A week into the international climate negotiations, and with time running out, we need a “stock take” on why we are here, and what the world expects from us. Any COP veteran—negotiator or observer—will likely agree that COP is a “circus.” Amidst a backdrop of hundreds of events occurring each day on topics ranging from the role of art in cutting across politics, to integrating blue carbon into a nation’s commitments to reduce emissions, the negotiators—mostly dressed in black suits—get down to business in rooms—mostly dressed in white: white ceilings, white walls, white tables, white chairs, white-ish floors. This juxtaposition fits the reality that, in a vibrant world of color that is seeking solutions to the climate emergency, the real business of COP is that of black and white semantics.
We are in a unique position here because we are supporting big ocean-minded states. Because oceans are not yet formally recognized in the negotiations (see Ocean Pathways for efforts to create a more ocean-inclusive UNFCCC process, including the recent joint proposal), in order to best support ocean-minded nations, student delegates must have a foot in both the solution seeking world of side events, and the semantic-driven world of negotiations. Moving between these two worlds can be quite challenging, and, importantly, ensures that we do not get so stuck on the role of a “,” in draft language that we forget we are talking about the biggest challenge humanity will face in our lifetime.
Perhaps even more difficult than moving between the two worlds within COP, is “accessing” the inner COP worlds to begin with. Physical access is already intimidating, with various protocols implemented through a system of color-coded badges identifying where you can go, and when. This system is justified and makes sense: parties should negotiate and observers should observe (and participate when appropriate, given their expertise). We fall in line, respect the process, and behave accordingly.
But “accessibility” more broadly, including a general demystification about what we are doing here, could address a true barrier to real, actionable progress. Because it is the world outside of COP that will take action, implementing what the inner world of COP creates on paper.
Here is a big picture breakdown of the law, science, and most important topics of the week, intentionally discussed in a way that is accessible to all of us. Because talking about the alphabet soup of Article 6, WIM, NDCs, GCF, SROCC, SBSTA, is not, and we would do well to remember this regardless of the world we find ourselves in at any moment in time.
Parties gather a few times a year to discuss agenda items under various international legal instruments pertaining to how we will collectively address climate change, now called a climate emergency. First came the UNFCCC (framework convention on climate change), which is the overarching legal instrument. COP stands for Conference of the Parties to this original framework convention and is used as a general reference for the annual negotiations that occur in late autumn. So, we are “at COP” right now. The 2015 Paris Agreement provides a top-down international process for the bottom-up national substance parties will commit to in order to reduce their emissions (also know as their nationally determined contributions, or NDCs). The Paris Agreement needs some fine-tuning, and so the primary purpose of this year’s negotiations is to flesh out the remaining details, in particular, on which parties should pay for what; those negotiations are focused on Article 6 (carbon markets) and Article 8 (loss and damage).
We have the scientific information we need: Collectively, we must reduce emissions in order to save the earth’s processes, processes that affect all of our daily lives, whether we live on the top of a mountain or near the edge of a coral reef. Quite sobering is the reality that it already may be too late to save some ecosystems and inhabitants. More empowering is the scientific reality that we can greatly reduce the risk of losing more ecosystems and lives through the decisions we make here and the actions we take in the next few years.
The most important topics:
The negotiations are primarily about money—but not all about the money— because money can both drive and limit action: the negotiations are often stymied because developing nations believe developed nations should (1) pay for the climate emergency and its’ impacts and (2) not prevent developing countries from making progress (improving infrastructure, energy portfolios, etc). Main issues at COP25 have been (1) who will pay for the loss and damage associated with climate events (and how these funds will be accessed, distributed, and implemented), and (2) what “counts” in a carbon market, and what that market should look like. Continue reading our blog to learn more about these two issues as the negotiations end later this week.
Another large theme at COP25 is whether the climate change negotiation process is inclusive enough. Inclusive of both marginalized communities (e.g., youth, gender, indigenous peoples) and sectors (e.g., ocean). Progress is being made on the margins, for marginalized communities (read last week’s post on the negotiations in this area), and for marginalized issues such as the ocean. For example, a true visionary, the Seychelles is pioneering techniques such as blue bonds, mapping and quantifying the value of seagrass beds, establishing marine spatial plans and protected areas, all while also addressing ocean-based livelihoods. Beyond their own national waters, the Seychelles is a leader within the current joint effort at COP25 to integrate the ocean into the formal UNFCCC process. Until the ocean is formally recognized as part of the international climate emergency, the role that the ocean, and big ocean states, play in contributing to a carbon neutral world, will continue to be undervalued in both the negotiations and the commitments coming from nations to reduce their emissions.