Lucy Fellingham & Leo Frank
Professor Allen’s introduction discussed how the possibility of attributing harm from human contributions to climate change was once a fringe topic and, while a talk he gave on the topic at COP10 in 2004 was at a side event, the issue has now become a key part of the negotiations. This perhaps illustrates nicely the second point brought up by Allen, as although people often express frustration at the seemingly snail-paced process, the negotiations actually can, and do, move quite fast when compared with some other intergovernmental processes. Allen described a second example of how in 2012 he spoke at COP18 explaining why we need to reach zero net emissions by 2050, as opposed to the 50% reduction being discussed at the time, and three years later the zero net emissions target was being written into the Paris Agreement! It gives a nice reminder that, despite the frustration and hopelessness we sometimes feel about these processes, people are really listening and acting on the science!
The discussion was then passed over to Dr Huq, who explained how the Prime Minister of Fiji (the conference was held in Germany but it was a Fijian presidency) had declared several focus issues for the conference including Loss and Damage, of particular interest to Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and a particularly salient issue in light of the significant number of devastating environmental catastrophes which have occurred globally in recent months. One of the problems surrounding this issue is that, throughout discussions at COP23 on financing compensation, developed countries have only been willing to talk about providing insurance, while the people who need this support most desperately cannot afford to pay the insurance premiums and so cannot get the help they need and deserve.
Dr Huq also spoke about the issue of coal, bringing up the only official event put on by the US at COP23 which attempted to promote “clean coal”, an event attended largely by press and protesters, but by very few in a serious capacity. This highlights the perhaps unprecedented backfire the Trump administration has faced after pulling out of the Paris Agreement; it has brought together the rest of world, including a large number of Americans, to rebel against this and fight for America to continue towards the goals set out in Paris. In this spirit, the Marshall Islands, followed by the UK and Canada, has set out on a new high ambition coalition aiming to phase out coal, a definite beacon of light in the tunnel that America’s withdrawal could have created.
How do we prevent local governments, urban planners and disaster risk reductions from losing their sense of responsibility to increase the resilience of communities?
Saleemul: There is no great risk for that to happen, as cities around the world are realising that climate change is real and that they need to build resilience. People are taking measures already, for example the US where three large hurricanes have hit – they have sent their Loss and Damage bill to congress and will recover around $200 billion. But the country of Antigua and Barbuda was devastated too, where will they get their money from?
What are we to do with the increasing risks of extreme weather events?
Saleemul: These weather events are going to become more frequent and, even with the best adaptation efforts, we cannot prepare for everything. There will have to be Loss and Damage procedures but, so far, insurance is the only solution offered by developed countries. The preferred solution would be to apply a pollution tax, forcing the large fossil fuel companies to pay for the damage they are doing. Governments haven’t accepted this yet, and we need to push them to accept this.
What were the new topics that came up at the COP and why did they come up?
Sam Bickersteth (Honorary Research Associate at the Environmental Change Institute): The principle of the Paris Agreement was that every country has to respond and put forward their own Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). Bifurcation came out this time out in the climate finance negotiations, frustrating for the developing countries while the emerging economies play somewhere in the middle. The developed countries feel as if they are putting a lot of money on the table, but they are small sums in reality and most of the money actually comes from the affected people themselves. The Loss and Damage issue needs to be addressed.
Saleemul: Over the past negotiations there has been a strong north-south divide, and the Paris Agreement allowed us to move on from that into a universal agreement. However, in the official negotiations, the old fault-line continues to exist. Bonn has made the difference between implementing the Paris Agreement and the actual further negotiation of the details far more obvious. However, while the negotiations in the Bula zone were locked in the adversarial processes requiring each of the 195 nations to agree with each other, over in the Bonn zone there were NGOs, civil society and CEOs of companies doing things and announcing actions. The great thing about the Paris Agreement is that it is voluntary, you don’t need 195 countries agreeing on everything, you just need a coalition of the willing.
There is lot of frustration over the complexity of accessing Green Climate Fund money: not a single dollar has been paid so far. Is this going to change?
Saleemul: The frustration is universal. My advice is to persevere! The fund is still new and it takes time to make it work and to get the procedures right. The adaptation fund, for example, is working having been in place for a longer period of time. It is a complicated process but we must also learn how to put together the proposals in order to get the money out.
What have you seen as positive steps on the part of corporations and NGOs?
Saleemul: After Paris, the next game changer in tackling climate change will be a shift in global investments away from fossil fuels. We are already seeing this with renewable power generation outperforming coal and electronic vehicles competing with internal combustion engines. The coal companies are fighting us to the blood, but investors inside coal companies are already changing their behaviour: coal only survives because their governments want it to!
Myles: The net zero target written into the Paris Agreement has been powerful in changing the thinking of these companies: you cannot divide zero up. At some point soon we will all have to move on from fossil fuels and there can be no arguments about who won’t and who will take action. This is the thinking that will ultimately turn the ship around.
Sam: There is a G20 task force on climate related financial disclosure. This is a significant process: for example the French government now requires companies to report their climate relates risks.
How are SIDS expecting change in the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) performance?
Saleemul: Most people have given up on the CDM. There are new mechanisms being put in place but the CDM market has collapsed.
Could you speak about the non-economic loss and damage caused by climate change?
Saleemul: For SIDS this matter is of crucial importance as for some losing their home due to sea level rise is inevitable and a matter of when, not if. It is a normative factor: are we prepared to lose a member state of the UN or are we prepared to stand up and take action? We need to protect the rights of these people to stay on their home islands.
Myles: There are many open legal questions on this topic, for instance, what happens to exclusive economic zones when a country artificially disappears?
What were the outcomes of youth engagement and discussions?
Fredrik Eriksson (Masters student on the Environmental Change and Management program): There are three major ways in which youth involvement can occur. Firstly, several, and potentially all, countries send youth delegates to the conference and some countries delegations will actually listen to them; the Netherlands are a good example of this. Secondly, there are spaces for youth NGOs and research NGOs who are not parties to the agreement, but who can comment on negotiations. The effectiveness of these comments however can vary and are sometimes pushed to the end or forgotten about altogether. Thirdly, youth can get involved as activists, for example some disturbed the coal mining taking place in Germany the weekend before the COP in the Ende Gelände protests.
What measures should we take given that we are unlikely to reach the mitigation targets?
Saleemul: There is political will being generated, and action on the ground is happening. China and India previously were strongly opposed to the thought of foregoing the use of their coal resources; this has now changed completely. They see that the future is in renewable, and will be switching to more climate-friendly infrastructures because it is in their own interest rather than by an enforced agreement.
Myles: Science needs to be included much more deeply into the stocktaking process. We need a process of continuously informing the UNFCCC about the actual progress of mitigation, not just every seven years through IPCC assessments. The current rate of human induced warming is at its very fastest, which is bad news. We need this sort of information continuously so that we can reach the 1.5°C target, which is definitely still possible!
How is the discussion around negative-emission technologies evolving at the COP?
Myles: There is a huge mismatch between the importance that this technology has in reaching our zero emissions target and the investments that are being made. It is being talked about at the conference, but it is largely on the fringes.
Sujay Natson (Masters student on the Environmental Change and Management program): As an observer of various negotiations and COP processes, it seems that the role of carbon capture is being spoken about less and less as time goes on. Particularly in the side events, it is a topic that is losing attention.
How have China and Russia behaved in these negotiations?
Saleemul: Russia and China play very different roles. While Russia has been recalcitrant of taking action, China has stepped up in a big way, particularly after America’s withdrawal. It is making an effort to change its own economy away from fossil fuels and has put in about $3 billion of south-south support.
How did you travel to Germany and what does implementing the Paris Agreement look like for us as individuals?
Myles: I travelled there by plane. Our government, and many other governments, would like to make the issue of climate change one of personal responsibility. But it isn’t. We cannot allow the finger to be pointed at consumers for climate policies and decisions over which they have no control.
Saleemul: I also flew and I fly a lot. One thing we can do is take responsibility for the emissions that we cause. This is not victimless pollution. If we accept that responsibility, we can think about the people affected, we have to connect with them, know about them and act in solidarity with them. Don’t give money, but give your attention: let’s figure out together how we can solve this global problem in solidarity.
See the video of the event here: