What a difference a day makes: Day 5 of ADP 2-6

Here are ENB’s concluding observations on Day 5 of this week’s special session of the ADP:

“The agreement reached the previous night by the EU Council on a binding target to reduce GHG emissions by 40% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels blew fresh air into the corridors of the conferencefresh air center in Bonn. While the announcement put a spring in the step of many European negotiators, others welcomed the clarity provided by the informal consultations on adaptation. “The process is really allowing us to delve into parties’ proposals,” said one delegate, who added “we can start to make real progress now we know exactly what is on the table.”

Others worried that the decision to postpone discussions on mitigation until the last day of the meeting meant this important issue would be left without enough time for consideration. Frustration also bubbled on INDCs, with one delegate concerned that some parties’ “demanding impossible things” threatens to derail the process. The ambivalent tone of the day deepened as some noted that, although informal consultations on finance had also been established, frank conversations about many issues had yet to commence.”

Posted in ADP

Hallway remarks gathered by ENB on Day 4

Here are ENB’s concluding observations on Day 4 of this week’s special session of the ADP:

“As the halfway mark of ADP 2-6 passed, delegates’ thoughts turned into progress achieved so far: whether areas of convergence had emerged and if discussions were progressing fast enough. Although some underscored the usefulness of discussions, the long list of issues still waiting to be addressed by Saturday night left many wondering, as ADP Co-Chair Kumarsingh questioned, if parties “know what they are doing” and “what they want to achieve.”

One area where divergence clearly emerged was that of INDCs. Whereas most delegates agreed the world has changed since the adoption of the Convention, interpretations of what this means were situated on a long spectrum, between what some labelled as the “one-size-fits-all” and “bifurcated” approaches.

autumn eveningAt the same time, a number of parties made explicit efforts to bring the opposite sides closer to each other. A suggestion by Brazil on a “concentric” differentiation created a small buzz, with many interested in exploring how to operationalize it. The briefing on cooperative activities to build capacity for preparing INDCs was also welcomed by many as a useful space for sharing information.

All in all, with the long, autumn shades accompanying delegates on their way to evening coordination meetings, even the festival of light, Diwali, celebrated on Thursday as noted by Co-Chair Kumarsingh, was unable to fully lighten the mood, and some were already looking forward to the Lima spring to “illuminate their thinking.”

Posted in ADP

ENB’s hallway observations of ADP’s day 3

Here are ENB’s concluding observations on Day 3 of this week’s special session of the ADP:

“As the ADP train slowly moved on, the interactive approach promoted by the Co-Chairs produced intermittent progress in the contact group discussions on finance. While a number of delegates stuck to reiterating familiar positions, some expressed appreciation to the US for their “surprisingly progressive” position and Norway’s proposal on readiness support.trains

Others, however, wondered how far parties had in fact moved since Durban, especially as some characterized the start of INDC discussions as “demoralizing.” Positions on INDCs were highly polarized, and while one optimistic delegate noted that “at least they are considering text,” another pondered whether there was any hope to see the INDCs process through.

A sense of déjà vu also characterized the TEM on non-CO2 gases, where an old dilemma on whether to address the phase out of HFCs under the UNFCCC or the Montreal Protocol resurfaced, alongside more technical and action-oriented presentations, a reminder of how the UNFCCC process and action on the ground often seem to be moving on two different tracks.”

Posted in ADP

ENB “in the corridors” of ADP2-6

Here are ENB’s concluding observations on Day 2 of this week’s special session of the ADP: 

“After what many had qualified as a “slow start,” the second day of ADP 2-6 opened with a call to switch gears. As discussions on adaptation began, however, a stream of lengthy statements unfolded, and even the Co-Chairs’ initiative to allow mixed seating did little to speed up the pace.

ENB logoWhile delegates recognized that a constructive dialogue did take place, some lamented that a lot of time was lost in “repeating the obvious,” with accumulating delays in addressing items on the ADP’s busy agenda.

With negotiations sliding back to familiar patterns, many remarked that it was clear that more negotiating time would be needed to meet the April 2015 deadline announced by the Co-Chairs.

The contact group on ADP item 3 took the lion’s share of delegates’ attention, with the full-day TEM on CCUS attracting limited participation. Some delegates lamented that, while the TEM format is useful for awareness raising, it allows little time for in-depth discussions. Many noted however, that this was a golden opportunity to make an entry point for CCS in the 2015 agreement.”

Posted in ADP

“Let us stand up to the responsibility placed in our hands.”

kishanWith this statement, ADP Co-Chair Kishan Kumarsingh opened this week’s special session of the ad hoc negotiating body this morning.  Mandated by the COP17 decision taken in Durban, South Africa in 2011, the ADP must produce “a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force” that will take the place of the Kyoto Protocol after its second commitment period ends in 2020.  Starting almost 1.5 hours late (which meant that this writer’s 4am wake up in Ohio was unnecessary), the morning plenary meeting covered opening statements by the co-chair, incoming COP20 President Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, and UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres before moving into interventions by negotiating groups.  Webcasts in the 6 official UN languages had to stop at 1:30pm, already a half hour later than the translators planned, when the Russian and Saudi negotiators protested (in English) not being able to communicate in their national languages.  And so the morning session was carried over to the afternoon, and the start of the contact group listed on today’s daily programme will be pushed back.  In addition to watching the ADP negotiators via webcast, we observers can follow the discussions via live tweeting at the hash tag #ADP2014.  (NOTE:  The live tweeting is especially useful when sessions are not webcasted.)  As alway, CAN International provides its daily take on the negotiations, as does IISD via the Earth Negotiation Bulletin (ENB). This inaugural issue of the session’s ENB does a particularly fine job giving an overview of the ADP negotiations to date and of recent, related meetings outside the UNFCCC that provide important context.

adp in bonnExecutive Secretary Figueres reminded assembled negotiators of the run-up to this special meeting and how their actions this week would be viewed.  She described the UN Climate Summit in New York as  “never before” have 120 state heads come together on one day under one roof to make pledges. Given these public statements of commitment to the UNFCCC negotiations, Figueres admonished that “your heads of state have assured the world, now eyes turn to you, delegates, on your work this week.”   Despite the co-chair’s warnings that “sticking to positions is not negotiations” and about the “futility of stalling on positions,” several negotiating blocs have staked out familiar ground.  For example, the G77+China immediately underscored the need for the Loss and Damage Mechanism to take its place as a sixth element of the new agreement, standing separate from adaptation, while the Umbrella Group focused on the need for a more concise, streamlined document in Lima, with Workstream 2′s focus on pre-2020 ambition important but balanced with “intense” Workstream 1 talks about mitigation elements in the Paris agreement.   An array of documents prepared by the co-chairs and UNFCCC Secretariat staff may be found here.  State Party submission on point are linked here.

Stay tuned.  This week’s special ADP session runs through Saturday, October 25.  As VLS COP20 blogger whitneyb noted, “[w]ith increased virtual participation via social media, an active FaceBook page for UNFCCC and a plethora of citizen groups pushing climate change awareness, WE MAY ALL HAVE A VOICE and a front row seat (at least, in front of a laptop).”


Posted in ADP

Can social media offer a voice and a virtual seat at the climate change table?

It is estimated that one in four people worldwide use some form of social media. While this statistic may cause concern among some populations, should climate change advocates around the world rejoice in this? According to news about Instagram , the International Center of Photography  is working hard to bring climate change front and center for every social media user. This eight-year project aims to showcase beauty of untouched areas of the world and appeal to the senses of ‘what could be lost.’ Some of the photographs highlight climate catastrophes such as deforestation in Borneo and melting glacial fields. This is not, however, an overt cry for change.  The idea is to expose Instagram users to these images and spark conversation which would not happen when one walks solo through the ICP’s Midtown Manhattan gallery.  The onsite exhibition coordinator, Pauline Vermare, explains, “It’s not about art, it’s about changing the society.”

View of the junction of the Colorado and the Little Colorado from the Navajo territory. The Grand Canyon National Park begins after this junction. Click the image to enlarge. Copyright Sebastião Salgado/Amazonas Images

View of the junction of the Colorado and the Little Colorado from the Navajo territory. The Grand Canyon National Park begins after this junction.  This is one of the ICP images.
Click the image to enlarge. Copyright Sebastião Salgado/Amazonas Images

Using social media to raise climate change awareness is not novel: three years ago, Al Gore started “The Climate Reality Project,” created a FaceBook page and asked the public to commit to hosting view-parties for online climate change events. Today, this page has almost 321,000 ‘likes’ and still acts as a news source for climate-savvy FaceBookers. Others add climate change inspired ‘hashtags’ that cross social media boundaries from FaceBook to Twitter and Instagram. This was evident during People’s Climate march as over 400,000 participants gathered in the streets of New York City – most uploading photos with #peoplesclimatemarch.

While these social media campaigns may subconsciously expose us to issues or overtly alert us to climate news, do they really make a difference to the leaders on the road to Lima and Paris for upcoming UNFCCC and Kyoto negotiations? It seems as though, while a good way to stay informed, there is little evidence that party leaders actually take social media into account when devising negotiating plans. This doesn’t mean social media has no influence on policy; it may just mean that this is one channel for negotiators to monitor the thoughts of citizens and for constituencies to keep tabs on issues.  Since 2008, the UNFCCC secretariat and Information Services Coordinator have stated that virtual participation in convention sessions is a priority. Growing numbers of Convention delegates, lack of funding for some Parties/organizations to send delegates and a new host city each year make virtual participation a timely choice.  With increased virtual participation via social media, an active FaceBook page for UNFCCC and a plethora of citizen groups pushing climate change awareness, WE MAY ALL HAVE A VOICE and a front row seat (at least, in front of a laptop) at Paris COP21.  As for Lima, have confidence that the blogging, hashtagging and tweeting will keep the masses informed.

Legal enough?

In the run up to next week’s special meeting of the ADP, the United States is publicly setting out its negotiation agenda.


Todd Stern making an announcement at last year’s COP19/CMP9.

In a speech on Monday at Yale University, U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern indicated the country’s position on the meaning of “legal” in the ADP’s mandate to produce “a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force” to take the place of the Kyoto Protocol after its second commitment period ends in 2020.

The Obama Administration is in a tough spot.  It wants to be a player in developing a 2015 agreement (popularly called the Paris agreement, for it is due to be opened for signature at COP21 in the City of Light).  It knows that this new agreement will contain legal elements.  It also knows that if the entire package takes the form of a treaty, it would have to bring it to the Senate for ratification — a highly unlikely proposition even if the Democrats maintain control after this fall’s midterm elections.

In his formal remarks, Stern pointed to New Zealand’s proposal for all countries to submit an emissions reduction schedule that would be legally binding and subject to mandatory accounting, reporting and review rules, but that stops short of taking the form of an internationally binding treaty.

Late night ADP negotiations in Warsaw.

Mexico and Singapore await their turns to speak at a late night session of the ADP in Warsaw.

As reported by Reuters, Stern commented that “some are sure to disapprove of the New Zealand idea, since the mitigation commitment itself is not legally binding, but we would counsel against that kind of orthodoxy.”   In the National Journal he argued that the flip side of this approach may be “increased ambition” in these nationally determined commitments: “Many countries, if forced to put forward legally binding commitments at the international level, are inevitably going to lowball their commitment out of fear—anxiety about what it means for their commitment to be internationally legally binding.”  Stern suggested at his Yale talk that countries might include description of the legally binding measures it will take domestically to meet its internationally stated goal, to reinforce the heft of its submission:  “it’s important for countries to make clear which specific policies will be used to meet their emissions targets.”

While this stance will indeed disappoint global partners in the UNFCCC’s ADP negotiations, officials inside the U.S. point out that it doesn’t weaken the country’s domestic approach to mitigating climate change.  Shaun Donovan, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, said that the U.S. is aware that its own target will have a major impact on the outcome of a global deal.  “The more that we do, the more our ability to push other countries to make bold commitments as well, particularly China. It is something we are very focused on in terms of what targets we are able to get to.”  Stern also observed that the President’s Climate Action Plan and the EPA’s recent Clean Power Plan rulemaking “give us a level of credibility, and it give us a level of leverage that we have not had in the time I have been here.”


UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres at the bully pulpit.

Any points of common ground as we move from Bonn’s special ADP meeting next week to Lima’s COP20/CMP10 in December?

“We should agree on an angle of the [Paris] conference this year in Lima, Peru,” Stern opined to The Hill.  To that end, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres told the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations that given the lessons learned from COP15 in Copenhagen, she will push state parties gathered in Lima to have “cleanest possible draft text” available for governments by April 15, 2015.

2C or not 2C

Overheated Thermometer

A recent article in Nature has questioned whether 2°C of global warming (beyond pre-industrial levels) is the right limit for achieving the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) objective of “stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” With its publication, authors David G. Victor and Charles F. Kennel have returned the scientific and policy questions behind the 2°C limit to the climate change debate table with gusto.

First adopted within the EU in 1996 (EU Council, 1996, item no. 6), and formalized globally in COP15’s “Copenhagen Accord,” the 2°C limit, while not legally binding, has been the mantra for governmental and institutional climate change efforts since. According to Victor and Kennel, however, this limit is “wrongheaded” because it fails on both political and scientific terms. First, it is sufficiently divorced from emissions and energy use so that it is ineffective in driving serious mitigation. Second, it doesn’t adequately characterize the stress with which the climate system is contending due to human activities. Thus, the 2°C mantra provides governments and institutions with little policy guidance, while at the same time failing to ensure accountability. polar-532_1527216a

Even before comparison of the IPCC’s 3rd (2001) and 4th (2009) Assessment Reports on climate change impacts alarmed the world, scientists were questioning the 2°C limit. Well-known former NASA scientist, James Hansen, began sounding the alarm in 2008, warning that the consequences of 2°C warming would be “disastrous.” Last December, Hansen offered (with a host of collaborators) his latest treatise on the topic, indicating that the cumulative 1,000 GtC in the atmosphere implied by a 2°C limit (based on multiple models, including those reported in the IPCC’s 5th Assessment Report) would actually generate “eventual warming of 3-4°C,” due to feedback loops. Even with 0.8°C warming, our planet is already experiencing climate extremes and other negative impacts.

Victor and Kennel acknowledge the attractiveness of the simplicity of the 2°C figure, but believe the global community is capable of conceptualizing and using a set of more accessible “vital signs” that can readily be translated into effective parameters for policy and action. In particular, they suggest atmospheric concentrations of CO2 and other GHGs as the best indicator of climate system health. They call for agreement on a global average GHG concentration goal on which “specific emissions and policy efforts” can be based. They also recommend tracking indices like ocean heat content and high-latitude temperature, both of which are currently measured. They base their recommendations on the success of the Millennium Development Goals and the Montreal Protocol, which they believe is due to the specific linking of goals to indicators that actually respond (within a few years) to human decision-making.

Many have criticized the Nature essay. Adam Vaughan, writing in the Guardian, reports a host of negative responses from scientists and international climate policy veterans, albeit not all totally damning. The climate activist community (ThinkProgress, Grist, and others) isn’t too happy, either. The timing of the article — less than 18 months before the deadline for the next international climate agreement, due to be inked in Paris — and it appearing in such a prominent journal have prompted the most anger. Many of these critics fear that doing away with the 2°C limit will let governments off the hook — exactly the result Victor and Kennel feel having the 2°C limit has done. (Victor’s rebuttal, available here, interestingly notes that many authors have articulated the need for multiple indicators.)

But do politicians feel that they’re “on the hook?” Current national energy policies have allowed a 34% increase in global GHG radiative forcing between 1990 and 2013, with atmospheric concentration of CO2 in 2013 exceeding the pre-industrial level (1750) by 142%. The World Meteorological Association’s September report of this data (see our September 9 blog posting on it) included the disturbing news that CO2 increase between 2012 and 2013 exceeded that of any single year since 1984.


With nearly universal agreement on the policy end (reduce anthropogenic emissions ASAP), but much disagreement over the policy driver (the line(s) in the sand beyond which there is no return), perhaps this catastrophe-based framing is poorly suited to policy-making. Victor and Kennel don’t suggest abandoning the 2°C limit today. Instead, they call for the UNFCCC to “chart a path” to designing a new set of indicators at that upcoming momentous Paris 2015 COP21 meeting.

2C or not 2C? We shall see.

The Importance of Public Participation and Governmental Oversight in REDD

Peru, the host nation for COP-20, is facing rapid deforestation. Due to pressures such as mining, logging and agriculture, Peru’s bio-diverse forests are shrinking fast. This is in spite of a comprehensive reform to forestry policy. The very safeguards that have been put in place to protect forests by the Peruvian government, are the same mechanisms being used to further exploit forests: permits and concessions are being violated and loopholes are being used to promote industry over conservation.

DeforestationGlobally, deforestation accounts for about 17% of greenhouse gas emissions. The UN Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) is meant to address deforestation and forest degradation in least developed countries (where, as in Peru, natural resources are often rapidly depleted in the process of modernization).  56 Countries have joined the REDD Programme, 21 of which have active UNEP REDD projects. While the REDD Programme is designed to address deforestation and to combat climate change, it has been criticized for lacking effective oversight mechanisms and for leaving local peoples out of decision-making processes.

The principle that local peoples should have access to decision-making about their natural resources is articulated in the Bali Guidelines for the Development of National Legislation on Access to Information, Public Participation and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters. The Bali principles focus on  recognizing due process as a right within environmental matters. The right to free, prior and informed consent is emphasized. While REDD purports to be a programme that directly engages with local peoples, that is not always the case. For example, in Kenya, violent evictions are occurring to make forested areas REDD+-ready.


The extent to which communities are given access to information and participation in the REDD process will in turn affect which projects are chosen, how they are implemented and what project outcomes are for local peoples. Many LDCs lack sufficient governmental infrastructure, which may make monitoring REDD projects difficult. As UNEP acknowledges, governmental monitoring is essential to ensuring that REDD projects comply with international human rights principles. UNEP has identified transparency, respect for local peoples and full and effective participation as essential aspects of the REDD programme. Going forward it is crucial that advocacy groups monitor REDD projects closely to ensure these principles are followed.


Simulating success

duke simulationThe Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University will host the 5th Annual Inter-University Climate Change Negotiations Simulation over the October 24th-25th, 2014 weekend. The simulation’s design is based on the UNFCCC negotiations and focuses on the real-world politics as well as the policy debates at the core of the COP/CMP meetings. Student negotiators come from a variety of universities, represent one of the 196 UNFCCC state parties, and endeavor to craft the universal agreement (often called the Paris Agreement) that the real parties intend to finalize in 2015.

Participation is open to any student currently enrolled as an yale simulation 1undergraduate or graduate student. Registration is $20 (or $25 after October 17th, 2014), to cover food costs during the event. Free housing, offered by Duke students, is available for visiting students. After registration, students are assigned a country to represent throughout the negotiations, and readings and training are provided to help everyone learn and succeed.  Some of our VLS COP19 delegation students attended last year’s simulation before traveling to Warsaw, which was hosted by Yale, and spoke highly of the experience.