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Key Issues of the 2017 Bonn Intersessional

The 2017 Intersessional is occurring this week in Bonn, Germany. It takes place from May 8th through May 18th, 2017. The Intersessional is the 46th session of the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI 46) and the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological (SBSTA 46), as well as the third part of the first session of the Ad Hoc Working Group of the Paris Agreement (APA 1-3) [1]. The UNFCCC released several documents on related agenda items prior to the start of the two-week negotiating session.

UNFCCC Bonn Climate Change Conference. Photo by UNFCCC.

The World Resources Institute describes several key issues to watch for at the 2017 Bonn Intersessional. There will be work on the Paris rulebook to allow adoption of the Paris Agreement by 2018 [2].  Additionally, the Intersessional will involve designing the 2018 Facilitative Dialogue, which offers space to review the progress make towards ambitions and implementation. The Facilitative Dialogue also allows opportunities for discussion to enhance financial resources for technology development and capacity building [3].

APA 1-3 is expected to continue work on the Paris Agreement, as the Paris Agreement work program is due by 2018. Key issues for APA 1-3 include Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), adaptation mechanisms, development of a transparency framework, the global stocktake, mechanisms to support facilitation and compliance, and the adaptation fund [4].

SBI 46 will discuss the Standing Committee on Finance (SCF), the third review of the adaptation fund, and the program budget for 2018-2019 [5]. SBI 46 is also expected to discuss the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), and the National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) [4].

SBSTA 46 is expected to review modalities for accounting of financial resources according to the Paris Agreement Article 9.7 [5]. SBSTA will review the Nairobi work program, agriculture, science and review, and response measures. They will also discuss methodological issues regarding the Convention and Kyoto Protocol. In the Paris Agreement work program, SBSTA will review the technology framework and cooperative approaches from Article 6 [4].

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The 2017 Bonn Intersessional is a key meeting to continue progress towards reaching ambitions set forth in the Paris Agreement. The meeting will allow review and development of goals to gain a clearer picture of how goals will be obtained and where work still needs to be done. Progress on countries’ implementation of mechanisms and ambitions will be discussed, allowing the Intersessional to track the success of individual countries and continue the momentum of the Paris Agreement.








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The Future of the US in the Paris Agreement

The election of Donald Trump as President of the United States occurred just four days after the start of the 2016 UN Climate Conference in Marrakesh, Morocco. During the 2016 presidential election, Trump vowed to pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement with his firm belief that there is no proof of human-induced climate change [1]. The Paris Agreement, which entered into force on November 4, 2016, seeks to enhance the global response of combatting climate change and keeping global temperature rise below 2°C above pre-industrial levels [2]. Trump’s beliefs about climate change are a major cause of concern for the future of the United States in the Paris Agreement.

President Trump ultimately has the final decision on whether or not to remain the in Paris Agreement. An alternative to backing out of the agreement also exists, though neither option is in the best interest of the United States or Planet Earth. Paris Article 4.11 states:

A Party may at any time adjust its existing nationally determined contribution with a view to enhancing its level of ambition, in accordance with guidance adopted by the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to this Agreement.”[3]

Trump has the opportunity to formally revise the ambitions set forth by the Obama Administration and stay in the Paris Agreement. President Obama said the United States would reduce carbon emissions 26% from 2005 emissions by 2025 [4]. The Paris Agreement does not clearly state that ambitions must become more ambitious.  So, although there is an opportunity for the United States to stay in the Paris Agreement under the Trump Administration, negatively revising the ambitions set forth by the U.S. would result in nearly as many harmful impacts as pulling out of the agreement.  The negotiations of the Paris Agreement will continue this month in Bonn, Germany from May 8th-May 17th [5]. The hope is that the United States will remain in the Paris Agreement and continue making strides to combat climate change. President Trump is likely going to give his decision about whether or not the U.S. will remain in the Paris Agreement during this time.

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This year at the mid-year negotiations in Bonn, only seven U.S. representatives are present at the conference as compared to 45 representatives in 2015[6]. The possibility of a decision from the U.S. exists this week. If not, Trump is expected to make a decision by the meeting of the G-7 leaders’ summit in Sicily later this month. The G-7 meets each year to discuss collective decision making regarding energy policy, security, and governance and is composed of seven industrialized democracies [7].

Withdrawing the United States from confronting climate change could result in many negative impacts. According to a recent poll, 66% of Americans are concerned that climate change will affect them personally[8][9]. Additionally, pulling out of the Paris Agreement would negatively affect job opportunities. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, approximately 800,000 Americans were employed in low-carbon-emission technology, as compared to 160,000 Americans employed by the coal industry [10]. Without the support of the United States in tackling climate change, there would be major concerns about the outcomes of global climate policy and the reliability of the United States, which is the world’s largest economy and second largest producer of greenhouse gases[11]. Furthermore, other countries may want to leave the Paris Agreement if the United States were to leave.

The entry into force of the Paris Agreement in 2016 was a huge achievement for global climate policy and environmental protection. As a world economic and policy leader, the United States plays a major role in setting an example for combatting climate change. Several possibilities exist in which Trump could move forward in combatting climate change. The best option for the health of the environment and the credibility of the United States is for Trump to decide to stay in the Paris Agreement with the ambitions set forth by the Obama Administration. On the other hand, Trump could decide to revise the ambitions currently in place and reduce U.S. efforts to combat climate change. This option is not ideal for climate governance, but it maintains some credibility. The worst option, for reasons discussed above, would be for Trump to pull out of the Paris Agreement. This would be detrimental for the health of the environment and for the reliability of the U.S. as an ally in the fight against global climate change.

Though no formal decision has been made yet, it is likely only a matter of days or weeks before the Trump Administration will release a decision regarding the Paris Agreement. Until then, we can only hope that the health of Planet Earth is kept in mind.

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Adaptation @ COP22, Part II – How do we best leverage Ecosystem Based Adaptation approaches?

While at COP22 in Morocco, I was also lucky enough to liaise with IUCN’s Ecosystem Based Adaptation (EBA) team, whom I helped with coordinating a couple of side events during the first week of the conference. With support from research organizations, NGOs and governments across the world, IUCN has taken the lead in creating an informal alliance, known as the Friends of EBA, or FEBA. FEBA partners range from The Nature Conservancy and Conservation International, to environmental ministries in Nepal and Germany, and UNFCCC Adaptation Fund representatives.

In their most reduced form, EBA approaches look for “nature-based solutions”, and attempt to leverage the central role of ecosystems and biodiversity in enhancing human adaptive capacity to respond to climate change. EBA can be defined as the conservation, management and restoration of ecosystems to combat climate change, and some examples of EBA include sustainable agriculture, IWRM, and mangroves restoration. Interestingly, while the term was introduced by conservationists, it is by design, a human-centered concept. The idea is simple – to help nature become a tool we can use.

FEBA partners were quick to recognize the positive feedback loop from pursuing EBA strategies – using and adapting resilient landscapes to tackle the ravages of climate change enhances both the health of ecosystems and species within them, and these landscapes then function as a buffer zone, like wetlands, which protect human settlements from further losses of life and property, when the next hurricane blows in.

On the one hand, EBA approaches are low cost, because they leverage existing natural infrastructure. However, they’re also site-specific, and are forced to depend on both the build-up of political will at the national level, and community buy-in at the local one. Paolo Domondon, from RARE’s Philippines office, reiterated the link between EBA effectiveness and community management, and how this buy-in would be more easily achieved through interventions that targeted behavioral changes in the community (in say, valuing their marine resources more highly) alongside capacity-building at the local level.

Small island states and low lying coastal states are the most vulnerable to natural disasters, and unavoidable climate change, such as sea level rise. Given their small economies and often limited populations, financing seems to inevitably come up in these kinds of conversations. Issus of equity, vulnerability, and historical responsibility prick sharpest here, especially considering – island states are bearing the brunt of climate change impacts, and adaptation financing is just barely getting off the ground.

In this context, Seychelles’ “debt-for-nature” swap is a genius stroke – it’s the first ever debt taken by a country to fund climate adaptation efforts, where the returns will be measured, at least in part, through a strong marine conservation component. With the Nature Conservancy’s stewardship, Paris Club creditors have extended a $30 million debt swap to the Seychelles government, which will be used to finance adaptation efforts, and in time also result in the establishment of an endowment for the continued protection of Seychelles’ oceans. Specifically, the financing would aid in the implementation of a Marine Spatial Plan, and requires more marine protected area coverage in the next 5 years.

Finally, one of the recurring themes across discussions on EBA was the desperate need for further research and data collection, and impact evaluation. Several speakers stressed the need to collect data and understand what we’re measuring when we’re trying to quantify the benefits arising from an EBA intervention. The point was made that when evaluating the benefits of EBA, we may also consider the potential “avoided losses” that would have otherwise accrued in the absence of entire ecosystems, or the ability to live in vulnerable coastal areas. Pradeep Kurukulasuriya, a UNDP panelist at one of the events, discussed the importance of using currently nascent EBA experiments as opportunities to evaluate the net impact associated with such programs, and donors backed this up by underscoring the need for actionable information that investors can rely on.

The bottom line is – while ecosystem based adaptation sounds great in principle, and has even in worked in practice, we must be ruthlessly honest about its efficacy and sustainability in varying geographies and at different points in time. Seeing as EBA is an evolving, nascent concept, it is very important to ask  – What criteria do we use to measure potential losses and benefits for an EBA intervention? Is there a financing/equity issue involved, and if so, how do we overcome this? What does “EBA success” look like?

Adaptation @ COP22, Part I – Loss and Damage, Disasters, Risks and Insurance

Given my interest in climate justice and issues of equity in climate negotiations, I’ve followed the “climate fates” of small island developing states with much interest, post Paris. Thus, I focused my attention on attending both official negotiations and discussions as well as side events on the topics of adaptation, and loss and damage, including disaster insurance, while at COP22. In this first Part, I discuss a couple of side events at the COP that dealt with loss and damage, and climate insurance. In a second installment, I will attempt to explain the concept of Ecosystem Based Adaptation, which aims to provide an innovative approach to tackling adaptation challenges in the context of climate change.

One of the first events I attended at COP22 was an official side event titled “What would an inclusive framework to address L&D look like?” The panel began with the premise that “loss and damage” (L&D) has varying conceptions, and that attempting to understand what this meant elicited a spectrum of views from experts across the globe. While some suggest that L&D refers to all potential climate change impacts that may be dealt with through mitigation and adaptation, others (followers of the “existential typology”) emphasise the need for new L&D approaches to address the unavoidable harms that will fall upon vulnerable countries. Importantly, those that do not believe L&D is restricted to mitigation and adaptation action under the Convention also ask that it be applied to impacts of all climate-related events rather than just those that can be attributed to climate change, and that a focus is maintained on addressing vulnerability at the community level.

Panelists went on to discuss the role of risk analysis in helping identify a policy space for L&D frameworks, categorising L&D approaches into two buckets – curative measures for unavoidable and unavoided impacts (due to technical/financial constraints, but otherwise avoidable), and transformative measures to avoid or manage intolerable risks. A presentation focused on national mechanisms that could be deployed further highlighted the linkages between L&D and risk management regulation and infrastructure, including both insurance as well as disaster management frameworks.

Several speakers pointed out the importance of moving beyond the attribution debate (“Was this caused by human-induced climate change?”) towards a humanitarian perspective – for example, the very real existential threat to low-lying islands and coastal nations like Bangladesh was recognised as a serious issue, whether all the damage could be attributed to climate change, or not. Speakers talked about the need for legal protection from international law and financing for forced displacement caused by climate change, and mentioned the Nansen Initiative, in this regard. Given the complete refusal to consider including “compensation” within the L&D framework at Paris, and unfavourable international migration and refugee law architecture, this suggested shift in attitudes was heartening, to say the least.

At another side event, panelists discussed the importance of providing insurance solutions for adaptation. The consensus emerged that climate risk insurance could in fact contribute to building resilience amongst vulnerable communities, and a classic example of co-benefits would be the increases in agricultural productivity that are often experienced after a drought insurance scheme has been put in place.

Importantly, a researcher from the UN University’s Munich Climate Insurance Initiative shared 7 guiding “pro-poor” principles that would help make climate insurance work for those most vulnerable; these are listed and briefly discussed below –

  1. Comprehensive needs based solutions – insurance schemes should be tailored to local needs and conditions, and integrated with comprehensive risk management strategies that improve resilience;
  2. Value to client/community – insurance schemes must provide reliable coverage that is valuable to the insured, which is crucial for uptake;
  3. Affordability – schemes must be made more affordable to increase coverage, and this is important to satisfy equity concerns;
  4. Accessibility – aligning efficient and cost-effective delivery channels with the local context is key for scaling up;
  5. Participation – inclusive, meaningful and accountable involvement of (potential) beneficiaries and other relevant local stakeholders – in the design, implementation and review of insurance products – creates trust and provides a basis for local ownership and political buy-in;
  6. Sustainability – safeguarding economic, social and ecological sustainability is crucial; and
  7. Enabling environment – actively building an enabling environment that accommodates and fosters pro-poor insurance solutions.

Finally, the panel wrapped up by discussing the value of climate insurance beyond compensation, highlighting other co-benefits such as the importance of knowing the “price tag” for risk through risk transparency, enabling increased individual/economic activity through providing a “safety net”, and building up research and data on the issue.

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.

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