Author: Adam Fischer (Page 2 of 2)

Welcome to Bonn!

It’s day one of the 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP23) and the Duke delegation is ready to go! The halls of the U.N. campus are quickly filling up and will soon host 20,000+ attendees from around the world, representing country delegations, nongovernmental organizations, research and academia, the private sector, and beyond. We’re excited to be here representing Duke — and to help send a strong message that the U.S. remains committed to climate action.

Seven students from Duke are attending each week, and we’ll be blogging about our experiences daily. These students are working with a diverse mix of clients to support their efforts at COP23, including the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES), Climate Analytics, Climate Registry, ICLEI, Business Council for Sustainable Energy (BCSE), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Bangladeshi government, and more. You can learn more about our student delegation here.

Follow our blog  here for updates over the next two weeks!

Source: Guardian

Moving Beyond Marrakech and Asking the Right Questions

img_0257It’s been about two weeks since I returned from COP22, and since then I’ve spent quite a bit of time reflecting on the experience. My week in Marrakech was incredibly rewarding and, despite my post-election nerves, it managed to restore my faith in the future of global climate action. Still, as I look back on the conference, I must admit that it raised just as many questions as it provided answers.

Did Marrakech fall short of its intention to be the “COP of action”? Should we expect progress next year on the thorny issues of climate finance or compliance under the Paris Agreement? Will the U.S. take a backseat on climate action over the four years? These and other uncertainties play a central role in assessing the impact of the climate negotiations process. One of the most intriguing questions I’ve considered, however, is whether COP22 was a success or failure. The question was posed prior to our final class meeting after the COP, and as I considered my response, I began to contemplate the premise of the question itself.

Over the past several years, we’ve become accustomed to “big COPs.” Since Copenhagen in 2009, the annual meetings have grown in their scale and anticipated impact, attracting unprecedented public attention. Yet this isn’t necessarily the norm for global climate talks. During one of the Duke delegation’s meetings in the second week of the COP, an expert in international climate negotiations explained how COP22 was shaping up to be a “small COP” – and how that might be a good thing.

It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that COPs are not exclusively intended to provide historic climate accords, as was the case in Paris last year. Historically, in fact, formal COP proceedings have focused more on fleshing out the wonky nuances of treaty-making and implementation. And since the Marrakech outcome largely kicked the can of implementing the Paris Agreement down the road to 2017 and 2018, it’s likely that the upcoming COPs may similarly end not with a bang but a whimper.

img_0446And that’s okay! My experience at COP22 taught me that it’s perhaps misguided to label any given COP a “success” or “failure.” The annual meetings have truly astounding convening power, as they attract the best and brightest minds focused on climate action from nearly 200 countries. No other gathering can quite match the momentum built at events like the COP. And as I walked through the event halls and different countries’ pavilions, I couldn’t help but wonder whether the initiatives, funding, and partnerships announced in Marrakech would exist in the absence of the COP.

Expecting monumental success or colossal failure from the UNFCCC process adds undue pressure to an already contentious issue. The annual COP plays diverse and crucial roles beyond the negotiations process itself, and witnessing this firsthand made me hopeful for the future of climate action.

Managed Expectations and Pleasant Surprises: My First Three Days at COP22

Last week, I wrote about my cautious optimism heading into Marrakech, and my hope that the COP would provide some much-needed encouragement following the presidential election. Now, just two days into the second week of the conference, I’m relieved to see that my optimism wasn’t entirely unwarranted.

Like many others, I worried that last week’s news would suck the air and energy out of the COP. But if anything, it seems the election may have had the opposite effect. Throughout the past two days, speakers have indicated a renewed sense of urgency and an insistence that the uncertainty surrounding U.S. policy not impede global climate action. The Paris Agreement was such a monumental accomplishment in climate diplomacy that the international community seems determined to preserve its momentum. Don’t get me wrong: the election (and the anxiety it produced) is at the forefront of many of our minds. Still, I can’t overstate the level of enthusiasm that the Paris Agreement – and its rapid, unexpected entry into force earlier this month – seems to have injected into global climate talks. It remains to be seen, of course, whether this motivation sustains itself beyond the COP and turns into action; yet for the time being, all signs point to continued effort to address climate change.


It takes an event like this to truly appreciate the breadth and diversity of global climate action. The range of efforts and initiatives led by national, subnational, and non-state actors is astonishing, and perhaps enough to restore one’s faith in the convening power of the UNFCCC. As I mentioned last week, the COP is about much more than hashing out details of negotiating text. In fact, in just two days, I’ve realized that much of this year’s progress may have little to do with formal negotiations.

Among its many functions, the UNFCCC is a platform for the exchange of ideas and best practices. This was exemplified at yesterday’s launch of the NDC Partnership, an initiative led by the World Resources Institute (my client at the COP) and the governments of Morocco and Germany. The Partnership creates an opportunity for developed and developing countries to support one another in crafting, refining, and implementing their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), the building blocks of the Paris Agreement. High-level delegates and ministers applauded the initiative’s goal of facilitating collaboration among all parties, and I was personally inspired by the leadership on display.


Source: UNFCCC

At the same time, as someone with a particular interest in this sort of policy- and commitment-making at the national level, I must admit the COP has been an eye-opening experience for me. While I’ve always been aware of the crucial role of subnational actors (states and cities) in addressing climate change, it wasn’t until this week that I truly appreciated their contributions to climate action. On Tuesday afternoon, I attended one panel, in particular, focused on action at the city, state, and regional levels. Ministers and mayors discussed the steps their respective localities – which can often act more quickly and creatively than their national governments – are taking to reduce emissions and improve climate resiliency. 

The panel reminded me of the importance of perspective when considering climate action. We very easily get preoccupied wondering how the world will react to changes in domestic forces. And for good reason: the international community looks to the United States for leadership and direction on many fronts. But an event like this reminds us that leadership comes in many shapes and sizes. Others may look to the United States for leadership, but when confronted with its potential absence, they seem eager to step up to the plate. Countless countries, regions, provinces, cities, and businesses are no longer simply following, but rather carving out leadership roles of their own.

Taken together, these glimmers of hope may just embody the silver linings I so desperately sought in Marrakech. As I said earlier, only time will tell if and how ambition will translate into action. But after just three days at the COP, I remain hopeful.

Amidst Dark Clouds at Home, a Search for Silver Linings in Morocco

For months, my classmates and I have been counting down the days to the twenty-second Conference of the Parties (COP) in Marrakech. The annual gathering under the UNFCCC was heralded as “the COP of action,” where nations would hash out the details of last year’s Paris Agreement. The accord marked a pivotal moment in global efforts to address climate change, as 197 nations set the ambitious goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5-2 degrees Celsius. The stage was set for a new era of climate diplomacy.

Yet on Tuesday evening, high hopes quickly turned to anxious uncertainty. The world watched as voters in the United States cast their ballots in the presidential election. Polls projected that Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, would handily win the election, ensuring that President Obama’s environmental legacy would live on. By late evening, however, it was evident that polling had systematically missed the mark and that Donald Trump, the Republican nominee, would be elected the forty-fifth president of the United States.

Image by Christine Matthews

Image by Christine Matthews

The unexpected outcome sent shockwaves across the globe. In Marrakech, negotiators woke up to an entirely different reality than the one the envisioned. Throughout his campaign, Mr. Trump denied the science of climate change and downplayed its risks, promising to “cancel” the Paris Agreement if elected. With his ascension to the presidency, the future of the global climate pact was immediately thrown into a troubling limbo. Meanwhile, here at Duke, there was an understandably somber atmosphere in Environment Hall. Students and faculty supported and consoled one another, as many of us grappled with the sense that our worlds had been turned upside down.

And yet despite our collective unease, there was an understanding that we must not feel defeated. We each came to graduate school with unique motivations and ambitions, but we share a mutual commitment to protecting our environment. I’m hopeful that this same sense of dedication and resilience will be on display in Marrakech, and that negotiators will remain laser-focused on building upon last year’s success in Paris.

Over time, the COP has become a unique convening opportunity for international actors seeking solutions to the climate challenge. In recent years, for instance, we have seen an outpouring of climate action from subnational, non-governmental, and private sector entities. These actors have the power to mobilize climate finance, share technical expertise, enhance capacity-building across nations, and so much more. These contributions are just as critical to international climate action as the formal negotiations process itself. So while delegates must remain keenly focused on preserving and promoting the ambition of the Paris Agreement, we must remember that opportunities for global cooperation are only limited by the extent of our collective creativity. The international community must not let the outcome of any single event – election or otherwise – stifle the momentum of climate action; there is simply too much at stake, and we have come too far to back down now.

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