Reflections from COP 19, Thursday 21st November

Daniele Saguto and Iva Muharremi, Youth Press Agency, Italy

‘There comes a point where the only option is to say enough is enough and to leave. With the science clearer than ever on the risk posed by dangerous climate change, Heads of State need to step in and show leadership and drive this process forward. (Samantha Smith, leader of WWF's global climate and energy initiative)

‘Enough is enough’

These are the first words of the joint statement (full text here) from the various environmental groups and NGOs that yesterday decided to leave the National Stadium at 14:00 in protest. An unprecedented decision in the history of the COPs that has highlighted the deep distance between civil society and the policy-makers who have repeatedly failed to take decisive and effective decisions.

‘Polluters talk, we walk’

This was written on the banner held by the demonstrators we met on the street. Their eyes were strong and determined, as were the ideas they aimed to advance.

The message they spread is clear. They denounce power politics and lobbying which have led to the prioritisation of big companies’ interests. That includes the actions of the hosts of COP who, by hosting the Coal and Climate Summit have increased visibility.  Friday is the final day of the conference and the negotiations have lost all credibility. Many states have baulked at the time of reckoning (including, among others, Japan, Australia, Canada and Poland). There simply is not any will to reduce emissions, and a funding agreement between the Parties appears to be a very distant prospect.

The protest groups, including Greenpeace International, WWF , Oxfam International, ActionAid International, Friends of the Earth Europe and the International Trade Union Confederation collectively walked out, handing their official UNFCCC badges in on the way.

‘#Volveremos’ (We’ll be back)

‘This is not about giving up, but is about taking the struggle to a different level. If we are to get a solution out of this COP we need people around the world to start – in every country – putting pressure on their governments to actually come to these COPs with a very strong mandate which has serious levels of ambition with regards to cutting carbon.’ (Greenpeace Executive Director Kumi Naidoo)

They were not walking away from the UNFCCC process entirely, promising to return for the talks in Lima, Peru, in 2014, more organised, more determined and stronger.

We will meet at COP 20.


Reflections from COP 19, Thursday 21st November

Giulia Carlini, Youth Press Agency, Italy

‘I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe.’ Like in Blade Runner, are negotiators just robot replicas?

Let me describe to you what I have experienced over the last two weeks.

I saw a city hosting a COP and a Coal Summit simultaneously. I saw controversial sponsors and questionable lobbyists in the corridors.

I heard observers snoring during side-events and met those seeming surprised to hear that I know COP 20 is to be held in Lima.

I watched old delegates chatting up young girls and consultants wander around in search of free buffets.

I saw people watching music videos during the conferences and others forgetting to log out from the computer centre, leaving their confidential documents on the screen.

I observed ‘journalists’ copying colleagues’ articles and people attending meetings just to spread their business cards.

Again, like in Blade Runner: ‘all those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.” Or like CO2 in the atmosphere.

Time to…change!

I have also seen things that gave me hope.

I saw the world moved to tears by the deaths resulting from a Typhoon in the Philippines and negotiators collecting money to help the country.

I listened to volunteers from all over the world saying they worked for months just to pay for their trip to COP, and NGOs organising actions to influence the negotiations.

I heard professors giving advice for young students’ futures, and Indigenous Peoples taught me that we can conceive the land as an inalienable good.

I read accurate and insightful publications written by journalists who stand watch over these late meetings and I saw civil society leaving COP in protest.

I saw negotiators with bags under their eyes because they have worked all night long and speakers at risk of fainting because they did not have time to eat.

Friday is the last day of COP 19, and the world’s eyes are upon us. Let us hope these moments will NOT be lost in time.

Reflections from COP 19, Tuesday 19th November

Iva Muharremi and Danielle Savietto, Youth Press Agency, Italy

Today we had a sweet welcome when arriving at the National Stadium. The Plant for the Planet Foundation distributed chocolates to everyone as a way of drawing attention to climate issues. Created in Germany, the ‘Chocolate for Change’ initiative plants a tree for every three chocolates sold. With sales of more than more than a million in its first eight months, it is already having a positive impact.

Aside from our passion for chocolate, today’s theme was Gender Day, involving a wide range of events and interventions on the importance of women's participation in negotiations and decision-making on climate change.

The gender issue permeates all areas of society, sometimes obviously, but at others only implicitly in small things, and these, as well as being difficult to identify are also the most difficult to change. If you cannot identify the problem, how do you intervene? Nevertheless, the need for equity is more than urgent; we need space for all voices, all ages and both sexes.

Christiana Figueres, UNFCCC Executive Secretary, opened the day at an event on gender equality by stating that: ‘We are here today to create a dream. We are daughters, mothers, sisters, grandmothers, getting on with climate action.’

Ms Figueres asked the numerous guests two questions: what kind of world do we want? What is your dream? Some of the answers inspired me: Helen Clark, UN Development Program Administrator, said women have to be the power, because they face difficult situations; for instance in some parts of the world there are women who spend the whole day walking in search of water. Mary Robinson, president of the Mary Robinson Foundation, replied that women have to change the world for their children and firmly express their opinions, as Christiana Figueres showed in her speech at the Coal Summit.

Talking about gender is not ordinary, in fact the theme of gender equality is a current issue, and climate change could increase gender inequality. Many Conventions aim to contribute to addressing gender inequality, such as the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Brazil in June 2012 and the UN Woman Strategic Plan in 2013.

Nevertheless, this may not be enough. 60 per cent of graduates in the EU are women and 50 per cent of the world population are women, yet their representation in the official delegations at the UNFCCC is very far off matching these proportions. Indeed, the world average of women in parliaments is increasing, but it is not enough, moving from 14 per cent in 2000 to 20 per cent in 2012.

According to studies, consumption patterns differ significantly between men and women. Compared to men, women have a more sustainable way of life, they are more willing to act in order to protect the environment and more likely to choose sustainable goods. Women’s impact on the environment is different from that of men and the way they react and adapt is compromised by discriminations in terms of salary, access to resources, political power, education, and responsibility for their families.

Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 3 focuses the attention of the international community on the urgency to reinforce the idea and the practice of gender equality. With the goals due to expire in 2015, in the next couple of years it will be crucial to accelerate progress towards gender equality targets.

After these amazing gender teachings, it was time to go to Brazilian Delegation briefing with the Brazilian Minister of Environment, Izabella Teixeira. Over the course of the two hours, Ms Teixeira and the Brazilian negotiators repeatedly expressed their concerns about the apparent lack of definition or hope for this year’s negotiations. They also stated that if many important decisions are going to be pushed back until COP 20 in Lima next year, it will harm prospects for a strong and effective final post-2015 agreement. But, we still hope that some decisions can be made by Friday.

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Reflections from COP 19, Monday 18th November

Délcio Rodrigues and Silvia Dias, Vitae Civilis

After the first week of the negotiations, the second week of COP 19 started with the feeling of a dejá vu. Once again, the Filipino negotiator was the responsible for the most exciting speech. Again, Germanwatch disclosed that poor countries are most vulnerable to extreme weather events. Again, we have an extreme climate causing chaos for thousands of people while the conference happens (this time in the US). Again, we hear an announcement that the planet is experiencing the warmest years in its recent history, the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are already at alarming levels, and the right thing to do would be to leave fossil fuel reserves untouched.

Even the new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report comes with a taste of old news. For despite the greater range of detail and scientific certainty, the first instalment of the Fifth Assessment Report (Working Group I) in essence confirms that we are on the path to dangerous climate change. Likewise, the International Energy Agency (IEA) confirms what has been argued by a strong campaign against fossil fuel subsidies created at COP 18. According to the IEA, governments spent $523 billion on fossil fuel subsidies in 2011 – a complete reversal of priorities from the point of view of climate change: for every $1 in support for renewables, another $6 are spent promoting carbon-intensive combustibles. Research by the Overseas Development Institute, UK, showed that subsidies to fossil fuel consumption in 11 OECD countries reach the total of $72 billion, or about $112 per adult inhabitant of these countries. But this is not only a problem in rich countries, fossil fuel subsidies are also present in emerging and developing countries, such as the Brazilian government’s tax-breaks for its national fuel-giant Petrobras.

In other words, a consistent schedule of work and recommitment to existing goals over the coming year is the best result we can expect from a conference that is likely to go down in history as coal's COP.

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Reflections from COP 19, Monday 18th November

Daniele Saguto, Youth Press Agency, Italy

If you look through the windows on the south side of the National Stadium in Warsaw you can see the chimneys of a coal plant. It is the entrance to the power plant ‘Siekierki’. It has been the property of PGNiG, a state-owned Polish Company, since 2012 and its CO2 emissions reach about 3.2 million tonnes per year.

Most of Poland’s energy demand is supplied by coal power, and, in 2012, Poland was the ninth largest coal producer in the world.

So, it is both obvious and ironic that yesterday the International Coal and Climate Summit (ICCS) took place just a few kilometers away from COP 19, where discussions on how to reduce the negative effects of global warming goes on. Speeches by the Prime Minister of Poland, Janusz Piechociński, and the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, Christiana Figueres, opened the meeting. The Prime Minister provided a strong message on the Polish Government’s position in both the COP 19 and ICCS negotiations, one that was supportive of a coal-based energy independence policy.

This position does not take into account the views of Polish citizens. A recent survey showed that more than 70 per cent of Poles want to see government investment in renewable energy and more than 80 per cent of the population considers climate change a serious problem which the government should address.

Despite this, the Polish Government, together with ‘The World Coal Association’ has subscribed to the ‘Warsaw Communiqué’, which supports the view that climate change can be tackled while continuing to burn coal, through the use of low emissions technologies.

As some representatives of WWF underlined during a press conference, the reality is different from the one presented during the ICCS: coal is not a cheap resource, it comes with a horrifyingly huge cost to people and the environment; it is fuelling climate change, and exacerbating its impact; the concept of ‘clean coal’ is just a myth, a desperate attempt by this industry to survive. These views were also expressed in an open letter from Greenpeace and others to Christiana Figueres.

While lobbyists from around the world were perched within the Polish Ministry of Economy, outside in the street various groups organised a demonstration. Among these were members of the campaign ‘Cough4Coal’, whose protest centred around two seven foot inflatable lungs and representatives from ‘people before Coal’, who protested to highlight that the health costs related to the use of coal in Poland alone amount to over 8 billion Euros and cause about 3,000 premature deaths each year. Greenpeace activists also made a dramatic protest by climbing onto the roof of the Ministry of Economy and unfurling a banner that read: ‘who governs Poland? Coal industries or the people?’

Reflections from COP 19, weekend events

Deborah Phelan, Earth Island delegation at COP19

As climate talks continued at COP 19 and climate activists took to the streets of Warsaw to demand an end to business as usual, the first Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) debuted at the University of Warsaw this past weekend, a two day conference to promote a novel holistic approach to addressing climate change, while meeting the need to sustainably feed 9 billion people by 2050.

Fast on the heels of Rio+20 and the report of the UN Secretary-General’s High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda which proposes twelve global goals for sustainable development, the GLF attracted hundreds of participants (world leaders, policymakers, scientists, donors, the private sector, indigenous and community groups, and climate negotiators) to participate in discussions on how agriculture and forestry – which contribute up to one third of greenhouse gasses (GHGs) – can collaborate to design and implement solutions which surpass traditional sector-specific approaches.

Peter Holmgren, Director General of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), who moderated Saturday's opening plenary, identified four themes for the conference:

  • Investing in sustainable landscapes in forests and on farms;
  • Landscapes policy and governance for forestry, agriculture and other land uses;
  • Synergies between adapting to and mitigating climate change in forest and agricultural landscapes; and
  • Landscapes for food security and nutrition.

Fuelled by Saturday's announcement that the UNFCCC's Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) will not be including agriculture on this year's agenda, (Read Why aren't climate negotiators listening to 1.4 billion farmers?), World Bank Vice President for Sustainable Development, Rachel Kyte, lamented the lack of communication between COP negotiators, researchers, and environmental and agricultural ministers.

While negotiators might not yet realise the link between the landscape approach and food security and mitigation, ‘it’s not too late to get agriculture and forests incorporated into the Post-2015 sustainable development goals,’ said Kyte.

The ‘landscape approach’ significantly shifts how policy and science are applied to address climate change and stresses the integral need to level the playing field when it comes to the equality of voices involved in the process of planning and decision-making.

The link between forestry and agriculture is key, as the two sectors collectively employ billions of people, workers who produce all of our natural food and fibres and contribute 10 per cent of our biomass energy.  Engaging all stakeholders – from the small farmer or cattle rancher to the investment bankers, governments and NGOs – is vital to designing resilient interconnected systems which maintain biodiversity, support ecosystems and ensure a sustainable and safe water supply.

‘First off, we think of a “landscape” as a socio-ecological system – a mosaic of natural and/or human-modified ecosystems, influenced by the ecological, historical, economic, and cultural processes and activities of the area,’ explain EcoAgriculture Partners Sara J. Scherr, Seth Shames, and Rachel Friedman.

One of the most significant topics of the Forum was the role of Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA) within the landscape paradigm.

CSA strengthens resilience by improving crop productivity and farmers' incomes and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, experts explain. Employing techniques such as crop rotation, mulching, integrating crop-livestock management and improving water management, CSA also incorporates innovative weather forecasting technologies.

Speaking on Climate-Smart Agriculture at the GLF on Sunday, World Food Programme Deputy Executive Director for Hunger Solutions, Sheila Sisulu, stressed the need ‘to focus on people, to be close to people because we cannot be smart without them ... they are central to landscapes.’  

With over half of the world's population experiencing some form of malnutrition, Sisulu said she fears the sustainable development goals will not sufficiently address food security and stressed the need for farmers in Africa and India to shift to Climate-Smart Agriculture.

More info

Hosted at the University of Warsaw with Poland's Ministry of the Environment and  Ministry Agriculture and Rural Development,  The Global Landscape Forum was coordinated by CIFOR, CGIAR and CCAFS.  Visit the website for more information on other participating organisations and partners.

For a CSA success story, see Plump Goats and Pawpaws: A Story of Climate-Smart Farming in Kenya.

A video by CIFOR on the landscape approach can be seen here.

About the author

Deborah Phelan is a veteran reporter who currently blogs on Climate Change for Daily Kos. She is a member of the Earth Island delegation at COP19.

Reflection from COP 19, Monday 11th November

Evelyn Araripe, Brazilian Youth Delegation

COP 19 started on a Polish holiday - Independence Day. Over the weekend the delegations received bulletins warning them that this holiday can be dangerous and violent. There are many protests and COP participants were told to take extra care of themselves.

At the Conference, however, the mood was calm, apart from everyone devoting a good deal of time and energy to finding out how to navigate the Polish National Stadium. Its many floors and sections make the Stadium a perfect maze.

Despite the warm heating, the negotiations and general programme of the day was cold. As a young people, we of course started the day at the Youth non-governmental organisations (YOUNGO) plenary, where discussions focused on interventions, planning and procedures, and how intergenerational equity is going to be the hit of this COP.

Meanwhile, the opening ceremony was what all of us expected, representatives saying how we must have urgency, how a new agreement is important for future generations, and how we must be ambitious. Perhaps the highlight of the ceremony was the video showing Polish children sending a letter to children from the small Pacific Island Kiribati, and children from communities there explaining some of the problems that they are already experiencing as a result of climate change, like declining fish stocks and sea level rise, without even understanding that they were talking about climate change.

Later in the day, the lead negotiator from the Philippines, Yeb Sano, was the only one that made noise with his silence. After three minutes of silence in solidarity with his people that are still suffering the effects of the typhoon which wreaked havoc across the country last week, in a moving speech he announced he will not eat during the Conference, until a meaningful agreement has been achieved. Many civil society participants are joining him in this hunger-strike.

While we had experienced cold negotiations (for now) inside the National Stadium, outside the things were heating up. Not the temperature of course – which is dropping every day at this time of year – but many protesters took to Warsaw's streets just as the warning bulletins had communicated. The focus of the protests varied from unemployment to Poland’s neighbouring country Russia, seeing some participants attack the Russian embassy, to which the Polish police responded with tear gases.

To finish the day, we went to first Brazilian press conference where Ambassador José Marcondes, head of the delegation, explained that COP 19 is an important moment to implement past commitments. He said that it is also their intention to create a calendar to agree upon a zero draft of COP 21 outcome document, what he called the ‘way to Paris.’ Marcondes reiterated that the Brazilian priorities for COP 19 are finance for implementation, capacity building and transfer of technology.

Asked by a journalist if Brazil would propose financial support for developing countries, Marcondes answered that he is expecting developed countries to do that. He reminded us that developing countries are actually doing more than developed ones, by reducing their emissions voluntarily. Asked by a Brazilian journalist about the future of Brazil's emissions reductions, given the country’s large oil reserves and the creation of low-tax incentives for the purchase of cars, the ambassador replied broadly that the country is working to reduce their emissions, halt deforestation and create a national climate change policy with reduction targets. He also remained firm on the point that developing countries should have the right to live up to their name and develop.