COP19 RINGOs Calling

Beth Martin, Engineering and Science Director / Interdisciplinary Environmental Clinic at Washington University in St. Louis, is working to pull together a list of RINGO students and advisors who attended this year’s COP and/or are interested in sending students and advisors to future COPs.

Beth writes: “The idea of pulling together a network is to better enable communication between both students and faculty in the Young RINGO context (students attending COP in a research capacity).This would enable students in programs to  build connections and compare notes and at the same time provide faculty a way to do the same. I am beginning to pull this together and at this point I am not sure what the final form(s) will be.  A LinkedIn network and Facebook group have both been suggested, for example.  But first – I am collecting names.  Please contact Beth at if you:

1)  want to be in this network.

2)  know others from your institution who want to be included.

3)  know other institutions who want to be included.

4)  have suggestions for the form of the network.”

university grp shotI met Beth in November when we were both leading delegations to COP19 in Warsaw.  She and I organized a social gathering during the COP’s first week – and were happily surprised by some 30 students and professors who turned out and spent a couple of evening hours at our apartment sharing their COP19 work and experiences.

Beth also passes on a request from Sara Kerosky, Research Associate in the Laboratory on International Law and Regulation at UCSD.  Sara’s lab is doing a survey of how NGOs use (or not use) international law in their advocacy work.  She and her colleagues hope to complete their research soon and share the results so that NGOs may use them when working at future COPs.  The link to the survey is  I spent a solid half hour taking the survey yesterday and found myself more deeply thinking about the development of international environmental law (vs. policy), the UNFCCC process, and the various roles that a variety of NGOs play in it.  Time well spent on several levels.



US-China relations post-COP19

Today’s HuffPost features an article on EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy’s view that China is poised for beijing air qualitya green revolution.  McCarthy sees internal pressures by the rising Chinese middle class on its political leaders to do more on environmental regulation and climate change.  She cited to the now famous example of the U.S. embassy’s air quality monitoring that led to a diplomatic brouhaha – and greater transparency from the Beijing municipal authorities.  Recent school closures and public health threat warnings due to industrial smog recall the Donora, PA killer smog that spurred the fight for the Clean Air Act.  McCarthy made these remarks on the eve of a trip to China to seek ways to work with the Chinese government on environmental regulation.

Venezuela working with the U.S.

Venezuela working with the U.S.

Post COP19/CMP9, as I think about the question most often asked of me – what was accomplished at this negotiation? – I’m struck by the interplay between multilateral and bilateral treaties in making international environmental law.  There is a long tradition of bilateral (think US-Canada Great Lakes Compact and governing Commission) and regional multilateral (think of the Rhine River treaty and its governance structure) environmental treaties that have provided very effective legal and environmental management of common natural resources.  The challenge in addressing climate change is trying to regulate a natural resource – the atmosphere – shared by every country in the world, which is being degraded in a variety of ways through multiple means of pollution.  One legal solution is the UNFCCC, which seeks an all-in approach, and the annual COPs that refine the complex inner workings of this legal compact. Post COP15 in Copenhagen, there have been repeated calls for scrapping the UNFCCC and focusing instead on getting the top 25 emitting countries who contribute some 75% of GHGs to the atmosphere to negotiate a new treaty amongst themselves.

EU working with India.

EU working with India.

But this HP article reminds me of the importance  and potential for bilateral and regional multilateral treaties to add to, not supplant, the work of the Framework Convention.   McCarthy signals the US-China work to come (and we shouldn’t lose sight of the achievements of this past summer) – all of which builds on and adds to the working relationships that are the backbone to broader UNFCCC progress toward a binding legal agreement for all 195 countries in 2020.

Extra, extra! Read our COP19 wrap-up in the Huffington Post!

Congrats to our Week 2 Observer Delegation on its recent publication in the Huffington Post courtesy of climate and energy reporter Ben Jervey.  In it, we recap COP19/CMP9’s last week of activity, analyzing what this “nuts and bolts” COP did and didn’t achieve. Specifically, we take a close look at adaptation, loss and damage, subnational initiatives, new REDD+ rules, and technology, all in light of the ADP’s struggle to find common ground on mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology, and capacity-building to ensure maximum participation in the legal agreement that will succeed the Kyoto Protocol in 2020.

VLS COP19/CMP9 Observer Delegation Week 2

VLS COP19/CMP9 Observer Delegation Week 2

P.S.  Given that the Huff Post version did not include all of our links, I’m pasting below the draft that includes them.

As COP19/CMP9 comes to a close, the Vermont Law School Observer Delegation reflects on what it witnessed during the second week of the climate change meeting. As the high-level ministers began arriving on Monday, the pace of negotiations ramped up. Beginning with several days of speeches about the contours of the legal agreement post-Kyoto Protocol, financing mechanisms, alternative energy, and adaptation needs in developing countries, the technical discussions of COP19’s first week turned to long days and nights of political bargaining.

In this piece, we explore what this “nuts and bolts” COP did and didn’t achieve. Specifically, we take a close look at adaptation, loss and damage, subnational initiatives, new REDD+ rules, and technology, all in light of the ADP’s struggle to find common ground on mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology, and capacity-building to ensure maximum participation in the legal agreement that will succeed the Kyoto Protocol in 2020. For more detail about these subjects and play-by-play of the most contentious issues, see our blog.

Adaptation Activities Accelerate

Although adaptation is still a relatively new idea under the UNFCCC, COP19 expanded its reach by conducting workshops to showcase achievements to date and negotiating a new loss and damage provision (covered in the next section). COP16 established the Cancun Adaptation Framework (CAN), which sought to enhance action on adaptation under the Convention. National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) were established at COP17 to help countries assess their vulnerabilities and climate change risks, and adapt to them. NAPs aim to reduce vulnerability to the impacts of climate change by building adaptive capacity and resilience. They contain four main elements: (1) laying groundwork and addressing gaps, (2) preparing preparatory elements, (3) creating implementation strategies, and (4) reporting, monitoring and reviewing data.

Bangladesh is currently working on a NAP that looks at health security, disaster management practices, and infrastructure. It currently experiences storm surges and flooding, which impacts crops and food security. Malawi wants to implement a NAP due to its vulnerability to road flooding. It currently lacks sufficient policy, institutional, and legal frameworks, and faces low awareness, skills, and know-how among the general public.

While adaptation has clear benefits, it can be expensive and so the parties ask: is it worth it? Presentations at COP19 answered in the affirmative. Emergency responses to remedy damage from climate change can be even more expensive than investing in adaptation measures. Climate change impacts, like the recent Typhoon Haiyan, often cause GDP to decrease, as developing country governments spend their limited budgets on disaster relief. By investing in adaptation up front, disasters do less damage when they hit, so not as much money is spent on reactive remedies.

While COP19 included much discussion of mitigation, parties acknowledge that even the most stringent mitigation efforts cannot avoid climate change. This makes adaptation necessary. It’s not an either/or proposition.  As the UNFCCC makes increasingly clear, international climate change law must address both.

The (R)evolution of Loss and Damage

The tragedy wrought in the Philippines by Typhoon Haiyan placed the concept of “loss and damage” center stage in Warsaw. Loss and damage would pick up where adaptation and mitigation fall short, helping developing countries to improve risk reduction and assessment, strengthen adaptation, enhance capacity building to deal with slow-onset events like sea level rise or extreme effects like typhoons, and compensate them.

COP18 set a legal mandate to establish institutional arrangements, such as an international mechanism, to address loss and damage associated with the adverse impacts of climate on developing countries.  Covering both economic and non-economic losses, it could include the loss of livelihood, damage to property, food insecurity, climate migration, loss of identity, and potential human rights abuses. Due to Russia’s blocking of the agenda, the June 2013 SBI meeting did not go forward and work on this mandate was delayed to the COP19 SBI meeting.

At COP19, negotiators worked on this SBI agenda item around the clock, trying to draft text that was responsive to developing countries’ compensation needs and developed countries’ liability concerns. Tired of Australia’s antics to scuttle constructive discussions, the G77 negotiator, Bolivian Rene Gonzalo Orellana Halkyer, walked out of the meeting at 4 am this past Wednesday morning and other G77 countries followed suit. Undaunted, high-level party delegates, co-chaired by ministers from Sweden and South Africa, attempted to hammer out a text, debating whether it should be an institutional arrangement, work program, or task force. Would it get its own mechanism under an UNFCCC institution, like the Clean Development Mechanism does, or be housed under the SBI or SBSTA, or simply sit under the adaptation pillar?

At the closing plenary, delegates approved “the Warsaw international mechanism for loss and damage associated with climate change impacts.” Controversially, it is organized under CAN’s adaptation pillar. G77+ China, AOSIS, and Yeb Saño from the Philippines made it known that this text was inadequate, as loss and damage meant “beyond adaptation.” This opposition sparked an hour huddle, with U.S Special Envoy Todd Stern and Fiji’s Sai Navoti discussing the use of “under” while surrounded by at least 50 other negotiators.

Afterward, the COP19 President announced consensus on retaining the word “under” while including an amendment requiring review of the mechanism at COP22 in 2016. Going forward, the executive committee to the Warsaw international mechanism will meet and develop a work plan by COP20; a two-year review will take place at COP 22; and the COP will make an “appropriate decision” on loss and damage governance based on this review.

Thinking Globally, Acting Locally

On Thursday, November 22, during the first-ever COP Presidency Cities and Sub-national Dialogue of the Cities Day, one environmental minister declared that “the only people with the power to actually change anything are the local elected officials.”

While international agreements on climate change have languished, cities around the world have acted. For good reason: two-thirds of urban dwellers live on the water, subject to sea level rise and lethal heat waves from the urban heat island effect. The Cities Climate Leadership Group C40 membership  comprises 40 of the 50 biggest cities of the world and represents 8% of the world’s population, 5% of greenhouse gas emissions, and 21% of the global GDP. Together, cities have the collective clout to get something done.

The COP19 Dialogue of the Cities Day, organized by the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI), C40, and EUROCITIES, highlighted work that is already happening in local municipalities around the world, and sought support for it from the national and international levels. Roundtable discussions focused on adaptation, transportation, waste, and buildings. A recurring theme was the potential for a bottom-up approach that empowers local governments to combat climate change by creating a platform for continuous dialogue between cities, national government, and UNFCCC parties.

Building on this event, ICLEI (which coordinated the adoption of the Nantes Declaration of Mayors and Subnational Leaders on Climate Change in September, 2013)  advocated for a more substantive forum for identifying key priority areas of collaboration on mitigation and adaptation at the city and subnational levels during the next ADP session in June, 2014. Although the ADP decision text changed throughout the last few days of negotiations, and ICLEI did not receive all it sought, the final iteration includes cities and subnational governments in technical meetings “to share policies, practices and technologies and address the necessary finance, technology and capacity-building” and a subnational forum “to help share among Parties the experiences and best practices of cities and subnational authorities in relation to adaptation and mitigation,” both to be held at the next ADP session. In short, this COP19 decision means more meetings, reports and business as usual for the UNFCCC. But with this clear recognition of a subnational role in UNFCCC lawmaking may come more resources for the people actually doing the work on the ground.

REDD+ Is a Go

One of the more significant outcomes of this week was the package of decisions, known as the Warsaw Framework for REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries), that the COP approved to provide a formal framework, safeguards, and funding in hopes of cutting deforestation in half by 2020 and halting it by 2030. Every schoolchild knows that the forests are the world’s lungs: this is the UNFCCC’s smoking cessation program.

REDD+ has been implemented on the ground by various development organizations, including the World Bank, USAID, and the World Wildlife Foundation, in a somewhat haphazard and experimental fashion since its conception in Montreal in 2005 and development in Bali in 2007. It was met with serious criticism by indigenous peoples around the world as another form of colonialism, with Bolivia in particular championing to keep market mechanisms out of this mitigation activity. This new version of REDD+ hopes to address those concerns. The safeguards included for biodiversity, ecosystems, and indigenous peoples’ territories, livelihoods, and rights are commendable. It may even serve as a mechanism for governments to more formally recognize indigenous land rights. Hopeful thinking? Perhaps. We will have to watch carefully how the new REDD+ decisions improve its implementation on the ground.

Good News About Technology

Developing nations will require new technologies to achieve their goals of mitigation and adaptation to climate change. At COP16 in Cancun, the UNFCCC established the Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN), a technology transfer mechanism that collaborates with national governments to develop and implement desired climate technologies. Two months before COP19’s start, the CTCN Advisory Board approved the CTCN Modalities and Procedures for adoption at COP19. While both SBSTA and SBI adopted the CTCN’s report, and forwarded a draft decision for approval, , the COP did not reach the agenda item.  Instead it will instead take up these items at SBSTA 40 and SBI 40 in Bonn next year.

Nevertheless, a COP19 side event organized by the UNFCCC Secretariat marked the official opening of the CTCN. While most of the world may not have noticed, COP19’s advancement of CTCN is crucial for developing nations striving to fulfill their commitments under the UNFCCC. The CTCN can now accept requests from countries’ Nationally Designated Entities (NDEs), which is good news for achieving international, on-the-ground progress for mitigation and adaptation.

Developing countries can now request from CTCN resources to develop and implement clean energy technologies. Clean energy is essential for reaching all parties mitigation targets, and CTCN can supply the requisite experts to deploy these innovative technologies. At the CTCN event, Zambia announced plans to submit a request for clean energy projects. Bangladesh has described plans to request agricultural technologies from CTCN, in order to improve crop yields. Agriculture is a main cause of deforestation, and improving agricultural practices has the direct and immediate impact of keeping more carbon out of the atmosphere. Of course, new technologies will be necessary to adapt to the effects of climate change. Following Typhoon Haiyan, the Philippines will request a collaboration with CTCN to rebuild with clean energy.

ADP:  2(b) or not 2(b)

By 2am Saturday morning – two hours after COP19/CMP9 was due to end – tired and tense negotiators left the room where they had spent the last eight hours locking horns over language in the fourth draft decision the ADP had debated since Monday. Environment ministers from Venezuela, E.U., U.K., and U.S. were in the room working directly with their negotiating teams. Yet even they left not knowing if the parties would achieve their COP19 mandate of determining the elements of the new legal agreement to be negotiated in Peru next year, signed in Paris in 2015, and put into effect in 2020.

The contested language reflects the main sticking points between developing and developed countries about constructing mitigation targets, setting timelines, balancing pre- and post-2020 mitigation, and financing.  For example, Article 2(b)’s language of post-2020 mitigation targets was changed from commitments to contributions in the final round.  This obligation, applicable to all countries under the Doha Amendment, focuses on parties doing “domestic preparations for their intended nationally determined contributions” and reporting them “in a manner that facilitates the clarity, transparency, and understanding” of them as early in 2015 as possible.  Subpart 2(d) was added to request financial support for developing countries doing this domestic work. Notably this language of differentiation eschews references to Annex 1 of the UNFCCC, even though the G77+China and AILAC asserted in every ADP session that the post-2020 agreement is made under the Convention and thus the Annex applies as is.

All parties agreed that pre-2020 mitigation commitments under the Kyoto Protocol’s second commitment period is lacking, whether in terms of number of countries (participation) or amount of GHG emissions avoided (stringency). Thus Article 4 calls on developed countries to make or enhance their national emissions reduction targets, and for developing countries to do the same with their nationally appropriate mitigation actions. Article 3 urges developed countries to follow through on the financing, technology transfer, and capacity-building work that it has already committed under the Convention, noting its ability to leverage compliance with Article 4.

How to complete the ADP’s work and how to fund it reached some resolution by the closing plenary.  On process and timelines, delegates agreed to meetings of high level ministers at both the June inter-sessional meeting in Bonn and at COP20, as well as an additional sessions in March and possibly another one between June and December. The ADP decision also noted the U.N. climate change summit that Ban Ki-Moon will host on the eve of the U.N. General Assembly’s September meeting. Thus the parties will have up to five meetings next year to turn the COP19 ADP decision into a working draft to kickstart COP20 discussions.   On finance, however, there was less resolution. Developing countries insisted on the developed countries living up to their capacity to fund this climate change lawmaking, as part of their common but differentiated responsibility, and mistrusted calls for private financing. The U.S. noted the importance of private financing as a complement to public funding, highlighting the role the latter could play in middle- and high-income countries while reserving government funds for the lesser developed countries.

Overall, while COP19/CMP9 made some progress toward Lima and Paris, it was limited by continued concerns about the transparency of negotiations and moving toward an “applicable to all” standard without some accounting for historical responsibility. As the Earth Negotiations Bulletin observed, a “sense of resolve was notably absent” in Warsaw, due as much to an absence of political will as to the vagaries of the UNFCCC process. While the REDD+ framework and other “nuts and bolts” adjustments represent real steps forward in elaborating an international system of climate change law, a question remains whether they are enough to motivate countries to continue to invest in it.


This post was written by Tracy Bach, Heather Croshaw, Alisha Falberg, Dan Schreiber, and Lindsay Speer, members of the Vermont Law School COP19/CMP9 Observer Delegation. You can read more of their observations at their COP19 blog, Substantial and sustained.


“A foundation COP” of nuts and bolts

A presidential stocktaking during COP19's final days.

A presidential stocktaking during COP19’s final days.

“Stocktaking” is a now a new word in my vocabulary.  While I regularly do it, I don’t normally make the time to name it as such.  In the polyglot system of the United Nations, awkwardly-formal-but-descriptive terms like this one (and “functions and modalities,” “institutional mechanisms,”  “work programmes”) are essential to the process of moving a group forward to action.

So now, speaking of “moving forward” (a common phrase at COP19), let’s take stock of how the media is portraying the outcome of COP19.

Today’s NYT focuses on the ADP and L&M final deals, explaining more IMG_4323about the latter than the former.  It led off with the idea that COP19 is “keeping alive the hope” of globally dealing with climate change, but ends on a bummer note: “Treaty members remain far from any serious, concerted action to cut emissions. And developing nations complained that promises of financial help remain unmet.”  Both valid points, and the second is a true accounting of what I witnessed in the ADP sessions.  But the first one misses the mark on this “foundation COP’s” mission, which the co-chairs stressed during the wee hours of Friday/Saturday’s marathon negotiation session: the ADP’s mandate for COP19 was to establish the elements and timetable for making the legal agreement that will bind countries to emissions reductions, not negotiating the agreement itself.

The NYT also chronicled how the U.S. called out China’s intransigence on future GHG emissions being “applicable to all” and how developed countries recognized their historical responsibility for creating global warming even though they resist being held “liable” for it.

IMG_4316China’s Xinhua news service focused on the glass half full, leading with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s positive view of COP19:  “The decisions adopted in Warsaw serve as an important stepping stone toward a universal legal agreement in 2015.”  Using the carefully negotiated language of “contributions” (rather than commitments), the article closed by observing that the ADP agreement “was seen as a key step paving the way for all countries to reach an ambitious global climate pact in 2015, and a sign of their desire to avert a breakdown of the climate talks.” It also gave a nod to a next stepping stone, the climate summit hosted by Ban Ki-Moon in September 2014 (on the eve of the U.N. General Assembly meeting):  “He has asked world leaders, as well as leaders from business, finance, local government and civil society, to bring bold announcements and actions that will lead to significantly reduced greenhouse gas emissions and strengthened adaptation and resilience efforts.”

The head Chinese negotiator for ADP, center background.

The head Chinese negotiator for ADP, center background.

Continuing with the stepping stone “path” metaphor for summing up the Warsaw meeting, but offering more “real politick” talk in a separate (but linked) news article, the Chinese delegation noted its disappointments. “There are many issues that we are not actually satisfied with but we can accept,” Xie Zhenhua, head of China’s COP19 delegation and also deputy chief of China’s National Development and Reform Commission.  According to him, “to make the meeting a success and the multi-lateral mechanism effective, China has shown the biggest flexibility and made concessions on some issues.”

Interestingly, BusinessGreen provides the more detailed and accurate accounting of COP19 specifics (as I witnessed them), as well as the most nuanced analysis. (I am not familiar with the publication but the comments indicate a very different readership than my regular reading list!)  It directly reports that “the eventual agreement resulted in a draft text that requires countries ‘who are ready’ to make ‘contributions, without prejudice to the legal nature,’ ideally by early 2015 at the latest” and acknowledges that this wording represents “significant watering down” of the penultimate draft’s use of “for those in a position” to deliver a climate “commitment” by early 2015.IMG_4282Nonetheless, UK Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey views this as a sufficient outcome for “all nations have now agreed to start their homework to prepare for a global climate change deal in 2015” (reprising the homework theme of his HLM opening plenary remarks). “While the long negotiations in Poland showed there are many tough talks ahead of us, the determined diplomacy of the UK and EU achieved our aims, building alliances with our friends across the world.”

Jonathan Grant, Director at PwC’s sustainability and climate change IMG_4357team, joins the chorus using sports analogies to characterize the outcome achieved yesterday inside the National Stadium. “By taking us to the brink of collapse, looking over the edge and then pulling back, we come away feeling delighted that any progress has been made at all,” he said. “A victory was always expected, but like the England football team, the COP made this a lot more dramatic than it needed to be. The ‘talks about talks’ phase is now over, as countries agreed to the agenda for the negotiations and the timeline for coming up with some numbers.”

BusinessGreen closes with Nicholas Stern’s dose of reality therapy.  The author of the famous Stern Report, who now chairs an institute at the London School of Economics, views COP19’s output as IMG_4152“simply inadequate” compared to the scale and urgency of the risks of climate change: “If the world is to have a reasonable chance of avoiding dangerous levels of global warming, which it is generally agreed would occur if there is a rise in global average temperature by more than two centigrade degrees compared with the late 19th century, annual emissions of greenhouse gases will need to be cut at a much faster rate than is currently planned by countries.”

That, folks, reminds the process-oriented “policy” types that their nuts and bolts are still out of step with the science types’ brass tacks.

This is the face of civil society on the final day of COP19

UNFCCC logoA fundamental part of UNFCCC law making is inviting civil society to observe it.  In this way, negotiators may keep their constituencies in mind when locked in tense debates in far away countries, and “we the people” may keep an eye on our delegation’s representation of us.  Article 6 of the Convention encourages parties to promote educational exchange and public awareness about climate change and the UNFCCC’s processes for combatting it.  As a member of a law school observer delegation and a professor of international environmental law, I’m here in Warsaw poised to fulfill this mandate.

Today, the media talk outside the National Stadium is about NGOs walking out en masse yesterday, ADP lineexpressing with their feet frustration over the slow progress to date.  (Note:  Alisha broke the story here.) Last week there were reports of three youth NGO members losing their credentials due to unpermitted protests.  One of the memes running around the internet (and delegates’ computer screens – you can tell by the sudden bursts of sardonic laughter in the meeting rooms) parodies this COP’s parameters of “free speech” via the banner ban. Honestly, I took these measures as reasonable bureaucratic responses to COP15‘s uber civil society participation in Copenhagen, where it looked like the UN meeting organizers did not consult our Danish host’s occupancy and fire code regulations.

IMG_4335But this week — as a devotee of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform (ADP), having watched it work each day to negotiate and draft the building blocks of the new climate change text that will take the Kyoto Protocol’s place — I’m beginning to feel a bit uncivil.  At first, I lauded the co-chairs’ thoughtful approach to these difficult, multilateral negotiations:  they put the walk in their talk of parties negotiating with each other and not them by trapping them in a smaller room, around a rectangular table, so that they could give and take face to face.  The downside of this arrangement has been less room for us observers.

Professor T. Bach charging her and her computer's battery during the 4th hours of waiting on the ADP line.

Professor T. Bach charging her and her computer’s battery during the 4th hour on the ADP line.

When this room change started on Tuesday, we all entered, yellow and pink badges equally.  But the COP19 urban legend has it that parties later complained about insufficient seats for their members.  In response, starting Wednesday, those of us wearing yellow NGO badges were kept from entering with the pink-badged state parties, forced to stand in line for at last a half hour post-start to gain access to the negotiations — to play the very role that the treaty designed for us.This delay has intensified as the APD negotiations have.  Today, I’ve been in line for more than four hours.  I can report some progress on this front; we’re now allowed to sit down on the hallway floor while waiting to play our role in “civilizing” international climate change law making.

N.B. 7pm, just admitted to the meeting room, after 5 hours on line.  Surreal experience, for (presumably) youth NGOers have staged a demonstration, infiltrating the stadium seating above the temporary meeting rooms where we’re located (on the pitch below) and chanting loudly.  Thus dull roar provides a backdrop to some parties terse words.

“Last” Day at COP 19…

The UNFCCC COP 19 has wrapped up a number of issues under the SBI, SBSTA, REDD + and other areas. Three main negotiating tracks remain unresolved: the ADP, Climate Finance, and Loss and Damage. Any agreement in Warsaw will revolve around finding compromise on these three issues.

So far, the COP/CMP closing plenary has not yet begun… It will be a late night/early morning!

Extra, extra. Read all about us in the HuffPost!

Congrats to our Week 1 Observer Delegation on its recent publication in the Huffington Post.  In it, we recap the first week’s activity, with an eye toward how it would set up the second week’s high level ministerial negotiations.  We specifically focused on the Gender Decision, land use and REDD, loss and damage, and the emerging elements of the new post-2020 climate change agreement.



Week 2 Delegation Is Off to a Good Start

VLS COP19/CMP9 Observer Delegation Week 2: Chris Knowles, Tracy Bach, Heather Croshaw, Alisha Falberg, Linsday Speer, and Dan Schreiber (L to R)

VLS COP19/CMP9 Observer Delegation Week 2: Chris Knowles, Tracy Bach, Heather Croshaw, Alisha Falberg, Linsday Speer, and Dan Schreiber (L to R)

Our Week 1 Delegation returned to South Royalton, Vermont this weekend, just as our Week 2 Delegation arrived.  While their two experiences will have many common denominators — plenaries and informal consultations, side events and shwag, SBI and SBSTA agenda items, ADP and its two worksteams, and the whole host of acronyms that inform the substance of the textual debate (for example, REDD+, LDM, CDM, IPR, GCF) — the mood in the halls is quite distinct.  Starting today, COP19 moves into high level political mode, with ministers (of foreign affairs or environment) arriving from all/most of the COP and KP state parties for the negotiations.  Today – right now – we’re kicking off the opening plenary with these new negotiators, with speeches by the Polish Prime Minister, Ban Ki-Moon, Figueres, and a very long list of state party ministers.  (Note:  U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change,Todd Stern, is due to speak at tomorrow’s plenary.)  The pace of the negotiations has increased, as everyone awaits signs each day of how these new actors’ increased discretion will shape the post-2020 agreement.  As you can see from yesterday’s posts, this new group of VLS JD, MELP, and LLM students is off and running.

The VLS Delegation with two new friends from the Zambian delegation.

The VLS Delegation with two new friends from the Zambian delegation.

We’re Going to Party Like There’s Nothing Going On

At the end of the first day, COP 19 threw a party to welcome everyone and give the parties a chance to talk to each other. I went alone because the rest of my team did not feel like going out tonight.

When architects get bored When I walked into the Warsaw University Library, the organizers had lit it with green lights. As I went up the imposing marble stairs, I passed through 4 pillars with statues on the top. (I later learned they were important Polish philosophers). An unnerving spiderweb sculpture took over the entryway.

warsaw university libraryphilosophers

As I was flying solo, I joined a group from Maine who is representing the American Chemical Society. We were quickly joined by the representative from an unnamed Arab kingdom, who had a hard job advocating small wind and solar projects in a country, he says, that prefers mega projects.

girls from maine

Me with the Maine group working with the ACS.

A Polish singer belted a very passionate song. At the end of her set, two acrobats started climbing and doing tricks with aerial silks. They’re called the Ocelot Group.Mad skills

Following them was a band called Recycling Band, who made their instruments out of empty water coolers and bike gears. Their style was reminiscent of early Radiohead.


The MacGyvers of Polish RockSome very serious Southeast Asian delegates made up the front row watching the rock band. They stood there motionless like they were waiting in an elevator. Eventually, with persistence, a representative from the African Climate Initiative persuaded a Bangladeshi representative to dance. It was glorious. I also met the rep from Mozambique and bonded with the whole Bangladeshi delegation in the universal language of dance.

bangledesh and ITomorrow, I will have meetings with Bangledeshi, as well as some of the African delegates. This doesn’t translate directly to the issues I’m tracking (safeguards with results-based finance, mostly REDD+), but they are good contacts nonetheless.

While we were attending a very full day of meetings about agenda topics inside the National Stadium, the people outside marked the November 11 Polish Independence Day with demonstrations.

warsaw riots 2It is Polish National Day and Warsaw was rioting Far right protesters marched to “denounce the slip of traditional values” and Russia’s role in a plane crash that killed the Polish president in 2010. They tried to torch the Russian consulate. Within our COP 19 bubble, we didn’t notice. It only felt its impact when the buses stopped running. I took a cab from the venue because the streets weren’t safe. It seems like every time I go to a COP there is rioting in the streets…

 warsaw riots



Day 1 of COP19/CMP9

The VLS COP19/CMP9 Observe Delegation Week1: Nora Greenglass, Taylor Smith, Heather Calderwood, Thea Reinert, Tracy Bach (L to R).

The VLS COP19/CMP9 Observe Delegation Week1: Nora Greenglass, Taylor Smith, Heather Calderwood, Thea Reinert, Tracy Bach (L to R).

Equipped with our yellow NGO observer badges, our VLS delegation ventured out two hours before the opening COP plenary, ready for long security waits.  Instead, we sailed through the well-managed lines

COP19 President Korolec.

COP19 President Korolec.

and began exploring the stadium venue.  Some of us attended several early briefing sessions with partner NGOs, then attended the COP welcome ceremony and opening plenary.  The COP18 president, His Excellency Abdullah Bin Hamad Al-Attiyah, gave a farewell speech in Arabic, passed the gavel to incoming COP19 president, Marcin Korolec, and Christiana Figueres (Executive Secretary UNFCCC) and Rajendra Pachauri (IPCC Chair) summarized the work at hand.  Figueres had us take a deep breath, then reminded us that in it was 400ppm of CO2. She believes that the “collective climate friendly capacity” has increased, and reminded the delegates that “what happens in this stadium is not a game.”  Pachauri began by quoting Einstein:  “Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them.”  He then went on to recap Working Group I’s 5th assessment so that we couldn’t rest on old knowledge.  Pachauri finished his short presentation with a challenge to the group:  Given that the international scientific community now has “high confidence” in its findings on how human activity is causing global warming, and that this means a 95% or more likelihood level, why would we want to jeopardize the future of living species on this planet for a 5% chance that they are wrong?

IMG_4123COP President Korolec emphasized time management from the outset, stating that he cannot — will not — extend the UNFCCC subbodies’ work (SBI and SBSTA) past this Saturday, November 16.  He stressed the need to show productivity and flexibility, and urged delegates to make every effort to maximize meeting time.

But despite these best intentions, a meeting that was due to be combined with the CMP (for Kyoto Protocol state parties) opening plenary and completed by 1pm was still going strong at 2:30pm – without even opening the CMP!  Negotiating bloc statements took up the bulk of this time, staking out ground for the negotiating sessions to come.  The Philippines’ delegation announced that it had the “honor to speak on behalf of the resilient people of Philippines.”  (Today’s NYT estimates that at least 10,000 people have died in Tacloban alone and that Typhoon Haiyan produced winds of up to 190 mph.)

Heather congratulates Elirozz Carlie D. Labaria on her inspiring remarks.

Heather congratulates Elirozz Carlie D. Labaria on her inspiring remarks.

Only a short time was reserved for civil society statements, but it nonetheless had an impact.  A leader of a business coalition spoke first, followed by Elirozz Labaria, a youth NGO representative (YNGO) from the Philippines, who poignantly told a hushed crowd that “countries like mine bear the burden, even though we didn’t cause the problem.” She reminded negotiators that COP18 in Doha began with a similar disaster and scolded them for “discounting our future for far too long,” negotiating international climate change law not just during young people’s entire lives, but for some negotiators’ entire lives!

After a short break, we reconvened around 3pm to open the CMP, then proceed directly to the SBSTA meeting.  The latter was still going strong when our observer delegation left around 7pm.  (More on SBSTA and its full agenda later.)  A very full first day, as others in the delegation have chronicled today.  We’ve also captured it in pictures in the gallery to the left.

On the eve of COP19/CMP9

During the same two-day conference at London’s Chatham House where Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres outlined the UNFCCC’s goals for COP19/CMP9, U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern did the same, summarizing the U.S. approach to negotiating a post-2020 agreement as “flexibility with strength.”  Reflecting on the ADP’s job at Warsaw, Stern observed that “to be ambitious, it must be inclusive and to be inclusive, it must be flexible.”

todd sternWhat would such a “supple” framework look like to the Obama Administration? First, it would not be based on internationally negotiated targets and timetables.  Instead, as the Copenhagen Accord heralded, state parties would make commitments according to national circumstances.  Second, it would ditch the Annex 1 and non-Annex 1 categories.  In doing so, the U.S. seeks to distinguish between developed countries’ historical responsibility for GHG emissions that caused global warming and the ongoing and increasing emissions by developing countries that continue it.  For example, it’s estimated that the cumulative emissions from developing countries will surpass that of developed countries by 2020, with China alone accounting for 22% of all GHG emissions today (versus 10% two decades ago, when the UNFCCC was signed).  Third, this “supple” framework would spur private investment that is leveraged, not supplanted, by public investment.

As Dan Bodansky has framed it, an international climate change pact turns on three pivot points:  china CCparticipation, stringency, and compliance. If mitigation commitments are too stringent, the global community risks creating barriers to treaty participation or compliance, thereby weakening an agreement’s impact by not regulating all major polluters.  But if these commitments are not strong enough, we may engender broad participation that doesn’t accomplish the mitigation goal.  Professor Bodansky highlights the tensions between a “top-down contractual approach,” as exemplified by the Kyoto Protocol’s internationally negotiated targets and timetables, and the “bottom up facilitative approach,” as typified by the Copenhagen Accord (which COP15 only “took note of” but COP16 adopted in the Cancun Agreements), in which individual state parties pledge individual targets and base years .  (I attended COP15 during my Fulbright year in Senegal and observed here on the COP’s outcome that reminded me of a PTO bake sale).

copenhagen accord mtgThis U.S. position has some inherent appeal.  It builds on internal domestic environmental law and policy, as well as the political will that put it in place.  Consequently, the potential for widespread participation is high. Likewise it leverages mechanisms tried out at the national level, like the EU’s carbon trading scheme (ETS), to build on one country’s or region’s experience and take it up and out internationally.  The U.S. position also permits a level of local differentiation that can better fit WG I’s predictions for widely varying impacts, and ostensibly gives inhabitants of those regions real control over it, which might increase compliance.

But there are also some real downsides.  First, letting parties pick their own base years makes it difficult to gauge mitigation achievements across a group of states, like industrialized countries.  How will approach keep the global temperature from exceeding the 2 degree limit?  Second, given the intense effort invested in international carbon accounting methods via the UNFCCC, leaving this important work to individual state standards could undermine data quality.  Third, this bottom up approach has already shown (in the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol) that it can lack ambition, with state mitigation targetsnational stade entering a race to the bottom.  (See also this newsflash post-Copenhagen.)  Since 2009, the climate divide appears to widen each year rather than narrow, and this approach reflects this trend.

As we’re poised here in Warsaw to begin the opening plenary sessions of the meeting tomorrow, the choices that confront the thousands of delegates from 195 countries are clear and complex.

Climate justice, or “should the U.S. help Malawi adapt to climate change?”

As countries set out their COP19/CMP9 negotiating positions in the days before next Monday’s openingUNICEF Haiti plenary session in Warsaw, my colleague Ben Sovacool reminds us in his recent Nature article that negotiating a new international climate change text is about ethics, as well as economics and technology.  He points to Sam Barrett’s observation:   “climate change creates a double inequality through the inverse distribution of risk and responsibility.”  Barrett illustrates this point bluntly:  the majority of lesser developed countries (LDCs) have emitted less than 115 tons of CO2 per capita since 1960 while industrialized country emissions range from 1600 to 2700 tons per person during the same time period, yet the LDCs will – have, in fact – experience more climate-related damage like flooding, extreme weather, crop damage, and the resulting health impacts.  According to a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), people in rich countries impose 200-300 times more climate-related health damage than they experience, given historical GHG emissions.

adaptation fundBarrett not only argues that rich countries should help poor countries adapt, but that they should do so in a way that understands internal, subnational issues.  He studies Malawi, which he argues is the most “climate vulnerable” mainland African country, given its history of flooring, drought, land degradation, food insecurity, and poverty. And he urges countries, like those who will negotiate the Climate Adaptation Fund text in Warsaw next week, to think about adaptation mechanisms that really work.  (For some background on options, read this Guardian article.)  Barrett walks the talk of Elinor Ostrom’s  Nobel Prize-winning work on a “polycentric approach” to managing common pool resources. He makes four, concrete suggestions for wise climate change adaptation policymaking: 1. Gain local knowledge; 2. Accept that no single adaptation technique will do the trick; 3. Plan to implement at all levels of organized human activity, fromelinor ostrom village to province to country to UN; and 4. Work from the ground up, not top down, to put community needs at or above national adaptation priorities – or as he frames it more academically, using a “soft” vs. “hard” adaptation pathway.  Barrett applies this framework to Malawi and observes that power dynamics even at the local level (e.g. based on ethnicity, class, political clout) can result in unfair distribution of adaptation aid and thus a local form of climate injustice.

Ben ends his review of Barrett’s case study of Malawi this way:  “No intervention will ever match a principle of fairness or responsibility in its purest form:  climate justice is about shades of grey, rather than being black or white.  Justice is a series of negotiated compromises that seek to manage trade-offs, adaptation mosaicmaximize gains and minimize losses, but it can never eliminate losers entirely.  Therefore, climate justice is most useful as a pragmatic rather than absolute concept.”  Incredibly sound advice as we do the nitty gritty legal textual work to get the Adaptation Fund off the ground and into developing countries that need it.

Countdown to COP19/CMP9

CC clockAmbition.  Annex B targets.  Second commitment period.  Flexible mechanisms.  State parties.  Green Climate Fund.  Loss and damage.  Reforestation, deforestation, and afforestation.  Joint implementation.  Annex I.  Annex II.  Monitoring, review, and verification.  Adaptation funding.  Common but differentiated responsibilities.  Clean development mechanism.  Carbon emissions trading.  IPCC.  SBI.  SBSTA.  ADP.  AAU.  CER.  ERU.

These are some of the concepts our student observer delegation is mastering as we prepare to witness the next step in international climate change law making at the 19th session of the Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 9th session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol – a.k.a. COP19/CMP9 – that will kick off in Warsaw, Poland in just 10 days.cop19 logo

From the Berlin Mandate to the Kyoto Protocol, the Bali Road Map and Cancun Agreements to the Durban Outcomes and the Doha Gateway, all eyes turn to Warsaw to watch how countries will commit themselves to mitigating the human drivers of climate change.

A month ago, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its most recent report on the physical science, Climate Change 2013, stating in a press release that warming in the climate system is “unequivocal” and that it is “extremely likely” that human influence has been the dominant cause of it.

WG1 2013According to Qin Dahe, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group I, “observations of changes in the climate system are based on multiple lines of independent evidence.  Our assessment of the science finds that the atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amount of snow and ice has diminished, the global mean sea level has risen and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased.”

As a result, his Co-Chair Thomas Stocker adds that “heat waves are very likely to occur more frequently and last longer.  As the Earth warms, we expect to see currently wet regions receiving more rainfall, and dry regions receiving less, although there will be exceptions.”

What kind of “substantial and sustained” actions should we look for at COP19/CMP9 that will help UNFCCC parties progress toward a new comprehensive climate change agreement to be signed in Paris in 2015?

Here’s what Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of thechristiana figueres UNFCCC, highlighted in her October 21 speech in London :

  1. ratify the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol;
  2. implement the finance and technology agreements already negotiated to support developing countries;
  3. operationalize the Green Climate Fund;
  4. create mechanism for asserting loss and damage claims; and
  5. clarify the elements of the envisioned Paris 2015 agreement that will create an “ambitious and clear” draft for review in Peru in 2014.