Posts tagged #COP

Dewy Sacayan: Protest-virgin no more

When I was 10 year old, I told my dad that my dream job was to become a political activist. There was just something about  shouting on the streets that intrigued me. Obviously, my dad (who worked tirelessly as an architect) said, "No Dewy. You can't be an activist. You're going to be a lawyer."

A decade later, my dream of marching finally came true. Thanks to AYLI's Rachel Dobric and Adopt a Negotiator tracker, David Tong's protest tips and advices,  I took on the streets of Lima for the People's Climate March. 

The People's Climate March in Lima was vibrant, loud and purposeful.  Indigenous people, women activists, senior citizens, youths and even children joined the protest! With latin music playing and people dancing on the streets, the protest encompassed the culture of South America as well as the beauty our world can potentially have when people come together.

Here are a few snaps of how it went: 


Started the day with a boost of caffeine and energy from Arabica

Started the day with a boost of caffeine and energy from Arabica

AYLI delegate Renee with NZYD delegates Maddie and Tarsh with their slogans. 

AYLI delegate Renee with NZYD delegates Maddie and Tarsh with their slogans. 

Me and cactus man. 

Me and cactus man. 

Dancing indigenous mascots ft. whistle

Dancing indigenous mascots ft. whistle

Overall, I am happy I got to shout what I wanted governments to do - 100% renewables. I am happy I got to spend a hot day in Lima with thousands of people who has unlimited love for our finite planet. And finally, I am very happy I am a protest-virgin no more! 

Durban, redux.

There's an eerie sort of an ambience here at the Stadion Narodowy.  

This stadium is as empty as the promises likely to be made in it. Photo credit: David Tong

This stadium is as empty as the promises likely to be made in it.
Photo credit: David Tong

We're into the 26th hour of the conference's final day, 'Friday 22nd', and the stadium seems empty.  All the Emirates-sponsored beanbags, bar those my group have managed to secure, were trucked out - along with the water coolers - hours ago, and the decals and posters that had decorated the (once white) walls of the many, many corridors have gone, leaving ripped paint and scuff marks and a tangible fog of disappointment.  The LCD screens have been turned off, as has the air conditioning, and the host staff have all but left.  Every now and then a guy with a vacuum cleaner wanders by.  

The quiet is only interrupted by the occasional footsteps of a negotiator (who's probably lost) going past - and they're probably amplified by the ridiculous amount of caffeine in my system.

The food stations have closed.  The COP19 apples don't quite look as fresh as they once did - like the conference air, they're a little stale.  I just witnessed someone walking past with a pre-packed salad, telling someone it was free.  God only knows what that means.  We're surviving off an industrial quantity of Polish snackfood that we brought in earlier this afternoon.  There's also still a can of Red Bull left from the ten or so we bought - they were half price outside the conference centre.

At first this felt like we were going into a Durban - tired faces and a Friday that ended on Sunday morning with an outcome that made us feel cheated and betrayed.  But at least in Durban, the negotiations kept going.  The plenary stayed open.  Exciting things happened.  And the NGOs hung around.

Most civil society representatives walked out in protest yesterday.  Left behind are a few hardcore youth (some of them in pyjamas), adamant on seeing these talks through to the end, and a handful of NGO policy strategists who are wrestling with uncertainty, confusion and a lack of sleep.  One of the two plenary rooms is empty.  But for no logical reason, the Ad-Hoc Durban Platform (ADP) negotiations have been held in a small room without recording capacity, leaving a line of NGO badges sitting outside waiting for hours for space to get in and frustration at the lack of a live stream for them to watch.  Our worries about the democratic implications of this are summed up pretty well here.

In the ADP: Perhaps it's less an issue of lack of space and more an issue of how they've used it...  Photo credit: Andreas Nagl

In the ADP: Perhaps it's less an issue of lack of space and more an issue of how they've used it... 
Photo credit: Andreas Nagl

The ADP has just resumed after a long 'huddle' (basically a standing meeting involving all negotiators occupying as little space as possible), but the COP plenary is yet to reconvene after choosing to break nearly four hours ago, and shows no sign of doing so in a hurry.  When it's come to making predictions, rumours have flown between 'informants' from negotiating teams and NGO delegates tired enough to accept, at this point, any reason to justify leaving.  It's anyone's guess when this will finish - CAN International has been taking bets and so have the New Zealand diplomats.  Right now, noone's really sure what's going on - probably not even the negotiators.  Based on past experience, I won't be surprised if they're still going when I leave on Sunday morning.

Nevertheless, this all has a sense of disappointing predictability about it.  At each COP I've attended, deadlines have been pushed back and ignored, and negotiations have gone overtime.  Every year, everything is left until the last minute, when in desperation and exhaustion the Parties scramble to assemble something.  Anything.  And then frame it to the mainstream media as a success - or, at least, not as a failure.  

By the time they come to agreement, many negotiators - and even entire delegations - have left, their governments unable to afford to reschedule flights or pay for extra accommodation.  Others run out of energy and willpower to do their jobs properly, approving texts they haven't been able (physically or mentally) to read.  'Consensus', the system upon which the negotiations here is based, becomes a farce.  Equity isn't even a consideration.

There's still plenty they need to get through.  Tonight, there are three key things left on the table: finance, loss and damage and the ADP's overarching roadmap.  Word is that the finance text, which proposes a structured approach for ensuring countries pledge (and meet) commitments for climate finance between now and 2020, isn't actually too bad - hardly ambitious, but still progress.  We'll see if it survives the night.  The loss and damage negotiations, though, are rife with conflict; the developed states - particularly the USA - are unwilling to support a proposal which based on their historical contribution to the problem, would give them the obligation to compensate vulnerable states for losses resulting from climate-related events.  While it's considered by most of civil society as a moral responsibility, it can only mean additional economic losses for developed nations who already face the expense of significantly restructuring their economies to curb emissions.  And finally, negotiators are yet to finalise a road map to get them to 2015 - the deadline for the new international agreement that's effectively been postponed since the landmark 2009 Copenhagen summit.

It's a lot to get done when your conference is meant to be officially over.

While they work, we'll do our best to stay awake.  For now.  Already, in the next room, someone's snoring.  

Posted on November 23, 2013 and filed under UN Climate Talks 2013.


Hi all,

I enjoy a variety of forms of media so wanted to provide a video of what's been going on thus far. It's 6.30 minutes long which is double the length I expected but it is really only a small snapshot of what's happened and happening.


All posts by Institute delegates reflect their own thoughts, opinions and experiences, and do not reflect those of the Institute.

For official Institute updates, take a look here.

Posted on November 21, 2013 and filed under UN Climate Talks 2013.

Consensus voting doesn't build consensus

Behind effective decision making is an effective decision making infrastructure. At COP, like the UN Security Council and many other international organisations, decisions are made through consensus – where there is the no explicit objection. This presents many problems because it means everyone must be content with the decision to move forward. In the context of when states are telling other states to reduce emissions, progress is difficult.

As a geographer I love analysing power relationships within spaces of dialogue and a quote said in this side event sums up my feels on consensus.

“Consensus is the best decision rule, least likely to produce consensual behaviour.” Or in simpler terms, if you want consensus, don’t use consensus voting.

This may sound ridiculous but remember the purpose of consensus is to enable conversations so that agreement can be made which satisfies all parties. However by nature of the consensus voting procedure where one objection means the motion fails, the actor with the lowest ambition gets to dictate debate and get their way if they are willing to block any proposal that is stronger than they desire. Thus consensus creates a process where debate takes place around the purpose of avoiding a block and focusing on the lower end of the ambition rather than the middle or upper end of what more progressive parties desire.

Conversely, majority voting systems create power dynamics and a space where the discussion focuses on a more moderate space. For example when a 51% majority is required, conversation will be centric and when a 75% majority is required, then debate will be less centric and focus on only having a 25% rejection rate although still give a much more open debate than consensus. Voting is therefore far more conducive to directing the conversations to a more moderate position and actually building consensus since discourses will occur that more parties agree with and progressive parties can have more input and relevance.

It is very difficult to decide on what level of majority should be required given there are many types of decisions being made. A really interesting concept proposed by one of the panellists was that of layered voting. Rather than having the same majority required for all types of motions you take a staggered approach. From research, procedural motions are normally the least contentious and financial motions the most contentious. As an example of a layered voting process, a simple majority of 51% would be required to pass procedural motions, a three-quarters majority for substance motions and financial changes require a 90% majority.

There are definitely issues with this system such as agreeing what level and categorising motions but once in place this could definitely shift discussions away from being dominated by those with the least ambition and towards those with more aspiration.

All posts by Institute delegates reflect their own thoughts, opinions and experiences, and do not reflect those of the Institute.

For official Institute updates, take a look here.

Posted on November 20, 2013 and filed under UN Climate Talks 2013.

Connecting people and data

 “People aren’t waiting for the international negotiations to get a result. People are adapting now.”

Considering people within science is a tricky balance to achieve. This is a pity because people are at the heart of climate change impacts and it must be kept in mind that when we are looking for solutions and weighting what level of warming to accept and how to adapt. With approximately 250 million people expected to migrate due to climate induced reasons by 2050, these people must be looked after using all the tools possible to ensure adaption is as effective as possible and connecting people and data is a crucial element to successful adaption.

Platforms of data shape the essence of life and how we can adapt.”

The UNFPA [UN Population Fund] have spent the last couple of years, developing a tool called DECA which connects population data with geographic information systems to make an easy to use, automated programme which can provide all sorts of information such as at-risk geographies. In the context of climate change, this can be used to compare areas where there is high population density versus areas that are flood prone or where agriculture is the main source of livelihood and where drought may be common as two basic examples.

Mobile phones are also an easy tool to figure out population movements and responses to both slow and rapid climate onset impacts. As an example, mobile SIM cards through call data records are used in Bangladesh, in an area vulnerable to flooding to measure migratory patterns. Using call data records is an invaluable tool to easily measure something which is inherently difficult to measure. The records show where populations reside and how they change over time which is very useful for trying to work out where to direct adaption measures and how the population is responding. After one particularly large storm, there was a clear drop in the number of people in the specific area and then afterwards there was a pattern of some people returning but then a slow decline in the population which was later attributed to the people having lost their livelihood which is attributed as a fundamental cause of climate-induced migration. Whilst far from a perfect measure, with access to the records, there is a fast, easy and cheap source of data available to assist resilient adaption measures.  

 “2C global mean temperature rise means nothing to an individual facing the consequences now.”

The quote above whilst from a different side event illustrates the disconnect between the numbers thrown around in high level negotiations and how for many their livelihoods are already under threat and are having to adapt right now, even though there is no assistance available to them given the lack of climate finance.

Another interpretation of this quote which was from this event is that the thought of this number totally ignores the concept of scale, which is crucial for effective adaption. The magic 2C temp remember is the global mean average and the actual increase varies spatially. For example, NZ is only effected by about two thirds of temp rise [although don’t take too much hope from this as wind patterns and other impacts will have a more than proportionate impact]. Another example is the many Pacific Islands where sea level rise is between three and six times the global average which rapidly compounds the problems they are facing. The urban heat island effect may be more relevant to you. Cities are hotter than rural areas because of their large surface area which absorb more heat and the human activities which collectively generate more heat. Some cities are already on average 2C warmer than pre-industrial levels so it can be expected that urban centres will be my much warmer than the global average.

Overall, people need data and data needs people to have mutual meaning. People need to data to help make informed decisions and the data needs people so that it can be relevant to the people who want to use the data. The next step is connecting it with policy and politics.