Agreement on Agriculture at COP23

My first day observing the COP23 negotiations serendipitously marked a momentous occasion in COP proceedings. I was swept up in the energy and excitement of what one delegate described as “a monumental and milestone achievement, likely to be the main success of COP23”.

On this first day of the second week of the Climate negotiations in Bonn Germany, it was agreed that agriculture and its contribution to climate change would be included into future talks, as well as into the COP23 final document, ending a gridlock over the last several years. Parties agreed to ‘jointly address’ agriculture’s link to climate change moving forward, setting a deadline for the end of March by when countries will submit their positions on what should be included.

Agriculture within UNFCCC has been discussed and disagreed on for years. The lack of consensus had prevented country delegates from moving forward on the more substantial content of the issue. Pictured above are country delegates following the agreement, with representatives from the United States, Gambia, and Malawi in the forefront who have been working on this issue for the entirety of the working group-since 2009. The many countries praising and congratulating each other also pointed out the important victory for the US delegate Mark Manis, the Senior Climate Change Policy Advisor from USDA, (picture above) who announced this would be his last Conference of the Parties (COP) and will soon be retiring.

This was an important “win” for this year’s climate negotiations because of the relative lack of ambition and progress in other areas. This COP did not necessitate a major decision or document, however was a vital step in establishing the ‘Paris Rulebook’ or roadmap for detailing and implementing the Paris Agreement. This included details on loss and damage, financing mechanisms, Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) plans for measuring and monitoring emissions, and specifics of the Global Stocktake, among others.

As an International Development Policy Masters student concentrating on food security, I was invigorated by this decision on agriculture and excited to witness these proceedings on the international stage. However, the lengthy amount of time focused on the process alone was a bit disheartening. As the week progressed more and more observers expressed their disappointment in the overall lack of ambition of COP23; those same observers were also unsurprised by it. This fact makes the importance of the smaller positive outcomes from this COP- agriculture, gender, and Talanoa dialogue process-all the more worth highlighting, in hopes of increasing the urgency for agreement and progress.

COP23: A Retrospective

As a first-time attendee at the COP, it was a bit overwhelming. In retrospect, this isn’t surprising, but at the time it was a lot to take in. The sheer size and scope of the conference was impressive, and simply figuring out where everything was on the first day took the better part of the day. Once I, and the rest of my cohort from Duke, had our bearings, we set about trying to accomplish the tasks we were there for: working for our clients, and engaging with the diverse peoples, topics, and initiatives represented at the conference.

The first half of this proved relatively straightforward for me. My client, the Climate Registry, didn’t have enough staff to attend every event they had a vested or peripheral interest in. I attended these events and took notes. My summaries were used by them to understand what occurred at these presentations, meetings, and panel discussions, and the quotes that I recorded were used in social media posts to inform their followers about what was happening at the COP.

The second half was much more overwhelming. There were people present at the COP from literally every country in the world, and every person that I interacted with was passionate and engaged with some aspect of climate change. While the gravity of the mission and work that was being done at the COP was an undercurrent for many of my conversations, the fact that I was an American was rarely a talking point, for better or worse. I believe that the large subnational U.S. presence at COP23 helped to preserve a large portion of the reputation that Americans have for international engagement, and despite the official U.S. delegation’s pro-coal stance, it seemed that the people present at the COP understood that they didn’t speak for the rest of us. During the pro-coal presentation by the U.S. delegation, a large protest convened outside of their meeting room:

The chanting and noise depicted in this video persisted for a solid 20 minutes, and could be heard throughout the Bonn zone. While the energy evidenced in this protest was the only time I witnessed something of this magnitude at the COP, the sentiment was palpable elsewhere in the seriousness of the conversations that I had with other attendees and the art present in the park outside of the COP.

A sculpture of a polar bear impaled on an oil drill

All things considered, my experience at the COP was inspiring, humbling, and exhausting. Though the days were long, the conversations, speeches, and presentations that they were filled with were a welcome reminder of the talented men and women who have dedicated their careers to climate action and our planet. Though the Paris Agreement, and the product of the negotiations that occurred this year at COP23 and have yet to occur during the Facilitative Dialogue next year in Katowice, Poland at COP24, are a step in the right direction, we still have a long way to go before the threats to our planet’s climate are put to rest.

Numbers and the Gender Equation at COP23

According to the UNFCCC, the official count of participants that attended to COP23 on behalf of a country (also referred to as ‘party’), totaled over 9,200 representatives. This number is down from the 11,300 registered participants published in a provisional list a month earlier. It is also much lower than the delegates that attended COP21 in Paris, however the stakes in 2015 were much higher than this year. However, this year’s UN Climate Negotiation focused on detailing the plan or “rulebook” to implement the Paris Agreement which has also taken much time and deliberation.

The countries with the highest number of delegates attending COP23 came from African countries, Cote d’Ivoire sent 492 participants with Guinea (355), Democratic Republic of the Congo (340), Congo (308) and Morocco (253) following (Carbon Brief, 2017). These numbers contrast with the size of developed country delegations: France sending 177, EU with 76, and the US only 48. Countries can, and often do, give some of their badges to NGOs from their country, so these numbers may be misleading.

Because all parties, journalists, observers, and participants must be registered and cleared by the UNFCCC, they can keep track of the totals and gender balance of the climate talks. The UN’s documents are public on their website, and my colleagues from Duke University appear on this list on page 247. However, I question the accuracy of their process, because myself and several others from Duke University do not appear on this document.

Because I did attend COP23, despite what the list says, I was keen to observe gender balance during the negotiation meetings, press conferences and proceedings. TheFijian presidency had made gender a key agenda item, supporting a Gender Day in the Bonn Zone and the Gender Action Plan, which promotes gender equality and leadership in the international negotiation and policy process, and gender-responsiveness and capacity building into climate action implementation.

From the numbers the UNFCCC provided, on average 38 percent of country delegations were female. This was reflected in the negotiation meetings I attended, with women successfully represented, but largely in the minority. Albania, Guyana and Latvia sent all-female delegations, in contrast to Eritrea, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan who sent all male representatives (Carbon Brief). However, these countries sent quite small delegations, less than 5 people.

Although adoption of the Gender Action Plan is a ‘win’ for COP23, progress is slow. Perhaps this can be said for all areas of COP23 achievements, but I maintain a positive attitude, that any progress is still progress.


Gender Action Plan:

Carbon Brief. (2017). Analysis: Which Countries have sent the most delegates to COP23? Retrieved from:

One COP, two zones; and the ‘other’

It is worth discussing the separate and distinct zones that this years’ Conference of Parties (COP) hosted. The geographical separation of these zones underlined the independent activities housed under them. Previous COP attendees told me repeatedly that the side events and actual negotiations normally don’t have much overlap but the physical separation of this year made it much more difficult for country delegates, representatives and observers -who totaled over 19,000 people-to attend events of interest.

Logistically, Fiji (as the COP Presidency) could not support the international community on their island, so COP23 was located in Bonn, Germany theheadquarters of the United Nations (UN) European offices. Proceedings were broken down into the Bula Zone, Bonn Zone, and everything else in between.

The Bula Zone was housed in the existing UN campus buildings, where country delegations and negotiations took place (Zones 1 and 2). With many working groups and country bloc meetings happening simultaneously, an additional tent was set up (zone 3) that housed a cafeteria and press conference rooms. This zone had an air of business-as-usual and casual calmness, with an undercurrent of “hurry up and wait” tension. My fellow observers (mostly Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) representatives) were hyper focused on specific issues- such as details of the Paris ‘Rulebook’ and APA (Advisory board to the Paris Agreement) Guidelines which were key outcomes of COP23.

Anxiously waiting outside of closed deliberations, we would get news of the latest draft text of a 2-hour-long (or more) negotiation session, followed by our own discussion of the implications of a slight change in language or which country was opposing or supporting a specific point.

            The Bonn Zone had a contrasting ambiance full of energy, music and panels of scientists, politicians, youth, and experts discussing issues ranging fromnegative emission technologies to appropriate financing for adaptation to climate change. These ‘side events’ to the negotiationswere just that, quite separate and disconnected to the actual proceedings of the international talks. This zone was a hub for professional networking, knowledge sharing and unveiling of new NGO or private company initiatives with mitigation or adaptation focus.

Amidst the busy schedule of events and open negotiation sessions, there were many other areas to explore in between the two zones. Subnational actors from the United States hosted the US Climate Action Center, as a statement of support for the Paris Agreement. Multiple domes housed panelists and speakers including governors from Oregon, Washington, Massachusetts and California. The brisk walk, bike or electric powered shuttle ride between the Bonn and Bula Zones was also filled with art exhibits, NGOs and advocacy stands.

Despite the geographical distance between them, the week’s activities certainly did not lack in their range and diversity. Although running back and forth between zones was bothersome at times, and often pushed schedules late the coordination of so many events and interests was quite impressive, and made every day a unique experience.

by Laurel Pegorsch

MIDP Fellow ’18

Duke University


Knowledge Sharing and the Importance of the COP

The ‘Bula’ Negotiations Zone at COP 23

The 23rd Conference of the Parties has now concluded, and left some significant takeaways. The event produced several headlines, from Syria joining the Paris agreement to notable presentations from Al Gore, Angela Merkel and a U.S. group supporting continued use of coal. The bulk of the event happened outside these publicized events however, in negotiation rooms where more finite and intricate policies are shaped. While negotiators pushed many tough questions into next year, delegations attempted to define the rulebook for Paris implementation, and began to delve into larger questions such as a carbon trading mechanism and transparent reporting.


From a US perspective, this was an interesting COP. It was the first since President Trump’s election and subsequent announcement of intent to withdraw from Paris, and both domestic and international players had questions on the United States’ new position. An unofficial coalition of primarily democrat subnational actors pitched tents just yards from the offices of the national delegation from the Trump Administration. The opportunity to meet with both groups showed me how the US sends a mixed message to the world on climate change, yet these groups’ positions may not be as fundamentally antagonistic as portrayed in the media.


The COP is a collection of many events, private and public, official and unofficial, but the variety of which is incredibly important. While the negotiations of the Paris Agreement rulebook take place, the COP serves an equally if not more important role serving as a marketplace of ideas. Countless new concepts, techniques, case studies and prototypes are brought to one place as policymakers, scientists, activists and citizens try to tackle one of humanity’s most existential problems. Some progress will be made through successful implementation of Paris Agreement goals. But much more needs to be done than what is possible through Paris, and the next solution will be born out of innovation from knowledge sharing events like the COP.


Being partnered with IUCN, I was able to see how a non-governmental institution attempts to affect policies at this event. While the larger organization had several policy interests, my team spent the week highlighting the benefits of one concept, ecosystem-based adaptation. Through a variety of side events, IUCN promoted EbA techniques, brought together students and experts in the field, and discussed means for improvement in the field.


A common focus throughout many fields was the need for capacity building and improved knowledge sharing. Developing international platforms to connect researchers with local policy actors and project implementation remains equally important as any technological advancements. The COP as a whole naturally promotes a mood of increased cooperation and knowledge sharing, as a mulitinational, multisectoral event. In this way the spirit of the COP is important towards environmental progress each year, even in years without major developments within the negotiations themselves. 

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