From Talanoa to the 2018 Facilitative Dialogue

Captura de pantalla 2017-10-24 a las 10.23.12 a.m.The Paris Agreement requires Parties to submit new or updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) by 2020 and participate in a regular review of whether their individual actions contribute to the collective achievement of the Agreement’s aim of keeping the global rise in temperature to “well under” 2C degrees. Article 14 of the Agreement outlines this “global stocktake” procedure, but the first one does not take place until 2023. Given how quickly the Agreement entered into force just 11 months after its adoption in December, 2015, and that most Parties rely on NDCs formulated in 2014, waiting till the first global stocktake would result in an almost ten-year gap between when these mitigation and adaptation pledges were made and when they were assessed collectively for sufficiency. Fortunately, COP21 anticipated the need for a “first draft” stocktake and created the Facilitative Dialogue. At COP23, the Fijian presidency seeks to design this Dialogue that will take place in 2018.

At COP21, Parties agreed to have a Facilitative Dialogue  that will “take stock of the collective efforts in relation to the progress approaching the long-term temperature goal determined in Article 4.1. of the Agreement.” Furthermore, the Parties agreed that this stocktaking would “inform the preparation of the nationally determined contributions in accordance with the Article 4, paragraph 8, of the Agreement.”

Since the COP21 decision did not specify the design of the facilitative dialogue, COP23 is expected to determine what inputs should feed the stocktake, what its modalities should be, and what outputs the dialogue should produce. The Incoming President of COP23 underscored in a May 2017 speech how important this outcome is to Fiji: “To uphold and advance the Paris Agreement, ensure progress on the implementation guidelines and undertake consultations together with the Moroccan COP22 Presidency to design the process for the Facilitative Dialogue in 2018.”

The design proposal recently presented by Fiji and Morocco outlines core principles, three central questions, information to answer them, and a phased process. The Dialogue should be “constructive, facilitative and solutions oriented,” and not single out individual Parties. It should answer these questions: (1) where are we, (2) where do we want to go, and (3) how do we get there. To do this, it should use inputs from Parties and observers, like written material in blogs and reports, videos, or other formats, and gather it all on an online platform. The latest scientific information from the IPCC and UNFCCC reports on National Communications and Biennial Reports could also be inputs. Finally, the Dialogue should proceed in two phases, with a “preparatory” period starting at the May 2018 intersessional meeting and ending at the beginning of COP 24, and the “political phase” taking place at COP24. The first phase is intended to lay the groundwork for the second, when government ministers will focus on how to achieve more progress in the next round of NDCs.

Captura de pantalla 2017-10-24 a las 4.23.40 p.m.In addition to proposing this Facilitative Dialogue design, the Fiji Government offers a traditional process called Talanoa to help the parties agree on it. At a recent informal meeting of Heads of Delegation, Talanoa was described this way:“The purpose of Talanoa is to share stories, build empathy and to make wise decisions, which are for the collective good. The process of Talanoa involves the sharing of ideas, skills and experience through storytelling.” 

The Talanoa process was employed in Fiji in 2000, when Fiji´s Parliament sought to build national unity and stability after having a hostage situation (described by the international media as a “civilian coup”) resulting from political differences between the government, ethnic leaders, and other parties. The first Talanoa was the most important one because, even though there was an atmosphere of fear and political tension, the participants–who were representatives from the diverse ethnic and religious communities, political parties and other government and military personnel– talked and listened to each other’s pain, resulting in an adjustment of people´s personal opinions and an integration of viewpoints. It was shown that the parties could sit down and talk to one another without the meeting getting out of hand, as anticipated by some leaders.”

Captura de pantalla 2017-10-24 a las 4.30.38 p.m.By using Talanoa to design the Facilitative Dialogue of 2018, the COP23 Presidency seeks to create an environment of “inclusive, participatory and transparent dialogue.” Fiji hopes that Talanoa will allow Parties to hear one another’s concerns, especially for developed countries to listen to the needs, opinions and experiences of developing countries. If so, the process of the Facilitative Dialogue could give Parties the opportunity to build empathy by identifying climate action in areas that have not been covered by the NDCs, taking into account the differentiation between developed and developing countries. Talanoa could also help countries reiterate their collective commitment to make a wise decision for the collective good: new and more ambitious NDCs by 2020 to achieve the temperature goal of the Paris Agreement.

Closing the UNFCCC Gender GAP?

Screen Shot 2017-05-30 at 1.47.14 PMThe Gender Action Plan, with its apt acronym – GAP – was on the agenda earlier this month at the UNFCCC intersessional meetings in Bonn, Germany. And, rightly so. Women’s equal and meaningful participation in the development and implementation of effective climate policy is an agreed goal of the Parties to the Convention. Since COP7 in 2001, when Parties endorsed an increase in women’s participation, this goal has been increasingly articulated and characterized through a total of 75 decisions and mandates within decisions across the UNFCCC programs. (The secretariat’s compilation of these, organized by 9 thematic areas, is an excellent reference.)

Screen Shot 2017-05-24 at 4.24.07 PMYet, despite all these, Parties have faltered (see secretariat’s annual reports, 2013-2016). As we reported at COP22, in Marrakech (Nov-Dec 2016), Parties again acknowledged women’s under-representation throughout the Convention process and the inadequate progress toward gender-responsive climate policy. This recognition generated the Gender and climate change decision (21/CP.22), which directed the SBI to enhance the Lima work programme on gender (LWPG) and develop a Gender Action Plan (GAP). The GAP’s function is to “support the implementation of gender-related decisions and mandates.”

At SB46, an in-session workshop provided the primary substance for the GAP. Some of it came from twenty submissions with proposed GAP elements and advice on the workshop’s structure received from Parties (9), intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) (8), and NGOs (3). Additional and rich input came from two pre-workshop events: 1) a 2-day informal consultation in March among 45 representatives of Parties, NGOs, and IGOs held at The Hague, Netherlands, and 2) a May 9 Listening and Learning Climate Justice Dialogue among negotiators and grassroots women focused on bringing forth key messages/principles.

Screen Shot 2017-05-30 at 1.42.46 PMAn open update session on the LWPG ahead of the GAP workshop also introduced the proposed framework that had emerged from the Hague consultation. This comprehensive framework, containing 5 clusters with associated priority/key results areas, and activities for each, was subsequently moved forward as the starting point for the Day 2 breakouts.

The first half-day covered the GAP mandate, the secretariat’s compilation of decisions and mandates, an overview of the submissions, outputs from the 2 pre-workshop events, and lessons learned from other action plans. This was followed by a facilitated dialogue addressing the Plan’s overall objectives and what success would look like in 2019 (when the LWPG is reviewed). Day 2’s breakouts explored and refined the 5 proposed clusters, priority/key results areas, and draft activities. (On-demand webcasts are available here: 5/10 and 5/11)

SBI47 will consider the outputs of these breakouts in establishing the GAP, when it returns to Bonn in November. To what extent the SBI makes modifications is a big question. One ambitious key result under the Gender balance, participation and women’s leadership cluster calls for reaching 50% representation of women in all Party delegations and constituted bodies under the UNFCCC by 2019.

As pressure grows for more than baby steps, so does the hope for an effective new tool to actually make women’s equal and meaningful participation in the development and implementation of effective climate policy a reality.

COP22’s watershed moment on Paris Agreement

Courtesy of Creative CommonsWhen the Paris Agreement was gaveled into being on December 12, 2015, everyone in the room anticipated it coming into force in 2020, as the Kyoto Protocol’s second commitment period ends. While the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was ratified in only two years, its Kyoto Protocol had taken a full eight years to move from adoption in 1997 to entry into force in 2005. The fact that sufficient countries ratified the Paris Agreement in only 11 months thus surprised—and inspired. In September, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) announced new market-based standards to reduce global airline emissions.  In October, the Montreal Protocol parties adopted the Kigali Amendment to phase out HFCs.  By November 7, 2016, when the UNFCCC parties gathered for the start of COP22, this trifecta of multilateral environmental agreements had positioned the world community to take a big step forward on climate change mitigation and adaptation.ap_611245925978_wide-0d885fdde8a9b22d1501efec383f5eb03654796c-s900-c85

COP22’s goal was relatively simple: begin translating 2016’s political will—the “spirit of Paris”—into the rules needed to implement the Agreement. Action was needed on four, core pieces of treaty architecture:

  • a temperature rise limit of “well below” 2⁰C;
  • nationally determined contributions (NDCs) on mitigation, adaptation,and other means of implementation renewed every five years;
  • transparent reporting and verification of them; and
  • a periodic “stocktake” to assess collective progress on meeting the temperature goal and influence the next round of NDCs.

CAT_thermometer_151001_300dpiThis last facet is essential to a “bottom up” system of self-defined contributions. As the reported mitigation emissions gap resulting from pre-Paris intended NDCs shows, nationally determined pledges can fall short without a collective nudge.

The COP22 decisions document the implementation actions taken, largely in the form of work plans and deadlines for them. Most important is a 2018 deadline for completing these operational rules by COP24, with a 2017 review at COP23 to stay on track. These rules will need to spell out strategic facets of the Paris Agreement’s new “bottom up” architecture, like the market mechanism under Article 6, the transparency framework under Article 13, and accounting methods for land-based carbon sinks under Articles 4 and 5, as well as the specifics of NDC features and timelines. COP22 also made a small contribution to climate finance by deciding that the Adaptation Fund, which was established under the Kyoto Protocol, will continue under the Agreement.

Beneath its “nuts and bolts” implementation orientation, two potent, political forces shaped COP22. The first is the longWorld Resources Institute simmering question of how to recalibrate the core principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capacities” (CBDRRC), which seeks to allocate equity in multilateral climate change treaty commitments. It has traditionally done so by accounting for the historical responsibility of developed countries for global warming and the differing national capacities of developing countries to mitigate and adapt.  Hence CBDRRC took early form in the Protocol’s firm line on mitigation responsibilities, which were imposed on developed countries (like the U.S. and E.U.) and not on developing countries (like China, India, and Brazil). The Paris Agreement profoundly alters this interpretation by requiring all countries to make NDCs and publicly report progress on these self-defined pledges over time. At COP22, developing and developed countries negotiated persistently about how their respective NDCs could differ, whether in terms of content or timing or a combination of both. This debate – at core, about equity principles – was not resolved and will continue through 2018 as parties hammer out these rules.

President François Hollande of France

President François Hollande of France

The second political force was the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States, which occurred midway during the first week of COP22. A core staple of Trump’s stump speech was “canceling” the Paris Agreement. Although the United States, as one party among almost 200, cannot do so per se, it can undermine the Agreement’s effectiveness by withdrawing from it or the UNFCCC, or by remaining a party but doing little to comply, let alone lead. This cloud of uncertainty settled over COP22, even while the U.S. delegation continued to represent the Obama Administration’s priorities and speakers ranging from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to French President Francois Hollande underscored that energy markets and consumer behavior had already embraced the Paris Agreement’s low carbon and resilient development mantra. Nonetheless, as countries continued the work of writing the COP22 decision to guide implementation of the Paris Agreement, uncertainty about U.S. participation during the Trump Administration remained.


Delegates forming a COP22 huddle

That is why the dynamics of COP22’s closing plenary stand out. COPs have earned a reputation for last minute delays, with pauses for “huddles” on the floor to work through conflict and achieve consensus. COP22 went into overtime when disagreement erupted over a footnote on how and when the Paris Agreement’s rules would come into play. Bolivia, speaking for the Like Minded Developing Countries (LMDCs) negotiating group, opposed the compromise inherent in this footnote. Historically, the LMDCs have put CBDRRC front and center, calling out attempts to dilute the principle’s role in ascribing historic responsibility. India is a core member of this group, with China joining on some issues, and other developing countries, acting through negotiation groups like the G77+China and Africa Group, regularly joining the LMDCs’ positions. But the BASIC negotiation group—composed of rapidly industrializing countries like Brazil, South Africa, India, and China—has shown just how fluid membership in these developing country negotiation groups can be. BASIC countries negotiated with first-term President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton to craft the Copenhagen Accord, which set the UNFCCC parties en route to the Paris Agreement’s new nationally determined architecture. Since then, the Obama Administration has worked bilaterally with individual BASIC members, producing the break-through U.S.-China announcement in November 2014 followed by U.S.-India and U.S.-Brazil announcements in January and June 2015, respectively. When Brazil took the floor to directly counter Bolivia, and then rally top negotiators from China, India, and South Africa to huddle with their Bolivian counterpart and project the consensus needed to gavel COP22 closed, BASIC once again found a way to move multilateral climate change action forward.

U.S. Special Envoy Pershing on the periphery of a COP22 huddle

U.S. Special Envoy Pershing on the periphery of a COP22 huddle

Nine years ago, a negotiator from Papua New Guinea earned international headlines when he quietly challenged the U.S. delegation in Bali, Indonesia at COP13: “I would ask the United States, we ask for your leadership. But if for some reason you’re not willing to lead, leave it to the rest of us. Please get out of the way.”  When Jonathan Pershing, U.S. Special Envoy on Climate Change, gave his closing statement at COP22, it was a poignant moment of stepping aside. The warm applause that followed implicitly recognized that, this time, the political challenge to U.S. climate change leadership came from within its own borders. It likewise tacitly acknowledged the Obama Administration’s role in supporting BASIC members’ renewable energy development and how this bilateral diplomacy had enhanced the multilateral negotiating group’s collective capacity to lead at COP22. It remains to be seen how the U.S. will participate in the Paris Agreement during the next four years. But if the dynamics of COP22’s closing plenary hold true, multilateralism on climate change will forge ahead under new leadership, with or without U.S. support.

COP22/CMA1: Transparent Reflections

1114161521aWhile transparency forms the backbone of the Paris Agreement, COP22/CMA1 did not proceed in a very transparent manner. Nevertheless, parties made progress behind mostly closed doors toward a more transparent future. Additionally, the assistance our observer delegation was able to offer to our service learning partner made this experience especially meaningful.

In light of how quickly the world ratified the Paris Agreement, the APA made notable progress in its 1-2 session. In the context of the transparency framework, global stocktake, and implementation articles (Art. 13, 14, and 15 of the Paris Agreement), the APA did not fully develop the PA’s framework, but it nevertheless made progress. In its decision on Monday, the APA set a roadmap to resolve the major issues in the near future. Parties have the opportunity to make submissions early next year on the transparency framework, global stocktake, and implementation committee, which are guided by questions in the decision text. Then for transparency, the APA will host a workshop in May before the Bonn intersessional to address the parties’ submissions. While plenty of work remains, the parties at APA 1-2 achieved progress by creating a plan to expedite this work. The Bonn intersessional will provide more insight as to what the transparency framework, global stocktake, and implementation articles will look like under the PA.

One irony of the entire process, however, was that observers like us were excluded from a majority of the negotiation sessions this week. Parties discussed most of their disagreements behind closed doors, and only allowed observers to sit in after they reached a consensus. While some privacy among negotiating groups is expected, observers this week could only be in the room for a handful of the action. This runs contrary to the spirit of the Paris Agreement itself, which strives for integrated transparency.

1116161052However, even without a party badge, the limited sessions I attended and the side events were very enriching. These discussions provided an insightful peek into the world of multilateral negotiations. Reading about the negotiations and outcomes only scratches the surface; being in the room allows observers to feel the emotions of the parties during negotiations. It is an experience you simply cannot learn in a classroom setting.

Additionally, while watching these developments unfold was an invaluable experience, the work our delegation performed for our service learning partner was the most meaningful. Choosing side events and negotiation sessions based on their interests added another dimension to the work we were doing at COP22. One notable challenge included framing daily notes and the end-of-the-week briefing for a non-legal audience. It forced me to really think about transparency from multiple perspectives so that I could relay the information in a way that made it applicable to their interests.

Both our service learning partner and I felt frustrated at times with how slow the international legal process moves. While the transparency framework was set to be established by the CMA1 at its first session, the world ratified the Agreement faster than anyone ever imagined, and the APA could not complete all of the mandated work so quickly. Therefore, while the process may feel slow, the international momentum behind the Paris Agreement is huge. This spirit of immediate action on climate change persisted throughout COP22/CMA1, and there is good reason to be optimistic about the future.

Reflections: Oasis or Mirage?

Last night, COP 22 came to a close. After a week of wishing we could get into the negotiations happening behind closed doors, we had front-row seats to the spectacle: what was sure to be an open-and-closed meeting turned into a boxing match between Bolivia and Brazil.


Of course by front row, I mean the front row of the observers, behind the recognized organizations, behind the delegates. But in the same room!

Delegates spent the day hashing out decision texts. Though the closing meeting was scheduled for 3pm, it kept getting pushed back. At 5:30, the meeting opened suddenly, checked a few easy items off the agenda, and was suspended just as suddenly. Delegates returned to side rooms to work out more decisions, with a promise that they would return at 8pm. 8pm rolled past. Then 9. Then 10.


The delegate from Bolivia.

Finally at 10:30 the delegates made their way back to their seats. The delegates quickly approved one decision and applauded, to which the COP President said “I’m glad to hear you clapping.” He then invited the delegates to move to the next decision. Though the delegates had apparently spent the day negotiating these details, Bolivia objected. Brazil, repeatedly calling the representative of Bolivia his “dear friend,” argued that the proposal was in line with the Paris Agreement and invited Bolivia to reconsider his objections and “follow what you have just read.” Bolivia, in turn, requested clarification from Brazil and objected to creating bad precedent without addressing issues comprehensively. From there, the floor devolved as delegates from different countries took sides. Finally, after India (who usually sides with Brazil) sided with Bolivia, the president called a 5-minute recess to allow delegates to speak in small groups to try to work it out.

Are you confused? Good, because that’s how we felt! We really had no idea what they were fighting about, or why, or why they had spent all week negotiating this text only to disagree at midnight on the last night. We also felt exhilarated! Finally, after a week at an international negotiation, we got to see Nations throw down!

After twenty minutes, the COP President decided their 5-minutes were up and called delegates back to their seats. Bolivia requested more time “amongst the dear friends” to work this out. While Brazil and Bolivia chatted, the COP was able to check a few more easy things off the agenda. Finally, around 1:15am, the President turned back to Brazil and Bolivia.

Brazil, observing that they still felt like the original decision was the right one, agreed, in the “spirit of compromise” to kindly request the Parties to ask the Subsidiary Body of Implementation to take up the matter in the 47th session rather than the 46th.

So here’s where we finally understand what’s happening, and it’s fascinating…or totally frustrating. This whole fight was about whether a sub-committee should talk about the issue in May or December of 2017. They weren’t disagreeing about an issue at all – only when the issue should be talked about.

It was one of those odd moments of clarity – where all of a sudden the entire world zooms out and you can see all the pieces, just for a moment – then it slips away again. As all of this back-and-forth was filtering to me through a translator speaking through a crackling headset, I realized politics really is high school all over again – and that isn’t bad, it’s just something we have to recognize. We have to recognize the way people work together is only amplified on the political scale and further exacerbated on the international scale. I always thought it became somehow simpler and more dignified once ambassadors are talking, but that is not the case. You have to be the caricature of your own Nation, for better or for worse.

So what came out of this COP? Procedures. The Paris Agreement came into effect 4 years sooner than anyone expected, and they weren’t ready for it. So they had to spend this meeting talking about how they are going to talk about things under the Paris Agreement. Fascinating and frustrating.

The good news is, the fire is lit. In all of the dignitary and diplomat speeches throughout the week, one theme shone through: the rapid ratification of the Paris Agreement was a mandate to get to work. In my return to America, where the next four years are likely to be a struggle, I will carry the flame with me, as these delegates will carry it with them to their Nations. For we are not alone.

Just Peace through Climate Action

Display at India's COP Pavilion

Display at India’s COP Pavilion

This year, the COP demonstrated the priority of climate justice by recognizing the first official Climate Justice Day on the UNFCCC Programme. The celebration of Climate Justice Day explored the social dimensions of climate action while elevating the spirit of cooperation and solidarity that led to the Paris Agreement. In fact, COP 22 highlights the unusual global alliance between governments, corporations, universities, NGO’s and faith inspired communities, all fighting against the effects of climate change. Along side the delegate pavilions and green technology entrepreneurs, stand a wide array of associations such as Mediators Without Borders, the Planetary Security Initiative, the Indigenous People’s Pavilion, and Green Faith. Yesterday’s reflective side event sponsored by the  Quaker United Nations Office underscored the importance of such a broad alliance: multi-level problems require multi-level solutions.

Entitled, “Trust and Peacebuilding Approaches for Ambitious Climate Action,” Friday’s QUNO panel focused on climate change as a humanitarian and spiritual crisis, as well as an environmental one, emphasizing the complex nature of the climate change problem. The discussion centered around fighting climate change as a personal moral imperative, the importance of personal equilibrium as well as environmental equilibrium, empowering climate change solutions on a personal level, unity through prayer, climate justice, and above all, love. Panelists included Sonja Klinsky, Assistant Professor, Arizona State University, Lindsey Fielder Cook, Representative for Climate Change, Quaker United Nations Office Ambassador, Jayanti Kirpalani, Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University, Henrik Grape, Church of Sweden and Joy Kennedy, World Council of Churches.  Emphasizing individual impact, the presentation was empowering because it reminded listeners that they could make a difference by taking small personal steps while waiting for larger national policies to take shape. Their message was one of unity, courage and hope.

Entrance to COP 22 Pavilions

Entrance to COP 22 Pavilions

Later that evening, the closing COP 22/CMA 1 meeting managed to maintain this momentum of unity, courage and hope to successfully adopt their meeting Decision FCCC/PA/CMA/2016/1. In doing so, the COP of Action moved ahead and sent a clear message to the world. To quote U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change, Jonathan Pershing, in his closing remarks at this final COP 22 meeting, “Momentum for the Paris Agreement cannot be stopped.” In the continued spirit of unity, and showing their personal appreciation for each other, the entire plenary of hundreds of COP 22 delegates paused during a break in the negotiations to sing happy birthday to the delegate from Mali. Hopefully, this spirit of unity carries through to next year when COP 23 is held in Bonn, Germany.

On a personal reflective note, I continue to draw inspiration from the wide range of groups here at the COP, all fighting the effects of climate change.  This COP 22 experience has been particularly meaningful due to the opportunity our Vermont Law School class had to work with a Service Learning Partner Country.  Being able to serve a purpose at COP 22, to provide direct delegation support to a Least Developed Country, became my small way of making a difference in the fight against climate change.  The remarkable people I have met here continue to inspire me with their dedication to Just Peace, through Climate Action.

Reflections on a Week in Marrakech



As our 787 banked right to begin our final descent into Casablanca I caught my first glimpse of the Moroccan landscape. It was greener than I expected. On the ground I was struck by the warmth of the weather and the people. At the airport I was given a free sim card and then met the host with whom Jonas and I were staying the first night. He told us about how Marrakech has developed over the years, his passion about how great the city is on full display. After dropping our stuff at the riad we began to explore the area, talking with street vendors and taking in the sights, smells, and sounds of this city. The pride of the Moroccan people was on display everywhere we went, clearly demonstrating how proud they were to host the UNFCCC COP for the second time. Giant red banners reading “ACT” lined the streets and reminded us that this COP is one of action and implementation.

At the COP, the negotiations went far smoother than I expected, with very few disagreements between the Parties in the meetings I attended. Of course much of this was due to the extensive bilaterals and informals that were going on in the background. We were not privy to these discussions, where I’m sure most of the fireworks and arguments were occurring. However, there were some disagreements during the final plenary, which had to break multiple times to help the Parties reach consensus. Bolivia and Brazil engaged in a back-and-forth about whether the adopted text was balanced enough, with the former refusing to support the language. During the breaks, China and a few other Parties worked with both sides to help all involved reach consensus. The COP President worked hard throughout the night to keep the mood light and encourage cooperation. He even had everyone in the room sing Happy Birthday to the Mali delegate before he had to rush off to catch a plane to Madagascar. The Parties ultimately reached consensus and concluded COP 22/CMP 12/CMA 1 around 1AM on Saturday.

The side events at COP 22 covered a wide variety of topics and all the ones I attended were rewarding. I had anticipated that some would fall flat but my expectations were exceeded. I was able to attend a few sessions held at various country’s pavilions, which exposed me to many different perspectives. Often these events had refreshments too; -an immense boost during the long days. While some ran a little late, almost all had an opportunity for questions at the end. I think the best part of the side events was the Q&A sessions that followed each because the speakers were less constrained than during their presentations. Many of the speakers stayed after the sessions were over and answered questions one-on-one. A couple of times, when I didn’t have to run off to another session, I was lucky enough to speak with a few of them.

The most rewarding part of our COP experience was working with our service-learning partners to help them better understand the process and participate in the negotiations. Like most LDCs, our partners struggle to procure the resources needed for sufficient staff to attend all the meetings and negotiations that impact their interests. During our briefings we presented on the negotiations and a few relevant side events we attended and then answered any questions that our partners had. After the more formal presentations we broke off into one-on-one conversations and were really able to dig into the issues. It felt great to see how our work was helping them. Despite everything going on at home and around the world the COP was uplifting and inspiring. The progress set in motion in Paris cannot be stopped.









Are Human Rights Lost and Damaged?

Haiti after Hurricane Matthew

Haiti after Hurricane Matthew

Loss and Damage (L&D) includes the permanent loss of land, culture, and human life and will escalate existing tensions over increasingly scarce resources. This tension will ultimately incite conflict in many parts of the world. In some places, the loss of habitable land is forcing individuals and families to leave their country, threatening their sovereignty, and some countries are entirely submerged as a result of increasing sea levels. Since human rights include the right to life and the right to health, some have wondered why these aspects of climate change are not considered a violation of human rights.

One reason could stem from traditional human rights violations. Typically, human rights violations must be obviously traceable to an entity. An article in the Bangladesh Chronicle observes that extreme weather events cannot violate human rights through volcanic eruptions, mudslides, or events outside human control. As L&D is defined as the impacts of climate change that people are unable to adapt to, there might be an argument that the consequences are outside human control. Certainly, this is the case for L&D up to a point.

However, the risk of L&D is exacerbated through current inaction. By countries not adopting aggressive mitigation targets, they are not only increasing the already widespread need for adaptation, but they are worsening the situation by exponentially raising the risk posed by more frequent extreme weather events and more extensive slow onset events.  Therefore, there is a direct connection between lackadaisical mitigation reductions and increased risk of L&D. This trend, when coupled with scientific advances that can determine the impact of a specific country’s emission contributions on another’s climate, could provide vulnerable countries with an avenue to seek compensation through the international courts of justice, or some other court with requisite jurisdiction.

Still, in order to bring a claim, the claim must be valid. This is where one of the major criticisms of the Paris Agreement might work toward concerned parties’ advantage. Throughout the negotiation of the Paris Agreement, mentioning human rights in the substantive body of the text remained contentious. Ultimately, the concept was relegated to the preamble and isolated from any significant application to the implementation of the Paris Agreement requirements. Also, under decision 1/CP.21 para 51, the Parties agreed that Article 8 of the Paris Agreement dealing with L&D does not provide a basis for liability or compensation. Theoretically, since human rights are not mentioned in Article 8, a human rights violation resulting from widespread indifference to climate action leading to increased L&D might provide relevant parties with enough of a legal basis to establish liability. The Paris Agreement does not explicitly exempt human rights violation claims founded on L&D. The Paris Agreement and following decisions only prevent L&D grievances rooted within the operative text of Article 8. The specific language states that L&D does not “provide a basis for compensation or liability,” but does not preclude liability founded in human rights. Therefore the Paris Agreement only prevents parties from declaring entitlement to compensation from developed countries based on the mere fact that L&D will occur. It does not preclude liability imposed through claims not covered in the Paris Agreement like human rights violations.

Albeit seemingly outlandish, challenging the unambitious mitigation offers from developed countries with human rights violation claims might prove to be a form of viable motivation so as to adequately protect the most vulnerable countries to climate change. In this narrow window of opportunity, the international community should not wait to mitigate. When that window closes, they can only hope for the best and provide compensation.

A Numbers “Crunch” – Trump & The UNFCCC

Number-crunchingLike most every other institution around the globe, for a while now, the UNFCCC has been called on to do more with less. This is clearly reflected in the Executive Secretary’s recent budget presentations that report contributions to UNFCCC trust funds have declined significantly for at least the last 5 years. In fact, 2016 contributions are just 43% of the 2012 level. And all the while, the COP has added new tasks, including, most recently, the raft of work associated with the 2015 Paris Agreement.reduce-boost-graph SmallbizTrends

At a COP22 informal session on November 11, Espinosa shared that the Secretariat, with its mandated zero-growth budget, will be unable to fully deliver on its current mandates. So, all countries are being called on to meet their full commitments and to increase their voluntary contributions.

It just so happens that the U.S. is a big piece of this budget picture, contributing (as of October 21) more than 20% of the total $30.3 mill* in 2016 receipts for the 3 non-Kyoto Protocol related funds. These include the Trust Fund for the Core Budget (with country-specific contribution levels based on UN-determined proportions) and two voluntary funds: Trust Fund for Supplementary Activities and Trust Fund for Participation in the UNFCCC Process (the latter to help developing country Parties attend COPs and other meetings).

Screen Shot 2016-11-17 at 11.50.06 PMAnd, of course, there is the ongoing U.S. climate funding via appropriations from Congress, development finance, and export credit, which totaled $2.6 billion in 2015. That was before $500 million was transmitted to the Green Climate Fund earlier this year in partial fulfillment of the $3 billion U.S. promise (that constitutes 30% of that fund’s total pledges). All of it adds up to a very big number in the climate finance world.

Then, on November 8, from stage right: enter President-elect Trump.

While the potential impact on the climate regime is about more than money (check out our Monday story), the finance implications are indeed great. Considering Mr. Trump’s campaign pledges, the Republican Party’s platform position, and the Transition Team’s recent statements, when it comes to climate funding, those calculators only subtract.

Many negotiators and high-level ministers attending COP22 from around the world have been cautioning against hasty speculation on U.S. policy post-January 20, 2017. Behind the scenes, however, and certainly within the Secretariat, the number crunching has doubtless turned to nail biting.


* Based on 11/17/16 EUR-USD exchange rate

(Image credits: Calculator =; Diverging costs/revenue=; Scissors & currency=

Bridging the Gap between NDC Commitments and NDC Implementation

During this morning’s Joint High Level Segment, U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Jonathan Cooper Pershing delivered the U.S. National Statement. Addressing the combined meeting of the COP22/CMP12/CMA1, Pershing said, “With the policies already in place, the United States is well-positioned to meet its Paris Agreement targets” and that through current market trends, “the transition to clean energy is inevitable.” These are reassuring words to those wondering if the U.S. can bridge the gap between its Paris Agreement Nationally Determined Commitments (NDCs) and its policies.

Lord Nicholas Stern at COP 22 in Marrakech, Morocco

Lord Nicholas Stern at COP 22 in Marrakech, Morocco

Lord Nicholas Stern echoed these sentiments today at a COP 22 Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment event presenting the institute’s latest COP study. Lord Stern, Grantham Institute Chair and member of the U.K.’s House of Lords, emphasized the importance of federal structure, stating, “The best way for Parties to implement NDCs is to create supporting policies regionally and locally through cities, states, and provinces.” Pledges are only as good as their implementation. Governments will need to continue to translate words into action through understanding, informed by research, science and policy.  Policy is the bridge. Parties now need the courage to cross it.

Mobilizing the Private Sector to Finance Adaptation


Today at COP 22 the Japanese delegation hosted a side event at their pavilion about mobilizing the private sector to finance climate change adaptation. The panelists discussed ways to involve the private sector from regional, business, and public policy perspectives. The panelist from Bangladesh, Dr. Saleemul Huq, then present specific examples of how the private sector has helped mobilize adaptation finance in his country. The World Bank estimates that $70-100 billion will be need annually from 2010-2100 to adapt to the impacts of climate change. It also estimates that the private sector could mobilize $140-240 billion for adaptive measures annually during the same period. However, very few companies are pursuing these adaptive measures, due in large part to the lack of profitability. To mobilize the private sector, governments and international organizations must incentivize investments and enhance monitoring and reporting efforts to ensure sufficient return on investments. The private sector will only finance adaptation measures that are also good for their bottom line.

Dr. Saleemul Huq, director of the International Center for Climate Change and Development at Independent University and lead author of chapters in the IPCC’s Assessment Reports provided an example of a good adaptation measure and a bad, or maladaptation, measure. Both projects involved mobilizing private sector finance to adapt to climate change . But the latter created more problems than it solved. In the good example, a private agricultural business developed and sold salt-water resistant rice to combat the inundation of rice fields by salt water. The company turned a profit and made a vulnerable population more resilient. In the maladaptation example, a private aquaculture company bought up inundated rice fields, turned them into shrimping operations, and then leased the operations to the farmers. These shrimping operations are good for the companies, who turn massive profits, and the government, which taxes the shrimp exports. While this practice is aimed at adapting to an increasingly saline ecosystem, it is highly exploitative of the rice farmers, most of whom lost their jobs after selling their farms, and drastically altered the landscape by making it entirely salt-water based. The company turned a profit but the social and environmental impacts made a vulnerable population more vulnerable. These examples underscore the opportunities and challenges associated with mobilizing private sector finance to adapt to climate change. We have to remember that in board rooms and commercial banks, money talks and altruism takes the backseat. 

Backbone of the Paris Agreement has undertones in ICAO’s CORSIA scheme

International aviation emissions are not explicitly addressed under the Paris Agreement, but their successful regulation nevertheless relies on the same elements of transparency and global stocktake as in Articles 13 and 14 of the Agreement.

Earlier this fall, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) passed the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) as one of the tools in its “basket of measures” to obtain carbon neutral growth by 2020. While there are many tools in this basket that are designed to work together to achieve ICAO’s carbon neutral goal, CORSIA, the final tool, strives to fill gaps with offsets. However, several details surrounding these offsets remain unclear.

Jos Delbeke offers his perspective on ICAO’s CORSIA at COP22

Regardless of the specific details on CORSIA’s offsets, one thing is clear: transparency will be essential to its success. Like Article 13 of the Paris Agreement, transparency will help build trust among the parties. It will deter cheating and allow other countries to hold each other accountable. ICAO will provide transparency through a registry, which is currently under development.

In addition, CORSIA contains a counterpart to the global stocktake in Paris Agreement Article 14. Beginning in 2022, the CORSIA offset scheme will be reviewed every three years. At today’s panel on ICAO’s offsetting scheme, Jos Delbeke, Director General, DG CLIMA, European Commission recommended that ICAO use this review to vamp up the ambition of the scheme. He suggested that these reviews take into account scientific evidence to be sure the scheme is in line with the global goal of keeping the earth’s temperature increase below 2˚C (with efforts to stay below 1.5˚C). In this way, ICAO could bolster NDCs from the parties to the Paris Agreement.

The enormous momentum behind the Paris Agreement has spurred climate action among various entities, like ICAO, who do not fall directly under the treaty. However, in addition to momentum, the Paris Agreement has also provided a model for transparency and global stocktake that these entities can use when creating their own climate actions. Together, these elements will be essential to keeping temperature rises below 2˚ or 1.5˚C in the coming years


Developing Innovation

Cyclone Aftermath

Cyclone Nargis Aftermath

With the increasing risks of loss and damage (L&D) associated with the impacts of climate change, all nations are facing unprecedented complications in providing for the protection of their citizens. This burden of meeting this challenge is especially felt by those countries with less access to the variety of resources necessary to adequately innovate unilaterally. These developing countries lack the finances, information, and collaboration to successfully adapt and therefore reduce the amount of loss and damage suffered by their citizens. In the face of various types of weather and climate events, developing nations have to entertain multi-faceted approaches. While some have similar themes, they often differ in some key areas.

At an official COP22 side event, government ministers, private sector representatives, and other interest parties gathered to discuss these approaches. The first to speak was Dr. Abid Qaiyum Suleri, executive director of SDPR in Pakistan. He set the mood by describing their inadequate responses to climate change. Pakistan, and now other nations as well, experience a cycle of intense floods and droughts that have been exacerbated by climate change. Local communities are not provided with enough resources to adapt to one extreme by the time the other has set it. This instability is intolerable, and compounds the already devastating impacts. Dr. Suleri stated that because of the unstable climate, Pakistan is experiencing a brain drain which further reduces their capacity to innovate. The other represented countries’ perspectives prove that Pakistan’s is far from unique, but the remedy is far from clear.

The dialogue centered around disagreements on innovation. The representative from Kenya, Kennedy Mbeva believes the risk posed through L&D requires a three-pronged innovation paradigm shift: technology innovation, policy innovation, and institutional innovation. As for the first, Mr. Mbeva focused on lack of access to technology and the redundancy in inventing existing renewable energy sources. Also, Kenya does not have the access to the financial and human capital necessary to promote such invention in the first place. The international community needs to create a platform for sharing as these innovations usually come from outside developing countries. As for policy innovation, Mr. Mbeva recognized the hostile environment many developing nations pose to outside investment. Tying this in with the third prong, he suggested reducing the risk to private and public institutions through proactive government policy founded in corroborated evidence. This evidence would provide investors security in their returns, and would hopefully encourage outside contributions through the private sector and public funds.

The Director General of TERI in India, Dr. Ajay Mathur simply focused on the expense incurred at the individual level by being a climate-progressive consumer. He stressed the need to create companies that can appreciate the long-term returns on renewable and sustainable innovations, like LED lightbulbs, that the average consumer would immediately write off as beyond extravagant. Through economies of scale, those businesses can receive short-term benefits that will only increase in the long-run. Once solutions are affordable and make economic sense to the private sector, then adaptation and L&D risk reduction follow. However, this approach does not incorporate the blatant urgency reflected in the expedited ratification of the Paris Agreement.

Dr. Edward Cameron

Dr. Edward Cameron, Managing Director of BSR

As the sole representative from a developed country, Dr. Edward Cameron of the U.S., Managing Director of BSR, closed the meeting with some concerns, recognizing that issues of innovation — those mentioned above as well as cultural innovation — do not incorporate the complexity of international investment. The expedited ratification sent a message to investors emphasizing the importance of climate resiliency. Still, direct investment will only occur if the private sector is confident in the countries rule of law and its ability to provide a favorable return on investment. As for public funds like the Green Climate Fund (GCF), not only is the capital dwarfed by the resilient climate market, but it does not address accessibility of finance to vulnerable minority communities, or those without access to information on finance and resource availability. Developing nations need to provide some sense of reliability for returns and equal distribution so the funds are not wasted in this crucial window of opportunity.



Is Time Running Out?


COP 22 hourglass display representing the limited time left to avoid irreversible climate change before the year 2100.

Referencing the response to climate change at today’s COP 22, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry presented the issue in terms of time.   He stated, “The question is not whether we will transition to a clean energy economy. The question is whether we will have the will power to make the transition in time.  Time is not on our side.”  He was speaking to a group in Marrakech, but his question was really to the world.


Secretary of State John Kerry in Marrakech, Morocco for the COP 22 Climate negotiations.





Sec. Kerry confirmed that the global community is more united than ever and taking real action this year, as evidenced in such historic global agreements as the Paris Agreement, the ICAO Agreement and the Kigali Agreement. Sec. Kerry reassured his listeners that despite the uncertainty that is coming from recent election results, climate change is not a partisan issue.  The majority of Americans, scientists, military leaders, intelligence community, state and city leaders, business leaders, advocacy groups and community organizers are committed to fighting against the problems that contribute to climate change. The Secretary emphasized that although he would not speculate on the incoming administration’s policies regarding the Paris Agreement, he took heart because “issues look very different on the campaign trail than when you are actually in office.”  In fact, the U.S. is on its way to meet its Paris Agreement goals based on market forces and state regulations already in place. Investing in clean energy makes good market sense because as the Secretary said, “you can do good and do well at the same time.”

Implementing Adaptation for Resilient Mediterranean-climate Regions


One of the side events at COP 22 today presented best practices and case studies for implementing adaptation in Mediterranean-climate regions, with a focus on: consumer behavior; stakeholder and citizen participation; health; and climate policy. The speakers identified ways that sub-national governments can increase adaptation efforts. Surprisingly, few of the case studies involved countries along the Mediterranean Sea. Instead, the speakers focused primarily on initiatives and policies in South Africa and California, both of which are primarily mediterranean climates. In fact, mediterranean-climate regions can be found on every continent but Antarctica.

The Mediterranean basin gives the climate its name, and more than half of world’s mediterranean climates are found in this region. However, the mediterranean climate can also be found in regions in southwestern Australia, central Chile, coastal California, northern Iran, and southwestern South Africa. Mediterranean climate zones are characterized by hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters. These regions experience pronounced climactic changes between season, most notably in terms of temperature and rainfall changes. Mediterranean climates cover just 3% of world but account for 20% of plant biodiversity and house over 200 million people.  Most large, historic cities of the Mediterranean basin, including Athens, Barcelona, Beirut, Jerusalem, Rome, and Tunis, lie within mediterranean climatic zones, as do major cities outside of the Mediterranean basin, such as Casablanca, Cape Town, Perth, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Many of these cities are major coastal cities and biological hotspots supported by tourism-based economies that are especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

The dense populations in these cities concentrate the demand for services and infrastructure, which increases the city’s vulnerability to climate change. These regions will experience an increase in their average temperatures, declining air and water quality, increased frequency and intensity of droughts and heat waves, and an increase in ground-level ozone. These impacts will lead to loss of habitat, decreased biodiversity, and water shortages. Climate change will also greatly impact human health. For example, during a prolonged heat wave in Los Angeles in 2006 more than 16,000 excess emergency room visits were reported. Just last year Jerusalem experience 5 straight days of snowfall, something that has not happened in decades, which shut down highways and crippled the city’s infrastructure. Additionally, as food and water become more scarce, populations will begin to migrate to cities in search of subsistence and further exacerbate the impacts of climate change. The first step governments should take in addressing this problem is changing how they view these migrants. Instead of seeing migrants as a political issue that is separate from climate change they must change the paradigm to one that views them as what they really are: climate refugees.

While cities are the source of many climate-related problem, they can also be the source of the solutions. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change underscored the urgent need for cities to act in its last assessment report. The building sector has the greatest potential for delivering significant and cost-effective adaptation benefits through improved design and smarter technologies to conserve energy. Many of these measures would have co-benefits too, including reductions in noise and waste. Cities can also adapt to climate change by improving their infrastructure. For example, Los Angeles is investing in bus line, pedestrian walkways, and improving bike safety. Cities must continue working to keep the lights on, people employed, and emissions down. These concerns are not limited to mediterranean-climate regions and should be comprehensively addressed by all levels of government to reduce their vulnerability and increase their capacity to adapt to climate change.