Negotiators walking between the location of the two plenaries.

Will the global climate talks address the challenges for agriculture?

Originally posted on December 8, 2014, in the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy’s Think Forward blog.

The 20th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP), a body under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), started on Monday, at the General Army Headquarters in Lima, Peru. With almost 30 tents set up across the premises, and thousands of representatives from governments and observer organizations running between plenaries, contact groups, and side events, the climate change negotiations are in full throttle. Read more…

Durban opened a new window: where do the emerging economies stand?

by Angeline Annesteus

The climate talks in Doha are expected to be an important step in the history of the United Nations climate negotiations. The Ad Hoc Working Group under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP) and the Ad Hoc Working for Long-Term Cooperative Action (AWG-LCA) are mandated to culminate their work, and the second formal session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) is taking place. The opening sessions of those working groups give a little glimpse of what to expect in Doha as well as an understanding of this new phase in climate negotiations and the political landscape behind it.

Durban officially blurred the distinction between developed and developing countries with the creation of the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP). The ADP—the objective of which is to develop a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force applicable to all parties— is the end result of extensive negotiations and wrangling since 2005 when the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (KP) began being negotiated ( See Nathan’s "How Did We Get to Doha?").

Read more…

[earth] in Durban

June 16, 2:00 pm -

As we head into a new phase of negotiations, with Brazil introducing a new text in one hour, and the degree of continued major group involvement at Rio Centro unclear, here's a look back at the power youth can have – regardless of restricted areas and closed meetings.


[Earth] Durban from Devin Altobello Documentarian on Vimeo.

Engaged youth today are galvanized by questions of climate change. Each December, for the last 17 years, official delegates have convened at United Nations climate change meetings; so have thousands of youth. What happens? "[Earth] Durban," a 25-minute documentary, chronicles the life and energy of the youth presence at the most recent United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, (UNFCCC) in Durban, South Africa.

"[Earth] Durban" provides insights into the inner workings of the conference. It also offers a glimpse into the formation of new activists and negotiators, all members of the College of the Atlantic, (COA) delegation.

“Altobello went to Durban as an imbedded journalist with seven other College of the Atlantic students working for equity in climate change issues. He shot and edited a video that both illuminates the Conference of the Parties and demonstrates the engagement and wisdom of our student youth delegates,” says project advisor Nancy Andrews, COA faculty.

The Clash of Paradigms and Durban [Disaster]

by Samuli Sinisalo

In the UNFCCC, and especially in Durban, there are two major forces in play. The obvious surface is of course that of saving the planet and the climate system from disastrous anthropogenic interference. That is why these meetings are organized in the first place, and it is even inscribed in article two of the convention.

The other force in play is how is this to be done? Who should cut emissions and how much, how are countries to adapt to the climate change? This is where it gets more complicated, confusing and where the blame-game starts.

The developed countries have enjoyed unlimited access to the atmospheric space for well over a century now. Environmental concerns were hardly an issue as the global north climbed the ladder of development and brought their economies to the current standards. For the time being the amount of economic activity is closely linked to the GHG-emissions, especially if countries are to pursue the most cost-effective development strategies.

For many developing countries, the negotiations are not just questions of tackling the climate change, but also about ensuring the right to develope their economies. This has been recognized in the convention by the concept of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities (CBDR and RC). Up to now, the Annex 1 countries have had the responsibility to cut their emissions and provide financial assistance to the developing countries to deviate from their business-as-usual developmental baseline, and to adapt to climate change.

Durban was a failure because it failed to provide the next legally binding emissions reduction targets. The world has to be satisfied with the EU and a few other countries turning their domestic climate legislation into internationally recognizable form – with very low ambition. Obviously not enough.

The other promise from Durban is to negotiate a new global legal instrument, which has legal force on all countries. This is very concerning for many developing countries, and the most vocal about it in Durban was India. They reminded the world that India a major emitter due only to its size, the emissions historically, as well as per capita, are very low. They do want to preserve their right to lift people out of poverty and develope. The ladder cannot be kicked away, even as the threat of climate change becomes more dire by the day.

As time drags on, and climate change becomes more pressing, the most vulnerable countries have to accept any deal, or there will be no future for the planet. Hopefully they don’t have to sell out their own future by committing to reducing their climate footprint.

Personally I am still hopeful that the Durban Mandate might lead to something, but there is a great chance it is too little and too late. As well as it might be the wrong thing all together. It is a shame they countries failed to deliver a new outcome based on the Bali Action Plan. In the BAP, the CBDR and equity were safeguarded. But this was not enough, especially for the United States.

I put the disaster in brackets for the time being, as I hope a reason to delete it from the text would arise when negotiations get on the way again, but it might be too much to ask.

A robbery and a reflection

by nathan thanki

*This is a little something from the start of week 2 in Durban that got sucked into the confusion and only resurfaced now, with some minor edits for clarity. 

The Earth in Bracket’s team had a rough old time of it this morning. And no, it wasn’t from staying up all night letting off some steam at the NGO beach party (that was the night before). It was something much more undeserved.

We were robbed.

Waking up as usual this morning, bright eyed and bushy tailed at 6.45am, some members of the team began to ask where all their stuff had gone to. The 11 bed dorm has been messy at the best of times, and things get moved around, so it took us a few minutes to realize what had happened. Then alarm bells started ringing. “Where’s my laptop?” “I don’t know, where is mine?” Possibly even worse, as it is less understandable, “where are my shoes?”

As we slept, exhausted from the madness of the first week at COP17, two men (it was later revealed by CCTV) had broken in to our room, rummaged around for 20 minutes, and then made off with their (our) loot. Phones, laptops, cameras, clothes, all halfway to Johannesburg by now. The reasons why some were targeted and others not is unclear, which adds to our frustration. Sheer luck, I guess. Needless to say we were upset, and furious that this could happen. So far the hostel staff and management have proven to be fairly useless, even if comforting. A police task force was called, who knows what they’ll manage to do though. Our expectations are low, and the robbed seem to be taking it all very gracefully and are accepting what’s happened.

What’s ironic about the whole incident is that it is the closest brush with the reality of South Africa that we have had. Durban was bleached clean and the homeless swept away in anticipation of this COP. Roads re-routed, ANC extras bused in to staff the ICC. Everything sanitary, everything good. The robbery was an unfortunate reminder of the truth; that this is what life in South Africa is like. You’re either scared of being robbed in your barbed-wire and electric fence compound, or you’re on the outside trying to get in. South Africa is a confusing mix of developed and developing, and the harsh economic realities and scars of an oppressive past came to visit us last night. We suffered the trauma of being robbed as we slept–that feeling of vulnerability–and it was awful. But at the same time, can we imagine what a whole lifetime of being that vulnerable would be like? In South Africa 12% of the population lives on less than $2 a day. That’s a kind of vulnerability that dwarfs our own, no matter how keenly we felt it this morning.

Understanding any place you visit is important, even if difficult. We have therefore a double incentive to put extra effort into learning the local context. As we follow the circus of environmental diplomacy around the world, whether it is to Rio, or Qatar, or Bangkok, or even Washington, we should be mindful to do this learning as much as we are mindful to learn the jargon acronyms and UN structures. One thing that could help us is if we made our logistical preparations earlier, and had them out of the way. We would then not end up in the only hostel that has rooms free because it has been robbed repeatedly. We would spend less time on rushing through payments, designing business cards, figuring out where the bus stops or where to buy groceries. Rather we could devote more time to understand, for example, the drivers of crime in South Africa. We could investigate the impact that hosting the UN circus has on a developing country city. And we could focus more easily on explaining why Durban was such a disaster from a policy view as well as a personal security one.

All things to think about when we’re back on terra firma at COA…