Workstream 2 address the necessary pre-2020 enhanced mitigation ambition in the short term by all Parties.

Instead of traditional conflict negotiation regimes that aim at recognizing who is right, AILAC may provide a fresh perspective aimed at identifying interests with a view toward commitment, action and results. Currently, Parties are divided on what a new agreement will encompass. Perhaps AILAC can help bring some heightened perspective beyond labelling differences as the “one-size-fits-all”or “bifurcated” approaches.

It will be interesting to see how bridges are engineered, and if AILAC can provide the third side balcony view. I will be up there watching.

Bonn ADP


COP19 in OT at the National Stadium

IMG_4337The ADP was due to have finished the open-ended discussion of its most recent draft this morning by 11am.  It’s now almost midnight and at 8:37, the co-chairs announced a stop in the debate over Article 2(b) to break into smaller groups to conduct an “informal informal” about the competing proposals on the table.  The BASIC countries (Brazil, South Africa, India, China), supported by AILAC and a number of other developing countries, favor changing the language, to shift the focus from “nationally determined” commitments to something more internationally monitored.  They also are dismayed at how the Article 2 language (a – c) seems too mitigation oriented and doesn’t sufficiently signal adaptation, financing, and technology commitments.  (I wasn’t admitted until the discussion was some 20 minutes under way, so I may have missed something.)

Philippines talking to Singapore.

Philippines talking to Singapore.

The U.S., EU, New Zealand, and Chile support the original language.  Or, as a proferred fallback, an amendment offered by the Dominican Republic (instead of national commitments, “national preparations to determine their commitments”) which is acceptable to many of the parties.Although the negotiation was ostensibly about the words on paper, Bolivia’s negotiator posed the $100 billion question in the room: “where is the finance?”  He reminded everyone of the civil society walkout yesterday because “nothing” was achieved on loss and damage, finance, and technology transfer.  He stressed the need for quantified dollar commitments from developed countries before his country could agree to the proposed text.  And he stated in no uncertain terms that “there is no possibility to say there’s no money for adaptation, but there is money for war and spying; NATO spends $1trillion per year in wars alone.”  In the end, Bolivia and AILAC concluded that they have to have clear commitments or cannot go forward.

Venezuela (L), Bolivia (R)

Venezuela (L), Bolivia (R)

The Venezuelan lead negotiator followed up to agree with her colleague: no one can fool themselves about not having the money to make commitments happen, she began pointedly.  She looked straight at the co-chairs and told them in no uncertain terms that “you two have the opportunity in your hands to make this COP not a failure.” She went on to declare that “a blaming game is childish,” obliquely referring to “someone from a major developed country having blamed LMCs  (Like Minded Countries) for creating a  firewall between the majority who want this text and group of small countries who are getting in the way.”  (She later referred to this person as a she, confirming the reference to Connie Heddegard of the EU.)  The pace of Venezuela’s intervention intensified when she refuted the characterization of the AILAC countries (and implicitly, their concerns) as small:  “We represent 50% of the world’s population and are not a minor group.”  She finished by asking the chairs, “are you really listening? What’s next – will there be a text to take or leave at the closing plenary or do we face a Copenhagen situation?”

The co-chairs enjoying the break in action.

The co-chairs enjoy the break.

Co-chair Kishan was visibly irritated when he replied “we co-chairs will not take the blame for what the parties in the room have done.  The fact that no one in the room is happy with the text indicates that it is a party-driven process; if this COP fails, then everyone is equally responsible.”

The wise and well spoken negotiator from Colombia (who I’ve come to respect immensely this week) took the floor after this heated exchange, and in a calm but firm voice reminded everyone that “we’re not just negotiating a climate treaty, it is one of economies and societies.”  Depending on the language used, this COP “could prejudice the future of developing countries’ development.”  She sought to bridge the gap by noting that the annex had been watered down in terms of guidance, but that she (and others) could live with it in order to achieve consensus.

My ADP hero, the wise leader from Colombia (supporting the chair?)

My ADP hero, the wise leader from Colombia (supporting the chair?)

Having set out that concession, she confirmed that the language of nationally determined commitments was not acceptable because these emission reductions require international review to determine whether they will achieve the 2 degree C. cap that scientists have set.  She also asked for a clear timetable for these 2(b) commitments, to show ambition to the world community.  This, she stated, was a reasonable request, given that her group had let go of an assessment phase (in paragraph 6).  In the end, though, she grimly observed that she did “not feel that there is a sense of movement in the room.”

A scrum of negotiators.

A scrum of negotiators.

2(b) or not 2(b), that 'tis the question.

2(b) or not 2(b), that ’tis the question.

We’re now almost 3.5 hours into a break taken ostensibly to discuss an article containing 5 lines.  The entire draft document begins with a decision comprising a preamble and 7 articles, proceeds to a conclusion comprising 10 articles, and ends with an annex of bullet-pointed areas of further reflection.  Article 2(b) is thus a very small proportion of the words to be determined by this group.  Right now, at midnight, it’s very hard to imagine how the rest of the text will be resolved before COP19 sunsets, er sunrises?

Women's day continues at COP19.

Women’s day continues at COP19.

Stay tuned.  Very interesting.  And very open, once we got inside the door.  For negotiators vey freely mingled with us, and spoke with their colleagues just inches away.  Right now there is a lot of smaller group conversation and folks are quite chipper despite the hour.  I have a plane to catch tomorrow and won’t likely make it to the end. But I hope to at least here the conclusion of this round of informals.