Elizabeth at COP 23

Climate action as a technical slow motion process

November 14, 2017

This is an in between sort of COP. I have said for years that there are “good cops and bad cops.” This one is a pun waiting to happen, taken from the great Quebecois film “Bon Cop; Bad Cop.” This COP is the first Bonn COP.

It is a good COP as long as nothing goes wrong. We have had a dozen years of drama-filled COPs. From 2005 and COP11 in Montreal, when a deal was struck — despite the sabotage of the Bush administration — to actually negotiate a Kyoto replacement agreement (a great COP chaired by Stephane Dion). To COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009 – the worst ever train-wreck of a COP. Disaster. To Cancun the next year (a miraculous COP) wherein the true-hearted healer and redeemer, minister of foreign affairs for Mexico, Patricia Espinoza, restored faith in multilateralism after the betrayals in Copenhagen, to a road that led to Paris. (Very happy that the new head of the UN climate secretariat is that same Patricia.)

And now we are in a world of bland, workman-like COPs. The negotiators act as though we have all the time in the world. Yet, they know we do not.

We await the report from the IPCC, due in October 2018, to tell us if current targets will put us on the path to hold global average temperature increases to no more than 1.5 degrees C. While everyone knows current targets are massively insufficient… But we negotiate as though work plans and rule books are more important than ramping up action to avoid runaway global warming while there is still time.


E with President of FCM Jenny Gerbasi

Above: Elizabeth with Jenny Gerbasi, President of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities

I will report as we move through the week. I have now been here two days, finding my sea legs in an unfamiliar terrain. Unlike other COPs, this one is in locations far distant one from the other. And being on a delegation for Canada seems to be a limbo land of no meetings of the full delegation and no chances to talk with our negotiators or ministers, except in the very welcome meetings for any Canadians who are present in Bonn. The loss of institutional memory reminds me of how much we have lost, but maybe we can rebuild and find the traction for a ramped up plan of action to save life on earth.

Negotiations Continue

November 15, 2017

Every Conference of the Parties has a very similar schedule of work over a two week period. Some have more work, more pressure and tougher issues to negotiate, but the pattern largely remains the same. The first week is for diplomats and negotiators to work our final language and agreements on issues that themselves have been the subject of negotiations at various intermediate gatherings since last year’s COP. Then, at mid-point on the second week, the subsidiary bodies finalize documents at plenary for a hand-over to their political masters.

E meeting w Australian Green Adam Bandt and elected Dane Rasmus Nordquvist

Above: Elizabeth with Australian Green, Adam Bandt, and Danish politician, Rasmus Nordqvist

The agenda shifts to the “High Level Segment” in which ministers show up and continue the process- with the additional authority to bring political decision-making to resolve issues the diplomats could not solve.

The high-level began this afternoon with the President of COP, and official host, Prime Minister of Fiji Frank Bainimarama gavelling the start.

The physical host government, Germany, was represented by Chancellor Angela Merkel who acknowledged that it was a “privilege and an honour to support Fiji…” She then set out the many ways Germany was planning to move to implement Paris. My friends in the German Green Party are less than impressed with recent efforts. After a very promising start under Kyoto in reducing emissions, since 2009 Germany’s emissions have remained steady. Merkel acknowledged that there are challenges in reaching their target of 40% below 1990 levels by 2020. “We know we have a long way to go,” she added.

Just for comparison sake, Canada’s target (unhelpfully shifted to a different base year in a contamination of climate measurements initially pioneered by Stephen Harper) is 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. Converted to 1990 levels, that would leave us ten years later than Germany and slightly above 1990 levels. Repeating, Germany has a gap, but is largely on track to have reduced GHG by 40% below 1990 levels, ten years ahead of Canada’s pathetic reductions to 4% above our 1990 emissions. But based on our current plan, it is estimated we will miss our target and be 12% above 1990 levels by 2030. (source: http://climateactiontracker.org/countries/canada.html)

Also of interest was Merkel’s acknowledgement that the on-going negotiations between the German political parties attempting to form government take climate change very seriously. As she courts Greens for what has been labeled “the Jamaica Coalition” – for the political colours of the Jamaican flag – moving to phase out coal more quickly will be on the agenda. Chancellor Merkel did confirm Germany is aiming for carbon neutrality by 2050.

E with elected Swedish Green Stina Bergstrom

Above: Elizabeth with Swedish Green, Stina Bergstrom

The next speaker, President Emmanuel Macron of France gave a surprisingly hard-hitting speech. In the United Nations context, criticizing any other national leader, even by inference, is a no-no. But Macron directly named Trump as a threat to climate action. He stressed that his Climate Leaders’ Summit in Paris on December 12, a two-year anniversary of the negotiation of the Paris Accord, is the chance for everyone to step up and fill the gap created by Trump. He spoke in terms of rallying resources to replace every single penny Trump has pulled, while also ramping up the speed of transition away from fossil fuels.

Meanwhile, more negotiations continue. Text must be finalized on a wide range of issues… more tomorrow!

Friday in Bonn – Not over yet…

November 17, 2017

It’s Friday in Bonn at COP23 and negotiations continue in back rooms to resolve issues of long-term financing and details of various funds to assist developing countries. Still, within a few hours, the plenary rooms are booked for closing statements, so those residual issues are not likely to derail progress.

What is the nature of progress?

Well, first the good news that the bad news is limited. Efforts by the Trump administration to seriously damage the Paris Agreement have largely failed. True, what is happening to the EPA within the US is dreadful. And the US delegation here is continuing to slow down resolution on issues related to future financing commitments. But the US mayors, governors, business leaders and civil society here at COP23, under the umbrella “We’re still in” Coalition have been highly visible and effective.

As Stephane Dion noted in a session this morning, the fear of a “domino effect” from Trump’s intended withdrawal has not occurred.

Stephane Dion with E at cop

Above: Elizabeth with Stephane Dion, Canada’s Ambassador to Germany

Macron’s planned Climate Leaders’ Summit December 12 in Paris is intended to mobilize nations committed to climate action to bring more resources to the table to completely replace the gap created by Trump.

COP23 itself has been an odd COP. The venues are far from each other, sprawling masses of temporary hallways, meeting rooms and displays located a few kilometres apart. The energy is deflated; work has felt dreary. The progress is fairly workman-like negotiations to have a completed “rule book” for the Paris Agreement prepared on deadline for COP24.

Everyone knows that next year the IPCC report (due October 2018) will make it clear that existing commitments are wholly deficient to avoid 2 degrees C global average temperature increase (as against the global average temperature before the Industrial Revolution) – much less the Paris goal of holding global average temperature at no more than 1.5 degrees C. The Paris Agreement was designed to encourage countries to “ratchet up” their commitments as science advises more is required.

The external announcements, particularly Canada and the UK’s launch of the Powering Past Coal Alliance, provides a much needed sense of additional momentum.

But still, the targets are wholly inadequate. One bright spot was a new commitment from New Zealand to be carbon neutral by 2050. The New Zealand Minister of Climate, James Shaw, announced the new government would bring forward a Climate Commission to advise on a new target, expressed in five year increments, and will pass a law requiring a five year report to Parliament on how much progress was being made toward their goal. New Zealand’s new Labour Government (like British Columbia’s) was created by Green support and a Confidence and Supply Agreement.

E after informal meeting with James Shaw Minister of climate and Statistics

Above: James Shaw, NZ Minister of Climate and Statistics, and Elizabeth May at COP23

Unlike the BC situation, NZ Greens negotiated four cabinet positions, but held outside of government. So, not a coalition government, but having Green ministers who meet in Cabinet only on their own areas of responsibility – not in regular Labour Party full cabinet meetings. James Shaw is the Green Party co-leader and has been minister for 22 days. It certainly is inspiring to know that electing Greens is the thing that made for one of the only new and strong commitments announced here.

In words that apply to Canada as well, James Shaw said in the High Level speeches, “Being small does not absolve us of responsibility.” Canada may be a small part of global carbon pollution, but we could be a large part of the solution.

COP23 wraps up – without triumph or disaster November 20, 2017

Late Sunday afternoon at Heathrow and changing planes en route home. I really should have written the wrap up blog on Saturday, but my mind played tricks on me. I felt as though I had written it already from live-tweeting through the conference’s grueling last hours. But unless you were on twitter you missed it. So here’s a recap.

Friday night we were laying bets on when things would wrap up. Most of the Canadians had left. Catherine McKenna departed on Thursday, and the core negotiating team stayed behind as did our Ambassador to Germany and former COP president himself, Stephane Dion. Dion now lives in Berlin so Bonn for COP was not a long trip. So Dion gave the statement on behalf of Canada Thursday night, but still in the backrooms the slow work of trying to find consensus on sticky points wore on.

BC Council for International Cooperation (BCCIC) Youth Delegation to COP 23 - Photo 2

Above: Elizabeth with the BC Council for International Cooperation Youth Delegation

“Sticky points” at this point are not deal-breakers. The Paris Agreement holds, so the work of COP22 in Marrakech (which I missed due to my all-important responsibilities on the Special Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reform – sarcasm intentional) and COP23 in Bonn have focused on detailed work on the “Paris Rule Book.” Under the terms of decisions at COP21 in Paris, the rules must be sorted by COP24 next year. The details include how does the world community assess the honesty and reliability of the self-reporting built into the system (country X promised to do Y; has it been done?), have the financial commitments that have been made proved equal to promises, how do we move programmes negotiated under the Kyoto Protocol over into the Paris Agreement.

Under Kyoto, the world – minus the USA (and yes, these elements were negotiated when Canada was still “in” Kyoto), created a trading system to allow rich countries to invest in carbon reduction plans in poorer countries and claim the reduced GHG from the poorer country to the richer country’s credit. This was called the Clean Development Mechanism, with rules that took years to negotiate. Similarly, Kyoto Parties created an Adaptation Fund to help developing countries adapt to climate change. This Fund had no trading elements. No “credits” move to industrialized countries, but there is a recognition that the rich countries are primarily responsible for the damage that is now laying waste to developing countries through increased intensity of severe weather events. Both the Adaptation Fund and CDM need to be dealt with moving under the rubric of the Paris Agreement.

Since the Warsaw COP, which took place in 2013, two years before Paris, the concept of needing funds for developing countries for direct damage from those events has been on the agenda. The principle of “Loss and Dmage” has been hugely controversial. The Obama administration would not sign off in Paris if it looked as though the US might be held legally responsible for massive flooding and hurricanes. Still, the principle, now caught up in the acronym WIM (Warsaw Implementation Mechanism) was in play in Bonn for further negotiation.

As well, Article 9.5 of the Paris Agreement contains language about future financial arrangements, but without details.

As well, at the opening of COP23, the African nations raised a new agenda item – that the Fiji COP (held in Bonn) deal with more ambitious action before 2020. So the “pre-2020 action” became a new and critical element of negotiations in Bonn.

These elements were essentially what held up progress – and adjournment – in Bonn. The US delegation was (no need for a spoiler alert here) unhelpful. But the US delegation did not absolutely derail the process.

Closing remarks from the Fiji PM

Above: Closing remarks from Fiji Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama

Not controversial was the Fiji Presidency’s renaming of what is planned for 2018 at COP24. In the Paris decision (falling outside of the Paris Agreement, so that if Paris was not legally binding by 2018, this process would still take place), it was decided 2018 would have a first global stock taking of how we are doing in the commitment to hold global average temperature to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above what they were before the Industrial Revolution. The COP21 decision called this “a facilitative dialogue.” The Fiji presidency has renamed it “the Talanoa Dialogue.” Talanoa is a Fijian word for story telling and the Fiji presidency offered a straightforward framework – one that would resonate with human communities around the world. Throughout 2018, in workshops and sessions around the world, the Talanoa Dialogue will ask:

“Where are we?

Where do we need to be?

And how do we get there from here?”

Industrialized country negotiators gushed about how great the story telling approach would be, as there would be no finger-pointing; no blame.

So the late night work, originally set to resume at 8 pm, and then 9 pm, and then…. Resuming at 1 am, worked through til 7 am. Over that time, decisions from three separate bodies were gaveled through – the three bodies being, parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC- COP23), members of the Kyoto Protocol (CMP 13) and the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement in their second meeting (APA.) Each body and a number of subgroups, had to approve workplans and new executives and additional meetings to take place in 2018 where the sticky points remain unresolved.

This was a workman-like COP. It achieved minimalist success. One large bright spot was progress in the corridors pushing for adoption of the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol and to the Doha Amendment to Kyoto.

COP23 had no disasters. And it provided a back-drop for a number of exciting initiatives that encourage the global community. The US states and cities, as well as business leaders and environmental groups, banding together as the “We are still in” Coalition and the UK-Canada initiative for “Powering Past Coal” with the goal of eliminating burning coal for electricity by 2030 fall in that category.

The urgency of the climate crisis is not lost on the most vulnerable. In the wee hours of the morning I tweeted that the Maldives was “speaking truth to process” when it declared that the sense of urgency had diminished since Paris: “We are not moving fast enough. Current targets are far too weak to hold global temperature to 1.5 degrees.” A representative for the world’s youth urged, “Be brave. Be courageous. Be bold – 1.5 to stay alive.”

We have the path for 2018 leading to the worst of all possible host countries – okay maybe Australia would be as bad – but Poland is siting the next COP in the heart of coal production in that coal-loving country. The next 12 months must see citizen movements from all parts of the planet demanding that we stop sleep-walking, focusing on an orderly rule book, and start saving ourselves while we still have time.