Under the rule of the COP President…

A negotiator from a small island nation made a proposal on the ninth day of the Paris negotiations…if an agreement was reached then he would nominate Laurent Fabius for a Nobel Peace Prize. I heard a number of laughs, but there was certainly an undertone of seriousness in his comment.

Fabius was in charge of the show. He structured the formal negotiations, informal informals, ministerial meetings, Paris Committee meetings, etc. On Wednesday night when a new draft text was released Fabius hosted a session, which was open to observers, where parties could publicly comment on the draft agreement. Of course you can imagine what happened next…Parties rambled on one after another for more than two hours, rehashing general statements we’ve heard over and over again for the past year. However, every party seemed to agree on one thing…Fabius.

Here are a few examples from major negotiating blocks:

South Africa: “I am taking floor on behalf of the group of 77 plus China. The group wishes to thank the COP presidency, ministerial, and the secretariat for work so far…”

Australia: “As the representative of the Umbrella group, we would like to thank the presidency for its work. However, significant work remains…”

While a matter of political politeness, these thankful comments made to the COP president appeared to have a truly honest tone. At 11:30pm, after more than 70 parties made their statements, Fabius concluded the session. However, while the public comment sessions were over, the real work was yet again about to begin. With an ashy white complexion and tired eyes, Fabius called to all parties and reminded them that although it was 11:30 at night, it was time to get back to work. I imagine coffee was their bloodline.

According to many, this was one of the most tightly run COPs EVER. I was witness to this. A new draft text was released on Thursday evening, but this time instead of holding a session for public comments, Fabius kept the meeting short and sweet in order to immediately return to the job at hand. He did, however, make it clear to parties that he would “only accept compromise proposals.” If a country could not propose a compromise then they could, “go to a corner” or to another room to hash out their positions. Parties were given 30 to 40 minutes to put forth a bridging proposal. Thursday night’s negotiating session went until 5:30 AM Friday…!

Fabius’ determination to end the Conference on time and his strong leadership strongly influenced the success of the negotiations. The COP president also had a terrific amount of support from many others, including Laurence Tubiana, France’s Special Envoy for COP21, and Christiana Figueres, UNFCCC Executive-Secretary.

It came as no surprise the negotiations went over time, but on Saturday there were no walkouts or angry accusations. A compromise was reached. It was civil, the text managed to represent the views of all parties in one-way or another. The atmosphere in the COP21 venue was electric. The green gavel in the hand of Laurent Fabius came down and the crowd broke out into ear numbing applause. Hands and arms went flying as people high-fived and happily embraced one another. I was teary eyed. Delegations, observers, and press were jubilant.

Yes, of course the agreement isn’t perfect – close to 200 countries had to agree to it! But, it is a starting point. It is a launching pad for more ambitious action.

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What’s the 411 before COP21?

Four years ago the 196 parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) agreed they would agree to a new, universal climate change agreement during the Conference of the Parties in 2015. This was pretty typical of UNFCCC decisions—for countries to agree to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at some vague date in the near distant future. Alas, now COP21 is just a few mere days away!

The past few years were full of intense, embattled negotiations between countries as national governments, civil society, nonstate actors, and civil society all put in their two-cents as to what a post-2020 climate regime should look like.

Over 170 national climate plans have been submitted to the UNFCCC, a great success ahead of the Paris meet as it showcases a strong level of participation from countries across the globe.

However, the devil is truly in the details. Many critical questions remain to be answered.

Are countries fulfilling their historical share of emissions reductions? Should all countries contribute to climate financing or just developed countries? Will countries agree to decarbonise by 2100?

The list goes on and battle lines have been drawn. This is apparent in the 54-page draft agreement put forth by the world’s countries in the beginning of November. One of the most evident divides that remains painfully clear throughout the text is between developed and developing countries. (This is a hefty document to glance through so I recommend reading this concise reporting on the document here)

After reeling through all of this material I’m still left wondering, what is it that countries really want from this new international climate agreement?

Below are several quotes from some key players that attempt to answer this question. I’ve added in my own Jess translation from UN to everyday speak to provide further clarification to some of the quotes.

US climate Envoy:

“We need strong provisions on financial and other kinds of assistance to poor countries that need it, and we need to move this agreement from the old-style, backward-looking bifurcation between two distinct categories into a world which is forward-looking, where there is differentiation across the range of countries. Countries can’t be expected to do more than they’re able to, but we shouldn’t just have this antiquated way of bifurcating climate change.”

Jess translation: The US agrees that developing countries need finance, however, the US no longer wants there to be a strict divide between “developed” and “developing” countries. The original framework built in the 1990s on this divide is no longer relevant and we need to get up to times with the Paris agreement. All parties need to play their part based on their national circumstances, and developed countries should not have to provide all the finance.

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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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