Christiana Figueres’ Briefing for Observers

by Carol Nackenoff

Nov. 15, 2013

I attended a packed briefing of NGO observers by UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres on Friday afternoon at COP-19.  NGO observers include RINGOs (organizations engaged in independent research and analysis, including academic institutions—so we were there as RINGOs), BINGOs (business and industry NGOs), ENGOs (environmental NGOs), IPOs (indigenous peoples’ organizations), LGMAs (local governments and municipal authorities) and TUNGOs (trade unions NGOs) and YOUNGOs (youth NGOs).  So NGO observers are a rather diverse group.  One of the TUNGO representatives was the moderator for the briefing.

Executive Secretary Figueres gave an approximately 15 minute overview of what she expected from the conference and a feeling for where she thought we were as we neared the end of week one.  She has a highly positive attitude, coupled with a great deal of realism.  The Executive Secretary believes that countries have come to Warsaw “ready to roll up their sleeves”—they came here and they got to work.  If I heard correctly, there have been 50 decisions made already and 167 are still under negotiation.  Figueres suggested we attend the stock-taking meeting Friday evening, where the COP-19 president Marcin Korolec would be asking all the subsidiary bodies working this week to report (my note: the president is always from the host nation; the  president of COP-19 is Minister of the Environment of Poland).

Secretary Figueres said there were three issues that needed to move forward in Warsaw:

1)    Finance – the work would continue with high-level dialogue in week 2 of COP-19.  The LDCs (less developed countries) want policy guidance on how advanced countries are going to fund the Paris agreement slated for 2015, implementation of which begins in 2020.  This issue is going to take work.

2)    Loss and damage – the negotiators were still having a hard time getting this issue off the ground.  It will not be resolved at the technical level (my note: the work the subsidiary bodies and negotiators are doing in week 1—here, chiefly the subsidiary body on implementation or SBI, the body whose work on loss and damage I was trying to follow; loss and damage has to do with the effects of climate change that are already being experienced and that will be experienced since they cannot all be prevented).  Secretary Figueres hopes the high-level negotiators may be able to resolve this issue next week.  The question is what does and does not go into the mechanism (my note: for example, how is loss determined? What constitutes a loss?  What kind of compensation arrangements will be included?  Will it be more like an insurance system or more like a charity arrangement?)

3)    Draft treaty to go into Lima 2014 with.  The Executive Secretary said they very much want a draft to go into the Lima meetings with.  Countries have to have full time to digest that legal text.  The Lima meetings would be used to work on the text, and there would be a few more months after the Lima conference to complete the work.  By May, 2015, the text has to be translated into all 60 official UN languages.

She also noted that the Sustainable Development Goals process (SDG) will be “in maximum effort” also during the Warsaw conference. (At a later point in the Q&A, Secretary Figueres described the SDG as a “visionary process.”

The floor was then opened to questions, and it seemed to be the practice in each observer meeting that I attended to collect three questions and then have a response.  In the first batch of questions, one delegate noted the encouraging meeting on urbanization held by ADP on Thursday; a Cities Day is about to be announced for 11/21, a day for ministerial/mayoral dialogue (my note: Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, which is working toward a new agreement in Paris but which is also working “to enhance ambition through identifying and exploring options for a range of actions that can close the current ambition gap with a view to ensuring the highest possible mitigation efforts by all Parties.” Often, you can substitute the word “motivation” for “ambition”—that is, they are trying to light a fire under nations so that they will act on climate change.)  Figueres took up and underscored the point about new efforts to include cities & mayors.  She noted that, for the last several years, efforts to break down the wall between countries (official parties) and everybody else had been ongoing.  The walls are down, she said, but what are the ways to facilitate communication between constituencies now?  A BINGO (business and industry) delegate said that countries should not use Article VI for their own purposes and that they should enforce Article VI (my note: Article VI deals with promoting education, training, and awareness on climate change).  A TUNGO (trade union) delegate expressed shock that countries were refusing to make financial commitments to deal with the financial costs of environmental disasters, pointed out that corporations don’t have the interests of workers in mind, and pointed out the  shocking amount of corporate influence at this conference, including advertising by fossil fuel industries. Figueres responded that corporate sponsorship was not unusual for UNFCCC but the Polish President of COP-19 (Korolec)  said this was an expensive program to put on and that he wanted and needed some sponsorship.  Still, there are COP rules about corporate involvement, and they haven’t been broken.  Corporations, Figueres said, were not included in the pre-COP (Oct. 2-4 in Warsaw).  She added that she believes the pre-COP in Venezuela will be very different and will be civil society-heavy (not corporate).

Secretary Figueres also told the observers that the UN Secretary General would be holding a summit in New York City on September 23, 2014.  There are three objects:  1) to put forward government commitment plans (bold plans) for their response to climate change for 2015; she thinks some countries will be ready with their announcements about their 2015 stance, and others won’t  2) provide space to come forward and explore different initiatives and actions; and 3) there will be an electronic track, where others can participate through listening and giving input (my own understanding of what she said on #3 is that these others would include cities, NGOs). [Note:  the RINGO convener pointed out in a question that the UN Millenium Goals expire in 2015 and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon from the Republic of Korea would like to establish new goals, another purpose of the NY conference.]

In response to other questions and observations (some of which I only partly heard), Secretary Figueres pointed out that countries differ in their biodiversity problems connected to climate change.  She said that the 2015 Paris agreement would be based on the pillars of mitigation, adaptation, finance, and technology.  The 2015 agreement will have to put us on the path to zero net emissions in the second half of the 21st century.  She also noted that the UNFCC has no money to pursue women’s inclusion, but they are doing this project on their free time in the secretariat.  Nobody is giving money toward this goal (my note:  this is the first year that women’s inclusion has been part of the official COP program; Swarthmore alum Anne Kolker ’08 has this as part of her negotiating portfolio with the US delegation).

Secretary Figueres also pointed out how important it was to de-risk the flow of capital for development purposes.  Without meaningful response to climate change, insurance and reinsurance companies will not be willing to insure development projects, even with UNFCC funds for adaptation or mitigation projects waiting to be invested.  She said that the LDCs finished the NAMA (nationally-appropriate mitigation action project) process a few days ago and this was an important accomplishment.  They launched this guidebook on November 18th (Note: to understand more about NAMAs, this may be a good resource:

A questioner from Oxfam underscored the importance of the finance issue.  Public finance will be an important part of the money expected for (mitigation?).  Meanwhile, Japan and Australia both announced here in Warsaw that they were rolling back their mitigation commitments!  Secretary Figueres responded that both of these decisions were regrettable, but the two were actually different [kinds of] announcements, and she hopes that these countries will realize it is in their interest to do everything they can.

Our Swarthmore delegation to COP 19 adjourned from this meeting to a private meeting with Executive Secretary Figueres in her office.  That meeting, which she allowed us to videotape, appears separately.



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