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Blue New Deal Expected to Drive Biden Climate Policy, Paris Agreement Re-Entry

by Vanessa Brown
Although the Trump Administration has pledged that the United States will exit the Paris Agreement, the formal withdrawal process will not be complete until November 4, 2020–the day after the election. Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, has pledged to recommit the U.S. to the Paris Agreement if he wins on November 3rd. Although the US is technically still a party to the Paris Agreement, no one expects that it will submit a new NDC on target because its withdrawal from the Agreement in November will extinguish its previously submitted NDC. Furthermore, this year’s COP26 meeting has been postponed due to COVID-19 and has been rescheduled to take place in Glasgow, Scotland in November 2021. This delay has given governments a grace period in submitting their second-round NDCs. Presently, only 13 countries have submitted new NDCs this year, and another 33 have stated their intention to do so.
Articles 2 and 4.1 of the Paris Agreement specify that its goals to limit the rise in average global temperature to 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5°C will be achieved over time. In order to enhance this long term ambition, the Agreement provides that successive nationally determined contributions, or “NDCs”, will be used to measure progress. Revised NDCs are set in comparison to the previous NDCs and reflect a state’s highest possible ambition, including targets, measures and policies that are the basis for national climate action plans. They are submitted every five years to the UNFCCC secretariat. Patricia Espinosa presently serves as the convention’s executive. Initial or intended NDCs (INDCs) were submitted in 2015 and 2020 was the deadline for the submission of the first revised NDCs.
If and when the US returns to the Paris Agreement, it will need to communicate a new INDC, and, although technically a fresh start, the international community will be evaluating its ambition based on its 2015 INDC. If Biden wins the election, some such as Susan Biniaz, former Deputy Legal Adviser at the U.S. Department of State and lead climate negotiator from 1989-2017, are calling for the US to immediately submit a provisional/placeholder NDC or to delay its submission bolstered by announcing other climate-related actions and initiatives. Whatever the tactic, climate lawyers and policymakers should keep in focus last year’s BlueCOP negotiations, which conveyed the close links between the health of the climate and the health of the ocean, as well as keep a close eye on the Ocean Climate Action Plan or “Blue New Deal” presently under development at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, as it will provide the template for some of the first ocean climate legislation and policy actions in history, beginning in 2021. Unlike Biden’s Green New Deal, which promotes small nuclear reactors, the Blue New Deal is silent on nuclear development. Nuclear experts Gregory Jaczko, former Chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and Arjun Makhijani of IEER, should be watched for comments.

A story of success in the Seychelles sustains hope in the wake of “failed” COP25 negotiations

While COP25 negotiators largely failed to account for civil society’s demands—and to represent all stakeholder interests at the international level—the reverse is occurring in the Seychelles, where people are no longer missing from the establishment of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). A space-based management tool used to restrict activities, such as fishing, within a designated area, MPAs make a positive impact on ocean health, increasing resiliency to human and climate change impacts. A number of scientific factors are used to select appropriate locations and restrictions, yet the issue of livelihoods is often an afterthought to implementation. Therefore, while MPAs often improve the health of the ocean, these area based management tools may not improve the lives of those depending on the ocean as a source of income. The Seychelles has a plan to change that and is using innovative blue bonds to ensure a win-win for both ocean health and ocean livelihoods.

Mackerel fishers on the shore of Seychelles Source: The Nature Conservancy

Mackerel fishers on the shore of Seychelles
Source: The Nature Conservancy

Blue Bonds are an innovative financing tool used to support “ocean friendly” projects. Blue Bonds present an opportunity to island and coastal nations to reinvest marine resources by refinancing their national debt.


Seychelles: First Sovereign Blue Bond

The Seychelles comprises 115 islands off the East Coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean. The nation has a population of 95,000 people and is a Small Island Developing Sate (SIDS). Like other Small Island Developing States (SIDS) fish contribute to tradition and heritage, forming a common cultural heritage within the Seychelles. Fish is critical to the Seychelles diet, with 57kg as the average consumption per person annually. This is among the world’s highest.

Map of the Seychelles

Map of the Seychelles

The top sectors in Seychelles include tourism and fisheries. The fisheries sector employs 17% of the population and fish make up 96% of the total value of domestic exports.  This includes a prosperous tuna industry, which comprises a significant portion of the Seychelles’ GDP. Unfortunately, fish stocks have declined by 60% in the last thirty years, which has resulted in a massive loss of income for fishers.

The Seychelles is a leader in the blue financing industry, upholding the Sustainable Blue Economy Financing Principles . In 2018, the Seychelles launched the first sovereign blue bond to support sustainable fisheries within their EEZ. The Seychelles’ Blue Finance objective is that it “will be a vehicle for promoting and finance[ing] sustainable fisheries, ocean protection, and the Blue economy.” The Blue Finance mission is to “finance fisheries related projects and business that are committed to transform the Seychelles fisheries sector to a sustainable basis”. The Blue Finance vision is for the “ocean to be teeming with life, and fisheries safeguarded for this and future generations.”


As part of a debt swap agreement, the Seychelles must protect 30% of their Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) through an system of MPA. The Seychelles recognized that the entirety of their EEZ must be understood in order to effectively protect 30% of it. Therefore, the nation commenced Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) for their entire ocean territory.

The Seychelles Conservation and Climate Adaptation Trust (SeyCCAT) is an independent, nationally based, public-private trust, which manages the blue financing funds. With an experienced small island negotiator and Seychellois woman at the helm as CEO, SeyCCAT is already seeing great progress in the blue bond program through the inclusion of the Seychellois people and the protection of the marine environment.

One of the first projects that SeyCCAT took on was translating blue bond applications to Creole, which is the native language in the nation. This opened doors to the Seychellois people by sending a message that the Trust is for everyone to use.

Source: SeyCCAT

Source: SeyCCAT

The funds, amounting to $15 million USD, are used partially for financing a Blue Grants Fund ($3 million) and a Blue Investment Fund ($12 million). These proceeds are used to finance ocean related activities that contribute to the transition of sustainable fisheries.  SeyCCAT administers the grants from the Blue Grants Fund and the Development Bank of Seychelles (DBS) will administer loans from the Blue Investment Fund.

The Seychelles blue bonds support new and existing areas and sustainable use zones, empowers the fisheries sector, rehabilitates marine coastal ecosystems, builds resilience and climate change adaptation, and innovates sustainable blue economy business models. In the case of the Seychelles, innovative blue financing creates better management of the ocean while including the livelihoods at stake. Using a national organization, like SeyCCAT, maintains power over these funds by using them in the best interest of the people who depend on the ocean. As it did in the Seychelles, blue financing opportunities can open doors to island and coastal nations for better, more inclusive management of the ocean and its natural resources.

COP25 student delegates, and Professors Reiter and Brandt, meet with the CEO of SeyCCAT, Ms. Angelique Pouponneau

The Vermont Law School COP25 delegation meets with the CEO of SeyCCAT, Ms. Angelique Pouponneau.


Big ocean states like the Seychelles are leading the way with mutual gain approaches despite failed climate negotiations at the international level. Closing out the Blue COP with a win-win for both people and the ocean provides much needed hope for a sustainable future, and small island leaders are to thank for that.



The science is essentially unchallenged, climate activism has reached a crescendo, and U.N. climate negotiators are once again poised to punt. What went wrong, and why isn’t anyone here surprised? How is it that the U.N. has been taking shots … Continue reading

Framing Article 6: Rules About Transparency More Than Trade

One of the final components of creating a rulebook for 2015’s Paris Agreement is fleshing out Article 6, a central feature of the negotiations at this year’s COP. Negotiators are focused on several technical issues and disagreements about the rules for the carbon trading accounting that Article 6 contemplates. These include a number of discrete points of contention, but a quick look at a couple of them can help illustrate some general dynamics of the debate. First, the parties disagree about the scope and size of proceeds that will be forwarded to vulnerable countries for adaptation from the financing for carbon transfers. Second, there are differing views about the stringency of requiring “corresponding adjustments” to avoid double-counting, or having both the buying party and the selling party claiming credit for the same emissions reduction activities.




Each of these are important considerations, and observers are paying close attention to how compromise about the various options might play out. Often, however, Article 6 development is framed as “establishing a global carbon market” and treated with corresponding weight. This perspective is not quite accurate, and thinking about Article 6 in more tempered terms–with a focus on transparency–might help to clarify the scope of a potential agreement during this COP and its true importance. Framing the debate around transparency and accounting might help to make the issues more palatable and make clearer what is really at stake: not countries’ ability to finance climate action abroad, merely their abilities to claim credit for doing so when they communicate their Paris Agreement goals and actions. The idea behind Article 6 is not to build a carbon market, it is to build ambition–to make the use of carbon trading more attractive so that we see greater investment in climate mitigation.


Much like the larger Paris Agreement itself, the international framework being developed in the Article 6 rules is not about who may trade with whom or how; rather, it is about what aspects of those trades must be transparently communicated and reviewed at the international level. The point of Article 6 is not to create and regulate a centralized carbon market but to create enough trust and transparency around disparate ongoing and future trading schemes to incentive greater ambition in mitigating carbon emissions. Numerous regional and intergovernmental (and private-sector) emissions trading schemes exist today, such as the net zero commitments that have been made by the EU, Japan, the state of California, and many other governments. A well-formulated Article 6 would simply encourage these initiatives to adopt this new accounting framework for adjustments under the Paris Agreement, and that centrality would help these efforts grow in scope and scale.


Youssef Nassef, UNFCCC Secretariat and the role of centrality. Photo credit:

Youssef Nassef, UNFCCC Secretariat and the role of centrality. Photo credit:

On the sharing of proceeds, Article 6, paragraph 6 of the Paris Agreement calls for a sustainable development mechanism overseeing voluntary mitigation trades and requires it to collect from those transaction funds “to assist developing country Parties that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change.” These trades are distinct from those under the direct goal-setting and reporting of individual countries’ “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs), which are accounted for under another Article 6 paragraph. Negotiators disagree about whether proceeds should also be shared under the latter mechanism, which was not specifically called for in the Paris Agreement. Countries dependent on adaptation funds want to see opportunities for them expanded, while some other countries worry that injecting them into the NDC trading scheme might diminish its use and argue that for that very reason the original Paris Agreement left them out.


Such funds are vitally needed by developing countries, but there is uncertainty about whether the required share of proceeds, depending on its level, will disincentivize mitigating actors from making trades under the accounting scheme. Importantly, nothing within these Article 6 rules will change anything about the purely voluntary nature of both the NDC and non-NDC trading possibilities. No one will be forced to use these new market mechanisms, and in reality, it’s a small cadre of players on the world stage that really plan to use them. That use may help place us on track to meet our stated climate mitigation goals, however. Transparency and trust are key: more trading will occur if there is more confidence in the reporting and review of that trading.


Protesters view Article 6 in a different light. Photo credit:

Protesters view Article 6 in a different light. Photo credit:

Thus, any potential rule about the share of proceeds will not be a regulation on the ability to do carbon trading (which already occurs internationally in many ways). Instead, it would be a means of collecting money from trades that have become more attractive, and hopefully more abundant, because they can be used to credit one’s achievements in the Paris Agreement’s robust accounting and goal-setting scheme. Negotiators must find a balance whereby carbon trading is attractive enough to be done ambitiously under the agreement. This increase in ambition and in trades would raise significant proceeds, which may mean setting a proceed percentage that does not discourage the same trades. Parties are therefore hotly debating the appropriate percentage of proceeds to share and whether these mechanisms should be used at all for trades that go towards NDCs. Because Article 6 and the Paris Agreement are more about transparency and goals than about strict emissions commitments, everyone must bear in mind that the best outcome might not be that which demands the strictest action; instead, it might be that which encourages the most engagement. More engagement and communication about goals–so the Paris Agreement theory goes–will lead to more ambitious climate action.


The debate around corresponding adjustments similarly may be clearer when viewed through the lens of transparency rather than market-building. The idea behind corresponding adjustments is that when an entity in one state sells its carbon reduction efforts to an entity in another state, both states must adjust the emissions reductions they report under the Paris Agreement such that the buying state adds the emissions reductions to its ledger while the selling state subtracts that progress from its own. Under the NDCs that are central to the Paris Agreement, rigid corresponding adjustments make easy sense. Article 6, however, also speaks to a voluntary market for carbon trading that might be outside the scope of the NDCs, through private investment and similar means. How stringent should the rules around corresponding adjustments be in this world?


In a perfect accounting system, everything would be duly tallied up and the math done just right. But again, the Paris Agreement framework and Article 6 are not rules for making all this trading happen–much of it already occurs, but people want to see it get more ambitious as quickly as possible. Instead, the now-developing Article 6 rules will govern how all this trading is communicated and reviewed. Trust and transparency at the review level might make it easier and more attractive to begin heaping private capital into global emissions trading. The trick is finding the right balance. If the rules around communicating about these trades are too onerous, they could counteract Article 6’s intended effect “to incentivize and facilitate participation” and “to allow for higher ambition.” Some in the private carbon trading world think that even if the rules in this particular part of Article 6 appear relaxed, the trading parties themselves will pressure each other to accurately report adjustments; those schemes that don’t do so will look like bad investments because if they ever make it within the scope of an NDC, their accounting will be no good. Others in the debate take the position that there should be no leeway for potentially poor accounting given the high stakes of combating climate change. What text ultimately finds its way into the Article 6 rules will thus reflect some compromise on the extent to which transparency can incentivize efficient trading, and whether total comprehensiveness is required to do so.


A SDG pin found on the floor of the conference center. These are sold by the UNDP. Photo credit:

A SDG pin found on the floor of the conference center. These are sold by the UNDP. Photo credit:

Thus, rather than viewing the debate over Article 6 as the end-all-be-all of establishing the global carbon market, it may be fairer and more constructive to view the process as a balancing act in establishing transparency that mobilizes ambition. Because Article 6 is one of the final pieces of the Paris Agreement to flesh out, there may be a certain dynamic by which interested parties seek to add complexity and cross-cutting issues to its rules–we’re nearing the last change to secure such textual commitments in some fashion. This rush to robustness, however, may be a contributing factor in making Article 6 contentious. It may lead to burdensome concerns about governing actions throughout the global carbon market itself, with the consequences of that sweeping picture. Focusing instead on how Article 6 contemplates transparency, and how transparency begets trust in future commitments and more ambitious and efficient trades, may be the lens that leads these negotiations to more productive ends at the close of the COP.

Blue COP continues to deliver on an increasingly ocean-inclusive UNFCCC process

On Wednesday, December 11th, Professor Sarah Reiter and COP25 student delegate Kristyn Ostanek attended several ocean-minded side events. The more than 75 ocean events over the course of the past two weeks here at the negotiations have been part of a strategic initiative to make the UNFCCC process more inclusive when it comes to increased awareness, ambition, and action regarding the global ocean. What made yesterday a bit different was the opportunity to stop and evaluate whether progress is actually being made for oceans at this, the Blue COP. In particular, three events yesterday were both informative and inspirational:

  1. The High Level Event on the Role of the Ocean-Climate Nexus,
  2. Small Island Leadership on oceans, climate and sustainable development goals (SDGs), and
  3. The Climate Change and Ocean Action Reception.

Ocean champions, leaders, and negotiators discussed the science behind the ocean-climate nexus, and evaluated the progress being made on oceans in the international climate regime process. In particular, Gwynne Taraska, Director of the Climate Program at the Ocean Conservancy, outlined four key elements to a justifiable assessment that the Blue COP has indeed been Blue, and identified how far we’ve come:

  1. A coalition of the willing: California is partnering with Pacific Rim nations on ocean-climate based initiatives.
  2. Ocean-based Nationally Determined Contribution (NDCs) commitments: The Seychelles, Belize and Indonesia are leading the way with integrating blue carbon into their NDCs.
  3. Heightened visibility and awareness on the ocean-climate nexus: The 75+ ocean events during COP25 have increased dialogue and awareness in a process where oceans and climates, even within governments, are addressed and often managed, separately.
  4. Progress into the integration of oceans into the formal UNFCCC process: The end of the week should bring a decision from the COP President on the inclusion of oceans in the formal UNFCCC process. Sue Biniaz, who served as the lead climate lawyer for the U.S. State Department for more than twenty-five years, gave her evaluation of the proposal and its’ progress. 

Below are some photos from the day.


No adjustors, no lawyers, no paperwork…no problems on financial support for loss and damage

Blockchain technology may simplify the process for farmers to access insurance payouts for loss and damage from climate events.

Parties have only a few days remaining to make decisions about which way Article 6, the Green Climate Fund (GCF), the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damages (WIM), and other topics will turn. With these critical negotiations come days of “boom and bust.” Negotiations will go well into the night one day, and the Co-Chairs will work throughout the night to come up with a more agreeable draft. This process takes time and comes in waves.

SBI/SBSTA informal consultations on the WIM and the 2019 review of the Mechanism. Photo credit: IISD Reporting Services

SBI/SBSTA informal consultations on the WIM and the 2019 review of the Mechanism. Photo credit: IISD Reporting Services

Meanwhile, side events on the periphery of the negotiations offer new and innovative solutions from the private sector. At one such event, “How blockchain-based parametric insurance can tackle the financial impact of climate disasters,” the idea of paying for loss and damage from climate disasters was explored in greater detail, with a particular focus on the agricultural sector.

Poor and underprivileged farmers bear the brunt of economic losses from climate events due to climate change (costing the “Vulnerable 20$62 billion in interest payments alone over the last 10 years), but they emit almost no greenhouse gases relative to developed countries. Unfortunately, farmers cannot afford to pay the high insurance premiums to protect their crops, so they are stuck with the economic losses. To combat the underlying drivers of high insurance premiums (e.g., overhead, lawyers’ fees, paperwork), the private sector is turning to an innovative solution involving blockchain technology and “smart contracts.”

Photo source:

Photo source:

Blockchain is essentially an immutable online ledger that can complete secure transactions instantly. Smart contracts are contracts between insurance companies and farmers that would provide payouts once certain parameters are met (e.g. a hurricane with winds reaching a certain speed, a drought lasting a specific amount of time). This is known as “parametric insurance.” Once those parameters are met and verified by existing weather monitoring instruments, the insurance companies can instantly payout small-scale farmers by depositing money in their digital wallet. No adjustors, no lawyers, no paperwork.

Providing farmers with that type of security, they can safely grow more valuable crops that they would not otherwise risk losing due to weather events. This allows farmers to better serve their community and make more money all while paying insurance premiums at least an order of magnitude less than traditional insurance.

Like all new innovations, blockchain, smart contracts, and parametric insurance have their drawbacks and are not yet ready to be implemented at scale. For example, blockchain can only work effectively if provided with accurate data, without which it is useless. Additionally, it remains to be seen whether smart contracts are truly enforceable.

Photo source:

Photo source:

Finally, and perhaps most fundamentally, the parameters must be accurate for parametric insurance to work, or else famers will not be paid out when their crops might actually be damaged. Despite the uncertainties associated with this novel idea, it provides hope that streamlined processes may create conditions for which someone is willing to reach for the bill.

Back inside the negotiating room, parties have been focused on three main areas of disagreement reflected in the draft decision for the Warsaw Implementation Mechanism (WIM), which aims to address loss and damage associated with the impacts of climate change, including both extreme events (e.g., hurricanes) and slow onset events (e.g., desertification) in developing countries. Reaching consensus has been challenging because of three main issues: (1) provisions for the mobilization of financial support, (2) options to strengthen the workstream, and (3) options for technical support.  Various parties have expressed a range of views on an acceptable way forward, ranging from minimal ambition to significant ambition.

With less than 72 hours to go on the loss and damage issues under negotiation, the promise of a more “simplified” future, using blockchain, smart contracts and parametric insurance, is quite appealing. Regardless, if there is one common theme stemming from the narratives of both the negotiations and the side event, it is that the process is both evolving and unpredictable. Whether a lawyer, a farmer, a negotiator, or an adjustor, in an era of dynamic, unprecedented change, we must become more familiar with what may, at first, be uncomfortable.

COP25: assorted images

Demystifying COP: An accessible take on the international climate change negotiations

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.

A sea of black and white: the nature of negotiations

A sea of black and white: the nature of negotiations

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.

Student delegates are off to a great start, attending negotiations well into the evening hours on Article 6 (carbon markets).

Student delegates are off to a great start, attending negotiations well into the evening hours on Article 6 (carbon markets).

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.

The Law:

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).

The Science:

Cover of the special report on the ocean and cryosphere in a changing climate.

Cover of the special report on the ocean and cryosphere in a changing climate.

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.

Professor Sarah Reiter and student delegate, Kristyn Ostanek, met with Ambassador Jumeau from the Seychelles to discuss the very big ideas being implemented by big ocean states like the Seychelles. These big ocean states are leading the way when it comes to the climate-ocean nexus.

Professor Sarah Reiter and student delegate, Kristyn Ostanek, met with Ambassador Jumeau from the Seychelles to discuss the very big ideas being implemented by big ocean states like the Seychelles. These big ocean states are leading the way when it comes to the climate-ocean nexus.

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.

Blue COP: A ray of opportunity after a wave of emotional events

Despite more than 70 side events scheduled on the topic of oceans at the Blue COP, the ocean is still on the sidelines. However, with leadership from the small islands and other ocean-minded states, there is a movement afoot to chart a new course for the integration of the ocean-climate nexus into formal international climate negotiations going forward.

COP25 week 1 negotiations culminated in OCEANS DAY less than 24 hours after a sobering session by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) regarding their findings on the state of the ocean and cryosophere (SROCC Report).

A few major takeaways from the 700+ page report include that (1) the ocean has been absorbing a significant amount of the world’s emissions and heat – and it is feeling the effects (2) the frozen regions of the Earth are warming, resulting in losing snow and ice at rates faster than the rest of the world (3) scientists predict that things are expected to get a lot worse and (4) adaption is available, however only to a certain point. IMG_1886The authors left us with the simple, yet profound message that our ocean and cryosphere sustain us, are under pressure and are changing, and affect all our lives. Thus, we must act now.

Despite this call to action, the negotiations seem to be moving at a pace slower than the rate glaciers are melting. Regardless of the pace, oceans are still not part of the actual negotiations at the Blue COP.

Despite being on the sidelines we saw a ray of hope when Dr. Lisa Levin was called to the front stage during the IPCC session on the SROCC report. Earlier this year, we learned about the role of scientists in international negotiations by speaking with Dr. Lisa Levin from Scripps Oceanography. We got to see her in action this week when she was called on stage because of her scientific contributions to the SROCC report.

Despite being on the sidelines we saw a ray of hope when Dr. Lisa Levin was called to the front stage during the IPCC session on the SROCC report. Earlier this year, we learned about the role of scientists in international negotiations by speaking with Dr. Lisa Levin from Scripps Oceanography. We got to see her in action this week when she was called on stage because of her scientific contributions to the SROCC report.

The ocean science reflected in the SROCC report sits on the sidelines of decisionmaking, in particular, because there are no formal negotiations pertaining to the ocean-climate nexus.

So while the youth use their voice to express concern over the loss of a world with vibrant coral reefs and Arctic wildlife like polar bears, the main issue—the global ocean— still does not have a seat at the formal negotiating table. For the past two years, ocean-minded nations have been working together to remedy this issue. The Ocean Pathway, co-chaired by Fiji and Sweden, works to create an “ocean inclusive” UNFCCC process.

H.E. Ms. Helen Agren, Ambassador for the Ocean, Sweden, speaks during an Ocean Day event

H.E. Ms. Helen Agren, Ambassador for the Ocean, Sweden, speaks during an Ocean Day event while Mr. Taholo Kami, Special Representative for the Ocean Pathway, Fiji, looks on

Visionary leadership has emerged over the past week as ocean champions take action. No stranger to voyaging out ahead in uncharted waters, ocean-minded states are leading the effort to include oceans in the formal climate negotiations going forward. Indonesia, Fiji, Costa Rica, Seychelles, Panama, and Palau introduced a joint proposal to integrate issues relating the connection between oceans and climate change into the formal work of the UNFCCC. The proposal aims to highlight the ocean climate nexus and promote as well as ensure that ocean related issues are addressed in international climate negotiations.

An ocean "lady in waiting" at IFEMA. There are over 80 sculptures of Las Meninas placed in iconic spots around Madrid

An ocean “lady in waiting” at IFEMA. There are over 80 sculptures of Las Meninas placed in iconic spots around Madrid

It identifies three deadlines for action. First, it asks the Chair of Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) to create a dialogue during the fifty-second session (June 2020) centered around the climate-ocean nexus and the most efficient arrangements for addressing these issues under the UNFCCC framework. Second, the proposal invites both parties and non-party stakeholders, and representatives from other international processes, to submit comments on this issue by March 21, 2020. Finally, the proposal asks for recommendations from SBSTA body for consideration during COP26 next year in Glasgow (November 2020).

Sun sets on week one of the COP25 negotiations in Madrid

Sun sets on week one of the COP25 negotiations in Madrid

As we welcome next week’s student delegation, we are delighted at the prospect of having a tangible way to contribute to the future of international climate negotiations, by using the power of our Vermont Law voice towards integrating oceans into the UNFCCC process. Negotiations are far from over, but the way ahead, and our role in contributing to international climate negotiations, is becoming more clear.


Should COP25 Re-brand? A “Show Me the Money!” Mentality

Center stage, COP25 seems to be all about money. The negotiations regarding climate finance and adaptation have made little progress this past week because of an ongoing conflict that has dominated negotiations since before the Kyoto Protocol: developed versus developing nations, and their associated financial responsibilities. Existing international legal instruments do not lend themselves to proper management of this ongoing conflict between developed and developing nations, and so it is now manifesting within the COP25 negotiations on the issues of climate finance and loss and damage.

Members of the G-77/China huddle during negotiations. Photo credit:

Members of the G-77/China huddle during negotiations. Photo credit:

It is well established that the developed countries are to blame for the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that is contributing to climate change. However, these developed countries are not the ones who will suffer the most from the perils of extreme flooding and drought. Developed countries for the last century grew their economy by burning fossil fuels and continue to burn a disproportional amount compared to developing countries. Although wealthier countries pledged to donate significant amounts of money to developing countries for mitigation and adaptation under the Paris Agreement, the climate-specific assistance given is far less than what was promised.

The issue of lack of adequate finance is most prevalent in the Climate Finance negotiations. Although the Green Climate Fund (GCF) was recently replenished in October 2019, raising $9.7 billion, these are merely pledges, and the fund will not be operational until these pledges turn into commitments, or money in the bank. Additionally, at COP16, as part of the Cancun Agreement, developed countries committed to a goal of mobilizing $100 billion per year by 2020 to address the needs of developing countries.

COP and CMA contact group on guidance to the Green Climate Fund. Photo credit:

COP and CMA contact group on guidance to the Green Climate Fund. Photo credit:

Nearly a decade later, several developing countries now seek an update on the status of this commitment, especially in the sessions dedicated to long-term climate finance. Developing countries see sessions on Long Term Finance, in particular, to discuss climate finance from a strategic perspective. AOSIS is very active in these discussions and has proposed a draft text. Developing countries suggest that they continue to face barriers in accessing climate finance and would benefit from access to simpler modalities of climate funds (such as streamlined access to GCF funding), favorable regulatory and policy environments, and provision of capacity-building and technical support.

There seems to be a disconnect between the stalling negotiations surrounding the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage (WIM), and the galvanized international community calling for a financial response to the climate emergency. According to the United Nations, climate disasters are increasing in both frequency (one per week) and cost ($300 billion per year).  In advance of COP25, in an open letter to Carolina Schmidt, Chile’s Environmental Minister and COP25 President, over 150 civil societies (e.g., Oxfam,, called for an end to the stalemate in the negotiations on WIM, and endorsed a funding facility for vulnerable countries. Yet, negotiators cannot seem to move beyond the question of who will provide the support to address loss and damage. Developing countries expect that developed countries will facilitate the mobilization of both technical and financial support to address loss and damage associated with climate change impacts. Earlier this week, like-minded developing countries called for a new financial mechanism and are trying to establish a Loss and Damage Finance Facility under WIM.

The SBI/SBSTA informal consultations on the WIM continue at full capacity. Photo credit:

The SBI/SBSTA informal consultations on the WIM continue at full capacity. Photo credit:

Developed countries are worried that such a financial facility makes the UNFCCC a humanitarian agency and establishes liability for the irreversible impact of climate change. But as parties negotiate the mechanics of finance, one thing they can all agree upon is the need for, and role of, money in driving action to address the climate emergency. As we head into the second week of negotiations, it remains to be seen whether the negotiations can move forward with a “Show Me the Money!” mentality.