Final Day at the COP

by Carol Nackenoff


In the RINGO morning briefing on Saturday, I decided to ask what the big deal was about REDD+.  After all, forests/deforestation and agriculture account for only 17-20% of global GHGs, I was hearing during the meetings.  And the big breakthrough seems to be that scientists have figured out how to measure GHG emissions from these sources and monitoring is now possible.  The financing for such a monitoring program is still unresolved and a number of countries are resisting, based on sovereignty, the idea of external monitors coming in to verify self-reporting.  REDD+ is supposed to be one of the triumphs of COP 19 (there is also some great happiness about the inclusion of cities and sub national governmental units in a new way–I have to discover more about that but COP president Marcin Korolec was talking about new improvements in consulting others beyond traditional party states, and mayors are coming next week for a session).

The answer I got from RINGOs present was something like this:  a) it is true that peat bogs and wetlands contribute to GHG emissions and REDD+ doesn’t deal, b) even though GHG emissions attributable to deforestation and agriculture aren’t huge and they are not rising as are other sources, methane released is a dangerous contributor to global warming even with its shorter lifespan, and REDD+ can monitor this, c) this is a sector in which international finance could make a tremendous impact, d) REDD+ is something developing countries can contribute to addressing climate change; although indigenous peoples’ contributions need to be better appreciated and they are often not consulted, and e) we do tend to focus on what we can measure. . .

At RINGO this morning, there was some reporting and discussion about both Executive Secretary Figueres’s briefing for observers Friday and also the SBI head’s stock-taking meeting the previous evening.  I had attended both.  One question I asked was whether anyone could help me “decode” what various delegations were doing with the brief marks they made.  I was assured that almost all of these remarks were perfunctory, but unless one knew exactly what language a delegation had used last year (and often earlier)’ it was impossible to know whether there was any subtle shift in position that might indicate some sort of an opening.  Negotiators look carefully at words used for signs and cues.

One thing that was mentioned that I hope to learn more about is that the International Social Science Council apparently decided, at Durban, to set a research agenda (on climate change ) for the next 10 years.  No one in the room remembered seeing anything from this body yet.  There was an announcement of another side event panel also sponsored by the EU on the Changing Geopolitics of Climate Change later that morning; since I enjoyed the last one put together by UK-based Climate Strategies, and these were more papers from the forthcoming issue of Climate change Policy, I decided to catch part of it.  I was not disappointed.  It was hard to find a chair.  I went there in  he company of the faculty member with the Waterloo University (Canada) delegation since we had made arrangements on Friday to talk for awhile after RINGO Saturday a.m.

What I learned was how complex equity has become.  Those facing loss and damage from climate change do want to talk about equity, and these nations currently see the U.S. doing more than Canada on mitigation (Obama’s climate initiative is seen as a good step; Canada simply withdrew from Kyoto when it became clear it couldn’t meet he targets set).  Different groups of states (each group with its own acronym) has a somewhat different take on what equity requires.  some want adaptation included in  eye equity frame.  there is a shift from the mitigation framework taking place.  In addition to mitigation, adaptation, finance/support and loss/damage are entering into considerations of equity, making equity a more complex idea than it was in Kyoto I. there  are all sorts of factors involved.  There are acknowledgment of needs approaches and ruins-based approaches, historical responsibility formulas and collective burden-sharing ones.  The US, EU, Australia and a few other states face huge payments (for adaptation, loss and damage) AND face huge emissions reductions, so tremendous demands are being placed on developed nations.  If you look at Canada, the public had a strong negative reaction to having their tax monies going overseas, and even carbon taxes (low ones) almost failed, surprising politicians.  In the U.S., there are deep equity concerns between the states.  Environmental justice folks litigated against California’s cap and trade measure on equity grounds: cap and trade is a market mechanism, and trading rather than reducing pollution means that local residents can suffer even if emissions go down somewhere else.  These are all problems of equity and they impact what is likely, what is possible in negotiations.

When I left, I went off to the ADP informal stock-taking plenary, where Alex and Laura were.  ADP (Ad Hoc Working Group on Durban Platform for Enhanced Action) working on the Durban platform and responsible for he 2015 Paris treaty had clearly made a very short presentation and delegates were engaging in their remarks.  What was memorable to me was the head of the Philippine delegation, who likes to put his criticisms in the form of stories.  After a number of countries had berated developed countries for not doing more, he told this story.  A mother came to Gandhi and asked him to tell her son to stop eating sugar.  Instead, Gandhi told the woman to return in two weeks.  She returned, and Gandhi told her son to stop eating sugar.  The mother asked Gandhi why he had not done that when she first asked.  Gandhi’s reply was that, two weeks ago, he was still eating sugar.

Alex, Laura and I adjourned with TIm Damon, with who we had arranged to have lunch. Tim had spent a great deal of time with Ben and Alex on Skype helping the students learn what to expect and watch for.  He first attended a COP while a student at Dickinson, and he is working with SUSTAINUS on intergenerational equity, trying to get  this term into the draft treaty at a minimum.  Tim also spent time separately prepping me, so it seemed that a nice lunch at the small Cantina near the EU pavilion would be in order.  The after-lunch meeting on Combatting Climate Change through Education and Training was pretty unbearably boring, no matter how important this issue is.  A bunch of agencies and a few individuals told us how they did it.  One good point made was that learning, equity, and innovation were essential for developing resilience and adaptation among the young to deal with climate change.  Ministers of Education have just come to  the table on climate change.  We will need resilient and creative children for what lies ahead.

It is way too late, so I will stop here.  I think the Saturday afternoon protest was more interesting than closing subsidiary body sessions, which kept getting pushed back and were impossible to follow when parts of their work were reported out since sections were only referred to by esoteric numbers (esoteric to anyone who was not in the many closed door negotiating sessions).

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