Reflections from COP 19, Thursday 14th November

Rachael Purcell, IFMSA

The first week of COP 19 has been an enlightening experience.  A long way from the realm of clinical medicine and university study back home in Australia, the negotiations have provided insight into the high level decision-making processes that surround climate change.  I believe that medical student participation at COP 19 is a valuable way to experience climate change policy in a global setting. The benefits of translating this into public health practice and advocacy in our home countries are clear.  I also think that attending COP19 affords the opportunity to share our experiences with student colleagues back in our own countries.

There is an incredible amount of enthusiasm and energy being generated across the National Stadium – particularly by youth delegates, who offer a vibrant and passionate perspective on climate change issues, which transcend generational barriers.  I have particularly enjoyed the perspectives offered by delegates from different backgrounds, cultures and experiences, and hope that this continues throughout the coming week.  I have valued the warm reception given to delegates by many of the people of Warsaw, particularly those working across the conference venue, who greet us every morning with a smile.

Being from a medical background, the majority of my experience with the topic of climate change has been health-related, focusing on the vulnerabilities of disadvantaged populations, and the preparedness of health systems and professionals.   I especially look forward to the Climate and Health Summit, which will be held on Saturday 16th November at the Marriott Hotel, and I would encourage everyone who is available to attend.  I believe that a consideration of the health impacts of climate change must remain at the fore of negotiations on climate change, and I hope that its importance is evident in the decisions to come at COP 19.

About the author

Rachael Purcell is a final year Australian medical student and a representative of the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations at COP 19


Reflections from COP 19, Thursday 14th November

Daniele Saguto and Giovanni Cunico, Youth News Agency, Italy

The fourth day of negotiations has come to an end here at COP 19; the air is caustic both inside and outside the Narodowy Stadium. The ‘Young and Future Generations Day’ is also through.

The youth definitely stand out as one of the most active constituencies within the Conference. Nevertheless, their position inside the negotiations remains a pretty difficult one: they must achieve the goal of making their voice count among other stakeholders who can surely afford much more organised and financed lobbying activity.

Many topics are being pushed forward by YOUNGO (the UNFCCC constituency of youth non-governmental organisations), but one stands out among all others: the principle of intergenerational equity (that is defined in both the Rio Convention and the Brundtland Report). This principle puts forward the idea of undertaking actions that do not compromise the potential activities and prosperity of future generations, and represents a legal and moral basis on which to build any arrangement on climate change. 

At about 09:30, a group of young people from different countries decided to organise a demonstration: they stood still for about half an hour with a piece of tape on their mouths and a poster with a future date and an imaginary baby tied around their neck. They were asking for intergenerational equity to be put into the COP agenda and for it to be officially affirmed like it is within the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP). Also, they called for all the promises made during the negotiations to be based on economic models not using the ‘discount rate’, which, if taken into account, would give a distorted picture of future environmental costs and impacts.

In the afternoon, a side event organised by the UNFCCC Secretariat was held on the topic of intergenerational equity, providing a platform for young delegates from all over the world to connect with some of the most important actors at COP and impress upon them that this principle is a fundamental requirement for climate justice and an ambitious agreement for 2015.

This crucial principle can be summarised through a Native American proverb: ‘This world has not been given to us as a heritage from our fathers, but as a loan from our children.’ We surely hope that the delegates will keep this in mind during the negotiations!


Reflections from COP19, Tuesday 12th November

Bruna Souza, Youth Press Agency and Brazilian Youth Delegation

We started the day at 10 am, to finish some videos and some translations in the exhibits area. We were waiting to record one of the interventions that YOUNGO, the UNFCCC’s youth constituency, would give at the morning’s negotiations during the two minute NGO speaking slots. Emilia Merlini from our organisation was invited to talk on behalf of YOUNGO because she is pregnant, so it was thought it would be symbolic for her to talk about the future of our generations. She commented in her speech on Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda, which has caused devastation in the Philippines, and showed her solidarity for the victims. She passed the last seconds of her speech with tape on her mouth, proving again that one image can generate more impact than a thousand words.

After lunch, I went to cover a workshop on Gender and Climate Change. It started with Dessima Williams, a diplomat from Grenada, providing stark insight into the percentage of women in delegations at COP. The figures were striking, and were worsened by the realisation that this inequality is not easy to fix. It is clear that women still have no voice in the negotiations.

But it is good to know that there are men who are fighting for climate change action. It will be a challenging process, to institutionalise the participation of women in COPs and similar international negotiations, but I hope to see it soon.

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Reflections from COP19, Tuesday 12th November

Raquel Rosenberg, Adopt a Negotiator and Brazilian Youth Delegation

Intense. This is the best word to define my experience so far at COP 19. Today was only the second day and it feels like a week. Me and the Brazilian Youth Delegation are working together to guarantee (some) positive outcomes by the time COP 19 ends on Friday 22 November, even if we do not have high hopes for an ambitious Warsaw outcome.

After so much preparation, being at the negotiations is really about understanding what is being discussed and I am nervous to know what the each country will talk about on topics yet to be covered. It is a wonderful feeling!

Brazil is being highlighted here in Warsaw! Brazilian delegates have been sought not only by YOUNGO, but also by the influential coalition of civil society actors the Climate Action Network (CAN), to support their concrete and innovative proposals and take them to the official negotiations, where only national representatives can make suggestions on what should be agreed. In addition, the openness of the Brazilian diplomats has been a positive surprise ever since the preparatory meeting in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, that we attended before COP 19. Many of the proposals that they have brought to the table fully meet with what we believe to be positive for the final outcome document. There is no one better than us young people, full of energy to ensure that our expectations are achieved at the very minimum, to undertake the liaison between these civil society groups and government representatives of Brazil.

Among the most relevant topics up for discussion, is the new climate agreement to be reached by 2015 - the terms of which, such as the levels of responsibility, are still up for negotiation. And there is also the issue of Loss and Damage, which guarantees support for vulnerable countries that are already suffering from the impacts of climate change impacts. This is closely related to finance and the process to operationalise the Green Climate Fund, which aims to support adaptation and mitigation activities in developing countries. One of the main proposals that the Brazilian Delegation is bringing to this COP is the creation of a mechanism that can measure the historical emissions (since 1850) of all countries, to really understand the responsibilities of each country before emissions reduction targets are put on the table. The Brazilian Youth Delegation supports this proposal and wants to bring this subject to the relevant discussions happening in different groups.

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Reflections from COP 19, Wednesday 13th November

Alessandra Frizzera, Youth News Agency, Italy, Italy

This morning, I went to a side event about decision-making process. The speakers gave us a clear theoretical picture on how decision-making processes work and the kind of alternatives there could be to the procedure based on consensus that has always been applied in UN negotiations. They also explained the different implications these proposed methods could have on the negotiations process.

The first speaker, Ms. Marilyn Averill, explained how the main concern at the recent Bonn meeting was the question of whether or not a different voting system would produce different results. The history of rules and procedure in the UNFCCC were introduced at the second COP (1996). Agendas have always been adopted by consensus, which means that no one makes open objections; parties do not have to explicitly agree or disagree.  The UN system itself defines consensus as ‘a procedure whereby a congress takes decisions without a vote.’ Within the UN system, consensus is the preferred model.

Nevertheless, there are many decision-making options that could be taken into consideration besides consensus, such as unanimity, weighted majority voting (simple majority or qualified majority), or no rules at all.

From what they said, I understood that there are many issues associated with selecting one set of voting procedures over another. On the one hand, consensus may be useful in reaching agreement on difficult issues; on the other, speed of negotiation could be slowed down by moving from simple majority to qualified majority; finally, the veto power would allow any party to keep the group from reaching agreement, and would therefore give a lot of power to individual parties.

Even the consensus method has proved a challenge in climate negotiations. Many people wonder why this happens. The answer was given by the second speaker, Gregg. B Walker, PhD. at Oregon State University: for climate change, the issues are multifaceted and continue to change and become increasingly complex. The media plays a role. Coalitions as well are fluid and emerging, they overlap, and there are multiple memberships. Civil society is numerous, increasing and it is extremely active. Leadership is critical to climate change negotiations but it is uneven, as chairs are ever changing, implying a difficulty in finding endurance in leadership. Lastly, procedures change as time goes on.

The major implication of this situation is that seeking consensus on climate change is very complex. Consensus imposes a challenge, because it is either ‘all or nothing’.

What the speakers concluded, unfortunately, is that even though there are many ways to take a decision, it would probably be politically impossible to change the consensus method currently applied in climate change negotiations.

Personally, I found it very sad that such little space is given to this debate. I feel it is very important to find new ways of making decisions, so that it would maybe also be easier to achieve implementation and real participation. Seeing what happened last year in Doha, I think situations like that should never happen again, and that the voice of everyone should have weight and be listened to. Unfortunately, there seems to be lack of political will and ability to lead to change.


Reflections from COP 19, Wednesday 13th November

Cristina Dalla Torre, Youth News Agency, Italy

Today is the third day of negotiations here at COP19 in Warsaw. After the strong position taken by the Philippines delegate, in response to the increasing number of victims as a result of Typhoon Haiyan, the atmosphere here at the National Stadium is warming up after the first two days were characterised by very neutral tones. In the side events, much of the attention is being given to the issues concerning Indigenous Peoples and developing countries.

As usual, the day started with participation in the YOUNGO spokes council, where the issue of the many young people who do not have accreditation to enter the Stadium was raised. People outside the COP are getting organised and can now take advantage of the Convergence Centre called ‘New Green World’ that has been opened by the Polish Youth Climate Network in order to provide the opportunity for those who could not make it inside to co-operate with those inside the official venue. This has contributed to the change in atmosphere on the issue of more effective participation. In order to bridge the gap in the lack of civil society activities around COP 19, some NGOs are getting organised. For example the youth delegation of Brazil is leading an action against the massive use of fossil fuels by preparing a flashmob that will take place on Saturday 16th November. So after the first two days of mute tones spent testing the ground and getting familiar with the context, things are starting to move and shape.

Going back to the official negotiations, much attention is being given to the implementation of REDD+, a mechanism that has been developed in order to take into account the carbon emissions from deforestation and agricultural activities, which at the moment are not part of the Kyoto Protocol. In practice, it is about providing economic incentives for the protection of forests and use of low emission agricultural activities. The system has been criticised as counterproductive by local actors, since it prescribes standardised numbers and measures that do not take into consideration local diversities and particularities. In the end, this strategy is yet another example of the failure of a strictly top-down approach that does not take into consideration the local dimension and the demand for inclusive participation.

What emerges from the plenary sessions of the COP is an ever increasing level of interest in the economic and financial aspects of the climate change issue, over the environmental and human aspects. It is evident that while much attention is given to the local dimension in the side events, when it comes to the official negotiations, the rights of Indigenous Peoples are undervalued. Furthermore, the restriction on the number of accredited people and the lack of public awareness on the issues that are being discussed during COP 19 are two examples of the gap that exists between civil society and the political dimension of the climate problem. In this first week of negotiations the limitations of COP 19 appear to be big, but by highlighting this we are actively helping the discussion to evolve and achieve a practical and ambitious resolution.


Reflections from COP18, Thursday 6 December

Farrukh Zaman, Adopt a Negotiator Fellow

Perhaps the most important issue that is not attracting as much attention as other items related to the Kyoto Protocol or finance at COP18 is “Loss and Damage” (L&D). It is one of the issues that is being hotly contested by both the developed and developing countries, with each trying to advance their own agendas. A decision on the subject is still pending at COP18 and is likely to continue through the high-level segment where ministers will take a final move on the issue.


So what is loss and damage?

Past actions by nations have been inadequate in responding to climate change impacts such as extreme weather events (floods, storms) and slow onset conditions (sea-level rise, desertification). When emissions reduction efforts fail and responses to climate impacts reach their limits, the subsequent effects result in permanent loss and damage. In this case, the loss and damage mechanisms come into play and rehabilitate and/or compensate affected communities for permanent loss and damage incurred that cannot be reversed.

International Framework on Loss and Damage

Currently, efforts are being made to develop an international mechanism on compensation and rehabilitation. The developing countries and Alliance of Small Island Developing States (AOSIS) are calling for an international insurance facility to protect them against the damage of climate impacts. This requires money from the developed countries, who as historic emitters, need to mobilise additional funding than just the $100 billion they are currently being asked for. Of course, this is met with a lot of friction from the developed nations who see the concept of loss and damage as having legal and moral consequences.

Last year in Durban, parties agreed to a work program on loss and damage, through which five expert meetings were held focusing on three thematic areas: assessing the risk of loss and damage, approaches and the role of the Convention (UNFCCC). As a next step, an international mechanism was to be agreed upon in Doha. However, developed nations oppose the idea and instead want to continue the work programme (organising five more workshops) for another year. But developing countries seem adamant about continuing with the idea of compensation due to loss and damage and want a separate track to be established dedicated to this issue, but there is no convergence on it so far.

This article was previously published by The Adopt a Negotiator Project


Reflections from COP18, Thursday 6 December

Saurav Dhakal, British Council Climate Champion, Nepal 

When I first entered the COP18 Conference building I was both amazed and happy to see the excited faces of the diverse range of people from around the world. By contrast, today, the atmosphere among the participants was one of frustration, especially regarding the youth delegates. Maybe to our delegate peers – those which hold the power and the money – we, the youth, are in too much of a hurry. We may seem more emotional and impatient, but it is immensely frustrating that the pressure we are exerting is not having the desired impact on this really long bureaucratic process. All we can seem to wish for at this late stage is for the parties to come to an agreement, even if it is a weak one. 

Nevertheless, it was positive to hear that my country Nepal will be taking over from the Gambia as the UNFCCC Least Developed Countries (LDC) Group chair for 2013-14. We are one of the 48 LDCs negotiating as this specific coordination group. Delegates have expressed that Nepal’s participation in COPs is increasingly focused and provides an important qualitative perspective, though – despite these strengths – is still far from being influential. Through the British Council, with the support of the Nepali Delegate team, we have organised a virtual climate conference with youth in Nepal whilst here at COP18.

Nepal’s country delegates have been playing their designated roles as official Party members, but have also been visible, heard and acknowledged across a range of forums and side events. The Government’s recent formation of a Core Negotiating Team, which includes non-government experts and practitioners, has been a positive step in increasing the effectiveness of the delegation, as has the allocation of responsibilities based on interests and expertise, which has added further vigor to the team performance.

Nepal is not alone in its stance on climate change, and shares key priorities with a number of delegations, especially within the LDC Group.  Through this grouping we will continue to present and defend our views, and try to win support for them from other members.

During COP18 I have also enjoyed the activities we have undertaken in many schools and a university in Doha as a part of a British Council community engagement programme. I learnt that the youth of Doha are both aware of and active on climate change issues but nonetheless need to improve their practical understanding of them.