On the Ground Action Fulfilling the Objectives of the UNFCCC

As the COP negotiations advance, faith in the UNFCCC deteriorates. Eager first time attendees have been exposed to the excruciatingly slow pace of the discussions of Parties regarding every issue posed. The Parties themselves admit that the system is close to broken. In an ADP meeting on November 20, 2013, Venezuela noted the lack of progress of the meetings and questioned what outside observers may think of the Convention and whether it will actually achieving anything.

The day to day back and forth, with barely any agreements reached, makes one question the effectiveness of the UNFCCC framework. Why are we all here? Is consensus possible? What is the contribution of COP19? Can the UNFCCC address climate change?

Monday of week 2 of COP19 started with high level meetings, but everyone had already lost hope. The effectiveness of the Convention is questioned by everyone present in the meetings. Transparency is a farce because meetings are closed to observers. Why should a few people in a closed room make decisions that will affect every single person in the world?

Despite the lack of progress in the meetings of COP19, some individuals, and not governmental bodies, have taken the lead to address climate change with on-the-ground actions. Generating one small change at a time, they are making greater progress than all the delegates in the negotiations.

Some of these individuals were present in the side event on community-based relocation held by Many Strong Voices at the Ethnographic Museum in Warsaw on Monday, November 18, 2013. Even though the event was not on site at the COP, several people from different NGOs and delegations decided to leave the National Stadium and the negotiations for one afternoon to engage in a round table discussion.

During the side event, everyone present shared their visions and experiences on relocation of communities affected by climate change. For example, members of SPREP described several actions taken by small islands in the pacific to adapt to climate change, such as changing the flushing toilets to compost toilets, building a sea wall, and collecting rain water. All of these actions carried out by communities in SIDS delivers one clear message to developed countries: “If we can do it, you can too”.

After only a few hours of discussion regarding the best approaches to address adaptation and relocation, workshop participants reached several conclusions. First, that regional or local responses are stronger than multilateral responses. Second, that there must be a proactive approach towards adaptation, and not a reactive approach. Third, and most important, that it is not all about money.

We can make a contribution without giving money by sharing ideas and experiences. The workshop participants continued sharing experiences and ideas after the meeting ended. That is the role of the COP: bringing people together, even if they are the “observers of the negotiations”. It is in these side events of the COP that the answer is found, not in the main rooms with void discussions.  Individuals with different backgrounds sharing their perspectives and ideas and taking action to begin helping those likely to suffer the most devastating effects of climate change. Small steps outside governmental discussions will generate change.

In the end, we are one global community working toward one goal. We can and must be the change we want to see. It only takes one to be the first to stand up, but when all rise to the occasion together, anything is possible.

Courtney Moran

Verónica muriel

A Refreshing Reminder of our Humanity

There’s no easy, or even gentle, way to say it: it’s been a frustrating week.

I arrived in Warsaw on Saturday with perhaps misaligned expectations. Instead of productivity, progress, and consensus, I was greeted by high frustrations and tension. Cynicism seems to be endearing, not optimism. The negotiations have been moving at a lethargic pace and it has not been possible for Parties to step away from nationalistic boundaries and come to decisions or binding accords. Strain among attendees is particularly high and I’ve been wondering why I even flew around the world to be here.

I, along with many other attendees, had a moment of clarity (and release) while Jayanti Kipalani, Director of Brahma Kumaris, Europe, shared her vision of hope during a refreshing side event, Global Justice, Equity and Sustainability. Her vision for the future is a world where human beings will be able to live with peace, love, and respect for each other and where nature and all forms of life can live together in harmony.

To many, her message may seem naïve, idealistic, or unrealistic. Ms. Kipalani urged that her vision is actually very possible, but it requires a paradigm shift away from the materialistic outlook that has led to consumerism. The infinite growth we thought would be a direct result of consumerism is not reality. The alternative to materialism and consumerism is actually a world of dignity and a true world of justice. Ms. Kipalani urged that we must stop ignoring the message of scientific research just because it’s inconvenient.

I was struck on a very personal level by Ms. Kipalani’s words. As I soaked up her wisdom, I realized that something amazing was happening around me: Silence. Deep, calm, true silence. No one was typing on their laptops, talking on their cell phones, or fidgeting in their seats. We needed this small moment of reprieve from the state of the negotiations.

All traditions believe in the concept of “love thy neighbor as thyself,” meaning we must care and share. While “I care” is the slogan of COP19, it has not been reflected in the words and actions of Parties. To the Party leaders, those involved in the negotiations, and attendees, I urge you to remember your humanity. Remember your spirituality. Remember the victims of climate injustice. Bring your hearts and souls back into the discussion.

Claire Czajkowski

COP 19 and the F-Bomb

It took eight days of open consultations, but today, at last, the F-Bomb was dropped in an open consultation meeting of the Parties. No, not that F-Bomb. Saudi Arabia, who followed three of the most verbose delegates, had finally had it today when he called out his fellow delegates for the other F-Bomb – filibustering.

 

Even ADP Co-Chair Artur Runge-Metzger was fed up. He all but scolded the worst filibuster of all for continually using his time to nitpick the co-chairs’ guidance in everything from the suggested discussion topics to specific word choice in discussion questions.

 

This is particularly interesting when you consider that often the source of the filibuster is also the source of most of the world’s GHG emissions. The Party in question is figuratively and literally billowing smoke into the air with great consistency and apparently dogged determination.

 

What remains to be seen is whether the delegates’ and the co-chairs’ frustration with this approach will have any effect on the Filibusters Extraordinaires. Tension is mounting. Delegates have been hard at work nonstop for several days and the pressure is increasing to come to final decisions to present to the world outside. Quite simply, Parties have to stop talking about how and when they’re going to talk about what they’re supposed to be talking about and simply … you guessed it, actually talk about it.

 

Sarah Barth

 

 

Diplomatic Courtesy: How to Call Out a Country without Saying Its Name

 The whole world is represented in Warsaw for COP19. Delegates from across the globe are sharing space in the most unlikely combinations. Pakistan sits next to Palau. Saudi Arabia’s seatmate is Senegal. Mexico bumps elbows with Micronesia. This pattern of improbable neighbors is repeated throughout huge plenary meeting rooms.

 

Everyone makes an effort to allow for differing cultural norms in this compressed space. A picked nose barely garners a glance. Close-mouthed smiles and stiff “good mornings” are greeted as warmly as if they were gregarious backslaps. Snoring is discreetly ignored.

 

But don’t think for a moment that all this diplomatic courtesy means countries won’t take each other to task for anything. While Greece is rubbing shoulders with Grenada and Korea is chatting with Qatar, what I really want to know is what Jamaica and Jordan are up to. These two countries flank Japan. And Japan is on everyone’s list.

 

Japan goes down in COP history as the first country to enter a session with higher emission reduction targets than it those it will have at the end of the negotiations. While many countries in the room have made repeated pleas to increase ambitions and set more stringent targets, Japan has gone the opposite direction.

 

Japan, which holds the dubious honor of being the fifth-largest COproducer in the world, announced last week that it will allow a 3.1 percent increase in emissions rather than adhering to its previous 25 percent reduction goal.

 

The backlash in the plenary room was swift and uniform. Virtually every country statement following Japan’s announcement made reference to Japan’s decision. Even China, the world’s biggest GHG emitter, called Japan out on its backslide. But no one ever said Japan’s name. Call it diplomatic courtesy or professional restraint, but somehow the word “Japan” was never mentioned.

 

Until the meeting co-chair announced Japan had the floor. I imagine Jamaica and Jordan shrinking in their seats at this point as Japan’s delegate is projected on two 20-foot screens in the front of the room. What did Japan have to say?

 

Japan is committed to working with the Parties here in Warsaw to move forward with work under the UNFCCC to combat the adverse effects of climate change. Diplomatic courtesy aside, there may have been some muffled “yeah rights” in the room.

 

Sarah Barth

A Rousing Speech to Launch COP 19, or was it?

In the opening session of the climate negotiations, formally known as the 19th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties, Naderev Saño, lead negotiator for the Philippines, gave an emotional speech regarding the devastation brought by Typhoon Haiyan in order to point to the urgency of the negotiations. Mr. Saño’s speech gave accounts of the destruction in his own village and the work of his brother in helping to clear bodies. His speech was marked with tears from both Mr. Saño and the audience. It ended with a standing ovation from all those present. The COP later held a moment of silence for the lives lost. This powerfully emotional speech was a poignant reminder of what the entire process is for. This speech should serve as the catalyst to real agreements and goals on fighting climate change. There is only one problem, it won’t. We wish it were otherwise, but speeches like this have come before and are likely to increase in the future. Stirring rhetoric followed by excruciatingly tedious inaction is what you can expect from the UNFCCC.

“I ask of all of us here, if not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?” These are the words of the Filipino negotiator . . . one year ago in Doha, at COP18, where a tearful intervention was given following Typhoon Bopha and Hurricane Sandy. These same words were expressed again this year at COP19. Moved by this year’s speech, the delegates showed their solidarity with the victims, but not by pledging to increase their emissions reduction to prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Thus far, three minutes of silence is all the ambition they could muster.

A member of Youth NGO stated he was ashamed of his government’s inaction. His frustration joined a long line of speeches by youth critical of the lack of success and political willingness of governments.

Even Kishan Kumarsingh, the Co-Chair of the forum for negotiating a new agreement known as the ADP, expressed his frustration, albeit subtly to the delegates. After continued refusals to answer the questions of the ADP, he chastised the delegates by saying that “[r]epeating positions expecting a different result has its own connotations.” As the saying goes, “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Every year the COP meets in a new country; the delegates fly in with their assistants, the NGOs come to follow every last word of the negotiations with hopes and expectations on finalized agreements. The host city, the security, and all participants are set for the main event. The atmosphere is akin to a sporting event. But in reality the negotiations are more like a rerun: you know the lines, you know the ending, but you pretty much just watch it because it’s the only thing on.

The goals of the convention should be achieved within a timeframe sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change. However, the negotiations, which move at a snail’s pace, will be little solace for the estimated 250 million to 1 billion climate refugees that are expected by 2050.

What would happen if all of the consultative experts, NGOs, observers, and press did not show up to a COP? Delegates might then know what little trust and hope is placed in their hands to reach real results. Maybe then the delegates might rise to the occasion and actually address climate change.

Anthony Brown

Courtney Moran

Verónica Muriel 

Higher, Faster, Stronger

Citius, Altius, Fortius. With these words of the Olympic motto, Christina Figueres, the climate negotiation’s top official, opened the climate negotiations by challenging the world’s leaders to “to move faster, higher, stronger towards the socially equitable and economically sustainable future we want and need.” Perhaps unwittingly, her words were also a reminder of very worrying climate trends. Sea levels are rising higher, forcing dislocation of thousands around the world. Temperatures are rising ever higher, already more than 1.5°F above pre-industrial levels and likely to rise another 2°F. Moreover, sea levels and temperatures are rising faster than a decade ago. Storms are growing stronger. Indeed, Typhoon Haiyan, one of the most powerful typhoons to ever make landfall, has left thousands dead in The Philippines and other Pacific island countries. In a moving and impassioned appeal, The Philippines delegate said that the international community here in Warsaw could adopt more ambitious mitigation pledges while his own brother continued to pick up corpses among the wreckage of Typhoon Haiyan. He then made his own pledge: He would fast for the remainder of the two-week negotiation, but he would break his fast if the Parties adopted more ambitious pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

What can the international community do to move faster, higher, and stronger on climate change in Warsaw? First, governments could establish firm deadlines for adopting new pledges to reduce greenhouse gases before 2020. Two years ago, the UN Environment Program (UNEP) reported that current pledges were 5 gigatonnes short of carbon short of preventing temperatures from rising more than 2°C from pre-industrial levels. Now it says we are 8 to 12 gigatonnes of carbon short. The gap is increasing but our time for closing the gap is shortening. Focusing new pledges on renewable energy would not only show governmental resolve to move faster on climate change, but it will also send a clear market signal that the fossil fuel age is nearing an end.

Second, governments could finalize a workplan for financing mitigation and adaptation to climate change. Governments have pledged climate finance of $100 billion annually beginning in 2020 but they remain a long way from that goal. A workplan that determines how much of that $100 billion will come from public sources and by what mechanisms the private sector can contribute the rest would provide assurances to developing countries that they will have the resources necessary to transform their economies to low carbon economies while also preventing the many of the impacts of climate change.

Third, governments could establish the institutional arrangements needed to address catastrophic and slow onset climate impacts (e.g., ocean acidification, salinization, loss of biodiversity and desertification) on particularly vulnerable countries. Although these vulnerable countries are not responsible for these impacts, they are being most severely affected and they are unable to pay for the loss and damage caused by these events. They must be given assurances that the international community stands ready to help.

Scientists recently strengthened the link between human emissions of greenhouse gases and rising temperatures, concluding that it is “extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.” Government officials must now strengthen their efforts and do so quickly, to avoid irreversible impacts of climate change.    

 - Professor Chris Wold

Higher, Faster, Stronger

Citius, Altius, Fortius. With these words of the Olympic motto, Christina Figueres, the climate negotiation’s top official, opened the climate negotiations by challenging the world’s leaders to “to move faster, higher, stronger towards the socially equitable and economically sustainable future we want and need.” Perhaps unwittingly, her words were also a reminder of very worrying climate trends. Sea levels are rising higher, forcing dislocation of thousands around the world. Temperatures are rising ever higher, already more than 1.5°F above pre-industrial levels and likely to rise another 2°F. Moreover, sea levels and temperatures are rising faster than a decade ago. Storms are growing stronger. Indeed, Typhoon Haiyan, one of the most powerful typhoons to ever make landfall, has left thousands dead in The Philippines and other Pacific island countries. In a moving and impassioned appeal, The Philippines delegate said that the international community here in Warsaw could adopt more ambitious mitigation pledges while his own brother continued to pick up corpses among the wreckage of Typhoon Haiyan. He then made his own pledge: He would fast for the remainder of the two-week negotiation, but he would break his fast if the Parties adopted more ambitious pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

What can the international community do to move faster, higher, and stronger on climate change in Warsaw? First, governments could establish firm deadlines for adopting new pledges to reduce greenhouse gases before 2020. Two years ago, the UN Environment Program (UNEP) reported that current pledges were 5 gigatonnes short of carbon short of preventing temperatures from rising more than 2°C from pre-industrial levels. Now it says we are 8 to 12 gigatonnes of carbon short. The gap is increasing but our time for closing the gap is shortening. Focusing new pledges on renewable energy would not only show governmental resolve to move faster on climate change, but it will also send a clear market signal that the fossil fuel age is nearing an end.

Second, governments could finalize a workplan for financing mitigation and adaptation to climate change. Governments have pledged climate finance of $100 billion annually beginning in 2020 but they remain a long way from that goal. A workplan that determines how much of that $100 billion will come from public sources and by what mechanisms the private sector can contribute the rest would provide assurances to developing countries that they will have the resources necessary to transform their economies to low carbon economies while also preventing the many of the impacts of climate change.

Third, governments could establish the institutional arrangements needed to address catastrophic and slow onset climate impacts (e.g., ocean acidification, salinization, loss of biodiversity and desertification) on particularly vulnerable countries. Although these vulnerable countries are not responsible for these impacts, they are being most severely affected and they are unable to pay for the loss and damage caused by these events. They must be given assurances that the international community stands ready to help.

Scientists recently strengthened the link between human emissions of greenhouse gases and rising temperatures, concluding that it is “extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.” Government officials must now strengthen their efforts and do so quickly, to avoid irreversible impacts of climate change.    

- Professor Chris Wold

Reflections on the Carbon Budget, from an Oregon Perspective

Last week we learned that temperatures are increasing faster than a decade ago, seas are rising faster than a decade ago, and extreme weather events are becoming more commonplace. Mountain pine beetles are devastating western forests in Canada and the United States because they can now survive during warmer winters. Polar bears, already threatened with extinction, continue to lose their habitat as polar ice disappears. All this is happening with just a 1.5 degree Fahrenheit increase in temperature.

But it gets worse. According to a new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we have already spent half of our carbon budget if we want to keep temperatures from rising another 2 degrees Fahrenheit. If we don’t curb our growing appetite for fossil fuels, we will consume our remaining carbon budget in just 15 years.

Our failure to go on a carbon diet is likely to cause irreversible changes to the world we live in. Temperatures could increase by another 5 or 6 degrees, heat waves will become more frequent, sea levels may rise by 3 feet, and Oregonians may face drinking water shortages as our winter snow pack shrinks.

We can, of course, avoid these profound changes. About 40% of global warming is caused by emissions that can be removed from the environment within days or years. Ground-level ozone, better known as smog, has an atmospheric lifetime of just 4 to 18 days, but its global warming impact is about 20 percent of that caused by carbon dioxide. Black carbon, essentially soot, has a lifetime of perhaps 8 days but packs a powerful climate punch.

The good news is that we already have technologies and strategies to reduce these emissions significantly. Filters could eliminate 99% of black carbon from existing heavy-duty trucks. We can reduce smog and methane a greenhouse gas that is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide from livestock, as is being done at Threemile Canyon Farms in Boardman.

Even if one doubts the IPCC that climate change is “unequivocal” and that human greenhouse gas emissions are “extremely likely” to be the “dominant cause” of higher temperatures, actions to reduce soot and smog will have important societal benefits. Reducing soot and smog will decrease respiratory and other serious human health impacts, increase agricultural yields, and reduce damage and insurance premiums from more extreme weather events. These actions will also buy us some time to rebuild our energy infrastructure.

But we need political will to stop bingeing on carbon and other greenhouse gases. We need to say no to liquefied natural gas export facilities along the Columbia River, the Oregon coast, and elsewhere. We need to say no to coal exports to China from the Port of Morrow. These are the types of infrastructure investments in fossil fuels that will certainly push us beyond our carbon budget. Living within our budget should be exactly the kind of conservative cause that both Republicans and Democrats can support. 

Professor Chris Wold

The Big Bite of CITES

Last week, the CITES Parties considered including four shark species in Appendix II of CITES: the oceanic whitetip shark, scalloped, great, and smooth hammerhead sharks, and the porbeagle. The Parties had a heated debate on the appropriateness of CITES to protect sharks but also the wasteful nature of shark finning. Senegal, for example, stated that, after the shark is finned, “the rest of the shark is thrown back to the sea – what a waste!” Senegal mentioned that the fin only accounts for two percent of the meat of the shark, and pointed out that the rest of the shark could be used to combat malnutrition throughout Africa. Egypt, a co-sponsor of the porbeagle proposal, said that “[i]f we continue business as usual, shark will not exist anymore.”

China and Namibia, two opponents to these proposals, maintained that fins are difficult to identify, particularly since fins from different species are shipped together. Pew Environment Group, however, noted that it has published an identification guide on shark fins to address this very issue. Opponents also claimed regional fisheries management organizations should manage fisheries, not CITES, and that Parties would have difficulties implementing a high seas permit regime.

Due to the clear divide in the room, the Chair called for a vote on all shark proposals with all of them unsurprisingly taken by secret ballot. To list a species, the proposal needs a two-thirds majority. The oceanic whitetip shark proposal passed by a slim three vote margin, the hammerhead proposal by four votes, and the porbeagle by five.

After each of the votes, at least twenty-four Parties joined the US in showing their dislike for secret ballots by announcing their vote for the record. Most Parties that announced their vote indicated that they voted “yes,” but Chile announced that it voted “no” for the porbeagle. These voting announcements reflect how many parties value transparency. The number of voting statements grew after each proposal to the point that the mood in the room grew jubilant. Observers endlessly clapped for the success of the listings and the growing number of voting statements. 

Supporters of shark conservation left the room energized, but their work was not done. With such a slim margin, they needed to prepare for the final plenary session of the meeting, when Parties could potentially open debate and vote again to reject the proposals. After a couple of tense days of continued work, however, the Parties rejected motions to open debate on the oceanic whitetip shark and the hammerhead proposal.

At last, the tide has changed. With these votes, the CITES Parties said loud and clear that they are no longer willing to sit idly by while RFMOs do little to manage shark populations sustainably. They are now willing to use the permit regime of CITES to protect species from overutilization due to trade. These listings will not stop trade, but they will require Parties to determine that trade is not detrimental to the survival of the species. That may be difficult to do. As such, CITES should begin the process of limiting trade in shark fins and other shark products.

- Mandy Rude and Victoria Johnston

CITES – It’s Not Over ‘Til It’s Over

After eight hard-fought days of debating and negotiating species proposals and implementation issues, the Parties met in plenary for the final two days to adopt the recommendations from Committees I and II. The plenary session makes the final decision on all agenda items at this time, whether the Committee reached its recommendation by consensus or by vote after extensive and contentious debate. During the plenary session any Representative of a Party may move to open debate on any Committee recommendation, which another Party must then second. Then, two Parties on each side, two supporting and opposing the motion, are allowed to speak on whether debate should be opened or not. This debate is not supposed to include arguments on the merits of the agenda item, but rather why the item requires additional discussion. After this, the item is put to a vote and debate is opened if 1/3 of Representatives present and voting support the motion.

The Parties adopted most of the recommendations from the Committees by consensus without further debate. This included adoption of rules implementing Introduction from the Sea, which means that after 40 years the CITES permitting regime is finally complete. However, Parties moved to open debate on several species recommendations, notably on recommendations to list the oceanic whitetip shark and three hammerhead shark species on Appendix II. Both motions relied on claims that there was new information that the Parties had not considered in earlier debate. Opposing Parties explained that the issues had been fully debated, and urged Parties to adhere to the Committee recommendations.

Japan’s motion to open debate on the oceanic whitetip shark recommendation failed by an incredibly narrow margin, with a vote of 44 in favor of the motion, 93 opposed, and 4 abstentions – failing to obtain the required 1/3 majority by 2 votes. Immediately after that vote, Grenada moved to open debate on the hammerhead shark recommendation. This motion failed by a slightly less narrow margin of 40 in favor of the motion, 96 opposed, and 6 abstentions. After both votes, the plenary room erupted in cheers as delegates celebrated adoption of these recommendations. Perhaps in light of the momentum building in favor of the shark and ray proposals, no Parties sought to open debate on the recommendations to list porbeagle sharks and manta rays on Appendix II. 

Japan and Grenada’s motions to open debate on the oceanic whitetip and hammerhead shark recommendations highlighted one of the most hotly contested issues at the CoP — secret ballots. The votes to open debate on both of these species were by secret ballot. After the vote results were announced, many Parties — in the name of transparency — intervened to make their votes public. Besides being an emotional moment for many Parties, this “transparency revolution,” as one delegate from Congo (Republic of the Congo) referred to it, highlighted the need in future meetings for the Parties to revisit the use of secret ballots in CITES.

This meeting resulted in several historic decisions listing several shark and ray species on Appendix II, adoption of rules for Introduction from the Sea that bring us one step closer to full implementation of CITES, listing of a number of commercially valuable timber species, as well as a number of other species listings and improvements in implementation. Momentum coming from this meeting seemed to favor broader conservation, perhaps a reaction of widespread, organized criminal involvement in illegal wildlife trafficking. Indeed, 89 elephants were poached in Chad while we all sat in the convention center developing new rules to protect elephants. We hope that the Parties are able to build on these historic achievements in future meetings of the CoP, in addition to taking further steps necessary to fully implement the basics of CITES for all Parties.

                                          

- Lia Comerford and Michael Kearney