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.


Addressing the Business Sector on December 12th, 2016

Thank you to Thomas Caggiano (congratulations on graduation!) for his latest post – “The Ever-Fluctuating Thoughts of a UNFCCC Observer.” Like Tommy, I’ve been considering where my own path might take me post-graduation. Stating the (dull &) obvious – it will be somewhere in an economy that will need to adapt to changes in regulation and shifts in consumer demand for lower-carbon products and processes.

As a current MBA-Masters of Public Policy candidate, I’ve been fascinated to watch the evolving dialogue between policy makers and the private sector over the course of the semester. It remains unclear what the specific implications of the Paris agreement will be for business. Will there be further shifts in the ways global corporations structure strategic decision-making? Will global climate policy trickle down to local business decisions through domestic policy changes? How will regulations and consumer preferences evolve in upcoming years and decades?

Even with all the lack of clarity, it’s worth noting that both Secretary of State John Kerry and President Barack Obama chose to use a significant portion of their public addresses on December 12th to address the business community. The relevant portions of their speeches appear below.

US Secretary of State John Kerry:
(found from 52:50-53:43 at http://unfccc6.meta-fusion.com/cop21/events/2015-12-12-17-26-conference-of-the-parties-cop-11th-meeting/statements-by-groups-and-parties-on-agenda-item-4-b

“We are sending literally a critical message to the global marketplace. Many of us here know that it won’t be governments that actually make the decision, or find the product the new technology, the saving grace of this challenge. It will be the genius of the American spirit, it will be business unleashed because of nations saying to global business in one loud voice we need to move in this direction. And that will move investment that will create new greater research and development. And the next great product will come that will change our lives.”

President Barack Obama:
(found from 5:10–5:42 at https://www.whitehouse.gov/photos-and-video/video/2015/12/12/president-delivers-statement-paris-climate-agreement)

“Moreover, this agreement sends a powerful signal that the world is firmly committed to a low carbon future. And that has the potential to unleash investment and innovation in clean energy at a scale we’ve never seen before. The targets we’ve set are bold. And by empowering businesses, scientists, engineers, workers, and the private sector – investors – to work together, this agreement represents the best chance to save the one planet we’ve got.”

I sincerely thank Duke for the opportunity to spend dedicated time with the UNFCCC negotiations this fall and follow the private sector’s evolving perspective on the climate negotiations.

Forests in the Paris Agreement

As the Practicum’s resident forester, it is my duty to take a closer look at how the Paris Agreement deals with forests. For context, emissions from the forest sector currently make up anywhere from 10-15% of annual global anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (Van der Werf et al. 2009), similar to emissions from personal cars and trucks (Silvia-Chavez 2015).

Forests and deforestation are explicitly referenced in their own article of the Agreement, Article 5, which contains just two paragraphs. This text reaffirms and solidifies the role of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) in the Agreement and any subsequent actions by Parties. In short, Article 5 suggests that Parties steward forests as sinks of GHGs, and encourages them to “implement… the existing framework” for policies- including payments- which mitigate climate change through forests. Although this text is brief it provides a powerful statement on how forests will be treated in the coming century. Essentially, Parties have agreed that deforestation cannot continue and that forests must be better managed to ensure mitigation and adaptation to climate change. Exactly how this will happen will be worked through in the coming years, but the Agreement is clear that finance from developed to developing countries will play a key role in facilitating this.

Perhaps a more important testament to the importance of forests in the future is given in Article 4 (Mitigation):

“to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century (UNFCCC 2015)”.

This statement affirms that the world is relying on forests (and other natural sinks of GHGs) to offset total anthropogenic GHG emissions by the middle of this century. Currently, scientists believe that forests and other sinks absorb as much as 60% of annual anthropogenic GHG emissions (Pan et al. 2011); this figure includes forests and oceans. Thus, marked emissions reductions are necessary across all sectors, a fact which is already known.

Overall, I am very proud and happy that the Agreement puts so much faith in our forests. The world is asking a lot of our forests. I am eager to read scientific literature and analysis from forest scientists to see if they believe forests can rise up and meet the challenge put before them in the Agreement.

References and Additional Resources:

Bellassen, V. & S. Luyssaert.  2014. “Carbon sequestration: Managing forests in uncertain times” Nature 506, 153–155 (13 February 2014) doi:10.1038/506153a: http://www.nature.com/news/carbon-sequestration-managing-forests-in-uncertain-times-1.14687

Pan, Y., Birdsey,R.A., Fang, J., Houghton, R.A., Kauppi, P.E. and Kurz, W.A.et al. 2011. “A large and persistent carbon sink in the world’s forests”. Science 333,988–993.

Silvia-Chavez, G. 2015. “ Forests Emerge as a Big Winner in Paris Agreement”. Huffington Post 12 December 2015: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gustavo-silvachavez/forests-emerge-as-a-big-w_b_8793226.html

UNFCCC 2015. Paris Agreement: http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2015/cop21/eng/l09r01.pdf

UN REDD Program: http://www.un-redd.org/aboutredd

Van der Werf, G. R., Morton, D. C., DeFries, R. S., Olivier, J. G., Kasibhatla, P. S., Jackson, R. B., … & Randerson, J. T. 2009. CO2 emissions from forest loss. Nature geoscience, 2(11), 737-738.

The Ever-Fluctuating Thoughts of UNFCCC Observer

As I finish writing my previous post about personal choices I try to make “because climate change,” I can’t help but think of whether or not these small decisions will be enough to make a difference in our ever-warming planet. Although the actions of a few people may be infinitesimally small compared to global greenhouse gas emissions, collective action can be meaningful. My goal with this post is not to dispute that individuals can be important drivers of change, but rather to take a more pragmatic approach to the discussion on greenhouse gas emissions and the reductions necessary to meet the variety of targets put forth in the Paris Agreement.

After four semesters at Duke I finally got the chance to take an interdisciplinary course on climate science and its societal implications. The class was taught by Dr. Drew Shindell, a fairly recent addition to Duke’s faculty from NASA. If I learned nothing else from Dr. Shindell’s class, I learned that limiting the warming of the planet to 2C below pre-industrial levels is nearly impossible. We would need to stop emitting greenhouse gases essentially immediately, and figure out a way to remove CO2 from the air. All of that would need to happen while holding quality of life steady in the developed world and allowing it to dramatically increase through sustainable development in the developing world. Needless to say, we are not ready for this. Despite this fact- which is widely known- we have still seen the emergence of the “High Ambition Coalition,” a group of parties advocating for a highly ambitious 1.5C temperature goal for the Paris Agreement.

Why would over 75 parties join a coalition advocating a goal which is literally impossible (at present)? Political will, inspiring enhanced action, public relations, and symbolic gestures have all been put forth as explanations for the Coalitions emergence. I think that all these things are great and that any enhanced ambition is welcome. But, preventing dangerous global climate change isn’t about symbolism, political correctness, or lofty goals. It’s about making real technological breakthroughs to make life as we know it possible without carbon or with carbon that does not impact the climate.
What comes out of Paris will be an incredible achievement 23 years in the making. However, on its own, it will not “solve” climate change”. In the months, years, and decades post-Paris we need to have the smartest minds in the world working towards actually achieving the goals which the Paris Agreement puts forth. It will be an exciting time to be alive and working in the environmental field! I hope you all are as enthusiastic as I am to tackle this task.

Highlights from Japan Pavilion: Technology & JMC

The Japan Pavilion features the theme of transformation through technology. Japan’s INDC towards post-2050 GHG emission reductions is at the level of a reduction of 26.0% by 2030 compared to 2013, and 25.4% below 2005 level. One clear solution to achieve their INDC is low carbon technology.


 Japan Pavilion at COP21

Japan only has one official side event in the observer section. And they used this opportunity on December 7, 2015 to present their very proud little baby – Joint Crediting Mechanism. Japan did not participate in the second commitment period of Kyoto Protocol, which started in 2013, and thus not allowed to trade emission credits internationally. This new approach proposed by Japan provides opportunities for both Japan and developing countries to reduce their emissions. Essentially, Japan facilitates the technology transfer with each host country and shares the ownership of emission reduction units. As of September 2015, Japan has started the JCM with 15 partner countries (Mongolia, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Kenya, Maldives, Viet Nam, Lao PDR, Indonesia, Costa Rica, Palau, Cambodia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Chile and Myanmar).

img_new4 (1)

Joint Crediting Mechanism

 In the side event, Japanese ambassador stressed the “leading” role that JMC plays in international carbon trading arena. He cited a study that showed 56% of emission reduction could be realized with full energy efficiency. It implies that, for Japan, the core strategy for emission reduction is through enhancing energy efficiency.


A major publication from Japan that is distributed in several halls

Some of the low carbon technologies mentioned in this publication are:

  • Digital manufacturing: the use of an integrated, computer-based system comprised of simulation, 3D visualization, analytics and various collaboration tools to revolutionize the production process and significantly reducing environmental impact.
  • Lithium ion battery separator: a microporous membrane that provides insulation between the anode and cathode for safety while allowing ions to pass through. This can be used in smartphones, laptop, and even electric vehicles. Thinner separators improves energy efficiency.





Because Climate Change

Last week the New York Times published a great, short article on simple things individuals can do to help combat climate change. They highlight things we’ve all heard before like taking public transit and being less wasteful. I’ve adopted a personal mantra to help me remember to make climate conscious choices in everyday life: Because climate change. For me, uttering those three words in my head before deciding whether to walk to drive, eat meat or veggies, or put a sweater on instead of turning the heat up really helps keep focused making the right choices. I even guilt my friends and family into making lower carbon decisions by justifying them with a “because climate change”. Our behavioural nudges may turn out to be more influential than we think at first glance. Afterall, if climate geeks aren’t making these types of choices, then who else will?


With the spotlight on the global meeting in Paris that is full of delegations, ministers, and heads of state from every country debating the future of our planet, it is hard to think that any one of us can do anything to take on something so complex as climate change. Of course, we will adjust to whatever policies come to be as a result of the Paris outcome as a society, but individual, voluntary actions are less clear to many people. Much of the recent media attention on climate change will soon fade and many Americans will go back to their daily, non-climate focused lives. As climate Dukies, it’s important for us to live and promote climate-friendly lifestyles. Sooner or later I hope my non-climate oriented friends will start making their own better choices when no one is around to tell them “because climate change”.



Katz, J. and Daniel, J. “What you can do about climate change: Seven Simple Guidelines for Thinking About Carbon Emissions.” New York Times. 2 December 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/12/03/upshot/what-you-can-do-about-climate-change.html 

Day 11 Update (Thursday Week 2)

Thursday was one of our biggest days at the COP, and it went by so quickly that we were all surprised when the sun started to go down around 5pm. After staying at the venue until 11:30pm on Wednesday, we returned on Thursday morning to find out that the negotiators had met in “indabas” until 4am. We spent most of the morning poring over the text again, slicing and dicing it to understand how the compromises were being made. After a quick lunch (have we mentioned how delicious the food is here? Definitely the best-and most affordable-of any COP I have been to!), we attended a panel discussion with leaders from the EPA, DoE, USDA, and more about how the US is implementing the Climate Action Plan. We were then able to fit in a quick briefing to NGOs by the US delegation, one of our main sources of insights into how the closed-door negotiations are going and where the “landing zones” and ongoing points of contention are.

The highlight of the day for all of us was a meeting with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, who sat down for a 45 minute Q&A session with about 25 US university students. While our discussion was off the record, I was very impressed by how genuine she was, and how honestly supportive she is of the youth in America’s role in spreading the message on climate change. She focused on the role of effective climate communications in uniting Americans behind climate change, and the fact that we need to find ways to make climate change relatable to everyone. Overall it was a wonderful opportunity to meet with a strong leader that all of us look up to.


Duke students attempt a selfie with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, although Jess' arms arent quite long enough!
Duke students attempt a selfie with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, although Jess’ arms arent quite long enough!


The day wrapped up late once again as we waited for a new text to be released at a Comite de Paris meeting at 9pm. The negotiators are currently engaged in more indabas and bilateral negotiations, and we are hopefully for a new text Saturday morning!


Emma: What a day! Thursday started off with IUCN staff meeting. It is very informative, like always. And I feel I am learning more and more about civil society through the lens of climate change. The only event I attended this morning is poverty alleviation and climate change. A lot of questions lingering in my mind after the presentation … We had several back to back meetings in the afternoon. Talking to people who wrote our readings and designed our environmental policies still feels a bit surreal. While having dinner with a local journalist, he pointed to me french senator and prestigious scientist sitting around us. Plus, I finally saw SG Ban Ki-moon… Some parties proposed to hold COP every two years to reduce the carbon footprint. To be honest, I prefer the annual setting now. Because I want to come back so badly next year 🙂

Ban Ki Moon speaking at the Momentum for Change Awards
Ban Ki Moon speaking at the Momentum for Change Awards
Poverty alleviation and climate change
Poverty alleviation and climate change


Kait: Today was very exciting! The International Energy Agency (IEA) hosted a big energy debate in the climate generations area. They had some really amazing speakers participate like Sir David King, and Sir Nicholas Stern, as well as many others. The executive director of the IEA, Fatih Birol, opened the event and I had the opportunity to meet with him briefly and ask him some questions. Stay tuned for a blog post about it!


Oliver: As a confessed Clean Power Plan nerd, the highlight of my day was, of course, the surprise meeting with its main architects and champions: Gina McCarthy (Administrator of the U.S. EPA.) and Janet McCabe (Acting Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation). We then rushed to a fascinating meeting with climate negotiations scholar Dr. Dan Bodansky – having read his articles since my freshman year of college, I may have geeked out a bit. A new text came out today as well, and I had the dubious honor of being first in line for hard copies among the mad hordes surrounding the document station!

Duke students introducing themselves to Administrator Gina McCarthy
Duke students introducing themselves to Administrator Gina McCarthy



Thinking about debt, measures of financial risk, and more differential effects of climate change.

I just saw my first article linking climate change to credit ratings. The opinion came from Standard & Poor’s Marko Mrsnik and Dr. David Niklaus Bresch of the world’s largest reinsurer – Swiss Re. (http://www.iccwbo.org/News/Articles/2015/The-impact-of-climate-change-on-sovereign-ratings/).

[For those students who, like me, are early in their learning curve re. financial risk, credit ratings, and the implications of various financial indicators, here’s my cartoon version of the system:
Many nations use sovereign debt to partially finance government operations. For investors, sovereign credit ratings can signal security of investment in that nation (both directly in terms of purchasing bonds and indirectly when pursuing some sort of project in that country).
Rating agencies like Standard & Poor’s, Fitch, and Moody’s, as well as analysts at insurance organizations like Swiss Re, study how various kinds of risk impact the likelihood that debt will be repaid. Debt securities (including national sovereign bonds) are then rated (in the case of Standard & Poor’s, with a published credit rating) to signal the security’s level of risk.
That level of risk has large implications for whether and when those debt securities are attractive to investors. Standard and Poor’s ratings range from AAA: Prime, to D: In default. Ratings below BB+ are considered non-investment grade/high-yield/junk bonds.]

In their guest blog for the International Chamber of Commerce, Mrsnick and Bresch reflect on Standard and Poor’s “first-ever informed estimates on climate change’s impact on economic and individual sovereign ratings factors” using data from Swiss Re on the risks and damage data resulting from tropical cyclones and their effects (storm surges and floods).

The findings suggest “climate change will exacerbate the negative sovereign rating impact arising from 1-in-250-year natural catastrophes by 20% on average,” resulting in an average decline in sovereign ratings of 1.2 notches.

What does this mean for countries? Climate change is predicted to have highly differential effects based on both geography and income. Sovereign nations in the Caribbean and Southeast Asia are at high risk, and low-income countries are, in general, also at increased risk.

These trends correspond largely to current credit ratings (data from 2012 included below – individual ratings have changed slightly but geographic trends hold).

Standard & Poor's Credit Rating 2012

Take away: in addition to all the other environmental and human risks, those countries most at risk from the effects of climate change are also those countries most likely to have their sovereign debt further downgraded, making it harder for those nations to raise financing for infrastructure projects and attract foreign investment.

The impact of climate change on credit ratings is not as large as many other factors, including government corruption and political unrest. Still, it seems worth considering whether further integration of climate risk into measures of financial risk can be an effective way to further spur government action and to better align political and private sector interests when it comes to climate change.

International Diplomacy or Soap Opera? Depends Who’s Watching

To an outsider, watching the diplomatic proceedings of COP 21 is far from exciting. In their most respectful, politically correct tones, delegates from around the world take turns reiterating what sound like the same points time and time again. Countries take the floor, lauding the COP presidency and their fellow negotiators for hard work and perseverance while continually pushing for more progress. Acronyms are thrown around like nothing: LDC, LMDC, INDC, CBDR, EIG- the list goes on and on.

It’s not hard to see that the average onlooker would be thoroughly confused and in fact quite bored of what’s going on.

But to a group of self-proclaimed climate geeks (ie the Duke Practicum students), the COP is like a two week long soap opera marathon with all our favorite characters. Being thoroughly fascinated by the UNFCCC process and knowing more than the average onlooker, us Dukies hang on every word, phrase, and tone of voice at the COP venue. We eagerly hang on every word spoken and written in the text. We’re more concerned with watching press conferences held by “climate celebrities” like Todd Stern and Christiana Figueres than “real” celebrities like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Alec Baldwin. Those in Paris stay up late and those in Durham wake up early to stay up to date.

Despite the class being split between Durham and Paris with a six hour time difference, we are all still actively talking to each other about the latest happenings via the magic of web-based instant messaging. There are a lot of “didn’t see that coming” and other “oh snap” sorts of exclamations along with fluctuating expressions of optimism and pessimism in our group chat. The real-time commentary group chat really does resemble a group of people huddled around a television watching a juicy soap opera or cult classic movie unfold. It’s amazing to wake up to 60 messages from friends at home and in Paris dissecting what happened while I slept. If only the average onlooker had the enthusiasm for climate negotiations that we do!

The IEA and Fatih Birol

Production and use of energy is responsible for about two thirds of global greenhouse gas emissions (1).  Without low carbon energy solutions we cannot hope to address the issue of climate change successfully.  The International Energy Agency (IEA) has been working tirelessly to produce analyses and promote awareness of energy issues that are vital to both the Paris agreement and to the post Paris world.


The agency has been busy at COP21 meeting with parties and hosting numerous side events; last Thursday (12/3/15) in the blue zone at Le Bourget was IEA Day, where energy experts were involved in panel discussions on a range of topics from energy efficiency to the resilience of the energy system. Today (12/10/15) the IEA hosted “The Big Energy Debate” in the civil society area of the venue. The first topic of debate was “Development with much lower emissions: what would it look like?”  The discussion moved through many topics, but the most interesting part concerned Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS).  CCS is a topic that I haven’t yet decided my views on, so it was thought provoking to hear those of experts in the field.  Perhaps the most memorable moment of the debate was from Stephan Singer, the director of Global Energy Policy at WWF International, who referred to CCS as putting lipstick on a zombie.  Singer was alone in his complete opposition to CCS though, many of the panelists were either uncertain about the technology or see it as necessary to achieving our temperature goals (but know it will still be some time before the technology is feasible at a larger scale and at a lower cost).

Panelists at The Big Energy Debate

The Executive Director of the IEA, Fatih Birol, opened the Big Energy debate and I was lucky enough to be able to speak with him for a few minutes afterwords.  The following answers are not direct quotes from Dr. Birol.

KS: What do you see the role of young researchers and the young generation being in the global collaborative effort towards clean energy solutions after Paris?

FB: The only way to make things move is through public pressure.  We need to make the governments move in the right direction.  The role of youth is to be involved in the debate and push the government in that right direction.

KS: What is your perspective on how the Paris agreement will bring developed and developing countries together to address the challenges of sustainable development?

FB: In the past few years I have seen the agreement becoming narrower.  For the first time developed and developing countries are contributing (both are submitting mitigation contributions in the form of INDCs) and the gap between them is becoming narrower.

KS: How will the energy transformation impact our everyday lives?

FB: There are 3 ways.  The first is it will make use feel better because we are no longer dirtying our world.  The second is it will be good for our health because there will be less air pollution.  The third is that there will be less extreme weather events.

Fatih Birol, Siqi, and me

If you’re interested in the IEA and what they have been doing at COP21 visit their website where you can find lots of information and download some great publications.



  1. “Energy Matters. How COP21 Can Shift the Energy Sector onto a Low-Carbon Path That Supports Economic Growth and Energy Access” (OECD/IEA, 2015), www.iea.org.