I went to COP 19 in Warsaw last year with AYLI, and I'm returning to COP 20 this year with the New Zealand Youth Delegation. COP was one of last year's highlights for me, and so I thought I'd use this blog post to tell you a bit about what you might be in for if you attend COP with AYLI.
The Aotearoa Youth Leadership Institute is excited to announce that applications are now open for the UN Climate Change Conference (COP 20) in Lima, Peru. Taking place from 1-12 December 2014, this is a fantastic opportunity to gain an understanding of international negotiations and climate politics.
There's an eerie sort of an ambience here at the Stadion Narodowy.
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.
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.
It's the last day of negotiations. To be precise, it's 5pm in the afternoon of the last day of negotiations. One would expect, given the late hour, that some decisions would have been made here - some level of consensus and compromise reached on the various agenda items. In fact, even though it's 5 pm of the last day, the closing session has not even begun, and it's expected that it will be closely and ruthlessly fought. Negotiations are expected to extend into the night, into Saturday, and even into Sunday.
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.
Last week, to be frank, not a lot got done - discussions progressed extremely slowly despite long hours of negotiation. This week Ministers have arrived and things have stepped up a notch; however, with three days to go there is still a lot of work to be done in order to reach a concrete outcome
“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.
Martin Khor, Executive Director of the South Centre, held a meeting with youth to give his run down of the negotiations. He gave an eye opening perspective on the context of the negotiations. His insights demonstrate just how difficult it will be to get the required mitigation. There were two main themes I took from his discussion:
1. Politics of burden sharing through equity
The atmosphere is a global commons that we all share and have a responsibility to maintain. Given the historic pathways of industrialisation and development as well as the aspiration to have a world without extreme poverty there is general acceptance that equity rather than equality is necessary for emission reduction targets. How equity is implemented is extremely political and contentious as no country wants to have the perception of having a larger or unjust responsibility than other parties.
The debates on equity have been occurring throughout the history of COP but ultimately have made no progress. The implementation of equity is particularly difficult given the decision making standard is that of consensus, so if one party thinks the standards set are inequitable, an agreement is not reached. The typical conflict here is between the developed and developing countries where the developing countries blame the developed for the majority of climate change. Alternatively, developed countries agree they need to reduce emissions but expect developing countries to do the same as otherwise they are taking on more of a burden than they want.
2. The possibility of reducing emissions to the required target
Beyond the politics, this issue of equity gets more complicated when looking at the numbers that Martin Khor gave us on mitigation. Trying to avoid 2C warming and allowing for a 7% annum increase for developing countries which is what they want and say they need for their economies and people presents knowledge, technical and political problems which currently cannot be solved. Martin using numbers from his report said it will not be enough for developing countries to reduce emissions by 100%, it will be more in the range of 3-400% in order to compensate for the developing countries increase in emissions.
Beyond the political feasibility and popularity of reducing emissions, a country will only commit to a pledge in that is technologically achievable given the knowledge and finances available. Lowering emissions by 20% is a massive challenge for many countries and political feasibility reduces this back down to 5-10% for many developed countries. There isn’t technology out there presently that will enable 100% emissions let alone beyond 100% so this is a huge challenge going forwards.
How we go forward with these numbers is a challenging situation and suggests the discussions on equity are far from over.
(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)