3 things that surprised me at the Bonn Intersessional last week.

The complexity

Sure, I knew climate change was complex, but attending this ADP session felt like walking into the sticky, intricate web of the human side of climate change. 195 delegations, each with a mandate to pursue the self-interest of their countries as perceived by their current governments. Since climate change touches on almost every important issue of this century, from IP law to human rights, biodiversity to sustainable development, each delegation has a unique position. Add to this the numerous nested and overlapping negotiating blocs, with their own internal dynamics, a lack of formal hierarchy in the international system and consensus decision-making, the resulting dynamic is very, very complex. I have a new appreciation for why this process is so slow moving.

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Memorable Moments with Mayor Romualdez from the Philippines

-By Mukta Batra and Jess McDonald

Cities are the economic powerhouses driving climate action.

This was one of our main takeaways after meeting with Mayor Romualdez from Tacloban city in the Phillipines. It was early on Saturday morning when we got word that the Mayor would be available to meet with us to discuss the Philippines’ climate concerns and his views on multi-stakeholder climate action ahead of this December’s critical UN Paris Conference.

Mayor Romualdez visited Duke this week to attend the Nicholas Institute’s symposium “Leadership in a time of Rapid Change”, where he participated on a panel focused on the recently adopted United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The 17 new SDGs set the international agenda for the next 15 years, focusing on tackling some of the world’s most pressing challenges. The goals aim to eliminate poverty, provide universal healthcare, promote education, and tackle climate change, among many others.

Tackling climate change is intrinsically linked to many of the other SDGs and we are very appreciative that Mayor Romualdez took the time to share his thoughts with us as the Mayor is a member of a unique subnational climate action coalition called the Compact of Mayors. The Compact was launched in 2014 at the New York Climate Summit in September and is a strong network of city leaders dedicated to sustainable development and mobilizing action on climate change. Tacloban city is one of 230 cities included in the coalition.

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Managing natural disaster risk, naturally

The occurrence of a coastal natural disaster, such as a hurricane or typhoon, evokes a feeling of environmental instability. However, as the name suggests, these events are in fact part of natural environmental cycles – up to a point. Climate change, poorly planned coastal development and environmental degradation have increased the frequency of many natural disasters and continue to exacerbate their devastating impacts. As recognition of these worrying trends has increased, there has been a growing acknowledgement of the capacity of natural ecosystems to aid in managing this risk.

Ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) describes the process of managing and protecting ecosystems to aid in climate adaptation and reduce natural disaster risk. There is a growing recognition, both nationally and within the UNFCCC process, of the services provided by healthy ecosystems and the importance of maintaining them. As a result, recent efforts (by the IUCN and others) have focused on gathering a database of EbA projects around the globe, in order to develop a framework that connects these projects to other adaptation initiatives within the UNFCCC.

EbA has a large role to play in natural disaster risk management for two main reasons: First, healthy ecosystems buffer against the deleterious effects of natural disasters and reduce the associated risk. Second, ecosystem-based approaches to natural disaster mitigation are simply cost-effective.

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What’s an INDC anyway?

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the negotiating process can be difficult to wrap your head around, especially if you are a new-comer to international negotiations like I am.  To make things even more confusing there are acronyms for anything and everything! The UNFCCC, the ADP (Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action), the COP (Conference of the Parties), the acronyms for negotiating blocs and non nation state actors (NNSA), just to name a few.

One important acronym that you might hear thrown around is INDC.  INDC stands for Intended Nationally Determined Contribution, and is a countries’ post 2020 commitment for climate action and GHG reductions.  INDCs were first discussed at COP19 in Warsaw, and both developed and developing countries have been invited to produce and submit them;  this is a first for the UNFCCC as it normally abides by the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) for developed and developing nations.

The first country to submit its INDC was Switzerland in February of 2015, and the submissions have been trickling in ever since.  This past week saw a huge jump in submissions, as the secretariat will be preparing a synthesis report of INDCs that were communicated by October 1, 2015; 73 new and revised submissions were seen this week alone on the INDC Portal!  The synthesis report will hopefully show parties the overall state of global emission reduction commitments before negotiations start in Paris this December. Read more

INDIA’s INDC- “Working towards Climate Justice”

India’s INDC (Intended Nationally-Determined Contribution) was released just before the 1 October deadline for COP21. This article voices some preliminary observations.

India’s INDC[1] is ambitious and relies largely on external funding. While targeting an increase of 3.5-5 billion tons of tree-based carbon sequestration by 2030, the INDC supports “Make in India” and invites investments for low carbon growth– as the per dollar emissions reduction is greater in India than in developed countries.

With current emissions less GDP-intensive than developed countries historical emissions, India believes in the common but differentiated responsibility but agrees to reduce its emissions sharply, subject to funding. India also speaks of increased vulnerability, loss and damage due to extreme and creeping weather events to livestock, coasts, crops and health- particularly increased malaria and dengue; leaving the door open to negotiate funding at Paris.

India aspires to increase its Human Development Index (HDI) and access to infrastructure while preserving and improving the environment. As “a large forest cover provides huge ecological benefits, but there is also an opportunity cost in terms of area not available for other economic activities and this also serves as an important indicator of fiscal disability”[2], 7.5% of the state’s grant (approx. 7 Billion USD) from the federal tax pool will be based on the forest cover. This incentive to preserve and increase forest cover does not seem to prevent old growth forests from being replaced with younger trees. In fact, the current government is a strong advocate of a compensatory afforestation scheme that does not prohibit this.

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Mitigation and the Differentiation Chameleon

A central part of the upcoming climate negotiations in Paris (and even sooner, Bonn) is the question of “differentiation”. How should the responsibilities for dealing with climate change be differentiated among countries with vastly different levels of development and contribution to the problem?

It’s been determined since the Durban COP in 2011 that the new agreement as a whole should be “applicable to all parties”. However, the agreement itself will undoubtedly involve  differentiation, probably in a complex form. As a report from C2ES puts it “the most feasible solution to differentiation in the 2015 agreement is likely to be a hybrid approach that tailors the manner of differentiation…to the specific elements of the agreement”.  Hybrid is a good metaphor, but I prefer to think of differentiation as a chameleon. Although it is one concept, it will probably appear one way in the context of mitigation, another way in the context of adaptation, a third in the context of finance, and so on. C2ES calls this the “most feasible solution”, but I think it is also can be compatible with fairness.  To help explain the details, I’ll focus on the element of mitigation.

File:Chameleon 2006-01.jpg

(image: Ridard/Wikimedia Commons)

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