VLS at COP21: Law for Community and the World Week 2!

VLS Week 2 Delegation (L to R): Sara, Annie, Katie, Catie

VLS Week 2 Delegation (L to R): Sara, Annie, Katie, Catie

As we begin the VLS Observer Delegation’s second week at COP21, a new team of students has arrived.  They came in on Sunday and hit the ground running yesterday.  Second-year JD student Catie Davis is covering mitigation, picking up the baton from her week 1 partner, Kelsey Bain, while her colleague Sara Barnowski takes on finance – an especially hot topic this week – taking the hand off from her week 1 partner, Madhavi Venkatesan.  Third-year JD student Annie Warner is our adaptation and loss and damage specialist, building on the work done by her partner, Bonnie Smith, last week.  Last but not least, 3L Katie Dressel is following three areas – technology development and transfer, capacity building, and pre-2020 ambition (known as Workstream 2) – and taking over for her week 1 partner, Rachel Stevens.


Waterloo has arrived!

While our student delegates have worked incredibly long hours, attending negotiation sessions and side events, analyzing their sections of text, and briefing Myanmar each day, they’ve also made time for some play.  Last Wednesday night, we hosted what has become the 3rd annual university delegation social gathering at our house.  Our friends from Wash U have co-hosted this event with us since COP19. We had a great turn out this year:  over 30 students, researchers, and profs from a variety of universities and think thanks, including American University, Buenos Aires Institute of Technology, U. of Copenhagen, U. Linkoping (Sweden), UCLA, UCSD, U. of Waterloo, Yale, C2ES – and, of course, VLS and Wash U.  On Thursday we had a late lunch/early coffee with representatives of theGovernors Climate and Forests Task Force, to learn more about its work with subnational governments in the US and South America.  On Friday we had a short conversation with Chuck Di Leva ’78 about his work at the World Bank and how the COP21

With VLS Alums in Paris

With VLS Alums in Paris

outcome would affect it. On Saturday we took the night off so that we could join the VLS Alumni/ae of Paris as they welcomed us to Paris.  Over wine, cheese, and charcuterie in a downtown restaurant, we enjoyed good conversation into the wee hours, much of it about the place that drew us all together – Vermont Law School.  The Paris alums include US and French students in our joint degree program:  Cergy-Pontoise masters students, who spend a year in cosmopolitan South Royalton earning their LLM

After our meeting with CEQ this morning.

After our meeting with CEQ this morning.

and preparing for a US bar exam, and US students, who spend one or two years earning their masters at Cergy and qualifying to take the French bar.  This week’s team has already fit in a small group meeting with the US Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ).  Graduate students from VLS, Yale, U Michigan, Duke, and U Maryland were invited to talk informally with CEQ Managing Director Christy Goldfuss.  Tomorrow we’ll meet with Mary Nichols of the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and on Thursday, with environmental grad students at Cambridge and Sciences Po.


Protest outside the Party delegation hall.

This week has shifted into high gear, with the COP as a whole taking on the ADP-recommended Draft Paris Outcome and its many unresolved issues.  As Archer described in her post yesterday, ministers from developing and developed countries have now taken on the role of negotiation facilitators.  Rather than organizing the negotiations by article of the draft text, these ministers are now tackling the harder “cross cutting” issues that have bogged down the negotiations since the June intersessional.  These issues include MOI or means of implementation, most notably finance; adaptation and especially, loss and damage; increasing ambition pre-2020, before this new agreement would start; how to include forests and land use issues in the agreement (or not); and of course, the elephant in the room, differentiation.  These ministerial consultations are not open to observers.  Moreover, they are designed to lead to smaller informal drafting sessions and “bilats” or one-on-one conversations with the COP21 president and these ministers he has tapped to extend his persuasive reach.  Consequently, it is abundantly clear to all here that the real work is taking place behind closed doors, as Parties work out their specific and deep differences.

Last night's Comite de Paris meeting.

Last night’s Comite de Paris meeting.

Until the evening “stocktake.”  The Comite de Paris, as it has been called, is the nerve center for brokering the new deal.  These minister facilitators report back to it throughout the day.  Each evening, from 7-9pm (more or less), we watch with anticipation to hear each report and then read the tea leaves.  Last night we heard generally about progress being made on some issues, and “red lines” being drawn on others.  We also heard Parties express frustration about being asked to be in too many places at once, and not always knowing the agenda of these bilats before arriving for their appointed sit down.  We’ll see tonight at stocktake what the last 48 hours of working this way has produced.  The COP21 president’s stated goal is to have ministers present conclusions on how to resolve most of these differences, and then to produce a revised negotiation text tomorrow morning reflecting them.  On verra. Stay tuned!

Intertwining National and International CC Policymaking at the CEQ

Yesterday we had the good fortune to have a small-group meeting with Mike Boots, Acting Head of the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). Initiated by our friends on the Duke Observer Delegation  to COP20/CMP10, this gathering gave the CEQ an opportunity to hear observations from us, a range of U.S. university and law school students engaged in the international climate change negotiations.  Likewise we gained perspective on the CEQ’s domestic and international climate change policymaking agenda.

After setting the foundation on the CEQ’s role in environmental advising to our envirIMG_5374onmentalist-in-chief (vs. the EPA’s  role in enviro law making and enforcement), Mike focused his remarks on the Obama Administration’s three-pronged climate change strategy laid out in the President’s Climate Action Plan (PCAP).  As explained earlier on this blog,   the legs of this stool are mitigation (“Cut carbon pollution in America”), resilience/adaptation (“Preparing the U.S. for the impacts of climate change”), and international leadership (“Lead international efforts to combat climate change”).

One take home message was clear: the U.S. cannot lead internationally without first getting its climate change mitigation act together domestically. To that end, after a marked period of state climate leadership from 2000-2008, Mike pointed out the progressive and deliberate tilt toward national policymaking.  Clear examples are the revised CAFÉ standards to mitigate emissions from the transport sector (first with cars, then with trucks) and a focus on reducing GHGs from buildings.  Building on first term successes, the White House seeks to turn to the more thorny regulation of electricity from coal-fired plants. The centerpiece of this effort is the EPA’s Clean Power Plan Rule, which after its promulgation last summer, received more than a million comments.  Viewed as “dispersed and flexible,” the draft rule was proposed at a “ripe time” fueled by developments on both coasts, like Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in the east and the Pacific Coast Action Plan in the west.  As the CEQ phrased it, all of this “advice” on what the draft rule got right and where it can improve will now be considered as the EPA finalizes the rule and prepares to defend it in litigation – all by summer 2015.

IMG_5378Another message was legacy.  By developing a comprehensive strategy in PCAP and then gradually implementing it, the CEQ seeks to embed best practices that will prove “durable” after the Obama Administration leaves office.  Looking at the resilience/adaptation leg of the stool, the CEQ’s recent guidance for federal agencies when responding after natural disasters provides a good example of working toward this goal.  Learning from critiques of federal responses to Hurricanes Sandy and Irene, this report seeks to shift individual agency thinking toward building and rebuilding in stronger and safer ways.  Likewise the CEQ’s Climate Resilience Toolkit.

Given that the two dozen students and professors were talking with Mike Boots in a meeting room in the COP20/CMP10 venue, the Obama Administration’s international climate change agenda was on everyone’s minds, notably the US-China bilateral announcement covered by our blog herehere, and here which catapulted two of the world’s largest GHG emitters into climate change mitigation leaders just moments before coming to Lima.  Given the shift to nationally determined contributions in the 2015 agreement, the linking of national climate change policymaking with international negotiation is reflected in the CEQ’s staffing model.