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.

COP’ing it Part Deux: Tracking #COP19 & Loss and Damage

Last year, I had the amazing opportunity to attend the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP) 18th session in Doha, Qatar, as a student representative of Vermont Law School. It was my first COP and I learned so much “on the job” that cannot be taught in the classroom. I tracked mostly adaptation issues, including the National Adaptation Plans, CDM Appeals Process and “loss and damage.”


No longer a COP rookie, this year, I am excited to be returning to COP 19 in Warsaw, Poland as a civil society observer. I’ve never been to Poland before, so I am looking forward to meeting new people, enjoying Polish culture, and eating delicious Polish food. On the word side of things, I will continue tracking these same issues. My main focus this year will be tracking “loss and damage,” this work program will deal with many problems associated with climate change, including human rights, climate justice, migration and displacement, and economic harm.

Despite UNFCCC efforts to mitigate carbon emissions, the earth’s temperatures are likely to overtake the internationally-recognized danger threshold of 2 degrees Celsius average increase in temperature, according to the IPCC AR5 Report.  Climate change has already begun to disrupt and destroy livelihoods, particularly in developing countries. The climate disruption socio-economic effects include adverse impacts to health, economic growth, water supplies, agriculture and food security, national security, and climate-forced displacement and migration. In other words, climate change will have “widespread and consequential” impacts. Even the USA is taking notice, as President Obama recently issued an Executive Order to step up US Government’s involvement in climate preparedness and resilience, including food security in America.

A memorable event from COP 18 in Doha was the impassioned plea by lead Philippines negotiator and Commisioner of Philippines Climate Change Commission, Nadarev “Yep” Saño, for Parties, particularly developed countries, to take action on climate change because it is already happening as evidenced by Typhoon Bopha and Hurricane Sandy. Mr. Saño said, “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?”

This year the Philippines has also experienced hearbreak, Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda), one of the strongest hurricanes ever recorded to hit land, just steamrolled through the heart of the Philippines, leaving loss, damage, death and destruction in its wake. Thus, what will happen as States and communities fail to adapt and mitigate to climate change?


Image by REUTERS/Erik De Castro

The international community is not so sure on how to proceed, but they are making steady progress. As the negotiations for COP 18 concluded, the final outcome document, called the Doha Climate Gateway, established the new workstream on loss and damage, with the possibility of developing a new legal mechanism. However, what exactly does “loss and damage” mean? The international community has not decided. Practitioners, such as Dr. Koko Warner from the United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security, advocate that “loss and damage” programs will have to operate in conjunction with adaption.

In past UNFCCC COPs and meetings, State Parties and observers, international organizations and civil society groups realized that the lack of ambition of parties to mitigate climate change would only increase climate disruption and adverse impacts to climate change. Thus, the need to address adaptation arose, as decided in the Bali Action Plan. However, mitigation and adaptation only tell a part of the climate change story. At some point, States and communities will not be able to adapt to climate change.

In Harm’s Way (IPCC SREX)

So far, the Parties to COP18 decided to consider “approaches to address loss and damage associated with climate change impacts in developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change, as part of the Cancun Adaptation Framework (decision 1/CP.16, paragraphs 25-29). The Parties to the UNFCCC agreed that the Convention will have “the important and fundamental role to enable coherent and synergistic approaches.” These “adverse impacts,” defined in the Cancun Agreements decision 1/CP.16, are slow onset events that include sea level rise, increasing temperatures, ocean acidification, glacial retreat and related impacts, salinization, land and forest degradation, loss of biodiversity and desertification.

Discussions on loss and damage will be focused around three thematic areas: TA1: “Assessing the risk of loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change and current knowledge on the same;” TA 2 “A range of approaches to address loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change, including impacts related to extreme weather events and slow onset events, taking into consideration experiences at all levels;” and TA3 “The role of the Convention in enhancing implementation of approaches to address loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change.” Within these thematic areas, negotiators will have to determine a variety of other means on how to deal with adverse impacts to climate change, including risk and disaster management from slow onset and extreme weather events. Additionally, any legal mechanism will have to decide on what are the concepts of “loss,” “damage,” as well as “economic” and “non-economic” losses. Non-ecoomic losses could include issues relating to the rights to culture, right to livelihood, right to identity, right to property, etc. Part of the mechanism will contain financial compensation, which would possibly include climate risk insurance.


(RTCC via Flickr/Greenpeace Southeast Asia)

At COP19, the international community will have to work together to create a legal mechanism to address loss and damage caused by the adverse impacts caused by climate change. This platform will have to address climate adaptation planning, as well as disaster risk and management (DRR) and human rights in the climate change “loss and damage” context. Whether or not the COP19 outcome decision contains a legal mechanism on loss and damage, the international community will still have to help the most vulnerable communities deal with climate-induced disruption adversely affecting their lives. Importantly, any mechanism on “loss and damage” should include a rights-based approach in order to guarantee the fundamental legal protections.

Please follow me on Twitter at @HeatherCroshaw for real-time updates and comments at #COP19.