Monthly Archives: January 2021

Out with the Old, in with the Blue: What the Biden Administration means for U.S. involvement in future international climate negotiations

By Student Delegate Jessica Griswold 

As U.S. poll workers vigorously counted presidential votes on the evening of November 4, 2020, the Trump administration secured its official withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. Just one year ago, Trump’s withdrawal announcement left many American citizens confused and ashamed. More importantly, it left the remaining 189 Parties with a broken promise from the world’s largest economy and contributor to over 14% of global carbon emissions. As a result, climate activists worldwide questioned how the U.S.’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement would impact the integrity of the Treaty.

Protesters in Washington, D.C., the day of the announcement that the U.S. would withdraw from Paris. (Wikipedia)

Protesters in Washington, D.C., the day of the announcement that the U.S. would withdraw from Paris. (Wikipedia)

While the U.S. is merely one actor in the international climate regime, the country’s negative impact on the environment is mighty. Would the U.S.’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement encourage other Parties to drop out? If not, would it diminish the effectiveness of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) among other large-scale emitters and even developing country Parties? In a pre-election podcast, Yale Professor and former lead climate lawyer for the U.S. State Department, Susan Biniaz, discussed the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement and what the 2020 presidential election in the U.S. might mean for the Paris Agreement.

First, Professor Biniaz explained that no other country announced to follow suit after the U.S.’s withdrawal announcement. One possible explanation for this is that Parties recognized that President Trump might only be in office for a four-year term. That said, Parties may or may not have responded differently if U.S. voters elected President Trump into office for a second term.

Second, even if countries did not literally withdraw from the Paris Agreement, there was always a possibility that Parties could follow the U.S. approach to promoting fossil fuels and acting in ways that are adverse to the Paris Agreement. Notably, the Paris Agreement is a binding International Treaty that takes a bottom-up structure. In other words, the agreement itself does not hold any Party accountable to a particular contribution or climate action goal. Instead, the agreement offers Parties a firm suggestion to determine their climate contributions on a national level (known as Nationally determined Contributions or NDCs), as long as they communicate those NDCs with the UNFCCC secretariat and fellow Parties.

Third, Biniaz notes that the U.S. withdrawal at the national level may not have harmed climate action at all due to strong U.S. sub-national efforts. In other words, state and local government action, such as the “We are still in” movement, may have counteracted any real negative impact the U.S. withdrawal may have had on achieving well below 1.5–2°C. Even so, the fact that the federal government has not been committed to reducing emissions in the U.S. since President Trump’s withdrawal announcement is problematic.

Student delegates join Professor Reiter

Student delegates join Professor Reiter to close out week 1 of COP25 in Madrid. #WEARESTILLIN

On that note, should there be a way for sub-national governments (meaning non-sovereign states) or other entities to participate as actors in the international climate regime? Realistically speaking, allowing sub-national governments and other entities to join the Paris Agreement officially would require amendments to the Treaty itself. Additionally, allowing sub-national governments and other entities to enter a binding international agreement officially may implicate sovereign state constitutions.

Nevertheless, there are plenty of reasons to feel hopeful about this movement. For one thing, any action is better than no action. Although sub-national action cannot effectively replace federal commitment under the Paris Agreement, the environment benefits from all climate action regardless of who initiates it. Notably, sub-national climate action in the U.S. has been constructive and diplomatic throughout the last four years. More specifically, individual states, cities, and even smaller local governments, along with private businesses, have had a significant presence in the climate space. While they can’t take the place of federal government action, it offers hope that U.S. climate efforts have not been entirely stagnant following the withdrawal announcement.

Before being announced as America’s president-elect, Biden responded to questions regarding the future of the U.S.’s involvement in the Paris Agreement. Specifically, he confirmed his intent to rejoin the Paris Agreement. He also vowed to establish “a climate target that is updated from the Obama administration’s goal and a plan to reduce domestic emissions from the power and energy sector.” Big Ocean leadership, including President Wavel Ramkalawan of Seychelles, formally congratulated Joe Biden and Vice Present elect, Kamala Harris, on the democratic victory.

Despite this democratic victory, the U.S. has a lot of work to do before the President-elect is sworn into office in January. At this point, U.S. citizens have seen sub-national governments, other entities, and civil society play a significant role in influencing federal government action. For this reason, climate activists in the U.S. must continue to zealously advocate for U.S. national leadership to take responsibility for the devastation our industrial economy has created. Big Oceans (Small Island Developing States or SIDS under the Paris Agreement) have been fighting the global climate challenge without the world’s second-largest GHG emitter for far too long. Accordingly, the U.S. must prepare to support these Parties as they prepare their second-round NDCs.

For example, now is the time to incorporate climate action into covid-19 recovery plans. Knowing that both the covid-19 pandemic and climate change played a significant role in the U.S. election, U.S. citizens should prepare to insist that the federal government integrate pandemic recovery plans into climate change mitigation efforts. Additionally, the U.S. should prepare to assist developing country Parties in achieving sustainable development goals that will allow them to respond to both climate change and the pandemic effectively.

In these difficult, unprecedented times, one thing remains true: unity is the most robust tool we have to fight these “common concerns of humankind.”


  1. US Election 2020: What does Joe Biden’s win mean for the global climate emergency?, edie newsroom (Nov. 8, 2020),–What-a-Joe-Biden-win-would-mean-for-the-global-climate-emergency/.
  1. Each Country’s Share of CO2 Emissions, Union of Concerned Scientists (last updated Aug. 12, 2020),
  1. Sue Biniaz: The Future of International Climate Cooperation, Yale Ctr. Env’t L. & Pol’y (Nov. 2, 2020),
  1. We Are Still In Responds to the Official U.S. Withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, (last visited Nov. 23, 2020).
  1. Biden will rejoin the Paris Climate Accord. Here’s what happens next, CNBC (last updated Nov. 20, 2020),
  1. Betymie Bonnelame, Seychelles’ leader congratulates election of new American President, Joe Biden, Seychelles News Agency: Diplomacy (last updated Nov. 11, 2020),
  1. Thomas Hale & Nathan Hultman, ‘All in’ climate diplomacy: How a Biden-Harris administration can leverage city, state, business, and community climate action, Brookings (Nov. 20, 2020),
  1. Adriana Quevedo, Katie Peters &Yue Cao, The impact of Covid-19 on climate change and disaster resilience funding: trends and signals, Food Resilience Alliance 5–7 (Oct. 2020), documents/covid_and_resilience_funding_briefing_note_web_0.pdf.
  1. Paris Agreement to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Dec. 12, 2015, T.I.A.S. No. 16-1104,




SBSTA Convenes Ocean-Climate Dialogue

By Student Delegate Andrea Salazar

The Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA), on December 2, convened a dialogue on Ocean and Climate Change to consider how to strengthen adaptation and mitigation actions. Although mention of COVID-19’s effects on the world were mentioned by almost every speaker during the high-level plenary, this did not distract from the task at hand.

Hurricane Iota just prior to landfall south of Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua (Wikipedia)

Hurricane Iota just prior to landfall south of Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua (Wikipedia)

The dialogue focused on an in-depth review of up-to-date climate-ocean science. The main drivers of ocean damage from climate change—hypoxia (a lack of oxygen), acidification (from absorbing GHGs like CO2 which creates H2CO3 or Carbonic Acid) and climate warming were discussed in detail. The effects of these drivers are devastating. For example, hurricanes were cited for having recently hit Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua and Colombia back-to-back. These drivers also affect sea-level rise, and the warming causes glacier melt. At higher temperatures, oxygen has trouble dissolving in water, at the same time aquatic creature metabolisms increase in hot water—this leads to dead-zones of the ocean where there is no oxygen. Hypoxia can kill fish that people depend on for sustenance and livelihood.

Hans-Otto Pörtner, IPCC Working Group II Co-Chair (IISD)

Hans-Otto Pörtner, IPCC Working Group II Co-Chair (IISD)

Hans-Otto Portne and Elvira Poloczanska of the IPCC Working Group II revealed that their studies show little hope for warm-water coral reefs. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scientists continue to communicate the science, which projects, with a certain degree of certainty, that coral reefs are highly at-risk. The risk of losing 70 to 90% of coral reefs is present even if climate contributions under the Paris Agreement succeed in keeping the climate temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. At an increase of 2 degrees Celsius, there is a likelihood of losing 99% of all coral reefs. So, even if the Paris Agreement is successful, we will still likely lose 99% of all coral reefs. Hans

During the open floor discussion, the EU, Canada, and several NGOs implored all Parties to create ambitious mitigation strategies, none, however, mentioned adaptation. In light of the ocean’s status, New Zealand also emphasized that mitigating emissions was the most important course of action. New Zealand’s most recent Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) is direct about New Zealand’s GHG reduction by using an overall target for all sectors. However, the NDC fails to provide the level of transparency found in other NDCs. Despite this concern, the response to COVID in New Zealand indicates it can mobilize rapidly during a crisis. A more robust NDC would be beneficial to Developed and Developing States alike, to serve as an example for prioritizing mitigation, while, in parallel, addressing adaptation.



Highlights from Oceans Action Day and World Fisheries Day

By Student Delegate Marissa Pizaña

Two decades ago, small-scale fishers from across the world formed a global movement—protecting nature and their human rights. The World Forum of Fisher Peoples (WFFP) continue to convey the message that “fishing communities are being hit hard by worsening natural disasters of the climate catastrophe.” This year’s World Fisheries Day message focused on the threat multiplier that is a climate change, coupled with a global pandemic, and its’ impact on the fishing industry. Social distancing has caused many fishing markets to close down and has reduced patronage of hotels and restaurants–a prime location where fish are sold. The demand for fishing products has collapsed and the price for catch has been lowered. Furthermore, the safety of fishers at sea has been affected by the closure of fishing ports and the impossibility of making crew changes. Additionally, the lack of Personal Protective Equipment has increased the risks of transmitting the virus because fishers work in restricted and enclosed spaces.

Virtual Oceans Action Day 2020

Virtual Oceans Action Day 2020

The topic of fisheries was also discussed during the Virtual Oceans Action Day 2020. Designed to take stock of progress on ocean and climate issues towards UNFCCC COP26 in Glasgow, the intersectionality of climate change, food security, and fisheries was addressed. Fish are known to have the lowest carbon footprint among all the food commodities. Fish consumption is growing and is projected to be a large amount of future food baskets. A third of fisheries are at risk of over-exploitation and the aquatic ecosystems they rely on have been identified as vulnerable to climate change. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) hopes that fisheries and aquaculture will contribute significantly to improving the well-being of poor and disadvantaged communities in developing countries and to reducing poverty, improving food and nutrition security, and environmental protection.

Where does this leave the essential fisheries of the Seychelles? Fisheries contributes to the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP), employment, and livelihood. Because agriculture is limited due to land area, fisheries are fundamental to the social and economic wellbeing of Seychelles inhabitants. In a country where each inhabitant consumes an average of 62 kilograms (approximately 137 lbs.) of fish per year, fishing–including artisanal (small-scale and low-technology)–is an important activity. Fishing is the primary source of protein and ensures food security for many of the country’s inhabitants.

67174944_2425687790853200_5288672387259170816_nBecause fishing is such a key aspect in the Seychelles, the Fisheries and Blue Economy Minister met with seafood processors and exporters to introduce new plans of the new government for fisheries sector. During this meeting, fishers and operations were able to outline operational challenges they face regularly. Unfortunately, echoing the threats discussed during World Fisheries Day, COVID-19 has caused many local markets to close and export markets have scaled down. Minister Ferrari assured all partners that the government will provide them with the support necessary to navigate through these troubled waters.

Meanwhile, the FAO is looking to build a large partnership with financial institutions, governments, and civil society organizations to develop comprehensive and coordinated responses in the context of acheiving blue growth. This transformation would start by turning oceans of problems into oceans of solutions. This transformation is the best way to sustain and conserve 100% of the oceans and seas. Almost 7 million people are malnourished. The ocean can rectify these malnourishment levels. The transformation will change the national, regional, and global levels. Fisheries do not operate in a government vacuum and consensus-building strategies must be discussed in the future.


Reef Rescuers raise 40,000 corals in nurseries

By Student Delegate Suhasini Ghosh 

Coral reefs are a valuable part of the marine ecosystem. Local economies and thousands of marine species rely on coral reefs for survival. However, coral reefs are in danger of disappearing due to the rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide.

NOAA PMEL Carbon Program

NOAA PMEL Carbon Program

Increased temperatures and ocean acidification are two specific threats coral reefs are currently facing. Extreme heat causes coral bleaching. Coral reefs contain specific algae, which give them their vibrant colors. However, when coral bleaching takes place, the coral becomes stressed and then expels the algae. If the temperature is not reduced, the coral eventually dies. Ocean acidification is “the drop in seawater pH as the ocean absorbs carbon dioxide.” Coral reefs have calcium carbonate skeletons. But, ocean acidification causes a reduction in the amount of calcium available to keep the skeletons strong.

The species that rely on coral reefs risk extinction. Humans are also impacted by coral reef loss. For example, coral reefs serve as “natural barriers that absorb the force of waves and storm surges, keeping coastal communities safe.” Coral reefs also affect food and economic security for many communities.

The Seychelles economy is highly dependent on the ocean. Preserving coral reefs is a priority. In 2016, there was a significant El Nino event. The heat from the event caused a severe reduction in coral coverage in Seychelles. Specifically, before the event there was about 50% coral coverage, but the event reduced coral coverage to only 5%.

camila_reef_rescuersIn 2010, the “Reef Rescuers” coral reef restoration project commenced in Seychelles. The Reef Rescuers project is an ecosystem-based adaptation approach to addressing climate change impacts. Nature Seychelles, a non-governmental organization, leads the project. The project received financial support from the United States Agency for International Development, the Global Environment Facility, and the United Nations Development Programme. The project aims to create and maintain underwater coral nurseries. Fragments from healthy coral are collected, raised in the nurseries, and then transplanted to a degraded reef site. Since the start of the project, about 40,000 corals have been raised in the nurseries. There has also been a five-fold increase in fish abundance.

There has been considerable private sector engagement with this ecosystem-based adaptation project. The project has targeted private sector stakeholders who have a specific interest in maintaining coral reefs. For example, the project has teamed with local “hotels to raise awareness of the benefits of coral reef transplantation, such as decreasing beach erosion and supporting the marine ecosystems that are critical to local tourism.” The project also collaborates with a local diving center to train diving instructors on how to perform coral restoration.

The Reef Rescuers project has garnered both regional and international support. The project has been featured in various international reports and presentations. Coral reefs take up less than 0.1% of the world’s surface area. Yet, they are home to over 25% of the world’s biodiversity. The world must get creative and prioritize restoring our coral reefs. The Reef Rescuers project is a great example of what can and is being done.

Climate Smart Agriculture in Small Island Developing States

By Student Delegate Paige Beyer

Small island developing states (SIDS) are often characterized by their size, remoteness, and bountiful marine resources. Highly dependent on fisheries for food, these island nations face agricultural limitations resulting in a heavy reliance on imports. Import dependency is fraught with issues such as volatile food prices and food/nutrition insecurity. As sea-levels rise and freshwater sources diminish, island nations face increasing agricultural challenges and food security issues.

Farming is often small-scale and family-run. Limited investment in commercial agriculture and farming technology greatly impedes export markets, meaning agriculture products are simply not competitive commodities. While agriculture carries its economic issues, it also shines a light on gender inequality. Women and girls play a large (and often invisible, unpaid) role in agriculture. Women plant, weed, harvest, and process crops, providing for their families.

As a member of SIDS, Seychelles faces these agricultural challenges. In the Seychelles, fisheries, tourism, and the seafood industry dominate much of the economy, while agriculture makes up a mere 2.07% of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP). In terms of food-related commodities, the Seychelles’ total exports is USD 8 million while their total imports are USD 126 million. The country is highly dependent on food imports, with 80% of food being imported. This means that the local agriculture productions are too small for the nation to be self-reliant.

Although completely surrounded by water, the Seychelles has about 1,540 hectares (or roughly 3,805 acres) of agricultural land, representing 3.4% of the total land area in the county. Of that land, only 0.3% is considered arable and 3% of land area constitutes permanent crops.  The food production includes tropical fruits, such as bananas and mangoes, and root vegetables such as yams and cabbages. A majority of agriculture in the Seychelles relies on rainfall, although there are irrigations systems. The agriculture input is further lowered through a limited use of fertilizers and pesticides.

Cinnamon quill maker Seychelles

Cinnamon quill maker Seychelles

Some of the biggest obstacles facing Seychellois agriculture include an aging farming population, funding, and limited land. Younger populations choose to pursue other career paths, putting pressure on an already small industry. With an insufficient domestic food supply, the nation heavily relies on imports. Coupled with the high cost of farming technology, money to pay for imports is almost more necessary than funding domestic agriculture. Further, land ownership presents another impediment. Women in particular lack the resources and control to land and production assets. The discrepancy in land access highlights the gender divide and its social and economic impact.

And yet, perhaps the biggest threat of all is climate change. As a small island state, Seychelles is particularly vulnerable to the effects of a warming planet. The already small agriculture sector faces issues of food security and dwindling farmer livelihoods. However, the Seychelles has implemented several climate-smart agriculture (CSA) technologies.  CSA technologies work to enhance food security while also addressing issues of adaptation or mitigation. Some of the CSA practices the Seychelles have adopted include inter cropping and anti-erosion measures.

Example of intercropping (Naturally Colourful website)

Example of intercropping (Naturally Colourful website)

Inter cropping refers to planting crops in between rows of trees. In the Seychelles, intercropping works as a natural pest repellant, improves soil structure, and balances fertility levels of the soil. Anti-erosion measures refer to practices that mitigate erosion. Examples of such include planting grasses along the outer areas of farms as a means of filtering sediments, excess nutrients, or pesticides from water runoff.

CSA practices are linked to broader climate action and policy. Although the oceans are the heart of many SIDS, agriculture plays a unique and understated role. Investing in sustainable agriculture is a way to not only increase food security, but to create food sovereignty or bolster domestic food reliance. In doing so, SIDS can decrease their reliance on imports and instead support domestic farming operations.




Seaweed Sweeping Women contribute to Circular Economy in the Seychelles

By Student Delegate Andrea Salazar 

Seaweed has become increasingly more problematic than promising in some parts of the world. Dense ½ meter mounds of seaweed have washed up on the beaches of Caribbean and Atlantic States. If this trend makes its way to the Seychelles, women already have a solution planned in the form of composting. SeyCCAT partnered with an organization that delivers services to people suffering from gender-based violence and violence at home or at work, called the Women in Action and Solidarity Organization (WASO), to pilot a project to compost Seaweed from Seychellois shores. The project contributes to SDGs 5 (Gender Equality), 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth), and 14 (Life Below Water).

This project holds great promise because humans can heal in natural environments while converting seaweed into compost that is valuable and effective. Various cultures and scientists have documented the healing effects of interacting with nature (seeing, hearing, smelling, feeling, or taste). For example, in Japan, the State with the most people 100+ years of age, the act of “forest bathing” is commonplace. Recently, more scientists have drawn ties between positive health effects and experiencing nature. The reported positive health effects include increased: happiness, improved manageability of life tasks, decreases in mental distress, positive social interactions, memory, attention, and cognitive function, impulse inhibition, and creativity. There are associations between nature experiences and reducing burdens of acute and chronic stress, insomnia, depression, anxiety, and ADD.

The Seaweed Sweeping Women of the Seychelles (SeyCCAT website)

The Seaweed Sweeping Women of the Seychelles (SeyCCAT website)

As women harness the power of nature to heal themselves, they will also be harnessing the power of nature to provide compost in dry environments. Compost from seaweed contains micro-nutrients like Manganese, Zinc, Iodine, Phosphorus, Potassium, Calcium, and Manganese, and seven times more amino acids – each making for better soil nutrients than a regular compost mix. In a study from Patagonia, Argentina, the seaweed compost added to tomato plants helped growth and kept the plant alive when it was not given water. Notably, the potential applications of seaweed compost include growing plants in a changing climate facing water shortages and increased dry conditions.

Seaweed compost is part of the circular economy (SeyCCAT website)

Seaweed compost is part of the circular economy (SeyCCAT website)

The experience of listening to the ocean and working with soil should have a positive effect on the participants in Seaweed Composting program. The project makes it more possible to increase economic stability because even without the compost component, the job of cleaning shores will now be rewarded justly. For example, Mexico has had to remove seaweed from its shores since 2011 and has spent 17 million USD to prevent the seaweed’s major impacts on tourism and fishing. This project also can become a robust resource that contributes to healing of survivors. The women of the Seaweed program embody empowerment: for themselves, their coastal communities, their nation, all in a changing climate and uncertain future.

The Kids are (All)Right: How the Youth are Inspiring Change

By Student Delegate Paige Beyer 

On August 20, 2018 Greta Thunberg skipped school. Alone, she sat outside the Swedish parliament for the entirety of the school day with a hand-painted sign: school strike for climate. What started as a singular act, soon became a global movement. A little over a year later, climate strikes had spread throughout the world. In September 2019, nearly 250,000 people marched outside City Hall in New York City, and 100,000 people marched on Westminster Abbey in London. A staggering 1.4 million people marched throughout Germany, all echoing Greta’s message: act now.

Accessed via

Accessed via

In the years since Greta’s first climate strike, youth-led movements have increasingly pushed for climate action, questioning the actions (and inactions) of governments. Students flood the streets demanding politicians take meaningful action in combatting climate change, something students argue is jeopardizing their future. From ridges to reefs, the youth has mobilized to affect the change they wish to see.

Youth Lobby, a grassroots coalition of Vermont youth, partners with legislators, nonprofits, and community members to “affect the change younger generations are demanding.” On November 17, 2019, Youth Lobby held the first ever Vermont Youth Climate Congress, a gathering of students throughout the state to pass a declaration that called to divest from fossil fuels and urged policymakers to take immediate action to address climate change. In January 2020, the Youth Lobby testified to the House Committee on Transportation, urging them to support their declaration’s specific recommendations regarding transportation initiatives.

The 171 student delegates of the first Vermont Youth Climate Congress gather on the steps of the Statehouse in Montpelier just before unanimously passing the Young Vermonters United Climate Declaration

The 171 student delegates of the first Vermont Youth Climate Congress gather on the steps of the Statehouse in Montpelier just before unanimously passing the Young Vermonters United Climate Declaration

A recent victory for Youth Lobby, and the state, was the Senate’s vote to overrule Governor Phil Scott’s veto of the Global Warming Solutions Act. The new legislation requires the state to meet its targets for reducing carbon emissions in the coming years. Prior to Governor Scott’s decision, the Youth Lobby sent the governor a letter strongly urging him not to veto the legislation. Writing as the “elusive youth of Vermont,” the letter focused on the need for strong leadership and effective policymaking. Recognizing Vermont’s aging population, Youth Lobby looks to play an influential role in the policies that will shape the state’s future.

In the Seychelles, young people are being equipped with the knowledge and resources to promote sustainable development. The SIDS Youth AIMS Hub, the Seychelles chapter of the youth-led NGO, promotes sustainable development through youth-led projects. Funded by the Seychelles Climate and Conservation and Adaptation Trust, SIDS Youth AIMS Hub launched the Blue Economy Internship Programme (BEIP). The internship focuses on exposing Seychellois youth to the blue economy and established frameworks for sustainable development.

SYAH’s Blue Economy Interns participate in beach clean ups and plant mangroves as part of a program to inspire youth to protect the ocean and pursue blue economy careers

SYAH’s Blue Economy Interns participate in beach clean ups and plant mangroves as part of a program to inspire youth to protect the ocean and pursue blue economy careers

Through diverse projects, the internship teaches the importance of the ocean and introduces ways to protect the nation’s resource. BEIP not only exposes young people to the blue economy but explores the conservation and career opportunities within sustainable development. By investing in the youth, the BEIP helps them imagine a sustainable, “blue” nation empowering them to make the necessary changes to invest in their nation’s natural resources.

While climate activism is not a new phenomenon, the youth involvement is. Young people around the world reject the traditional notion of “adults in charge,” and instead are equipping themselves with the knowledge and resources to fight for a more green and blue future.

Good Grammar: English as the Default in Climate Negotiations

By Student Delegate Lucas Waggoner 

The legal world is a linguistic minefield. You can achieve success or lose everything over the placement of a single comma. Professionals are hired to twist and manipulate the language to achieve desired outcomes.

This becomes infinitely more complex once legal discussions enter the international realm—particularly for international climate negotiations. Yale Law professor Susan Biniaz has written about how lawyers use commas to radically shift the meaning of the text in climate agreements. At the UNFCCC, lawyers changed the position of a comma to appease opposing parties. Language that once read that Parties “have a right to, and should promote, sustainable development” became the Parties “have a right to, and should, promote sustainable development.” Instead of giving Parties a right to sustainable development, the language instead gave Parties a “right to promote sustainable development.”

At the yearly Conference of the Parties (COP), delegates from around the world meet to carry out these kinds of textual negotiations. COP is a fast-paced international climate negotiation. The Parties have to negotiate climate treaties together in a matter of days. That would be complex enough on its own. However, to complicate things further, all negotiations are done in one language: English.

English is only the third-most spoken language in the world. Large portions of the world do not speak English. This puts countless parties at a disadvantage at COP. Learning another language is one thing. Being able to use a second or third language to negotiate technical linguistic elements with very little time is completely different. This becomes especially difficult when the subject being argued in a text contains nuances that are intentionally cryptic, in order to gatekeep those who lack complete expertise in the language. This kind of gatekeeping creates a clear imbalance between parties. So far, nothing has been done to mitigate this problem.

Before problems can be resolved, they must be recognized first. Angelique Pouponneau, the CEO of the climate finance nonprofit SeyCCAT in Seychelles, has discussed this issue. She explains that “there’s actually…no or limited literature on language barriers in international diplomacy.” The issue is ignored in both political and academic discourse about international climate agreements. As a result, the issue persists. Because the discourse is nonexistent, the majority of people do not see the problems the language barriers present. Angelique explains that perceptions must change before the language barriers can be properly handled.AP

The discourse matters. Until people are made aware of the issue, this serious disadvantage will continue impeding progress. The UN both possesses and provides the resources to host international discussions, taking into account the vast number of different languages at play. They provide translators and make accommodations so that nations are not inherently operating from a disadvantage. However, these kinds of resources can be cost prohibitive, especially with so many different nations and languages involved.

Those kinds of resources would be invaluable to the negotiations at COP. However, people need to publicly acknowledge the issue before the UN or some other organization can begin providing the resources needed to level the playing field.

Seabirds Could Lead Ocean Conservation Efforts Soaring

By Student Delegate Samantha Morrison 

The  Seychelles  has  been successful  in  creating  a  network  of  protected  areas  and  reviving  endangered  avian  species. Continued research on seabird distributions and habitats could lead States like the Seychelles to have better-informed planning for marine protected areas and ocean governance.

Seabirds  are  considered  a  fundamental  component  of  marine  ecosystems  and  serve  as valuable indicators of ecosystem health. They spend the majority of their lives over the ocean, returning to land to breed and care for their young. Because seabirds move across entire oceans, effective conservation of their habitats requires international cooperation.

Seabird conservation work in the Seychelles (SeyCCAT website)

Seabird conservation work in the Seychelles (SeyCCAT website)

With  over  a  hundred  small  islands  and  rich  tropical  seas,  the  Republic  of  Seychelles (Seychelles) is an idyllic location for seabirds to flourish. In fact, the Seychelles small islands are nesting  grounds  for  numerous  species  of  seabirds. While  the  Seychelles  makes  for  an  ideal location for seabirds, seabirds continue to suffer, and are threatened throughout their entire life cycle from overfishing of prey, pollution, and climate change.

Seabirds can be found within coastal ecosystems such as seagrass and mangroves, and are  particularly  sensitive  and  vulnerable  to  changes  in ocean  climate. Thus,  seabirds could be an informative and cost-effective tool to indicate the status of ocean and coastal habitat health. As  States  begin  to  integrate  oceans  into  their  Nationally  Determined  Contributions (NDCs),  it  is  important  to  identify  vital  parts  of  marine  ecosystems, including seabirds. In turn, monitoring the response of seabirds to climate change, particularly how seabirds interact in these coastal wetland habitats, may support developing countries in their efforts to determine the level of ocean health and employ mechanisms to integrate oceans into their NDCs.

Wedge-tailed Shearwater in flight (Philip Griffin)

Wedge-tailed Shearwater in flight (Philip Griffin)

The health of our oceans plays a critical role in climate change mitigation. Coastal ecosystems absorb excess water and act as both a buffer against rising sea levels as well as a carbon sink, storing carbon pollution within their vegetation. By taking in carbon, oceans and coasts  naturally  reduce  the  impact  of  greenhouse  gas  emissions  on  the  atmosphere.  Thus, preserving  coastal  ecosystems,  particularly  seagrass,  mangroves,  and  saltmarshes,  increases  the resilience  of  our  oceans  to  climate  change. When  damaged,  coastal  wetlands  may  emit  a significant amount of carbon back into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change.

Observing seabirds could assist States in determining the effects of various disturbances and pollution occurring in the oceans and potential damages to coastal ecosystems. Additionally, because seabirds may breed in  the  same  area  each  year, their  responses  to  their  habitats  may  be  particularly  useful  in documenting  any  changes  in  ocean  health  and  implementing  effective  ocean  conservation measures, while reducing the effects of climate change.


The Battle of the Two Driving Forces that Make the World Go Round: Humanity and Nature.

By Student Delegate Marissa Pizaña

The variety of life in the world or in a particular habitat or ecosystem: Biodiversity. Biodiversity—marine and land—around the world is rapidly degraded and destroyed, with grave and far-reaching implications for human well-being. When most people hear about biodiversity, they cannot help but think about animals. However, biodiversity provides clean air and water, soil that fosters food production, a stable climate, and much more—the very foundation of human society.

The United Nations Human Rights Office of High Commissioner notes that a human rights perspective on biodiversity is important for three reasons:

  1. helps clarify that the loss of biodiversity also undermines the full enjoyment of human rights;
  2. heightens the urgent need to protect biodiversity; and
  3. helps promote policy coherence and legitimacy in the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.

Last year, the UNHRCR stated that failing to protect biodiversity can now constitute a violation of a human right—recognized by 155 states—to a healthy environment. Although all humans depend on healthy ecosystems, the world’s poorest communities, indigenous people, farmers, and fishers are the most vulnerable.

Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, including Seychelles, will soon be adopting a post 2020-global biodiversity framework. The aim of the new framework is to live in harmony with nature. By 2050, biodiversity is valued, conserved, restored and widely used, maintaining ecosystem services, sustaining a healthy planet and delivering benefits essential for all people.biodiversity-definition-ecosystem-protection

However, there is no accountability or enforcement mechanisms built in. Even more so, 30 years is a long time to wait and hope States apply the framework—and possibly too much time for irreversible damage to occur. For example, studies around the world have shown that between 1970 and 2016, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and fish populations have declined by an average of 68% as a direct result of human activities. Furthermore, loss of diversity and abundance of life on Earth has not plummeted this steeply since the dinosaurs disappeared 65 million years ago.

Map of Frégate Island, sampling sites indicated by white dots (adapted from Google Earth, DigitalGlobe map data 2015). Source: Canning et al, 2015).

Map of Frégate Island, sampling sites indicated by white dots (adapted from Google Earth, DigitalGlobe map data 2015). Source: Canning et al, 2015).

Currently, SeyCCAT is assessing the marine biodiversity baseline around Fregate Island. The overall goal of the project is supporting new and existing marine and coastal protected areas and sustainable use zones. As the research continues, public awareness of the threats facing the coral reefs and marine conservation will be enhanced. Ultimately, SeyCCAT hopes to provide recommendations for decisions to be made on the potential for creating a Marine Protected Area around Fregate Island. Although this is a step in the right direction, is this study enough to keep biodiversity in the Seychelles?

The Seychelles has options to advocate for biodiversity, including both righs-based approaches and ecosystem protection. Scientists and human rights activists are urging States to take a rights-based approach to urge action in four key areas: adopting carbon neutral and nature positive economic recovery plans; targeting key drivers of zoonotic diseases; scaling-up measures to protect and conserve nature; and respecting the rights of Indigenous Peoples, rural and local communities. The UN Rapporteaur on Human Rights and the Environment recently presented a report urging recognition of the right to a healthy environment.  In addition, as scientists note we are living in the sixth extinction, governments are now rallying to set tougher targets to protect land and oceans. By 2030, countries hope to protect 30% of all land and oceans through national parks, no-fishing zones, wilderness areas or other conservation areas. These initiatives align with the interconnectedness between human and nature, a mindset embodied in the Seychelles.