Monday 21 November 2016

Blog Post 11 – Final Thoughts

One of the Yukon Climate Change Youth Ambassador’s roles is to create a visual project on some aspect of COP to share with the public. This year, the project will consist of a video that attempts to explain what COP is, in the words of a few different people. I interviewed Jenny (an environmental law student from Vermont Law School), Larry (a negotiator with Team Canada who focuses on mitigation), Dr. James Ford (a geography professor at McGill University with an interest in adaptation and vulnerability to climate change), and Ambika (a Canadian engineering student at the University of Waterloo, interested in climate change in northern rural communities). I wanted to know from each of them what COP meant to them.

            The reason I choose to do this project was because COP is a lot of things to a lot of people. At the core, of course, are the negotiations: that is the foremost reason for gathering almost 200 countries together for two weeks. However, COP is also so much more than that. It is a place to learn, a place to share, a place to voice concerns, a place to celebrate triumphs, and a place to collaborate in ways otherwise not possible. As you can see, there are many reasons people come to COP.
            From Larry’s perspective, COP is all about countries coming together and finding common ground to agree on international climate action targets. Larry is a negotiator who represents Canada during the climate change negotiations at COP. For Larry, COP is a way for 194 Parties with different views to come together and, incredibly, agree on targets for climate change action. Larry sees negotiating at COP as a way to bring agreements to life. For example, COP21’s Paris Agreement now needs to be implemented, which is what COP22 started. COP allows negotiators to come together and try to understand each other’s views on climate issues, which then leads to negotiating what the best way forward is. COP is also a way for political leadership to help emphasize the importance of climate change action.

Talking to Larry

For Jenny, COP was an incredible opportunity to learn about environmental law at the international climate change negotiations level. It was also an opportunity to serve a bigger purpose, which I highlighted in Blog Post 8.

To University of Waterloo student Ambika, COP means three things: the experience, the networking, and the learning. The experience is about coming to a new country and really learning about that culture. The networking is about being able to meet a huge variety of people from all over the world, while sharing that common priority of what to do about a changing climate. The learning is all about using the opportunity of being present at COP to totally immerse yourself in the COP process and what role it plays in global climate action. But for Ambika, the most important thing about COP is that it helps her understand what her role on the climate action front might be, because it has shown her where the gaps and opportunities are for her to bridge her skills with what’s needed.

Interviewing Ambika, a student at the University of Waterloo

Finally, Dr. Ford, a researcher and professor at McGill University, comes to COP because it’s an opportunity to connect with people from around the globe. As an academic, Dr. Ford views COP as a great way to share his research and learn from others. He gets to meet people from all types of organizations and backgrounds, which helps his research reach a broader audience.

Interviewing Dr. Ford from McGill University

            COP22 was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. I’ve had to think long and hard about what it means to me because the past week can easily be described as “brain scramble”. In the end, I’ve decided that COP means three things to me: learning, cooperation, and energy.

COP is an amazing opportunity for the world to get together and learn from one another. There were thousands of information booths, pavilions, posters, displays, presentations, and side events. In the short four days I was at the conference, I went to about 15 side events and presentations, ranging in topic from carbon markets, the role of the private sector, climate resilience and adaption in indigenous communities, to post-election climate policy in the US. This conference is a central node of all information climate related, which makes it a very valuable learning opportunity. No matter what your interests are, there’s a side event for you!

            COP is also all about cooperation. Even though I’ve now seen it in action, I still can’t believe that almost 200 vastly different countries can sit down and agree on anything, but that is what COP is all about! It was amazing to see the negotiators from every Party work incredibly hard to come to an agreement, which involved compromises for many but also featured some “sticky points” – issues on which some countries were unwilling to compromise. I think we could all learn a lesson or two from COP about how to get along with other people who have different interests than your own!

            For me, COP is also about energy. The atmosphere at the site is hard to describe, but it’s one of hope, optimism, knowledge, and positivity. I think that having a space to build this positive energy is hugely important. I think COP is a great way to help spread this positive energy back to every country that attends, and thereby invigorate efforts by each country to work towards the common goal of climate action.

Hanging out in front of the massive negotiating hall (several times taller than this picture makes it seem!!)

My time at COP22 has come to an end, but that doesn’t mean the work stops. I will continue sharing my incredible experience and connecting with the amazing people I met, so that we can all collaborate on innovative, inclusive, effective climate action strategies. Seeing this international collaboration between a huge number of vastly different countries has given me hope for meaningful climate change action, and I am excited and very much looking forward to seeing what the future holds.

This brings my blogging to end, but as always, I welcome all questions and comments and will do my best to respond to them! I hope you have all enjoyed reading these posts and have even learned a thing or two! 

As a closing thought to all my readers, young and old, climate change is one of the biggest threats of this century and likely the centuries that will follow. Climate change is a monstrous beast of a problem, but that doesn’t mean that humankind won’t prevail and figure this out. In that light, I encourage you all to never give up and to keep fighting for what is right for our planet and for human life. 

Rebecca and I leaving the conference on our final day

Blog Post 10 – COP Day 4

My last full day was spent catching up on everything that has been happening, catching a few more side events, and getting a grasp on where the negotiations stand. After watching some of the opening statements being made by Parties as part of CMA1 and attending the last Canadian stakeholder briefing, a few of us Canadians sat down to go over what was happening on the negotiating side of things.

            A lot happens at COP, and you could probably write a whole book on what has happened in just the past two weeks. To keep things short and simple, I’ll highlight for you some of the most important and interesting outcomes of COP22.

  • As I talked about in Blog Post 7, CMA1, the first meeting of the Parties under the Paris Agreement (COP21 in 2015), opened at COP22 for the first time. After the opening speeches from each Party (this is a multi-day thing), CMA1 was closed again. As an update from where I left off, next year’s COP23 will not host CMA2; instead, there will be a sort of “progress meeting” and CMA2 will be postponed until 2018. 
  • This postponement was done so that all the countries that have not yet ratified the Paris Agreement have time to do so before CMA2 actually happens and negotiations start. This will ensure that countries are not left behind or otherwise alienated.

Nationally Determined Contributions
  • Nationally Determined Contributions, also known as NDCs, are the intended targets in greenhouse gas reduction and/or adaptation submitted by each Party. These NDCs are typically renewed every 5 years, with the intention being that the targets will increase in ambition every time.
  • Parties at COP22 have agreed to table their next round of submissions by early 2017 in order to discuss the NDCs at the Bonn (Germany) session in May 2017.

Indigenous knowledge platform (IKP)
  •  The IKP is a proposed knowledge-sharing platform for indigenous peoples. The Paris Agreement emphasized the importance of recognizing and supporting the knowledge, practices, and efforts of indigenous communities in climate action. The IKP is designed to share the experiences of indigenous people dealing with climate change.
  • This platform has gained extensive support from many Parties, particularly Canada. Now, the next step is for Canada and other Parties to implement this at home in a meaningful way.  

Climate Finance
  •  “Roadmap to $100 Billion”: an agreement that Parties will contribute to a goal of USD $100 billion per year for climate action by 2020. As of COP22, Parties have agreed to move forward with the roadmap, and have also agreed to achieve a stronger balance between funding adaptation and mitigation, since historically adaptation funding has trailed mitigation funding significantly
  • Adaptation Fund: this fund was originally set to serve the Kyoto Protocol. Discussions at COP22 revolved around whether this fund should, could and would carry over to the Paris Agreement or not; ultimately, as with many financial matters, the Parties were unable to resolve this issue and have agreed to submit their respective views by March 2017 for further discussion.

Loss & Damage:
  • Parties at COP22 approved a 5-year plan for starting to address issues of loss and damage, which refers to the impacts of climate change in vulnerable regions after mitigation and adaptation have happened. The plan will work on problems including slow-onset climate change impacts and non-economic losses (e.g. cultural and identity loss).

Looking ahead to COP23:
  • The Paris Agreement set goals and objectives for international climate action. The Parties at COP22 have agreed to have the timeline and process completed by 2018, with a review of progress at next year’s COP23.

There’s more going on than any one person can keep track of, but these highlights above offer you a sense of what was accomplished at this year’s COP.  

Plenary hall where large negotiations take place

Although I really haven’t explored much of Marrakesh other than the crazy streets between our hotel and the conference site, on Thursday we used dinner as an excuse to go to the medina (the fortified old city area packed with vendors and stalls). The medina is made up of narrow corridors between high-walled buildings, with shops nestled along the sides. According to maps, these corridors are “roads”, which is confirmed by the pedestrians, bicycles, scooters and small trucks all trying to speed down the narrow halls. We had to be careful not to get flattened by the locals racing around in every which way! The medina is a mystical place. The mixture of smells (which alternate between heavenly and repulsive) is enchanting and the variety of shops, stands, and restaurants is eclectic.

Walking through the medina

Since this was our last chance to eat traditional Moroccan food, we made sure to taste local specialties such as tagines and Moroccan salads (which don't resemble North American or European salads in the slightest). For those of you who have been following this blog since the beginning, you may remember me predicting that real Moroccan tagines would definitely overshadow the tagines I make at home. I was definitely right! One particular common combination of flavours really knocked my socks off: zesty lemon chicken with olives and almonds, and of course, couscous on the side! I’ll have to try this one at home.

Standing near the Koutobia Tower in Djemaa el-Fna Square (entrance to the medina)

Blog Post 9 – COP Day 3

Whew – Day 3 was one crazy day. For some reason, all the most interesting events and receptions took place on this day. It was definitely the most action-packed, learning-ful day of the week. I’m still trying to soak it all in!

To give you a sense, we arrived much earlier today and enjoyed a bit of peace at the site before the throngs of people arrived around 8:30am. First up was a carbon markets event, where I learned more about the international cooperation between California, Quebec, and Ontario. If you didn’t already know, the carbon market agreement between Quebec, California, and soon-to-be Ontario is the only one in the world that is operated by non-national governments! These three jurisdictions feel that carbon markets, carbon pricing, and reducing fossil fuel subsidies are essential tools for transitioning to a low-emissions economy. It will be interesting to see the multitude of pathways Parties choose to help achieve a low-emissions future in the coming years.

Next up was an event about best practices for reforming fossil fuel subsidies. I was in over my head in this event for sure; the subsidies world is not one I’m particularly familiar with. The event largely focused on being smart about how to reform fossil fuel subsidies, for example, the panelist from Finland explained their method of identifying which subsidies were the least important to the fossil fuel industry, and redirecting those funds into social and health initiatives. This panelist stressed the importance of carefully evaluating the influence of subsidies on both the domestic and international economy, and cautioned that ending all subsidies at once would severely impact a country’s financial resources. This is not a perspective I am particularly accustomed to hearing, so it was an interesting standpoint to learn about!

Fossil fuel subsidy reform event at the Nordic Pavilion

Rebecca and I then played tag-team for the rest of the day, as most of the events we wanted to attend overlapped slightly. She would leave the first event early to get to the second one on time, while I stayed behind until the end of the first, then went to relieve Rebecca at the next event. Pretty great teamwork!

Speaking of teamwork, here Rebecca and I are driving some sort of vehicle

A particularly relevant and interesting event for us today was the High-Level Panel on Canadian Indigenous Leadership on Climate Change, moderated by Minister McKenna. The indigenous leaders on the panel included Natan Obed (President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami), Robert Bertrand (National Chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples), Francyne Joe (President of the Native Women's Association of Canada) and Francois Paulette (Elder of the Dene Nation). The event also included perspectives from Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the Assembly of First Nations, the M├ętis National Council, the Treaty 7 Blood Tribe, and President of the National Inuit Youth Council in Canada, Maatalii Okalik.

Indigenous panel hosted by Minister McKenna

Most of the panelists highlighted the fact that indigenous peoples across Canada are extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change because of their extremely close connections to the land. This affects their ability to access traditional foods, resources and medicines; to access land on which to practice their culture and teach their children; and to practice their language, which is so intricately tied to their land.

Francyne Joe emphasized that indigenous women, as the traditional knowledge holders, have a key role to play in climate change adaptation and mitigation. Her key message was that including indigenous women in decision-making leads to greater protection of resources, which is especially important in the face of climate change.

One Inuit panelist brought up the idea that parts of Canada (particularly the North) could be thought of as more similar to developing countries than to developed countries, and a discussion on these areas being able to access the same funds for mitigation and adaption should be considered.

Maatalii Okalik speaking at the Indigenous panel

From there, we hustled to catch a good chunk of a late evening event on US climate change policy post-election. We heard a lot of similar things as at the event I described in Blog Post 6, but it was great to hear the same tone of optimism and positivity coming from a larger range of panelists, including industry leaders and a Democrat Senator from the US.  

Myself and Minister Catherine McKenna at the Canada Reception

We ducked out of that event to attend the Canada Reception, hosted by Minister McKenna for all Canadian stakeholder groups and indigenous nation representatives. It was great to see the Canadian delegation out in full force. In attendance were federal staff from the Department of Environment and Climate Change, politicians (such as Linda Duncan, a New Democrat MP in the House of Commons), premiers, provincial and territorial representatives, the Canadian Youth Delegation and other youth, members of E/NGOs and the private sector, and indigenous members and leaders.

What a crazy day! The reception was just the cherry on top of a supreme day, and was a great way to get an appreciation of the true depth and breadth of people who are at COP22 and who care about climate action’s future.

Myself and Louise Metivier, chief climate change negotiator for Canada, at the Canada Reception

Thursday 17 November 2016

Blog Post 8 – COP Day 2

          During my short two days in Marrakesh so far, I have met so many inspiring people and seen so many amazing exhibits and events.

Here’s a quick run down of a couple inspiring people I’ve had the opportunity to interact with.

I met Jenny on a bus at the airport in Frankfurt. An environmental law student from Vermont Law School, Jenny is at COP with her classmates to support the nation of Myanmar. Myanmar is a small country and doesn’t have the resources to send a large delegation to COP. To give you an idea, Canada has approximately 225 delegates (20 or so of whom are negotiators) here. Myanmar has 9 delegates. Jenny and her fellow students are here both to learn about environmental law at the international climate change negotiations level, but also to provide service to the country of Myanmar by attending meetings and taking notes on their behalf. Jenny is an incredibly interesting, inspiring person. She has had multiple colourful careers, and has now decided to work for sustainability as an environmental lawyer. Her key message was all about the duty to serve. This really resonated with me because I, in a similar way, feel a duty to work in an environment-related field because environmental sustainability is one of the most important issues for humankind.

I made a friend! The amazing Jenny. (Photo: J. Leech)
                   I had the opportunity both Monday and Tuesday to meet and hear Minister Catherine McKenna (Canadian Minister of Environment and Climate Change) speak. Despite her extremely busy schedule at COP running between bilaterals, meetings, and negotiations, Minister McKenna has made time to engage with Canadians attending COP. At the Canadian Delegation Briefing today (Tuesday), Minister McKenna spoke at length about the importance of engagement with all corners and demographics of the nation, and commended Canada’s representation at COP22 – 8 provinces, 3 territories, several municipalities, 15 indigenous leaders, over 40 businesses, youth and ENGOs (environmental non-governmental organizations) are present. COP is an incredible opportunity for all these people to come together to learn not only from each other, but also from others across the globe. I’ve never experienced an event where so many different people are able to come together and diplomatically engage with each other: strike deals, make commitments, and form partnerships! It’s been absolutely inspiring and empowering.

Daily Canadian stakeholder meeting, chaired by Minister McKenna (centre), communications manager Anita Mushitsi (left), and chief climate change negotiator for Canada Louise Metivier (right). 

            One super fascinating experience I had today was walking through the green zone. To give you some context, the extensive COP site is divided into two areas: blue zone and green zone. The blue zone is the location of all the negotiations, delegations, and official side events. To get into this zone, you need to be badged – as a party, as an observer, or as media. Until this morning, I had spent all my time in the blue zone. The green zone is free and open to the public, and houses “booths” (you really can’t call them that - they are large spaces! Let’s call them “pavilions”) where organizations, groups, and businesses showcase their work. I wish I had ventured over here earlier! I only had time for a quick walk through today, but hopefully later in the week I’ll be able to explore the green zone in more detail. On my quick gander this morning, several things caught my eye: the indigenous pavilion; a women and climate change pavilion; a Green Faith, and other religions, pavilion; and a whole hoard of companies that are taking the business opportunities climate change brings.

Green zone civil societies tent.

On the business side of things, there were innovations out the wazoo. Everything but the kitchen sink was showcased: massive solar energy farms, electric cars and trucks, wind and tidal power, biofuel technology (turning plastic into fuel), water-conserving irrigation systems, more garbage art, sustainable urban development models, and too many more business models to count.

Green Zone business area.

I don’t often consider the business side of climate change, but COP has helped me realize that the private sector plays a big role in the fight against climate change. The world we live in is driven by market forces, and therefore business can have a big impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to the effects of climate change. Businesses are increasingly recognizing the risks climate change poses to them, and although they may not label it as such, they’re adapting to climate change by investing in green technologies, reducing their emissions, relocating to lower-risk areas, and reducing water and electricity usage. I’ve included a couple of resources at the bottom of this post if you would like to learn more about the fascinating private sector aspect of climate change action!

More Green Zone. SO MANY BOOTHS and things to see!!!

I’m really looking forward to spending the rest of the week learning more about initiatives from the private sector, as well as from government and NGOs! For now, enjoy this picture of police officers patrolling the perimeter of the conference site on massive Friesian horses complete with silver reflective paint on their hooves.

Police on horseback patrolling perimeter of event site.

Private Sector resources:
Report on private sector adaptation to climate change