Reflections from COP20, Day 10

Atayi Babs, Pan-African Media Alliance for Climate Change

Upon entering the COP20 conference venue on Wednesday, I was met by over one hundred delegates from countries around the world, including leading representatives of the African civil society under the aegis of the Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA), who stood together for two minutes of silence to show solidarity with the people of the Philippines who are suffering in the wake of Typhoon Hagupit. 

At the venue, civil society representatives called on Ministers who arrived early this week to make progress towards a mechanism that effectively addresses Loss and Damage from climate impacts. Vulnerable countries like the Philippines are already counting the costs, with last year’s Typhoon Haiyan leaving more than 7,000 dead or missing. 

"We stand in solidarity with the Philipines today because we are one," Robert Chimambo of PACJA declared. "Africa is in the same vulnerable boat with Philippines and that is why we are calling on those with historical responsibility and capacity to act now, or we sink together in this titanic" Chimambo added.

Maria Theresa Nera-Lauron from IBON international in the Philippines said that her country does not want sympathy but action in solidarity. "You cannot talk about sympathy, while at the same time putting us on a path to more devastation – a path that will result in more severe weather events, more severe Bophas and Haiyans and Hagupits. We refuse to become a poster child for devastation and climate impacts. We in the Philippines are not drowning. We are not dying. We are fighting. We are fighting, and we need you to fight with us." 

Delegates arriving at the conference centre on Wednesday were greeted with images from the aftermath of these storms, to remind them that climate vulnerable communities need to see urgent progress in Lima. Despite this, some countries, including the UK and the USA, are actually undermining efforts in negotiations to develop a comprehensive Loss and Damage mechanism that would provide support for countries already suffering climate impacts that are 'locked-in.'

Responding to the show of solidarity, Dewy Sacayan of the Aotearoa Youth Leadership Institute said “we thank you for your sympathy, but we need more. We need real action to put us on the path to a safe climate future. We have had enough. My family back home are already telling me grim stories about Hagupit. When I went to Tacloban after Haiyan to lead relief work, I saw things that I will never forget. My people have had three unseasonal typhoons in three years."

Cristina Dalla Torre and Sara Cattani, Youth Press Agency

Yesterday was International Mountain Day.

Mountains cover 27 per cent of the planet and are where 12 per cent of the world’s population lives. However, mountains today are exposed to a phenomenon of depopulation in favour of an increasing rate of urbanisation. We have to consider that mountains are not only a natural ecosystem, but also a cultural one. People living in the mountains have created their own identity, customs, traditions, ways of producing and economical systems in a very close relationship to nature, particularly compared to an urban context. Therefore the effects of climate change, such as glaciers melting, increases in temperature and more intense precipitation, are issues that these mountain dwellers have to cope with in their everyday lives.

We all know that mountains are main sources of water and contain a quarter of the world’s biodiversity. But at the same time, each mountain system has its own specific characteristics in terms of different ecosystems, cultures and societies. Although a global response for acting towards climate change is needed, a good way to protect these specific territories is through regional cooperation. An example of this is the institution of the Alpine Convention in Europe, which aims at being the channel of communication of different countries composing the alpine puzzle, as mentioned by Doris Leuthard, Deputy Prime Minister of Switzerland, at the lunch time side event on mountains and water – from understanding to action.

Mountain territories can be laboratories of innovation; starting from the cultural and natural heritage that they already possess. Therefore, it is important to combine resources to create opportunities of personal and community development for the populations settled in those contexts.

Reflections from COP20, Day 9

Soscha de la Fuente, Dutch Youth Representative on Sustainable Development to the UN

One of the big surprises for youth at this COP has been the Ministerial Declaration on Education and Awareness-raising, put forward by Peru and Poland. COP19 President Mr. Korolec stated in his opening speech that education is the most important tool one can use to change the world, and experience and scientific research show he is right. However, since the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, which resulted in Article 6 of Agenda 21 on “Education, Training and Public Awareness”, there has been little coverage of this issue internationally through the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).  This year, Poland and Peru have brought education back to the centre stage of negotiations. Alongside this renewed political momentum, many side events have emphasised that education can lead to the systemic change that we are all trying to achieve. The ability to fight climate change – the ultimate goal of these negotiations – requires education.

It therefore seems obvious that we need to reassess the ways in which the UNFCCC and governments can contribute to improving and financing education on climate change and sustainable development.  With this mind, many young people are seeking to influence the negotiations.  Their aim has been to change the very outcomes of the climate talks on education. Here at COP20, we have continued the work of the YOUNGO Working Group on Education, with the aim of sharing the knowledge of youth with our governments, to help them carry out national and international education programmes.

Last week we sat down with the Polish delegation to share our thoughts, and found that other countries had proposed amendments that echoed our own. It seemed as though many countries had the same intention as us: like youth, they wanted to make the Declaration more concrete, helpful and successful in the long run.

So what do we, as youth, see as useful statements to include? An explicit acknowledgment of the success of informal and non-formal education, is one clear example. Education is not restricted to the classroom. A large amount of climate change education can, and is, primarily performed by civil society, and our governments should support these initiatives. But more importantly, we need to recognise that sustainable development is only possible when we share universal values, and are respectful towards those values which are context- and culture-specific. This is the most important thing that our education could possibly reflect.

Serena Boccardo and Camilla Forti, Youth Press Agency

Yesterday was a special day outside COP20. On the 56th anniversary of Human Rights Day – as established by the UN – Indigenous Peoples, campesinos (farmers), women, students and trade unions movements, coming from every part of the world, took to the streets of Lima for a shared protest in defence of their rights to water, healthcare and climate justice – all of which are being discussed in the negotiations this week.

Addressing climate change in a fair, sustainable and equitable way is indeed deeply interrelated with the respect for human rights.

While ultimate decisions are being made inside the secret rooms of the Pentagonito – the Peruvian nickname for the COP20 venue – the streets of Lima have been coloured by the People’s Climate March, with the motto: “Change the system, not the climate”.

Inequalities in terms of access to food, natural resources, education, healthcare and energy supplies are indeed exacerbated by a lack of long-term perspective on addressing the climate change issue. In the eyes of the people marching, COP20 is a massive bureaucratic machine, which works by depending on private interests, and reflecting and following the dictates of a neoliberal economic model.

But why do people feel so distant from UN institutions? And why are these bodies considered so distant from being able to fulfil people’s needs? Why would an institution whose mission is to guarantee a peaceful world and universal human rights, seem not to be able to interact with those citizens it is supposed to protect? Clearly, there is a lack of representation and democracy. Just to mention one example, in the negotiations on REDD+ - whose ultimate aim should be to provide sustainable forestry management – indigenous communities feel they are not sufficiently represented. It is undeniable that pricing land, water and air by applying markets mechanisms currently under discussion in COP20, does not entail the enormous costs in terms of social, cultural and environmental externalities that ultimately fall on the shoulders of all of us.

Reflections from COP20, Day 8

Chiara Zanotelli and Daniele Savietto, Youth Press Agency

On Tuesday, COP20 hosted the third Gender Day, aiming to raise awareness on gender equality and the importance of women empowerment. COP20 could represent a milestone in the efforts for including women’s human rights and gender equality issues in a global process. Already, last year in Doha, a decision was adopted on promoting gender balance and facilitating broader participation of women inside the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Ahead of next year’s celebrations for the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action – a thorough consideration of gender equality in terms of practical decisions and not only hollow declarations – the time is ripe for further positive progress.

The Women and Gender Constituency has been putting serious efforts in the recognition of gender equality and human rights in all climate agreements, as crosscutting themes. Thus, to actively include the gender perspective in all the bodies and the discussions that are going on here in Lima, including those on climate change mitigation and adaptation, as well as loss and damage.

Adaptability to climate change can be defined as the capacity of a person, group or country to anticipate, cope, resist and recover from the impacts of a given climate impact. Those who have access to fewer resources – such as technology, education and information – have greater difficulty in adapting. Many women can only dream of having access to the resources they need to build resilience and respond to climate change impacts.

It is time that decision makers admitted that women’s empowerment is not an option, but a must – in all sectors, in all UN conferences and at all decision-making levels. Change needs time, but just as the water erodes the stone when it flows towards the estuary, human rights are also gaining ground. No matter how resistant the opposition is to real change, things will happen when the time comes. Now is the time: let’s use this opportunity wisely. Let’s kill two birds with one stone. Exacerbating inequality by not adopting fair decisions will not be the solution.

Jessica Olson, Sierra Student Coalition

 As countries are called upon to raise ambitions regarding emissions targets, Gender Day stands as a reminder that ambition must encompass more cross-cutting issues. Gender Day emerged at COP18 in Doha and has since become an annual event. The day is filled with gender-themed side events and high-level sessions that serve as a vehicle for advancing conversations on gender equality. 

Gender Day at COP20 took a different tone than those of the past two years, with Mary Robinson, UN Special Envoy for Climate Change and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, setting the mood at a high-level lunch time event. Robinson acknowledged that gender equality has come a long way since the Beijing Declaration was adopted in 1995, but that there is still a long way to go. Robinson stated, “we need to continue to strengthen women’s rights and not let them backslide.” These remarks follow the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) decision on gender, which was finalised on Friday 5th December. The text denied the use of “gender equality” and instead utilises the less impactful term “gender balance”. This means that low ambition for equitable gender participation will remain the norm within the UNFCCC in Lima and beyond. 

In the past two years, Gender Day has served as a platform for discussing women’s vulnerability to climate change without necessarily talking about how women contribute at an international scale. Although women are on the frontline of the impacts of climate change, there are not appropriate avenues for them to share their experiences and knowledge within the UNFCCC. Because of this, the side events and panels on Gender Day tend to be one of the few venues where women’s positive contributions can be heard within the Conference. 

In order for Gender Day to fulfil its intended impact, the UNFCCC must fully recognise that gender equality is a human rights issue and address the institutional barriers that block progress. Gender Day must not only be about women, but should address the needs of all genders through gender responsive texts in the negotiations.

Reflections from COP20, Day 7

Tom Harrisson, Goldsmiths College, University of London

Not for the first time during COP20, the presence of Shell's David Hone on a side-event panel has caused controversy. The event in question, hosted by the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA), whose name was changed from "Why Divest from Fossil Fuels When a Future with Low Emission Fossil Energy Use is Already a Reality?" to "How Can We Reconcile Climate Targets with Energy Demand Growth?", was inundated by a scrum of civil society protesters on Monday.

Speaking outside the event Godwin Uyi Ojo, Executive Director of Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria said "we are here to condemn the activities of Shell in COP20. Shell is promoting dirty energy as part of the energy future of the world but [it] has caused monumental havoc in the Niger delta, [destroying] our rivers [and] our livelihoods, this is why we are pushing for renewable energy to say Shell has no part in COP20".

Also on the panel was Lord Nicholas Stern who, having pushed passed protesters wearing "Get the FF out" t-shirts, spoke about the necessity of up-scaling Carbon Capture and Sequestration technology to stay within a 2˚C scenario. The protesters duly walked out allowing for a brief Q&A and some much-needed breathing space.

When questioned about his refusal to support the fossil fuel divestment campaign present at the London School of Economics, where he chairs the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, Lord Stern gave a somewhat conflicted response. Without actually acknowledging the campaign itself, he talked about 'portfolio decarbonisation' adopted by large public sector pension funds such as FRR in France, whereby the companies with the poorest environmental standards are dropped, creating positive incentive structures and increased returns on investment. He also talked about the need to be analytical when choosing where to apply pressure, either as a shareholder or none-shareholder.

Stern seems then to indirectly agree with the LSE Divest, whilst inviting criticism from civil society organisations by legitimising fossil fuel companies like Shell by speaking at such events.

Elisa Calliari, Youth Press Agency

Saturday 6 December saw the opening of the first ever Multilateral Assessment (MA), aimed at engaging parties in evaluating developed countries’ mitigation efforts. Convened under the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI), this two-day exercise was the second step of a wider International Assessment and Review (IAR) process started in January 2014, with the technical review of the national reports submitted by developed countries. The MA opened on Saturday with presentations by the European Union and some Member States, and continued on Monday 8 December with contributions from the United States (US) and New Zealand, among others. The MA was applauded by parties as an important tool for enhancing accountability, transparency, and sharing of national experiences. Nevertheless, it looked more like an academic exercise with Parties providing their PowerPoint presentations on national mitigation efforts and with little critical analysis on the results presented. This was particularly true during the first day of the assessment, with the Brazilian delegation calling for more interaction and discussion in the process and the SBI chair endorsing this request. In fact, on Monday, the exercise was more engaging and questions by developing countries were so numerous that the session closed with a slight delay before the lunch break. In particular, Fiji, Brazil, China, Saudi Arabia proved to be particularly vocal. On the developed countries side, the US, Canada and Australia were among the more active in the discussion.

From a formal point of view, the MA might represent an important platform for enhancing accountability and keeping track of what developed countries are doing in terms of mitigation commitments. However, the exercise could be improved in a number of ways. In particular, there is a strong need for comparability among the results presented, this being ultimately hampered by the different methodologies individually used for the assessment. Moreover, the assessment efforts put in place by developed countries seemed to be quite uneven. While the EU presentation was based upon a 200 detailed report, the Biannual Report submitted by the US was quite thin with its 34 pages. Consequently, it was no surprise that the US was inundated with questions from both developed and developing countries. This first experience during SBI 41 will hopefully be useful to better shape the process in the upcoming MA (June and December 2015) and to make the MA really meaningful and supportive of an enhanced transparency under the Convention.

Reflections from COP20, Day 5

Luciano Frontelle and Milena Rettondini, Youth Press Centre

The Subsidiary Board of Implementation (SBI) – created to support the work of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) through the assessment and review of the effective implementation of the Convention, the Kyoto Protocol and the Bali Action Plan – finalised most of its agenda on Friday in the first part of its closing plenary.
Youth, as with all of the other civil society groups in the UNFCCC, have being lobbing negotiators in order to reach more ambitious agreements. In a way of evaluating this process, Youth had the opportunity to deliver a speech on Friday.

During his two minute intervention, the Peruvian representative for UNEP-TUNZA – the initiative for engaging young people in the work of United Nations Environment Programme – Christian Herrera, delivered the position of YOUNGO (the UNFCCC observer constituency of youth non-governmental organisations). At the beginning of his speech, he called upon Parties to ratify the Doha Amendment, which established the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. So far, only 21 parties have done this, and we have 123 more to go.

Christian also expressed the need of Parties to transform words into actions. He recalled that the Green Climate Fund must raise $100 billion a year by 2020, although commitments have so far reached only the 10 per cent of that total. YOUNGO said that they are aware of what has been achieved so far, nevertheless they know that a lot more is needed in order to halt the consequences of climate change. For that, Christian emphasised the important role of youth in developing and implementing policies to guarantee a more sustainable future.

“All Parties should give their young people more visibility and additional means so as to increase the fantastic potential they are demonstrating in every country. We are part of the solution. We are here, available to take the engagements and the responsibility that it means.”

Reflection on the Global Landscapes Forum

Johanna Lee Sadik, Wageningen University and Research Centre

I was given the opportunity to attend the second week of the COP20, and I was excited to participate to the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) as a warm up to the second week of the negotiations. I am intrigued by the politics of climate change and agriculture, which is what drew me to the GLF this weekend.

In earlier years, Forest Day and Agriculture Day were separate events. But because of the growing recognition of the inseparable nature of these sectors, the two events were joined to create the GLF.

As a first time attendee of the GLF, I had expected the forum to merely involve a number of high-level policy makers discussing critical political and technical matters to develop strategic frameworks for global land use.

Arriving on Saturday morning, however, I found myself immersed in a sea of diverse stakeholders that ranged from indigenous people to executives. Rather than being technocratic, I found it to be accessible because of the variety of stakeholders engaging in a dialogue, grounded in their shared passion for an integrated approach to land use. This multidimensional aspect of the Forum is what makes the event such a meaningful exchange of ideas.

By the time the event concluded on Sunday, I felt overwhelmed and excited by the cloud of buzzwords and trending topics discussed over the weekend. I can now imagine how negotiators must feel at COP, trying to craft a meaningful agreement on such wide-ranging issues. It is truly impressive what negotiators must accomplish during such an event, putting together an agreement of global consequence under such pressure, with the whole world watching.