Global Problem, Global Solution… Right?

One would think that if you have a global problem that there is always (and perhaps only) a global solution. But that way of looking at climate change has become naive and does not allow you to see the entire picture. So often we see states, provinces, and other subnational entities leading the charge with innovative climate policy and initiatives while the national governments sit back arguing over whether or not climate change is really even a problem. Despite the annual COPs, the UNFCCC stage for negotiations, and bilateral discussions (such as the one between US and China), national and international policies are very behind what these subnational actors have been doing for years.

I am not saying that climate change can be solved by a few states in America by creating an Emissions Trading Scheme. If only a few subnational actors make moves to combat climate change, the emissions reductions will never be large enough to solve our problem. But, what I am saying is that someone has to begin to make moves or we won’t ever see a solution. And, historically, it hasn’t been the national governments (or international agreements) that have taken the first steps towards a solution to climate change – it has been the subnational actors. To name just a few:

  • British Columbia has implemented a carbon tax in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and are a part of the Pacific Coast Collaborative Agreement with four other subnational parties.
  • California has consistently established itself as a leader in environmental protection, as it has much to lose from the effects of climate change. California has many standards and programs in place, but the most notable is likely the cap-and-trade program established by Assembly Bill 32, and recent linkage with Quebec. These linked programs just successfully held their first joint auction preceding COP20.
  • China has begun implementing pilot cap-and-trade programs in certain provinces, and if successful, might lead to a national cap-and-trade program in 2016.

As I was listening to the subnational leaders speak at the COP this week, I began to wonder why we even try so hard to get a global agreement if the implementation and practical solutions come from the local actors instead of national political leaders. But then, I realized: You can’t solve climate change alone and you can’t solve climate change in an annual conference. What needs to happen, instead of ignoring either the international or local roles in the fight against climate change, is a union between all of these subnational groups to combine their efforts on an international level to reach the same goal; essentially, working in tandem.

The international and subnational approaches to climate change should not conflict with each other but they also play different roles. The relationship between these methods should be more of a push-pull relationship and where one lacks the other leads. Subnational actors have led the charge with innovative policy solutions to climate change but they cannot fight the problem alone. For those countries who cannot be influenced by subnational groups, we also have the international community influencing how we deal with climate change. If these two approaches were to work in tandem, global climate change would be that much easier to protect ourselves against. The international agreement, then, becomes more than just an agreement between nations. An international agreement is the platform for which national and local actors can build upon to implement real effective solutions that are right for their own people.

So, you see? We need a global agreement. This is a global problem, which requires a global effort and a universal solution. Okay, let’s say we do get a solid agreement out of COP21 in Paris. This would be fantastic. But, we need to continue to look beyond the agreement: we need each and every local, indigenous, state, subnational, and national party to act or we will not be able to stand a chance against climate change. That said, I think my last post requires a title change. How about: Global Problem, Global Solution, Local Action.


Thank you, Indonesia, for the Reminder

Yesterday was the last day of the COP and it felt like summer camp was ending. I was sad to see many of the organization booths empty, and the structures that had become so familiar being disassembled.

On top of that, it was a gloomy day, and per the MO of the negotiations, nothing productive seemed to be happening. Lots of talking heads saying the same things. Countries need to lead (but not us). People need to make compromises (but not us). Countries need to support each other (so why don’t you guys work on that, we’re a little busy).

That’s when feeling a bit glum during a wander through the country delegation pavilions, and seeing the United States pavilion being unceremoniously deconstructed, the nicest woman with a light blue head scarf came up to us.

“Please come to the Indonesian Pavilion. We have closing ceremony with cultural performance and delicacy,” she said.

We were intrigued, and being grad students, couldn’t turn down the offer of free food.

At first we were three of seven people in the room, but slowly it began filling, and soon it was a packed house–we sat sandwiched between a delegate of Niger on our right and the Indonesian ambassador to Peru on our left. From the moment the event began, we felt like honored guests. We were welcomed by a friendly woman in a black dress, one of the Indonesian delegates, who introduced the first dance and explained that it represented humanity’s connection with nature.

The performers were dynamic and powerful and dancing inches from us.

After the first dance, the Indonesian Ambassador to Peru addressed the crowd and explained that the dancers were actually Peruvian students who had been trained by Indonesian dancers. Then he explained that the following performance represented friendship and goodwill. The same dancers returned in different costumes and dazzled us again.

After that performance, the head delegate  announced it was time to cut and share the Nasi Tumpeng, their traditional delicacy with a rice base that is built upon with different side dishes like quail egg, rice noodles, veggies, chicken and other assorted, spicy goodies. She explained that sharing the Nasi Tumpeng with someone is a show of friendship. Besides being touching, it was delicious.


My spirits were brightened, and I was reminded why the United Nations was created in the first place–that it was created after World War II to foster international cooperation and dialogue with the mandate “To work together, with other free peoples, both in war and in peace.”

I wished all of the head delegates were in this room, breaking bread together and remembering this with me, instead of in the stuffy ADP negotiation room being stubborn and uncooperative. They’re still there now in fact, hashing things out, and while they’ll eventually settle on a watered down agreement, I wish the process could reflect some of the friendship and goodwill presented by Indonesia to us as this wonderful event.

A massive, collective moral failure of historic consequence

‘…if we fail, future generations will not and should not forgive those who ignore this moment, no matter their reasoning. Future generations will judge our effort not just as a policy failure, but as a massive, collective moral failure of historic consequence.’
John Kerry, Secretary of State, United States, at COP20

A speaker noted that climate change was like an ancient religious text. You can interpret it in different ways, depending on your persuasion. In a similar vein, depending on one’s selection of COP20 sessions to attend, it was possible to construct differing narratives of how well the world was responding to climate change.

The sessions organized by countries and NGOs understandably trumpeted the wonderful work that they were undertaking. I could have thought that the climate change problem had already been solved. Countries are developing highly efficient and sustainable eco-cities. Renewable energy capacities are being ramped up at the expense of fossil fuels. Forests are being restored on a large scale, in partnership with local indigenous communities. Women and youths are the new climate warriors, improving the resilience of their communities. Even the fossil fuel industry is turning green with advances in carbon capture and sequestration to negate its carbon impact. In sum, we are well on our way back to the Garden of Eden.

However, sitting in the ‘official’ sessions to negotiate the COP20 decision text, one would think that the war had already been lost even as negotiators were battling over punctuation marks. The gulf between developed and developing countries seemed unbridgeable. Depending on which side of the fence one is on, either the developed are not taking responsibility for the climate mess we are in, or the developing countries are being bloody minded in insisting on a pound of flesh for historical emissions that happened before the science is known.  Either way, trust and generosity are in short supply.  Effective coordinated climate action is remote. Coupled with the pessimistic prognoses of scientific sessions, climate disasters are inevitable.

While it is usually safer to bet on a medium outcome, I cannot help but sink towards the negative narrative as the week progressed.  The negotiations were painful to watch. There was much re-iteration of positions but little actual bartering of interests. Not everyone was there to make a deal.  The negotiators’ interventions were often formulaic:  a)  start with some banal appreciation of the co-chairs’ efforts, b) express willingness to be flexible and supportive of the draft, c) note that however, there was an issue that was extremely important to the negotiator’s country, and d) propose only a minor addition to the draft text.  And of course the addition was typically contentious and unacceptable to many other parties.  In the absence of agreement, the proposed addition becomes yet another option in the text for subsequent deliberation.  Cycles of these interventions put the negotiations on a divergent path and the draft document quickly grows in complexity and length.

As of Saturday evening, about a day after the COP was to have concluded, there was still no agreed decision statement. And COP20 was supposed to have been relatively straightforward and uncontentious!  Even if somehow COP20 delivers on a decision this weekend, the progress towards an agreement at COP21 is modest.

An absence of a global climate agreement does not mean that nothing will be done.  Countries will still undertake mitigation measures that make domestic sense, e.g. anti-pollution measures with coincidental carbon reductions.  Conversely, a successfully concluded agreement at COP21 does not mean that we are safe. Given the difficulties faced by the UNFCCC negotiations, the agreement will likely be weak and fall short of the mitigation needed to ward off 2 degree celsius of warming. Going ahead, achieving an agreement will be increasingly difficult as the process becomes more unwieldy with more issues added to the potential agreement.

In the meantime, we get inured to increasingly dire updates from climate scientists.  It may be the case that certain tipping points had already been breached. For example, a session warned that even a 1% melting of deep ocean methane hydrate is enough to push warming to 4 degree Celsius.

Given that COP20 is hosted by Peru, an oft heard question among delegates is ‘will you visit Machu Picchu?’. A delegate noted that when visiting the ruins of past civilizations, it is worth reflecting on how mismanagement of natural resources was often a factor in the decline of once glorious empires.  Earth will eventually recover from anthropogenic climate disasters in geological timescales. Human civilization as we know it may not.  Several millennia in future, archaeologists may well be stumped by ruins of our climate ravaged cities.  It will be a mystery to them why a civilization that had the means to avoid impending devastation chose not to act.


It Doesn’t Matter if You are Big or Small

It’s already the fourth day of the second week of COP! While everyone has been working hard with our clients, we also try our best to follow the trend in this year’s negotiation and learn as much as we could by reaching out and talking to the climate experts at the venue. In addition to sitting in on John Kerry’s speech, today we are lucky enough to meet with delegates from Singapore and China. It’s quite an experience to listen to authentic voice from different perspectives.

Singapore, a Southeast Asian city state, is a member of SIDS (small island developing states). The economy is heavily trade and services orientated and the country is also heavily dependent on imports in terms of food, water, and energy. “Just Imagine Manhattan without Upstate New York,” said Vivian Balakrishnan, the Minister of Environment and Water of Singapore, “We need to buy everything from our neighboring countries, food, water, and natural gas. We work hard to pay for these and that’s why we never take what we have for granted. ” As a city state, Singapore contributes very little to the global emissions. Still, Singapore is very involved in the multilateral dialogue and seeks to push the negotiation forward. “We hope to see an agreement at the end of this COP.” When asked what is the priority on Singapore’s agenda, the Minister says that all countries, especially the US, China, and India, who are the major emitters but exempt from Kyoto Protocol, needs to take the lead to set up the foundation for 2015 and beyond.

On the other hand, China, the country that has the third largest territory and the largest population in the world, has drawn much attention internationally after the joint announcement on a Climate deal with the U.S.. “You have to remember that this is not a result of negotiation,” said Mr. Shi Guohui, the deputy Director of China NGO Network for International Exchange, “It is the two countries for the first time to join hand in hand to fulfill our responsibilities and set good examples for the rest of the world.” China faces complex challenges ahead, which is how to balance the economic development and pollution. The “old path”, or “pollute first, then clean up later” is no longer viable for developing economies. Even though China installed almost half of the world’s newly added renewable energy capacity in the last 5 years, this is not enough. Coal still accounts for about 70 percent of the energy production. China must find its way out by transforming the energy sector from coal-dominated towards renewable energy and clean technology.

From the Chinese delegations perspective, the “noise” and some loud voices in this COP, is rather counterproductive. “Words are important. But we believe action speaks louder than words. So instead of spending so much time on discussing what should happen after 2015, why can’t we just finish our job for right now? We are running out of time.” said Mr. Shi.



Secretary of State John Kerry Addresses COP20


John Kerry made a somewhat unexpected appearance at COP20 today. I say “somewhat expected” because Secretary Kerry hasn’t missed a Conferences of the Parties to date and even attended the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro when he was a Senator for Massachusetts. Secretary Kerry was introduced by Todd Stern (the White House’s Special Envoy for Climate Change) to an audience of about 300 individuals, some of whom were quite notable attendees including Former Vice President Al Gore, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Christiana Figueres, U.S. Ambassador to Peru, Brian A. Nichols, and Peru’s Minister of the Environment (and UNFCCC COP 20 President) Manuel Pulgar-Vidal.

The speech has three major themes: the scientific consensus for climate change, international collaboration for a global solution, and United States environmental and energy policies.

The Secretary of State first cited that 97% of peer reviewed studies have confirmed that anthropogenic climate change is real and that with over twenty years of “such a dramatic statement of fact, no one of good conscience or faith” could ignore the issue any longer. The audience could sense Secretary Kerry’s frustration over the fact that with such expert consensus on the issue, dangerous and uninformed opinions regarding climate change still need to be addressed further setting back productive negotiations domestically.

Secretary Kerry made a second strong statement when he declared that no country can “legitimately lay claim to global leadership in any capacity” until that nation takes appropriate environmental responsibility. This was certainly an opportune time for United States to make such a proclamation because of the $3 billion USD commitment to the Green Climate Fund the U.S. made in November and due to the recent Joint U.S.-China Announcement on Climate Change and Clean Energy Cooperation. The United States is demonstrating to the international community that it is prepared to walk the talk. Four laggards that many delegates at COP20 perceived as not pulling their weight – Australia, Belgium, Colombia, and Peru – were praised by Secretary Kerry for their pledges to the CGF which brought the fund, intended to assist overburdened nations respond to changes in climate, to over the $10 billion USD initial goal.

Domestically, Secretary Kerry cited the strides the United States is taking to reduce its national carbon footprint. The Clean Power Plan targets 60% of the United States’ greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by promulgating regulations to reduce carbon emissions from transportation and power sources. With these policies, the U.S. is well on its way to meeting international commitments and the administration thinks that it is time for other nations, including developing countries which account for more than half of all global GHG emissions, to step up. While it is not politically popular to call out developing countries at venues like the COP, Secretary Kerry made an interesting point, asking developing nations if they want the economy that industrialized countries had over 100 years ago, or commit to alternative energies and facilitate their transition into the economy of the future.

Secretary Kerry finished up his speech with another question which I will paraphrase below:

What’s the worst thing that can happen if the international community makes environmentally conscious decisions and adopts more sustainable policies and practices but climate change doesn’t transpire to the projected degree?:
healthier people; a more secure world; job creation.

That’s the worst thing that can happen to us under that scenario.

But what happens if we do nothing and the climate skeptics are wrong?



White House Council on Environmental Quality

On Tuesday, Duke students got the opportunity to meet with the acting Head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). This meeting, initiated in part by a Practicum alum (Peter Hansel) and also attended by students from multiple other universities, was an excellent opportunity to hear more about the work that CEQ does and the role that they play in the negotiations.

CEQ Mike Boots
Mike Boots, far right, and Nathan Hultman, far left

The briefing was done by Mike Boots, Head of the CEQ, and Nathan Hultman, with the University of Maryland and the CEQ. topics ranged from how the CEQ works, to the President’s Climate Action Plan and the Clean Power Plan, to the government’s innovative focus on resilience and preparedness. The two speakers also opened up the floor for a number of questions from students, touching on how the CEQ could support sub-national actors, the outlook for CEQ in the remaining years of the administration (mostly just to execute their plans), and some commentary about whether the Climate Action Plan was too broad or ambitious (answer: it had to be that way and feature resiliency in order to garner the political support that it needed.

Overall, Duke had a wonderful experience being able to meet with Mike Boots and Nathan Hultman, and get an insider’s perspective on climate plans from the White House.

CEQ Mike Boots and group
From L to R: student Rebekah Givens, student Mike Younis, Mike Boots, and student Emily Pechar




The New Climate Economy Report

The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, and its flagship project The New Climate Economy, were set up to consider how climate mitigation could be reconciled with continued global economic growth.  The commission recently released a report (Better Growth, Better Climate) that argued that the trade-off has been broken. It is now possible to achieve economic growth while tackling climate change. In fact, a low carbon economy can provide better quality growth.

The Climate Policy Initiative and the London School of Economics’ Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment organized a side event titled ‘Innovation and Investment: Drivers of Low-carbon Economic Growth for a New Climate Economy’ to highlight key findings of the report.  The event featured a high powered panel including Felipe Calderon (former President of Mexico and Chair of the Commission) and Lord Nicholas Stern (Chair, Grantham Research Institute), and covered perspectives from researchers, government and industry.

The session was a refreshing break from the tedious negotiations sessions, and I was kept rapt on the edge of my seat by the flood of ideas. Some interesting take-aways were:

a. There is an untapped opportunity to improve Total Factor Productivity (TFP) by boosting natural resource efficiency.  While we have been seized with labour and capital productivity, resource efficiency (energy and land use in particular) has largely been ignored. Resource allocation in the food and fuel sectors are so far from ideal that potential gains are huge. However, it is also recognized that these are two highly political sectors.

b. Carbon Intensive assets risk becoming stranded if the world successfully switches to a low carbon model.  Since investments in new infrastructure (in terms of cities, energy and land use) have to be made anyway, it may be more resilient to choose the low carbon option and make an earlier switch to low carbon systems.

c. While GHG has been recognized as the primary externality in climate change, innovation is another major market failure to be addressed given that it is an important driver of low carbon growth. Corrective internalization policies include strong, consistent political signals to shift out of fossil fuels, increased R&D budgets, and lowering the capital costs of low carbon technologies.

d. Innovation is path dependent, and multiple equilibria are possible. To effect a collective shift from the existing carbon-intensive path to a low carbon path, government has a key role to play in setting expectations.  Government has to be convincing that the shift is happening to kick start the new chicken and egg spiral.  Hence, the cost of going green may be psychological.  Just as the best way to control inflation is to have shape firm expectations of future prices instead of controlling money supply, the cost of going green will come down if enough people are convinced that the system will switch to a low carbon one.

e. Climate Change has been framed as a political economy problem that requires global coordination of action. Its reformulation as an economic competition challenge can spur greater unilateral action. Climate laggards will lose out on high quality low carbon growth. Instead of focusing on burden sharing (and trying to get away with the least mitigation), governments should look for ways to profitably exploit the inevitable transition to a low carbon economy.

f. Apart from focusing on the long term, let’s focus on the near term of the coming 5-10 years. Correct climate choices do not just impact on climate outcomes in the far future, they determine growth in the near term.  Choices today create path dependencies for decades to come.  It is no longer about remote, existential risks.

g. Instead of trying to predict the future, governments should focus on designing the future. The future is not exogenously determined. Through cleverly directed innovation, the desired future can be created.

While a case was built for improved economic growth via low carbon pathways, it still does not appear to be the case that countries can escape the prisoners’ dilemma and benefit from unilateral climate action (except maybe for correcting particularly damaging policies like use of coal and fossil fuel subsidies). That is why the report still calls for a ‘strong, lasting and equitable international climate agreement’ that can support ambitious domestic actions. Nonetheless, the report is timely nudge to decision makers and adds to the mounting evidence that well designed climate actions can be good for growth. It would be interesting to see whether more countries are prepared to adopt the new paradigm and be less grudging with their INDCs in the lead up to COP21.


Which Way Does Your Moral Compass Point? (Part II)

Sustainable Development: Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. How do we achieve this? How do we harmonize the goals of economy, society, and environment? Some would say it is impossible; that environmental protection leads to economic destruction. Others argue that economic prosperity leads to environmental catastrophe. But, what if there is a world where we can have both? Experts here at the COP say that we can have our cake and eat it too: it is possible to tackle climate change while continuing to foster economic growth. Furthermore, we cannot continue to experience economic growth without tackling climate change.

So, how does this work in practice? Several approaches have been discussed here at the COP. Experts at a side event this week discussed 3 major areas we all need to address: 1) Decarbonization of the energy system 2) Management of lands and resources and 3) Reduce unstructured urbanization and sprawl. The mechanisms proposed to tackle these issues are:

  • Resource Efficiency – We need to properly price our resources so that they don’t get used at a pace faster than they can be replenished (Yes, this includes a price on carbon). This is also known as capturing the social cost of a resource in its market value.
  • Investment in Infrastructure – The only way we are going to move away from our current energy system that is reliant on fossil fuels is if we invest in newer sources of energy and cleaner infrastructure so that we can begin deploying these systems at a large scale. This means electric vehicle charging stations, public transportation, greener city infrastructure, etc.
  • Innovation – It all seems to come down to innovation. Innovation improves the risk/reward relationship and allows for us to continue to develop economy and at the same time tackle problems like climate change. If we don’t innovate, we can’t move forward.

The overall view here at the COP is that we can still develop while mitigating and adapting to climate change. Will there be a transition period? Of course. We go through transition periods all the time, and generally (with the right intentions) what results is a better more efficient world. We have the technologies, instruments, and will-power to move forward. We just need to continue to push ahead with the ‘New Climate Economy’ Framework in mind and the contention between economy and environment will begin to dissipate. We can expect to see a lot more of this type of discussion leading into Paris and further into the future.

So, I ask you again, which way does your moral compass point? If you are having a hard time choosing or are having a hard time seeing where environment, society, and economy differ at certain intersections, then I have good news for you! You don’t have to choose between these issues. In fact, you shouldn’t choose. Economy and environment are increasingly intertwined and should be addressed together. As we have heard multiple times at the COP: Better Growth, Better Climate.

What do we know about adaptation?

There are an overwhelming number of events one can choose to attend each day at the COP—everything from adaptation and agroecology as climate change strategies for women, to the economic repercussions of climate change on vital sectors of the Lebanese economy. Luckily my client, Mr. Ali Razza, head of IUCN’s Climate Adaptation Program, has made the decision of where to go each day a simple one, requesting I focus on events covering topics related to adaptation.

The very first event I attended happened to be the most compelling thus far. The panelists were all distinct characters with clear opinions about the topic: lessons learned from the UNFCCC Global Environment Facility adaptation experience. The panelists discussed the implications of adaptation to date, as well as what they perceived to be the future direction of adaptation.

The panelists included:

Dr. Anand Patwardhan– Professor of Public Policy, Univ of Maryland (Moderator)

Dr. Naoko Ishii– Naoko Ishii- GEF CEO & Chairperson- Introduced Panel

H.E. Mary Robinson– former president of Ireland and UN Commissioner of Human Rights, now President and Founder of Mary Robinson Foundation.

H.E. Pa Ousman Jarju– LDC chair and Gambia’s Minister of Environment, Climate Change, Water Resources, and Parks and Wildlife

H.E. Taukelina Finikaso- Foreign Minister of Tuvalu

Mr. Jos Buyz- Minister of foreign affairs of Belgium, guided GEF Council

Mr. Nik Sekhran- Chief of Profession for Sustainable Development in the Bureau for Policy and Program Support, UNDP (wrapped up at the end)

Dr. Naoko Ishii introduced the panel and its purpose. She discussed the numerous adaptation projects that GEF is funding/has funded thus far (over 200 national adaptation projects and plans in 70 countries) and mentioned that ease and speed of accessing LDCF and SCCF funds has improved. However, she emphasized that while these high level functions are crucial, she is most proud of the actions she’s seen on the ground. She suggested that we need to start integrating adaptation into comprehensive national development plans. Ishii acknowledged that while some needs are still not being addressed due to lack of funding, when funds do become available, they can be quickly translated to action on the ground due to the strong pipeline currently in place. She closed with two issues she thinks are of utmost importance moving forward: 1) how to integrate adaptation into broader development policies and budgeting, in private and public entities and at the local and national levels; and 2) we need to capture synergies between adaptation effort and broader efforts to include ecosystem in development.

H.E. Pa Ousman Jarju from Gambia discussed the progress his country has made on its adaptation planning: they’ve implemented the first phase of a national capacity assessment, including national communications and early warning systems, and the second phase will be done soon. This effort represents LDCF funds of $20 million US, and he emphasized that Gambia wants GEF to be satisfied that these funds spent were justified by adaptation activity. Jarju cited several lessons learned through the process. First, that the biggest challenge was limited national human capital, which made it necessary to hire international qualified staff, which led to its own set of challenges with cooperation and communication. Now that national staff has been trained they often leave the country to work with an international organization, and the country is back where it started. Another lesson learned was that sustaining support on adaptation is quite costly and its important to separate adaptation from mainstream development processes so development doesn’t get bogged down when adaptation funds are dry. He also cited several successes, the most notable being that all sectors of the Gambian government are now aware that of both the necessity of adaptation as well as the co-benefits it has generated.

H.E. Taukelina Finikaso gave a small island state perspective on adaptation. He first introduced his country, explaining it’s made up of nine inhabited islands, of which the highest point is four meters above sea level, making the citizens of Tuvalu very vulnerable. Like Gambia, they have also completed an initial assessment to address issues like coastal erosion, saltwater intrusion, coral reef bleaching, and potable water. He emphasized that protecting their coastal areas is difficult task due to the dynamism of atoll systems. Finikaso also explained that a point of pride for Tuvalu is its plan to be fully (or at least mostly) powered by green energy by 2020, including solar power and biogas, and is working with institutions to meet target. He emphasized, that Tuvalu is a strong supporter of fund, but definitely thinks reforms are needed, especially in regards to changing modalities for direct access to GEF, rather than having to go through implementing agency that often impinges additional requirements. He closed by saying that if small islands can’t access the funds then the GEF is failing to help those who need it most.

H.E. Mary Robinson, who happens to be the first female president of Ireland, let the audience know she would be speaking from a climate justice perspective and how climate impacts livelihood, health and, often, basic survival. She emphasized that climate adaptation raises issues of human rights and that by 2050 we’ll have millions of climate change refugees with no UN status. She stated that climate change is severely impacting women’s lives as well, and that the world needs more female leadership as well as a firm statement about gender equality in UNFCCC text. Robinson also explained that she finds a bottom-up perspective, in which adaptation helps short-term development and long-term climate change, as the most effective approach. She cited the example of a mangrove restoration project in Guyana in which the community asked if the organization would first train the single women with children, since they are the most disenfranchised. So they helped the women start a tourism operation and craft shop, and not only did it improve the lives of those women but that of the entire community. She closed with a powerful quote but simple statement, “We really need to understand the importance of adaptation. I hope it will lead to the understanding that adaptation is where climate meets people.”

Mr. Jos Buyz joked that he wasn’t sure why he was on the panel, except that he’s the guy in charge of the money. He also explained that he has a special relationship with funds because back in 2001, when Belgium had EU presidency, he negotiated the funds into existence and has since followed the development of the funds with interest. He cautioned that while its good to have enthusiasm for the new funds, it’s wise to view them as “the new kids on the block, very rich kids compared to what we’re dealing with now, but still they’re just kids and very young, and we need to make sure these kids are spending their money wisely.” When asked what is the best way to move forward on the Global Climate Fund—one of these “new kids on the block”— he said it wasn’t entirely clear how to best manage it. He explained that as these new funds pop up, the whole funding system becomes increasingly complex and figuring out how actors can play nicely together is challenging.

Mr. Nik Sekhran closed the session with an eloquent speech, echoing much of what the panel had discussed. He especially focused on the need to scale-up local innovations and support human capacity.

By the end of the session I had mixed feelings of soaring hope and utter despair, which seems to be the norm at this event, as success stories and doom and gloom hold hands skipping down the venue aisles. Maybe by Friday hope will wear out gloom, and hope and I will be skipping together. Maybe not, but at least I left the session knowing more about the state of adaptation—how far we’ve come and how far there is to go.


Side Session Summary: Protecting Health, Fighting Climate Change

Lima COP

Today I attended the “Protecting Health, Fighting Climate Change” side event moderated by Marina Maiero, Technical Officer for Evidence and Policy on Environmental Health for the World Health Organization (WHO). The seminar was extremely interesting for several reasons. First, having health at the center of the discussion was a reminder of why the negotiations at the COP are important and that ultimately the outcomes of the negotiations are intended to benefit human well-being globally. Second, it was encouraging to have an interdisciplinary panel with many actors from sectors that often have conflicting interests highlighting the common ground that can be formed around the contentious issue of climate change. And finally, a bold commitment on behalf of Peru by Dr. Anibal Velasquez Valdivia, the Minister of the Ministerio de Salud del Perú.

Dr. Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, the Climate Change and Health Team Leader with the WHO, began the session stressing that climate change is not just an environmental issue but also a central human health issue and that decisions made at The Conference of the Parties (COP) have enormous health implications. Dr. Campbell-Lendrum cited the indirect effects of climate including how temperature and precipitation promote the transmission of certain disease and occurrence of vectors and also can be detrimental to food production. He also stated that climate has a direct effect on human health and is “not some abstract future issue.” The 2010 Russian heat wave lead to 11,000 additional deaths over a baseline year, and was an event made much more severe from climate change. With climate change too much of a big picture issue for some people, Dr. Campbell-Lendrum insisted that better environmental practices can vastly improve human health with the added benefit of reducing climate impacts. One in every 8 deaths globally is associated with air pollution and of those, there are over 3.7 million deaths annually from outdoor air pollution and 4.3 million deaths annually caused by indoor air pollution. By shifting away from conventional fossil fuels, Dr. Campbell-Lendrum as well as his colleagues at the WHO and many other health professionals believe that we as a global society can reduce many of the deaths attributed to air pollution.

Ian Parry, the Principal Environmental Fiscal Policy Expert at the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) Fiscal Affairs Department echoed the sentiments of Dr. Campbell-Lendrum, that climate change is a human health issue and further stated that these detrimental health effects have severe economic implications. Mr. Parry stated that there were a number of co-benefits from carbon pricing including reductions in air pollution deaths (the IMF believes that a 10%-20% reduction in deaths is feasible for such an initiative) and energy prices that better reflect the true market value of such goods. Thomas Kerr, Principal Climate Policy Officer at the World Bank, follow up Mr. Parry to concur that co-benefits are certainly one solution but that the World Bank would also like to see more governments addressing the health impacts of climate change including mitigation action in the form of more effective solid waste projections and more efficient transportation projects.

Marie-Hélène Aubert, Advisor to the President on Environment and Climate Change Issues, France, agreed that it was a central role of government to take responsibility to the health of its people. Peru’s Minister of Health, Dr. Anibal Velasquez Valdivia finished the session on a strong point regarding this issue. Dr. Valdivia said that Peru will lead the charge to get the topic of human health included in draft text for COP 21. The pledge to keep health in the Paris negotiations was met with a standing ovation from the crowd, which came in satisfying waves as the audiences’ interpreters translated Dr. Valdivia’s Spanish into their native language. I hope that starting the second week off at the COP with such enthusiasm and shared sentiment for the common good is a sign of continued productive negotiations and commitments of global leadership.