Jia Min: Why forest sciences didn’t feature in forest policy discussions

Apologies for taking so long – but to make up for the delay, on my internship which I’m currently busy with I did manage to meet a member of the Singapore delegation who was in charge of tracking LULUCF-related issues. They mentioned there wasn’t much happening during this COP related to forests, though agriculture will be something key to look out for since they are starting some work on this (the 1st committee for the Koronivia joint work on agriculture program met regularly during the COP). Also, next year there may be more to look out for because of the integration of LULUCF-related issues into the calculation of greenhouse gas inventories (or something like that!)

Either way, in this post I will describe briefly my findings related to how forest science is used/not used in forest policy. My first caveat would be that there was very little forest policy being spoken of in the conference. At COP24, I found that forests are mainly relevant in international negotiations in three ways:

  1. As part of the larger issue of land use (i.e. mixed in with agriculture, the need to generate electricity (through hydroelectric dams, solar panels, wind turbines) to support growth, land reclamation etc.)
  2. As part of the climate solution (one statistic from the IPCC report that really caught on was that “natural climate solutions” could provide up to 30% of emission reductions by 2030, but they were only being allocated a disproportionately low 1% of the funding by banks, for example)
  3. As part of the biodiversity issue under a partner convention to the UNFCCC under the UNEP: The Convention on Biological Diversity, which includes the Aichi Biodiversity Targets which expire/are due 2020.

Another caveat would be that I was mostly interested in natural science and scientists and listened with an attention to the natural sciences, despite how matters of policy are often relegated to the social scientists. Despite these disparities I observed rather interesting tensions between the two (broadly speaking) fields. Scientists of each appear to hold small but bitter grudges as to why they are not more well-regarded than the other. However it appears that social scientists feel more slighted when it comes to climate science and policy, while natural scientists feel more slighted when it comes to forest science and policy. It’s just a hypothesis at the moment, so I don’t have much evidence, but it would be worth seeing how IPCC’s upcoming Special Report on Climate Change and Land (SRCCL) will be received, and the extent to which forests will be featured. But it’s clear that the current slant of the special report is very much towards food and soil, but not what’s above the soil. (The breakdown of chapters can be found here, and if you search “forest” you’ll find only 3 returns: https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2018/04/Decision_Outline_SR_LandUse.pdf). And for more evidence that forest policy has been somewhat relegated to the social sciences, check out the bibliography of CIFOR’s publication on “Transforming REDD+: Lessons and New Directions”. It’s an impressive publication, especially Chapters 1 and 5 which I consider ground-breaking to include in such a publication, but it’s also easy to see how seldom the natural sciences are included in the forest policy discussion.

Observation 1. Forest science is not often used on its own but compiled and compared with other data to produce tools for deciding how best to use a particular piece of land. Such tools include this and UNCCD’s tool to achieve land degradation neutrality, the latter of which I learnt about at the WWF event on 6 Dec about uniting the Rio conventions). Scientists more or less acknowledge that their work will never lead to the protection of forests, only the management of forests, because the value of forests is often difficult to establish as higher than any other use for that plot of land (e.g. biofuels, banks, agriculture). What then is referenced and introduced at these climate agreements is data aggregation and monitoring tools like Global Forest Watch which monitors tree cover (loss) and who said at a WWF event on harnessing the potential of land-use, “if all else fails (wrt climate action) we just have to keep the data coming”, though of course it acknowledged that we need more than data. That said, improvements in monitoring can do more than help us achieve better accuracy. For example, differentiating between forests clear cut for plantations vs. forests helps us understand what’s driving land use change, beyond what land use changes are taking place – serving policy in ways beyond mere impact measurement.

Observation 2a. Forest science is more often judged to be useful at the scale of national consultative processes rather than at venues such as the Paris Rulebook. This may explain why there is so little mention of forests, so few ecologists that I managed to find at the COP, and so few speakers familiar with forest science, because of the contextuality of the topic and the territorial nature of it. Climate and ocean impacts will also vary with contexts, but perhaps how forests fight for land and power with other interests results in a different political landscape that deters it from being spoken about at the global scale. (I’m thinking of political ecologists like Homer-Dixon who would probably agree about the primacy of land in contributing to conflict.)

Observation 2b. Perhaps because of the “it depends” nature of forest ecology, the CIFOR scientists did explain how it’s really difficult to see if a particular REDD+ intervention really resulted in reduced carbon emissions/increased absorption. There is a lack of a control case in most studies (due to the variability between sites), and ethical concerns with designating controls (e.g. is it fair to have one community be deprived of the REDD+ opportunity and another not be, just for the sake of establishing the success of the latter?). There’s also an issue of funding where negative assessment of a particular policy may jeopardise future funding for assessments.

Observation 3. No one really disagrees with the science – either forest science has become accepted, or no one really understands any of it and at the policy discussion level no one cares about where the science comes from anymore. There was someone who quoted the “4 per 1000” initiative and used it to establish how “easy” it would be to harness forest soils as a solution, though the falseness of the statement has been critiqued by many including Baveye et al. in 2018 – title is, “The “4 per 1000” initiative: A credibility issue for the soil science community?”.

I shall stop here! I wish I had more material to work with but really these are hypotheses for why there really aren’t that many references to forest-related natural science, and I hope it prompts new thinking!

Other points irrelevant to my research question

Though it’s difficult for me to reference all the talks, I would definitely recommend finding a chance to watch the livestream of the emotional and informative side event on “Brazil’s new administration and the Paris Agreement: challenging years ahead”, whereas Brazilian scientists and NGO members communicated their sadness and collectively urged for Brazil not to fall back to the years before the last 10 years when it became stabilised its emissions. I would also recommend listening to the press release for CIFOR’s book on Transforming REDD+ which I referenced above.

For reference the events and negotiations I went for are summarised below in this table. Please approach me if you require detailed notes: I type transcript-like documents but don’t often clean them up so don’t expect too much!

Monday (3/12) Tuesday (4/12) Wednesday (5/12) Thursday (6/12) Friday (7/12) Saturday (8/12)
9:30 RINGO RINGO CGIAR – Transforming REDD+: Lessons and new directions, a new book RINGO
10:00 High-level segment SBI/SBSTA contact group – Modalities, work programme and functions Land use: The untapped opportunity in nationally-determined contributions Three conventions, one planet: The case for a New Deal for Nature and People APA agenda item 6: informal consultations on matters relating to the global stocktake referred to in Article 14 of the PA
10:30 High-level segment SBI/SBSTA contact group – Modalities, work programme and functions Land use: The untapped opportunity in nationally-determined contributions Three conventions, one planet: The case for a New Deal for Nature and People APA agenda item 6: informal consultations on matters relating to the global stocktake referred to in Article 14 of the PA
11:00 High-level segment Land use: The untapped opportunity in nationally-determined contributions Three conventions, one planet: The case for a New Deal for Nature and People
11:30 WRI – Securing a COP Decision to Raise Ambition RFN, AAS, Forests of the World: Approaching the Point of No Return. What NDCs of major rainforest countries means for rainforests. How do we get there: The need for a coordinated global mangrove conservation agenda Business for nature and climate: The case for an integrated approach
12:00 SBSTA informal consultations on research and systematic observation How do we get there: The need for a coordinated global mangrove conservation agenda
12:30 SBSTA informal consultations on research and systematic observation How do we get there: The need for a coordinated global mangrove conservation agenda
13:00 Coalition for Rainforest Nations – daily meeting + Planete Amazone – Urgent action (for the last 15 min) Climate Science for policy Talked to CIFOR person
13:30 WWF event: towards a successful pre-2020 stocktake Climate Science for policy Booths
14:00 WWF event: towards a successful pre-2020 stocktake IAI, DFG: From science to policy: achieving the SDGs in a 1.5 degree warmer world Climate Science for policy Booths
14:30 IAI, DFG: From science to policy: achieving the SDGs in a 1.5 degree warmer world Climate Science for policy Enhancing land use role in climate mitigation and adaptation
15:00 Booths SBSTA-IPCC Landscape Restoration for climate objectives, synergies and trade-offs across SDGs Enhancing land use role in climate mitigation and adaptation Abibimman Foundation – Dr. Peter Wadhams – IPCC Underestimates, Political Cowards
15:30 Booths SBSTA-IPCC Landscape Restoration for climate objectives, synergies and trade-offs across SDGs Enhancing land use role in climate mitigation and adaptation Promoting science-based climate policy
16:00 SBSTA-IPCC Landscape Restoration for climate objectives, synergies and trade-offs across SDGs Oceans and CO2 Promoting science-based climate policy
16:30 Cornell University – Science and policy coming together Pacific initiative for biodiversity, climate change and resilience Emerging science on global warming of 1.5°C at the science-policy interface Brazil’s new administration and the Paris Agreement: challenging years ahead Promoting science-based climate policy (a bit of Land use and forestry in the Paris Agreement: from science to policy implementation)
17:00 Gap report – panel with Hsu Emerging science on global warming of 1.5°C at the science-policy interface Brazil’s new administration and the Paris Agreement: challenging years ahead Promoting science-based climate policy
17:30 Gap report – panel with Hsu Emerging science on global warming of 1.5°C at the science-policy interface Brazil’s new administration and the Paris Agreement: challenging years ahead Land use and forestry in the Paris Agreement: from science to policy implementation
18:00 Brazil’s new administration and the Paris Agreement: challenging years ahead
18:30 IPCC looking ahead to SROCC and SRCC Burkina Faso, JVE: Towards Constructive Science-Policy Dialogues in West Africa What has REDD+ achieved? Evaluating the impacts of REDD+ interventions on forests and people
19:00 IPCC looking ahead to SROCC and SRCC Burkina Faso, JVE: Towards Constructive Science-Policy Dialogues in West Africa What has REDD+ achieved? Evaluating the impacts of REDD+ interventions on forests and people
19:30 Burkina Faso, JVE: Towards Constructive Science-Policy Dialogues in West Africa What has REDD+ achieved? Evaluating the impacts of REDD+ interventions on forests and people


Zhi Yi : Beyond COP24 – Including the oceans in climate negotiations

While the oceans at COP have come a long way and continue to gain traction at the climate negotiations, there is still a long way to go before the oceans can claim to have a key stake at the negotiations. In this final blogpost, I will touch on some of the key steps moving forward in order to better incorporate the oceans into the negotiations.

  • Stronger frameworks for cooperation

The first step and in my regards the most important aspect of including the oceans within the climate negotiations is the need for stronger frameworks of cooperation. One key question that was raised numerous times by policymakers and practitioners with regards to the oceans was how the open seas and international waters should be included in the climate negotiations. Currently, nations have sovereignty over areas within the country’s exclusive economic zones (barring disputed territories), and thus may be incentivised to include such areas within the country’s mitigation or adaptation strategies. However, a large area of the oceans is not under the jurisdiction of any nation, but instead falls under the jurisdiction of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Since no state can lay claims of sovereignty over the high seas, no state is incentivised to include these international territories under adaptation or mitigation strategies. Such areas present an uncharted territory to the climate negotiations, as the current framework which deals primarily with countries is unable to account for such international territories. Stronger cooperation between the UNFCCC and other international treatises and agreements is therefore needed to enforce both the protection of such territories and also explore the possibilities of including such areas for mitigation action. Within the UNFCCC process, new frameworks should also be considered that allow for multilateral cooperation between countries and count such contributions towards the nation’s climate commitments.

  • Greater understanding of the impacts of climate change in open water ecosystems and the role they play in mitigation

Currently, much research on the ocean-climate linkage has been focused near-shore ecosystems and ecosystems on the continental shelf, with significantly less attention placed on open-sea ecosystems and deep-sea ecosystems. This lack of understanding is in part due to the lack of available data on such ecosystems. More resources should therefore be dedicated to the study of these ecosystems and also the linkages between these different marine ecosystems.

  • Mechanisms for including ocean-related mitigation strategies

The role of Land use, Land-use change and Forestry (LULUCF) activities in mitigating climate change has long been recognised by the UNFCCC. However, no such mechanism is in place to recognize the role of marine ecosystems as carbon sinks[1]. By providing mechanisms that allow for the inclusion of the oceans in their mitigation strategies, states will have another pathway to raise their ambition of their NDCs and their climate commitments.

  • Updated review of text of Paris Agreement rulebook

Bodansky & Biniaz reviewed the Paris Agreement Work Programme Texts[2] (latest update, November 2018) for any text that is helpful or problematic for the inclusion of the oceans in the Paris Agreement Rulebook. Since the negotiations at COP24, this review should be updated to reflect any changes within the working drafts and the final agreed text.

The upcoming launch of the IPCC Special Report on “The Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate” in 2019 promises that the oceans will indeed have a significant place in COP 25. That, and the momentum gained from the launch of the Ocean Partnership Pathway during COP 23 and the hard work from the recent COP 24 will ensure that the oceans will feature significantly in COP 25 and hopefully beyond.

[1] Carbon sinks refer to any activity, process, or mechanism which removes greenhouse gas from the atmosphere

[2] Daniel Bodansky and Susan Biniaz, “Review of Paris Agreement Work Programme (PAWP) Texts,” 2018.


Climate justice is a subject that sparks deep emotions and passionate discussion. Vulnerable communities argue that them being at a vulnerable situation to climate change has very little to do with their own actions. In their eyes, they’ve been hit with a double whammy: the ‘developed’ world’s emissions have not only exacerbated their vulnerabilities through economic inequality and whatnot, but also forced them to change their traditional ways to deal with a problem they didn’t create.

One could observe this sentiment manifesting itself in different magnitudes of aggression throughout the COP, especially in side-events involving vulnerable countries and local-level stakeholders. For instance, in the discussion of ‘Forests: 1.5C from a community perspective’, the speaker from India highlighted their frustration, stating that “Actions of climate change mitigation is being forced on vulnerable communities while the real emitters are not being punished.” This statement seemed similar to the reactionary response to indignant treatment that I felt displayed over at the Nepali camp.

If you have read my previous blog posts, you would know that Nepal is one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to climate change, and the issue of climate justice has been the stepping stone to the national climate change agenda. Thus, it is only fitting for me to highlight the frustration seen at the Nepali front on the issue of climate justice and climate related funding. Also, in contrast to large-scale programs supported by international aid, local efforts have had their own importance in countries like Nepal. Finally, national and local actors interact with actors from neighbouring regions to share knowledge and collaborate on similar climate change problems. Thus, I will be summarizing all these themes below.

Climate Justice and Finance

On Dec 5, Nepal organized an event titled “Nepal and LDCs: Upscaling Adaptation Actions in LDCs through Innovative Technology, Finance and Capacity Building”. The program touched upon the Adaptation at Scale Initiative, which includes an innovation prize programme on matters of ‘WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene), energy access, and adaptation.’ The innovation prize is supposed to act as a financial incentive to induce innovative adaptation practices and processes that focus on building capacity in the local level, and which can be scaled up and out to affect policy decisions while including a larger populace in the projects. The prize is awarded to local projects at two stages: firstly, during the initial phase (‘Encouragement prize’) and secondly, during the implementation phase (‘Implementation Prize’). The nature of the support (‘prize’) and the benefactor of the prize (a foreign entity) seemed to make a few Nepali heads in the audience uncomfortable.

One audience member, a student of forestry, argued that officials should not be settling for funding in the form of ‘prize’, but that they should vouch for ‘compensation’. For me, this question played on the connotation of ‘prize’, which not only suggests that actors work within a set-framework, but which also diminishes the culpability of the benefactor. Compensation on the other hand reinstates this culpability of the financial backer, a culpability that extends to historic and present carbon emissions that have forced local communities to strengthen their adaptive capacities. The same connotation however would also dissuade foreign entities to provide funds to vulnerable communities, and they would rather stick with titles such as donations, loans, or prizes/awards.

Local Efforts and Forests

Other questions raised by the audience in the aforementioned event concerned the usage of and risks to indigenous knowledge in these projects. The panellists specified that while indigenous knowledge is useful in many of the projects, often they need to be rescaled or supported by other forms of knowledge to be successful in the present context.

This leads us to the discussion of local actions that value local knowledge and make it a priority to include local stakeholders. Consider forests: they form a big part in our discussion of carbon emission and carbon sinks. However, often the discussion of forest use seems to ignore or even shed in a negative light the livelihoods that depend on the forests. The event on ‘Forests: 1.5C from a community perspective’ sought to tackle this idea. The panellists argued that ignoring the intricate relationships between forests and people is to undermine indigenous groups, and put a blind eye to displacement, eviction, and land grabbing. The panellists also warned against undermining local actions, especially when it comes to forests.

Dil Raj Khanal spoke for the rights of community forestry groups and presented the success of such community forests in Nepal. The deeper learning takeaway was that large-scale implementation of climate-friendly projects should always be assessed for safeguard measures for local communities and wherever possible, local community involvement should be sought in the building of adaptive capacity with regard to the effects of climate change.


The support of community-level projects does not suggest an isolation from other similar projects in the region. In fact, as seen in the COP, collaboration between different community-level actors is actually beneficial and encouraged. For Nepal, this collaboration was seen through interactions with other LDC states. The similarity in economic condition and the need for climate finance meant that valuable knowledge sharing could take part via LDC Expert Groups or other channels. On a larger scale, the LDC group also formed a collective during the negotiations. Though I couldn’t attend the daily LDC group meetings (because of my ‘observer’ status in the COP), I am certain valuable discussions occurred that will be beneficial for individual states. Also, the LDCs unanimously welcomed the IPCC report, which is always a positive.

However, a more obvious collaboration, especially with regard to local projects, would be that between the states in the Himalayan region. To understand if any such collaboration was mentioned in the COP, I attended numerous events pertaining to these states. I mostly frequented the events of the Indian pavilion, for the simple fact that they had numerous daily events. The Indian Pavilion’s events were mostly focused on showcasing projects that helped local communities reap economic benefits while acting in a sustainable manner. There seemed to be some knowledge sharing between Sikkim (a Himalayan state in India), Bhutan, and Nepal. This was through workshops provided by successful projects pertaining to water security in Sikkim.

I was also made aware of other non-state actors that promote regional efforts at climate change mitigation and adaptation, with adaptation being the key focus. Though I was unable to attend other similar events because of time constraints, collaboration between mountainous nations was observed in an event organised on the occasion of International Mountain Day on December 11.

Final Thoughts

Thus, the engagement of multiple stakeholders on issues pertaining to Nepal has provided me with a bit of hope. I came to the COP with a very pessimistic idea of Nepal’s activities. Much of this pessimism had origins in how I had witnessed development works and other projects undertaken in Nepal. However, in the COP, I witnessed the presence of youth who were not afraid to ask uncomfortable questions and who sought accountability from their representatives. I was able to interact with delegates who were passionate about actions in the realm of climate change. These are surely positive indicators for the future of Nepal’s efforts at climate change mitigation and adaptation. Though much is yet to be done, the COP has not only made me aware of Nepal’s efforts at lessening the brunt of climate change, but also allowed me to sympathize with their relative powerlessness in face of global superpowers.


An event at the Indian Pavilion.
Event on Nepal and LDCs: Up-scaling Adaptation Actions in LDCs through Innovative Technology, Finance and Capacity Building


Zac: Thoughts & feelings about COP24

Being my first ever COP, I didn’t know what to expect, so being a United Nations event, I expected quite a bit, I expected that “things” (e.g. the rulebook) would get settled in the conferences faster and more efficiently. I expected to be able to see what was happening on site, but then I realized, I had quite a huge expectation. With our observer badges, which was already an awesome opportunity, we could only roam around, visiting side events, events in each country’s pavilion that you can only find out when COP starts, exhibitions, and some open meetings. We were not allowed in the high key events, unless we get tickets, which Research and Independent Non-Governmental Organization (RINGO) had some to give out at their 9 am meetings, if you are lucky you can manage to get one, with the commitment to help them take notes. Thus, the place really felt like an important conference, so many ministers, delegates, important people in general, walking everywhere.

I personally felt like it is a lot to take in, and really there are so many things going on at a time, it is very easy to just keep going to events after events, and then end up being exhausted. For first timers, I guess it is very important to note that if you are going as an observer, just take a chill pill, and pick the events, and put breaks in between them as well. Additionally, do not expect that every event you go, will be amazing, because end of the day, some can really be general knowledge that everybody kind of know, is just being reiterated. For example, in the country pavilions, some of them are politicians, some are industry owners, they will give very standard political answers.

Below will be 2 things that I took out of this COP from my week’s exploration:

Nuclear – Yes or No?

People around the world are still scared of the word nuclear when it comes to energy. After Chernobyl, after Fukushima, they are scared of the word nuclear like it is super dangerous. Something I learned was that the amount of “nuclear” (aka uranium) in nuclear power plants are not enough to cause an explosion like a nuclear bomb. They are like 100 times lesser the amount in a nuclear bomb used in WW2. The second thing that people are afraid of is that nuclear power plants have radioactive waste, they scared it will be a health issue. Majority of the water used in nuclear power plants can be treated, with a minimal amount of radioactive waste that can be stored deep underground, or deep under the ocean floor where the pressure keeps it there. The amount of trash and waste that comes from producing coal and oil, is affecting us more than what nuclear is affecting us.

Nuclear has a lot of capabilities, and experts are not saying to go 100% nuclear, they are actually recommending a mixture, or other renewables as well if possible; solar, wind, geothermal, etc. Nuclear can be a key solution for climate change adaptation also, when droughts have dried up all our water sources, nuclear, being a sustainable energy source, can use for desalination to solve water scarcity issues. Yes in my personal opinion, I am quite pro-nuclear, I am no expert in nuclear sciences. However, I do know that if we want to mitigate climate change in the next decade or so, we need the help of nuclear because of its close to zero carbon emission.

Climate change mitigation → Trying to stop climate change

Climate change adaptation → climate change occurred and our measures to adapt to it.

Future of technology in the fight against climate change

There are definitely some insights into the future of how technology will advance and help in climate change. With Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, we can move forward to make every process efficient, so that we will waste less. Solar farms, wind farms, will know how much energy is needed to supply the grid, and how much to store. Even smaller things like having a motion sensor on car wipers will allow having information that can be sent to the cloud. These information can improve efficiency. For example, knowing where it is raining, buildings need less AC because is cooler. Everything will be more “smart” and the experts call this the smart-grid technology of the future cities. Will the transition to smart cities be too slow? Probably. Will we be able to mitigate climate change in time? I have low hopes but the world still has to move forward. Hopefully, in the future, there will be a technology that can reverse the effect of climate change, even after 2030.


This Learning Across Boundaries has been an experience. Seeing the irony of Poland’s pavilion booth being filled with real coal, observing the different countries booth and their representatives being political, a few protestors protesting against nuclear at the pro-nuclear side events, Fossil of the day, and many more. I really would like to thank the people that made all this possible.


Beatrice: Post-conference Part 2. Why can we still be hopeful?

Apart from the empowerment and inspiration Greta and other environmental activists have conveyed, here are a few other reasons that I believe should keep our hope alive:

  1. The IPCC SR1.5 has been the most powerful and groundbreaking report yet. It has given us a common ground of evidence and projections about the future, and has clearly informed us about the causes, impacts and solutions regarding climate change. Whoever tries to negate the existence of climate change or thinks that climate change is not a manmade crisis, we can just throw the IPCC special report in their faces. More importantly, thanks to this report we know what needs to be done. It gave a clear path of instructions to politicians, while justifying the urgency through massive scientific evidence even with different levels of certainty.
  2. We have the technology. Many side-events presented great clean technologies which are becoming cheaper and cheaper. Small techs to improve local lifestyles were presented such as bio-sand water filters, improved sustainable grills and stoves that are affordable and accessible in developing countries, but also big technological projects: Bertrand Piccard from the Solar Impulse foundation was the first man to fly around the world in a solar powered plane, proving that clean technologies can and will replace the obsolete ones.
  3. We have the economic means for investments. Now we just need countries to cooperate and help each other. Those who aren’t helping out still need more convincing. It should be in the interest of rich countries to help poorer, more vulnerable ones because the socio-economic problems will spread and impact them too whether they like it or not. The Paris agreement did outline funding allocation priorities but countries should specify how much aid is needed and more nations should step up to give aid and loans (134 nations have requested support when only 4 said they would provide support) It is all a matter of will and solidarity. The UNFCCC should also develop an eligibility criteria to decide who gets support and the amount of financial support, as well as a conflict of interest policy so that countries stop talking about national interests and more about compassionate multilateralism. The role of non-state actors (cities, regions, NGOs, banks, businesses and more) in investments and funding is also crucial and they should heighten their ambition.
  4. The youth is being listened to and brought into the negotiation rooms. The amount of college, university, and even high school delegations that attended the COP24 surprised a lot of people who had been to previous COPs. Many side-events also included young panelists who had organised their own sustainable projects at school or in their hometowns, and activists like Greta made the headlines. Even young children who have experienced climate catastrophes moved hearts. One that particularly struck me was a 17-year-old Taiwanese girl who got stuck in her car with her family because of a flood for a whole day. She remembers how, when she was little hurricanes and floods were not as ubiquitous as they are now, and how she could see the stars in the sky before and no longer can.
  5. The minorities are (partially) being listened to and they are both the most honest and vulnerable when it comes to tackling climate change. Indigenous representatives of Latin american and African countries, and of native american communities were very visibly walking around the venue in their cultural attire, and spreading their message in the negotiation rooms and many side-events. Religious leaders and spiritual gurus also came to share their opinions and perspectives. I will mention a couple.
    1. Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim appeared in various events as a spokesperson for African indigenous communities. She shares their pain and has seen the effects of climate change in her community which have destroyed entire livelihoods. She mentioned how two decades ago it was possible to have rain during 6 months and now you only get rain for 2 months. She rightfully pointed out that there is not enough emphasis on adaptation and that poorer countries need help from other richer ones. She also decried how those who call themselves experts with PHDs have failed to offer solutions on the ground because they are too concerned with national interests and economic benefits. We need people like her to be the voice of the unheard victims of climate change and give a human face to the issue. 
    2. Other spiritual leaders urged us to reevaluate humans’ place on earth, reminding us that climate change is not the problem but rather a symptom of the real problem: HUMANS and our unsustainable way of life. The native americans for instance value Earth as their mother, and believe that she is reacting normally to an abnormal situation that we created. Tiokasin Ghosthorse from the Lakota native american nation spoke during a side-event I attended. I was amazed with the way he spoke about our planet, about the relationship they have to Mother Earth and how they value everything she gives us. He reminded us again that we need Earth to survive but the Earth does not need us . They not only want to create peace on earth but create peace WITH mother earth. The wisdom he shared was so powerful and staggering that I think that if the diplomats who are in the negotiations had been in that side-event, it would have united them and inspired them to move quicker.
  6. Common values of our shared humanity are being mentioned especially three that were repeated throughout the COP24: compassion, solidarity, and ambition. I heard diplomats, scientists, professors, business directors and a whole variety of people mentioning the need for solidarity in this process as well as trust. I mentioned in Part 2 that sacrifices need to be made and this can only come from empathy and goodwill. An Egyptian Ambassador was invited to speak to the Intergenerational Inquiry event and assured us that the ambition is present and that countries are trying to cooperate despite differing opinions and interests. He believed that “goodwill begets goodwill” and that those who really want things to change will persuade other countries to do the same. We are starting to consider climate change a social issue caused by other social problems, notably regarding our human flaws such as selfishness and greed. We should not only aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 100% but for instance also reduce greed and consumerism by 100%. This can be possible through education and self-reflection about what we really want the world to look like now and in the future.
  7. The UN conference of Parties takes place every year (+so many other forums and conferences throughout the year). I had said in my second blog that these conferences are meant to be mostly just symbols of diplomacy. But the fact that 22,000 people come together for the single purpose of solving climate change definitely shows a will to live up to this year’s slogan: “changing together”. Despite its unsustainable aspects, the COP is an amazing hub of knowledge, innovation, ideas and more importantly inspiration, which I think we all need. Yes, it is also a massive networking event, and some speakers and panelists could be very disappointing, but the COP gives the issue of climate change  great legitimacy. For two weeks it is closely followed by the media and reported on all big social media platforms.
  8.  “The power belongs to the people” and people are speaking, protesting, and shouting for climate action and climate justice. People are starting to fear the consequences of inaction. People are starting to realise that mother earth is responding to our carelessness, and responding very loudly. The mobilisation of people is happening even if we cannot always see it. The more we speak of the issue the better. The more outrage, controversies, protests and action we raise, the better. We can remain hopeful because some people will never remain quiet and will never stop fighting (cliché but thankfully true).

Beatrice: Post-conference Part 1. Reflections and analogies

Martin Frick, Director of Policy & Programs of the UNFCCC found a great analogy to describe our current situation: We are all standing at the edge of a cliff holding hands, ready to jump to reach the other mountain top in front of us. WE ARE READY TO JUMP. We have the skills, knowledge and understand why we should jump. It’s a matter of life and death, but if one jumps too slowly we all fall, just like if one jumps too early the rest will still hold him back and so we still die. We need to jump at the same time taking into account the strengths and weaknesses of each country, and only through compassion and cooperation can we avoid falling off the cliff.

At the beginning of the COP24, I wanted to prove that no one was walking the talk, that we do not care enough to make sacrifices for future generations or for the most vulnerable populations. Basically I believed we were doomed because our lifestyles and consumerist system will remain. I also wanted to see how effective taking individual action can given that most people do not want to change their lifestyles, or more precisely they do not have the luxury to worry about how to be more eco-friendly because they are barely getting by. (example: a refillable water bottle won’t do any good because there are no water dispensers or worse, no potable water where they live so plastic bottles are the only safe option)

So at the beginning of the COP24, I was wondering: are small actions and efforts really useful when the damage is so big? Refusing to use one straw or choosing the vegetarian dish instead of the nice sausages that the Polish are having won’t do much because emissions are still not declining. Right? We have all the reasons to be sad and frustrated. Greta Thunberg said in her recent speech that “our leaders are behaving like children” and she seems to have lost hope with politics also stating that “the rules have to be changed”. Actually many panelists I encountered both young and old, believed that governments, as systems and institutions, were obsolete. NGO’s, businesses, and common people can do much more.

I took my job as an Observer seriously and witnessed what the “common people” are actually doing. My original belief was confirmed: the true environmentalists are the young people. It is not surprising because the young are more open-minded and eager for change. We are also fighting for our future. The young activists assured us that every little effort counts because the more we speak about sustainable lifestyles the more trendy it will become and the more followers it will create. Some older panelists also have great initiatives and explicitly stated that they try to “practice what they preach”. For example, Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, member of the independent group of scientists of the global sustainable development report told us that his home runs almost 100% on renewable energy, some have divested, others cycle to work, a few were vegetarian… little things, when added up DO make a difference in reducing our carbon footprint.

The best side-events I attended revolved around youth activism, journalism, and public engagement. They focused on ways we can better communicate the urgent need for climate action to a wider and more diverse public. In fact, when we made climate change a scientific phenomenon  (when it is actually also about humanity and social consequences) people stopped caring because they thought it was a job for politicians, scientists, and experts. The IPCC reports and resolutions being debated on can seem so esoteric and abstract for the general public. Daniela Jacob an IPCC vice-chair agreed, and said that they wished to develop a new simplified report and maybe also one for children. Humans prefer everything simple and easy. Therefore when we think of climate change as a complex and big phenomenon, we get scared, frustrated or we simply choose not to think about it too much.

A very interesting point from the audience during a side-event was questioning why we are seeing the growth of isolationism, nationalism, and extremism in our societies, at a time when we most need to be united. Martin Frick believed it came down to one word: fear. When we are afraid of something or feel threatened, we hide, we close borders, and we want limit the threat by staying in our comfort zone. We cannot afford spreading fear and hopelessness because we know that this is a GLOBAL issue and working in isolation will not work, hence the importance of voting for the right politicians. Even if one country meets its NDCs but the rest don’t, mitigation won’t be successful and the efforts will be useless. (we also know that the NDCs aren’t enough to avoid reaching 1.5 degrees by 2030).

There is a communication gap between generations, between scientists and the general public, between politicians and citizens that must be bridged to get the message across and be on the same page. In fact the “yellow vest” protests that sprouted in France is the quintessential example of politicians not being able to communicate the facts and the reasons behind a policy correctly, a policy that was essentially turned towards reducing emissions. Even back in NUS, when a no-straw day took place without warning the community, people got mad. This is why the concept of a just transition is so important. Also, knowing how to persuade people that taking climate action to cut down emissions is in their best interest should be a priority! My last blog will outline a sort of rulebook with points on how we can talk to people about climate change efficiently, all inspired by conversations and side-events I had at the COP24.

The reality is that we cannot all be satisfied, and when we look at the current positions of the USA, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Kuwait, or the policies put forth by countries such as Brazil and Poland, we definitely should feel unsatisfied. Martin Frick used another great analogy to describe the hardships of negotiations between nations. They need to order a single type of pizza, but once you start asking countries about their likes and preferences or dietary restrictions and allergies, some don’t like pineapples, some are vegetarian, some like spicy, others are allergic to dairy… we realize that we will essentially just end up with the dough. Sacrifices need to be made and this has been overly pointed out. And given the urgency of the matter we cannot sit patiently and accept the status quo. We cannot be those people dancing and singing while the Titanic is sinking.

This is how a perfect chronology of events would look like because carbon neutrality is impossible to achieve from one day to another: 1) Civil society and activists around the world push the governments to take action and implement the required policies through all means necessary such as peaceful strikes, petitions, non-violent protests and more (we could avoid this phase and simply go straight into 2 if we had ideal governments)→ 2) NDCs are met, governments are pressured, understand the responsibility they have, put economic restrictions and sanctions on unsustainable industries, and start implementing good policies for mitigation and adaptation based on the principles of equity, cooperation, and just transition→ 3) Industries and businesses shift to a carbon neutral economy and take appropriate measures that are dictated by the new regulatory policies of governments and international agreements→ (all of this happens while individuals also start doing their part)→ More technological innovation creates alternatives, transition starts to happen through the recalibration of 4 systems which guide our lifestyles namely energy use, cities, land use and industries which then→ changes the whole system to a more sustainable one free from fossil fuels→  The Paris agenda is met and the advice from the IPCC SR1.5 is followed → BETTER FUTURE (?)

It is clear that all sectors need to participate. The outcomes depend on the pace of action, the solidarity between nations, and cooperation between state and non-state actors. It seems idealistic to think that we will be able to manage all this in 12 years. But let’s put faith in Greta Thunberg’s words directed at our world leaders: “We have run out of excuses and we are running out of time. We have come here to let you know that change is coming, whether you like it or not. The real power belongs to the people.”


Qi Hang: Tracking China, on substance

At COP24, China engaged a rather wide range of substantive topics on climate action. In this blog, my purpose is to not cover all of them, but rather, showcase a selection of which I found interesting, revealing and insightful about China’s overarching climate action policy framework, as much as Chinese grand strategy.

The first topic of importance to China at COP24 is climate science and policy work with regards to the Third Pole – the Tibetan Plateau. The side event that was themed around environmental governance of Tibet was interestingly the second side event lined up in the first week of COP24. During the side event, various scholars and policy insiders spoke on Tibet (and the North and South Poles), approaching from several angles. Naturally, there was the scientific angle – largely on transboundary cooperation between Chinese and scientific delegations from other countries (such as with the Danes in Greenland, one of the most rapidly melting landmasses), use of technology (in particular data-driven climate action; one of the speakers, Anil Mishra from UNESCO/IHP highlighted the dire scarcity in monitoring data on glaciers above the altitude of 3000 meters above sea levels) etc.

Then there was also a much more geostrategic angle, that was particularly illuminated in the talk given by Zhang Haibin of China Institute of International Affairs, on “Going Beyond the Western Geopolitical Thought” on the three poles. It was fascinating to observe that a talk on the core national security interests of securing eminently open Arctic trading routes (possibly as a solution to the heavily militarized and easily contained Malacca Strait, through which some 80% of Chinese goods flow through), and more importantly, the value and advantage of holding the headwaters of the major river networks of South and Southeast Asia in Tibet. Zhang underscored the importance of pivoting from the traditional zero-sum mentality of realism, towards regional and international governance of global commons. This is very much in line with modern theories of a “Peaceful Rise 2.0” (和平崛起) and theories on managing a peaceful external environment as to benefit Chinese national security (周边外交), as well as some of Xi’s rhetorical notions on “community of shared future for Mankind” and China’s rising role in international order and global governance. What remains underlying to his argument, however, is still the geostrategic significance of Tibet to China under what he calls the “holistic national security perspectives” (总体国家安全观) – still a primal calculus on military, economic and energy security that any great power, let alone rising superpower, would have on the table. I found this to be a stark and insightful reflection on Chinese approach to global climate action – while Beijing remains both in appearance and in substance to be genuinely committed to combatting climate change, their motivations remain quite far from pure and unadulterated altruism (as repeated by several Chinese delegates during COP24), and are in actual fact very much driven by traditional security concerns and national security interests, of which environmental and climate security are now core components of since the FYP11.

At a more micro level, China has been quite eager to showcase decarbonization efforts in specific sectors that have been the most responsible for GHG emissions during their rapid industrial rise. For example, in the forestry sector, China has pretty much halted net deforestation. In fact, their reforestation programs, such as the Shengle project in Inner Mongolia, have become the poster child for Chinese decarbonization efforts, both demonstrated in side events and at the inaugural FSV, which drew very large, curious and positive responses from the delegates of other countries. China has also pivoted towards bamboo technologies in the forestry sector; bamboo is a lucrative and green alternative to traditional wood products, and as a testament to true Chinese wonkiness, the Pavilion brought in local industrial experts on bamboo to explain how changes in the interior diameter of bamboo can drastically impact carbon emissions during manufacturing process.

Other sectors that were prominently showcased at the China Pavilion were the transportation, logistics, infrastructure and energy sectors. During the side event on sectoral decarbonization strategies, one of the more memorable local experts brought to Katowice was a representative of a large logistics and transportation company called Fuyang Port International Logistics Pte. Ltd. They have been able to achieve near-zero carbon in storage and transportation, through vertical greening technology, superefficient air-conditioning system, rai-water reuse system, smart curtain technology, nanometer insulation, as well as switching their distribution lines from land to sea, which reduces carbon footprint significantly.

Other showcases take the form of positive case studies and pilots of frankly very progressive environmental and climate policies, some of which rival and even surpass that of the EU and North America. Meishan, a township of 50,000 people in Zhejiang, was one of such case studies. It is projected to peak in coal use by 2020, plateau in the 2020s, and then fall by 2030 such that the town hits its 1.5 degrees emissions target. It will become a net-zero carbon city by 2050. This will happen while GDP and population grow at four times the national average during the same time frame. It will also present a large solar and wind opportunity due to its highly strategic location – by the sea where these renewable resources are abundant, and also the fact that it is a booming port helps transportation, logistics and other peripheral sectors and industries go green as well.

One major gap in what is otherwise a very enthusiastic, very furnished and very conscientious effort by China to showcase its progress since 2012 in hitting emissions targets (and in many cases very much more ambitiously than predetermined) is the lack of address of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The BRI is known to be a vehicle to export carbon excesses from domestic China to abroad, through a concept known as “shadow ecology”. During the first week, there was minimal reporting, speaking on and answering of questions regarding the environmental impacts of the BRI.

Qi Hang: Tracking China, on style

This will be the first of two post-COP24 posts summarizing my experience tracking China during the first week of COP24 at Katowice. I have opted to do two post-COP24 posts rather than one post-COP24 and during COP24, since I find that sharing my insights and reflections as a whole for the first week of the conference would make much more sense than segmenting them by time. I had also opted to document both the style and substance of China’s role at COP24 because I believe these two elements, together, paint an interesting and holistic picture.

Before I begin, a note on my tracking approach. I had started the week by focusing on one event per slot (generally speaking, COP24 events fit into 75- or 90-minute blocks throughout the day). I had quickly realized that that was not going to maximize my use of time since Chinese delegates would not be speaking throughout the entire event block. What I did was that I would switch in and out of several events during the same timeslot to capture as much as what I could physically do. I had also placed a greater emphasis on the China Pavilion side events much more than the negotiations themselves – my experience sitting in the working-level APA/SBTI sessions, as I will discuss later, was not very insightful.

I would sum up the Chinese delegation’s style at COP24 in one word: intentionality. Everything that they had put up – from presentations at side events and at the inaugural Facilitative Sharing of Views (FSV) was very intentional. Even the Chinese delegation itself was extremely self-reflexive about the intentionality of their style. The head of the Chinese delegation, Sun Zhen, who was in charge of all the events at the Pavilion, was aware of the perception of the China Pavilion, its events, the delegation and by extension, China itself, at COP24. At the opening event at the Pavilion on December 4th, Sun had, in my opinion, very peculiarly commented on the design and layout of the China Pavilion (it was closed off by four walls and frankly very inconspicuous compared to the fanfare of some of the other pavilions, in particular the EU, Japanese, Korean and Indonesian ones, where freebies and foods were abundant). The China pavilion’s simple, minimalist, unimposing, white-based aesthetic, according to Sun, reflects a kind of genuine and down-to-earth humility (“…the purpose of the China Pavilion is not self-praise, but an exchange of ideas and a showcase of business and public sector innovations and progress…”) and the solemnity and decorum that the very often “depressing” climate action policy work requires.

In the negotiation rooms, I found China to be a reticent leader – and again, by intentional design. China rarely speaks out against the consensus established, and often led by the EU. China, very often, also echoed the sentiments by the African delegates on more benefits and equity for the developing world – but China also rarely spoke on behalf of the developing world (partly why I didn’t find the APA/SBTI sessions informative, because I could not put my finger on exactly what China’s position was; in comparison, countries like Saudi Arabia and some of the more outspoken African and South American delegates have positions that are eminently clear). The term “torch leader” (引导者) – which was repeated several times during China Pavilion events – seems to capture this limbo between leadership and cautiousness rather well. China’s behavior during working-level negotiations seems perfectly in line with this, and China’s historical behavior in international institutions: the WTO, for example, comes to mind.

In the same opening speech – that I thought really set the tone of the China’s role at COP24 – Sun went on to emphasize the role of science in climate policy. This theme resonated very, very strongly throughout the entire week. All of China’s presentations, and in particular at the FSV, were extremely data-driven and relatively well-furnished compared to other countries, even those included in Annex I. Particularly in showcasing new technologies, such as using bamboo to accelerate decarbonization in the forestry sector, or provincial showcase of pilot studies in Zhejiang, the Chinese delegation spared no effort in presenting a very complete range of figures and data. This was something that I saw very few other countries do, or do to such an impressive extent. On this point regarding science, Sun ended by pivoting to the U.S. – slamming, without naming, the Trump administration’s rejection of science. In his words, “if you don’t believe in the science [of climate policies] then there really isn’t anything to talk about”. I thought that was an extremely salient moment that reflects the role of science in not only China’s pivot towards climate leadership, but also frankly China’s progress into a technological and economic giant over the last decades.

Throughout the week, I saw a confluence of two competing ideologies of Chinese leadership. On one hand, the technocrats and bureaucrats who are the main backbone of Chinese negotiations and remain committed in their policy work to the Deng/Jiang ideology of “hide your strength and bide your time” (韬光养晦). They put on no show and turn no eyes, dig their heels into the actual science and policy work. At the same time, Xi’s departure from such a low-profile foreign policy into great ambitions and great leadership is also very apparent. At the surface level, Xi’s famous rhetoric, such as “lucid waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets” (绿水青山就是金山银山), “torch leader”, “community of shared future for Mankind” (人类命运共同体), “ecological progress” (生态文明建设) etc. Chinese ambitions are also clearly at plan, quite evidently during the FSV, where it very earnestly but also proudly presented its achievements in decarbonization, and faced questions of curiosity, learning and not malice from other countries, which China once again seemed very eager in answering and sharing (but limited by time). China clearly displayed substantive leadership on issues at COP24, as much as it would like to deny and avoid leadership.

Yet China remains defensive and closed-off, reflected not just in the aesthetic of the pavilion, but also in the greater stylistics of its presence at COP24. Officials and non-officials with affiliations to Beijing remain politician-like in pivoting from tough questions from the audience, particularly on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Lack of organization and evasiveness at the Pavilion events still reflects a country that is yet to be comfortable with being in the limelight or being bestowed with the responsibility of global leadership. Even Chinese ENGOs, representatives from several which I spoke to during the COP, remain defensive of China’s poor environmental records in certain aspects (such as coal use along the BRI, which they all seem to have a uniform line of argument, which is that China has complied with the local environmental legislations of BRI partner countries, which is fair and reasonably insufficient and unconvincing that China could not do better), and oblivious (but to their credit, curious and concerned) about how the rest of the world is perceiving China. Conversations with them reveal a Chinese state and civil society that is sincere and committed to climate action but still far from the global leader that we need right now.


Continued in Tracking China, on substance

Jia Min: How is the IPCC used by policymakers?

In the first few days of the COP, I was rather dejected at IPCC scientists’ persistent failure to address how policymakers could use their results and the specific ways they could, especially since they describe their work as policy-relevant (always while rejecting that it is political or politically motivated, of course). When I asked this question to the main spokespersons for the IPCC at a small side event, they scoffed slightly, before one of them told me that the whole reason why people were talking about 1.5 degrees at this COP was because of the IPCC report, and another asked me, “Do you know how the UNFCCC came about in the first place?” to which I was stumped. It turned out that the first IPCC report completed in 1990 had served as the basis for the UNFCCC. These responses, together with the key messages that “Every half a degree counts”, or “Every year counts”, disappointed me for a few reasons:

  • 1.5 degrees could be a target determined with the science in mind, but was ultimately the result of political negotiations: what science can tell us that the impacts of 1.5 degrees should be acceptable as opposed to 1.4 or 1.3 degrees? (I would grant, however, that this sentiment was also due to my ignorance of how the world came to decide on 1.5 degrees as well when commissioning the IPCC to write a report comparing effects of 1.5 degrees vs. 2 degrees.)
  • Bringing into existence the UNFCCC was a little bit like recalling an outdated CV item which did not address how more recent IPCC publications and activities (with their level of detail and the efforts that go into each) could tell us more than what has already been obvious in less recent publications.

IPCC’s special side event held on 5 Dec, “Climate science for policy”, did not even bother with asking itself that question, focusing instead on sharing findings one could already see in the Summary for Policymakers (e.g. that pathways with low energy demand, low material consumption and low-carbon food carry the highest benefits for sustainability) without describing specifically how countries could use the models for developing national policy, for example, or making choices as to how to achieve their Nationally Determined Contributions.

After some discussions with my fellow Yale-NUS COP24 peers, I temporarily accepted a few possible reasons why IPCC did not seem to be able to give a good answer, and in fact didn’t seem particularly bothered by that:

  • IPCC gains its ‘quotability’ (or usability) from how there is ‘something for everyone’ in the report (i.e. it can be used to justify multiple courses of action, even if those courses of action are contradictory)
  • (related but not exactly the same) IPCC gains its legitimacy from appearing non-partisan and producing completely neutral knowledge
  • For the above two reasons, IPCC is unable to give specific examples of how countries can choose to use the report and what types of actions it should justify, beyond broad platitudes like every degree mattering.
  • IPCC remains policy-relevant insofar as it shifts the discourse (don’t worry, I too am frustrated by the ambiguous meaning of discursive power). By choosing to focus on 1.5 degrees and 2 degrees and articulating clearly the differences between the two, or by choosing to model particular pathways as opposed to others, IPCC is already influencing policy, by choosing to highlight questions and answers for which there is sufficiently high confidence. Scientists, in this way, wield power because of the questions they choose to answer which influence the level of confidence of particular questions. Conversely, however, policymakers wield power over scientists because after all, the topics that the IPCC Special Reports are written on are based on recommendations and discussions and subsequent approval by the 195 countries involved in the UNFCCC (consistently mentioned by the IPCC).

That said, towards the end of the first week of COP, and now having observed from afar the reluctance towards welcoming the IPCC Special Report, I realised how I had missed some very key messages of the SR1.5 that are rather contentious and that genuinely testify to the values that do motivate science (or humanity in general). I give 2 examples below.

(Key messages taken from Thelma Krug’s slides (Vice-Chair of the IPCC) at the Brazil pavilion’s side event on 7 December, on the science-policy interface)

Example 1: “Efforts to curtail GHG emissions may themselves negatively affect the development ambitions of some regions more than others and negate sustainable development efforts.” (and various versions of such a statement urging for attention to be paid to equity)

This statement appears to be a scientific statement, but is a statement that is politically useful to states who are in the “affected more than others” category that calls for financial flows to be directed towards them. This statement challenges us to think about what equity means to us – equity being something many humans care about albeit define differently – and in so doing invokes strong feelings and action even if it is backed by science.

Example 2: “1.5 degree Celsius pathways that include low energy demand, low material consumption, low GHG intensive food consumption have the most pronounced synergies and lowest number of tradeoffs with respect to sustainable development and sustainable development goals.”

The IPCC report also compared climate change mitigation goals against those of the sustainable development goals with a trade-off analysis of sorts. At first glance this result appears not to matter if we want to pursue the SDGs and climate goals separately. Yet it does because the SDGs are arguably gaining more traction (though I am also not well-informed on the political will and the rigour of the financing mechanisms involved) and partnering often faceless climate issues with the SDGs, then proposing ways to minimise trade-offs between them, already frames the two goals as deserving of being put together. The IPCC is thus putting forth a strong argument for the particular mix of demand-focused strategies to 1.5 deg Celsius – low energy demand, low material consumption and low GHG intensive food consumption – as opposed to more supply-focused strategies such as renewable energy share and efficiency. In fact it usefully avoids the word “sustainable consumption” that is used in the SDGs but calls for low consumption.

It thus appears that even though a body like the IPCC may not be in the best position to  openly declare its value preferences (e.g. that equity is important, or how efficiency itself cannot get us to 1.5 deg, and some level of degrowth needs to take place) or advocate for particular policies, just by digging one level deeper, we can uncover these assumptions and framing choices that tell us what scientists actually think and feel. And that help us understand why major fossil fuel-exporting states would oppose welcoming the Paris Agreement rulebook. Or why the Alliance of Small-Island States wholeheartedly welcomed it.

On the whole, thus, we see how the IPCC will never be neutral and more importantly, will never be treated as a neutral document. Yet its perceived neutrality while it advocates for equity and reduced consumption gives power to those who have small voices in terms of wealth, by lending them the bigger, respected voice of science – of course we see now developed countries willing to disrespect the science, but from how often I heard the IPCC SR1.5 being welcomed, I believe and hope it will be a big voice motivating the implementation of the Paris Agreement!

Annamarie: Climate Finance, Adaptation, and Water

During COP24: Key content takeaways

At the opening speech on the first day of the conference, a spokesperson from World Bank declared that they were doubling their investment in climate action — half of which will be dedicated to adaptation and resilience. This COP reflected an increase in awareness on the importance of adaptation finance, and how the mobilisation of public finance is crucial to achieving this. While my initial interest at this COP was on how developed countries can promote the export of water technology to developing nations to promote water security, many of the talks I attended that were related to water were focused on adaptation and climate finance instead.

As the effects of climate change are already visible in developing nations, there is a greater focus on adaptation and resilience efforts. At the Greater Britain and Northern Island country pavilion, I attended a talk on climate finance from DCs to LDCS, which focused on their public flows from 2013-2017. They revealed that “adaptation rose by 65%, [and] mitigation accounted for over two-thirds of total finance”, reflecting this rising recognition of the importance of adaptation and resilience. Another key message they promoted was that “developed countries public climate finance increased from USD 37.9 billion in 2013 to USD 54.5 billion in 2017.”

I will be discussing a few interesting side events I attended throughout the conference: firstly, “Climate Friendly Technologies— Improving Adaptive Capacity of Women and Building Resilience”, where the panelists discussed the different water technologies in developing areas. Some examples include water pumping systems, or bio-sand water filters to ensure greater access to drinking water. The discussion made me reflect on what exactly “technology” means— conventional concepts of technology are skewed towards  the “flashy” notions of technology. The speaker clarified, however, that technology can be simple and context-specific, and therefore need not be a costly affair. The speaker spoke of a technology-justice framework, which emphasises the importance of access and innovation, and not the technologies with the most profit. In developed nations, technology is often driven by market forces, whereas in developing nations, technological development should be driven by social needs. As such, we should try to move away from the software of technology, and focus on creating a system that encourages change. For example, in Bangladesh, 5.5 million homes have a solar rooftop, which is used to the household’s kids to study — here, technology went beyond just providing light— it helped promote a systemic change by encouraging better education as well.

Another side event that was particularly insightful was “Equity as a Gateway to change.”
This side event highlighted a number of issues today with climate finance in developing nations: Firstly, that financing is mostly through concessional loans: despite low interest rates, it’s still debt. There is no agreed definition of climate finance, resulting in loans— and loans shouldn’t be considered as climate finance, they argue, as developing nations still end up in debt. Due to the need to pay back developed nations, projects get implemented based on their ability to generate revenue, as opposed to the needs of the community. The inclination towards revenue-generating projects has led to a skewed proportion of mitigation projects as opposed to adaptation projects. Mitigation projects are often more linked to the vested interests of developed nations. It is easier, for instance, to invest in solar energy projects, which could lead to the growth of certain SMEs of the developed nation, opposed to a ‘rural community resilience’ project. Adaptation projects only have national benefits, which is more difficult to rationalise to the vested interests of the developed nation.

Furthermore, there are also issues in the pledging process, with murky agreements in the form of “We’ll give you $XXX, on the condition that Congress approves it annually” (as an example provided in the discussion). To gain access to the money in the Green Climate Fund, for example, projects must meet an extensive list of criteria, which limits access to the communities who are in need. A lot of money in the Green Climate Fund is being lost due to political incongruity, through the many different kinds of pledging— through grant money, loans, promising loans— that ultimately aim to discourage the giving of funds to developing nations. Ultimately, then, the money isn’t there (although it is appears to be)— instead of getting developed nations to provide more help, the burden is being shifted to developing nations.

Another key event I attended was “Water & Climate: How to increase the engagement of the private sector.” There were 3 panelists— from France, Sweden, and Japan. The event started out rather slow, with the panelists providing examples of what their own country’s private sector is doing, instead of ways to increase this participation. The French panelist raised a few interesting examples of French SMEs that have exported their technology abroad— the Suisse-Aguas-Convinez Group, for instance, has 3 wastewater treatment plants in Chile as of 2017. As we eventually entered the discussion on the incentives to expand the practices of the private sector,  a few strategies were raised. As there is big market for water technologies, with lots of competition between different companies, one strategy would be to increase the connection between these different companies, and get them to exchange their knowledge and solutions with each other. While insightful, I felt that the strategies and discussions ended up being too broad, and that it was really up to the audience to think of ways to make the information useful in their own context.

In sum, my key “content” based takeaways on the conference are an intersection of climate finance, water technologies, and adaptation— adaptation projects are becoming increasingly important, but require financing, which is often difficult to access due to the challenges described above. However, despite this hurdle, we shouldn’t stay discouraged as relying on technology to help communities need not be a costly affair—local, context-specific can be affordable and just as effective.

Post-COP24: General takeaways on the conference itself

At the plenary on the opening day of the conference, the Polish minister discussed why the conference was held in Katowice— a location which many felt to be inappropriate given its high coal consumption. He stated that currently, Katowice is the ‘greenest in Poland… [which] is symbolic..’ Currently, Poland has been following a sustainable development pathway, and has lowered its greenhouse gases by 80% since 1988. They have done this through the efficient use of coal technologies — therefore, he claims, “coal is not a contradiction to climate change…” In that moment, it was easy to get swept up by his passion, for he did sound convincing: and that’s exactly how they twist the framing of an issue. It was discouraging for such statements to be announced proudly at a global conference trying to operationalise the Paris agreements.

After his speech, he concluded with a declaration of Poland’s will to fight climate change, especially in light of abundant climate technologies making it increasingly easier to do so. Following after, the Secretary General of U.N entered yet another passionate speech, discussing the slow and insufficient action of many countries. Of his 4 main points, his final point was in direct contradiction to the previous speech— he says that the technology already exists and is affordable now, but what is lacking is political will and far sighted vision. What’s crucial is the political will for compromise — not just the political will to fight climate change. This was particularly interesting to me. The problem is not whether countries recognise the importance of the need to fight climate change, because they clearly do — evident by the hundreds of delegates from all around the world present at the conference. The main challenge is to get leaders comfortable with the idea of sacrifice and compromise, many of which are reluctant to do currently.
The plenary meeting was a great way to start the conference initially, but then with speaker after speaker, I got desensitised and began to realise that nothing particularly new was being said. I came into COP24 with lots of excitement — I knew, of course, not to set my expectations too high, but I was excited nonetheless to attend all the side events and to hear from industry experts from all around the world. Without wanting to sound too critical, I’ll give the conference this: it was quite incredible to see thousands of people from all around the world and of different backgrounds — students, ministers, professors, businessmen — all in one place together fighting for the same cause.

My time at the conference mainly involved attending side events, dropping in on informal negotiation meetings, and talking to other students interested in my topic. The quality of the side events, however, weren’t really consistent— a number of events I had attended had panelists that did not come very prepared, or did not seem very interested in speaking. I remember one particular meeting, two out of 4 panelists had openly joked about how they had come in with a presentation prepared at the last minute. While I understand that they are incredibly busy during the conference, it wasn’t exactly what I had expected at a conference like COP. Apart from the side events, the informal negotiations were also incredibly slow — but perhaps that was because it was still in the first week of the conference where there was less urgency. Another factor that I hadn’t expected would influence the experience so much was the issue of language and communication. Naturally, given that many of the speakers aren’t native English speakers, poor communication could often be distracting and detract from the point they were trying to make. I think the side events often landed on two extremes of a spectrum, of either being too specific to the speaker’s country and its unique circumstances, or being too broad to actually be useful. The onus then, was on the attendees to ask questions afterwards, which I felt to be the most useful part of the event to get to personally engage with the speakers.

Ultimately, I saw the COP24 conference as a massive networking event. I most enjoyed speaking to students from other universities with similar interests, and hearing of their experience both at the COP and of what they do in their home country/institution. Even within the same broad topic of water and adaptation, there was a huge diversity of perspectives and backgrounds that I got to hear from simply from speaking to others. It was also really refreshing to speak to people with a more grounded perspective, especially after listening to professionals and industry experts speak the whole day.