Sunday, May 14, 2017

Development of a Gender Action Plan
The Lima Work Programme on Gender established the need for a Gender Action Plan that would promote development of gender-sensitive climate policy and advance gender balance throughout the UNFCCC.  A two-session workshop was held in Bonn to consider and develop possible elements of the Gender Action Plan. 

The workshop was launched by the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, Patricia Espinosa, Ambassador Khan of Fiji, and the Chair of the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI), Tomasz Chruszczow.  Earlier this week Ms. Espinosa became an International Gender Champion and founded the Bonn-Berlin Chapter of the International Gender Champion Network, the aim of which is to advance executive-level gender equality in institutions; Ms. Espinosa will be inviting senior leaders from the public and private sectors to join her in this initiative. Ambassador Khan discussed the Fijian custom of talanoa, which involves telling stories without concealment, and listening and learning as much as speaking; the process helps to build relationships and enables us to learn from each other. Talanoa can be used to ensure the climate policies developed are sound and just for all by listening to and incorporating diverse knowledge and perspectives. Tomasz Chruszczow echoed this sentiment by calling for universal participation and empowerment, and for the needs and voices of women to be incorporated into every aspect of policy.

Co-facilitator of the workshop, Winfred Lichuma, discussed the plan for the day and for the next workshop. At this session, the overall approach was discussed and the breakout groups for the next session decided. The breakout groups will contribute to a report prepared by the Secretariat that will be published on the UNFCCC website before the closing of the SBI.  More information on and from the workshop can be found here:

Advance comments on the Gender Action Plan were submitted by nine Parties and eleven Observers.  Comments included the need for:

·       capacity building at the international and national levels to effectively incorporate gender;

·       reporting mechanisms, tools and knowledge sharing for enhancing participation of women;

·       training for delegates;

·       establishment of national gender focal points;

·       enhanced gender budgeting that is integrated and not part of a separate work stream;

·       tools for gender-responsive implementation in NDCs;

·       means to ensure effective participation of local, grassroots and indigenous women; and

·       action plans that are concrete, verifiable, and achievable.

Fleur Newman, the gender focal point for UNFCCC, then discussed the need to integrate gender mandates with existing decisions through UNFCCC.  Because the focus of gender mandates, such as increasing participation of women, is often recurring, it should be determined how associated actions might support multiple decisions and mandates. 

Grassroots comments were then provided.  Sasha Middleton, of the Marine Ecosystems Protected Areas Trust of Antigua and Barbuda, said that involving women in environmental policies is the key to successful implementation, and that grassroots women are often the people most affected, so their opinions and priorities should be consulted. Noreen McAteer of the Native Women’s Association of Canada said that participation needs to be funded or it remains an empty promise.  She also discussed the gap between traditional knowledge and knowledge of decision makers, and the gap between men and women’s knowledge and how important it is to build bridges between these gaps at the earliest stages of climate action. 

Pieter Terpstra of the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, discussed an informal consultation on Climate and Gender that was held in The Hague in March 2017, and co-organized with Costa Rica and UN Women.  It was discussed that the Gender Action Plan development process could be informed by other established processes, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity, the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, and the Green Climate Fund. They suggested a possible format for the Gender Action Plan that would include priority areas, activities, targets and indicators, a timeline, key actors and resources needed.  Priority areas proposed were capacity building and knowledge sharing, gender balance and participation, coherence within UNFCCC and synergy with other UN agencies, gender-responsive implementation, and monitoring and reporting.  These priority areas were agreed upon by the workshop participants and formed the basis for the breakout groups for the second part of the workshop. The summary report generated at the workshop will be posted on the UNFCCC site, presumably with an opportunity for comment before or at the Conference of Parties (COP) in November.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Cities contributing to Nationally Determined Contributions
Cities are establishing their own emission reduction targets and sustainable development initiatives, and these efforts can contribute substantially to Nationally Determined Contributions towards achieving Paris Agreement objectives. Innovative technologies and initiatives by cities will become even more important as urbanization increases, and sharing these innovations is an efficient method for increasing their implementation. 

Singapore seeks to build a smart, sustainable city, and with its limited land space and high urban density, is doing so while incorporating land and resource use efficiencies. Initiatives include mandatory energy labeling and minimum energy performances for appliances in households, and Smart Homes that feature solar panels on rooftops, smart fans that turn on during periods of high humidity or temperatures, and home energy management systems that alert users to changes in energy use. Public-private partnerships support Living Labs that enable researchers to test innovations in real world conditions and using existing infrastructure, and the use of floating solar panels on reservoirs is being explored to increase the use of renewable energy despite limited land area. Singapore also has an Urban Mobility initiative that includes a demand-based public transit system, and an electric vehicle car-sharing program.  

Bonn, Germany has set an ambitious climate target: a 40% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2020 compared to 1990 levels. Achieving this target will require close cooperation between multiple levels of government (i.e., EU, federal, state) and active participation by stakeholders. Initiatives include renewable energy use in municipal buildings and facilities, renewable energy-enabled grids, a solar roof registry, and an energy agency that provides homeowners advice on retrofits and renewable energy options.  The City also sponsors a Bonn Energy Day to increase public awareness, and a climate ambassadors program for third graders to earn “climate licenses” that come with celebrations and media attention. 

Cities engaged in climate partnerships with their twin cities can also be an effective means of increasing climate change mitigation efforts and sharing best climate practices.  Bonn participates in climate initiatives with its twin cities of La Paz, Bukhara, and Cape Coast.  Another example is Zoersel, Belgium, working closely with its twin city, Bohicon, Benin, on cooperative projects on organic waste treatment, agricultural waste management, and the incorporation of Sustainable Development Goals in local government strategic plans. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Rights of the Child

“Those who suffer the most, contribute the least” is an oft-used phrase in climate negotiations.  This can pertain to residents of small island developing states, indigenous peoples, and children. It conveys the urgent need for those most responsible for the climate crisis to act expeditiously and earnestly to reduce the causes and effects of climate change, in part out of moral obligation to reduce the impacts on the most vulnerable of populations that are least to blame.

On the opening day of the UNFCCC meeting, there was a featured event held by the Presidency of the Conference of Parties (COP) 22 on the Rights of the Child. The event highlighted climate change issues affecting children and emphasized how human rights must be incorporated into climate change policy. Children are among the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, including physical and mental distress, loss of opportunities for education, effects of displacement, loss of traditional knowledge, and increased likelihood of exploitation. The event featured testimony from people directly affected and those working on behalf of children. A video was shown featuring a young woman affected by Typhoon Haiyan that hit the Philippines in November of 2013; she conveyed a heart-wrenching story of the loss of her parents and other family members in the flood waters, and the lack of food, water, sanitation and medication afterwards. This was shown as an example of the effects of increased storm intensity already being felt and projected to increase in the future. 

There was a recommendation for all Parties to integrate children’s rights into mitigation and adaptation policy decisions through the UNFCCC and through the implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  Suggestions were made to ensure that school and health care facilities are built to withstand storms and sea level rise. There was also a plea to empower children to participate in climate change policymaking through education.

This was an important discussion highlighting our responsibility to younger and future generations. That it was a Presidency Event held in the large Plenary Room highlighted its significance. 

Monday, May 8, 2017

Opening Plenaries at the Bonn Climate Change Conference May 2017

This morning was the Opening Plenary session for the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) at the UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn. Most of the Opening Plenary consisted of establishing the working groups and procedures for the rest of the conference; these working groups will focus on various agenda items and have their recommendations ready before the Closing Plenary. Parties to the Conference were able to provide comments on certain agenda items, and there were two main areas of emphasis: the need for transparency in climate finance and accounting (to avoid double counting), and the need to consider indigenous peoples when implementing clean development and adaptation measures. There was also discussion about the need to account for emissions from fuel used for international aviation and maritime transport, and a call for international standards on data collection and a collective strategy for reducing greenhouse gases in this sector. The goal is for a plan by the end of 2018, implemented through the International Maritime Organization. After this discussion, NGOs provided comments, which included concern (and disdain) for agriculture, forestry and other land use offsets, the lack of attention given to food security, and the need to address issues that affect youth, calling for a joint platform by SBSTA and the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) to elevate issues that affect youth and indigenous peoples. 

Following the SBSTA was the Opening Plenary for the SBI.  Comments from the Chair, Mr. Tomasz Chruszczow, included that progress made in Paris was irreversible and irrevocable, that we need to demonstrate trust for State and non-State actors, and that we all needed to work together against our biggest competitor: time.

During this opening session, Ambassador Khan of Fiji was introduced.  Fiji will head the next Conference of the Parties (COP) in November in Bonn. Ambassador Khan expressed concern for those in the Pacific facing Cyclone Donna, the worst cyclone on record in May; she cited this cyclone as an example of why Fiji felt compelled to host the next COP.  Fiji has been working with the German government and the UNFCCC to prepare for the COP and welcomes any and all opportunities to engage with interested parties.  The Prime Minister of Fiji will be visiting the conference next week to echo these sentiments. 

The agenda for the next two weeks promises to be full and lively.  I look forward to the progress towards implementing the Paris Agreement.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

On Leaving COP22

Civil Society Event for Outgoing U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon
(Photo by Gillian Bowser)
As I was leaving the Moroccan venue on the last day of the United Nations climate conference (COP22), participants were gathering for a photo with a banner avowing “We will move ahead!” The message was similar to one on a banner used at a civil society ceremony for outgoing U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon: “Climate action is unstoppable.” Given the mood at the conference after the outcome of the U.S. elections, I couldn’t help but wonder if these declarations were aimed at our country and president-elect Trump.

With the media fully focused on the campaign and post-election analysis, there was little coverage of COP22 back in this country. But in Marrakech, there was a palpable sense of urgency to hammer out the implementation details of the Paris Agreement which entered into force on November 4th. Although 112 of 197 countries, including the U.S., have already ratified the agreement, the current pledged national reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are inadequate to achieve the goal of holding global temperature increase to no more than 2°C. For the first four months of 2016, the average global surface temperature was hovering around 1.2°C warmer than the 1951 to 1980 mean, and 2016 is on track to be the warmest year on record. The previous warmest year, 2015, was 0.8°C warmer than the long temp average.

While in Marrakech, I attended an event entitled “Earth Info.” Some of the latest climate science was presented about the extent of extreme weather events, sea ice loss, and ocean indicators of change. I wasn’t surprised by the data or the faster-than-expected pace of change. I was, however, shocked by the comments of a presenter from who argued that in order to meet the temperature goals of the Paris Agreement, the world will have to reach peak emissions within four years, be at net-zero emissions within forty years, and develop a new carbon sink on the scale of the planet’s oceans within eighty years. In other words, our global decarbonization challenge will require not only tremendous advances in clean energy technology but also geo-engineered solutions. For those who believe that technology has created a number of environmental and social disasters throughout history, this was terrifying news. For those who believe that technological solutions are what will get us out of the climate change mess and spur a new low-carbon, clean energy economy, the uncertain future role of the U.S. in leading the new research and tech development is unsettling.

It didn’t take long after the election for China’s Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin to remind the world of the important role that the U.S. had played in the history of climate change negotiations under Republican leadership in the late 1980s (as opposed to global warming being “created by and for the Chinese”). China, however, sees this new political environment as an opportunity to take the lead in global climate change action. Over the past five years, they have become the top investor in renewable energy, outspending the EU by a factor of 2.5 in 2015.

John Kerry, in his last speech to a COP audience as Secretary of State, noted that emerging economies like China, India and Brazil invested more in renewable technologies last year than the developed world. He went on to say that “clean energy is expected to be a multitrillion dollar market – the largest market the world has ever known,” and added “…no nation will do well if it sits on the sidelines, handicapping its new businesses from reaping the benefits of the clean-tech explosion.”[1]

Despite its shortcomings, the Paris Agreement sent a strong message to the private sector. Consistent with this, a letter signed by several hundred members of the U.S. business and investment community was addressed to President-elect Trump, urging him to keep our nation engaged in the Paris process and support the goals of the Agreement.[2]

The results of the U.S. elections cast a long shadow over the international negotiations. I reflected on how different things felt from the last time there was a change in the U.S. leadership – my first COP – in 2009. At that time, Obama was new in office and there was optimism that we would provide the much needed leadership on tackling climate change. Since then, the rest of the world has become much more unified on a way forward on this global challenge, and developing countries are now assuming the leadership in finding solutions to both a low carbon future and adapting to the impacts of climate change. It remains to be seen whether our country will stand alone on the outside of this unified movement, or if the momentum is strong enough among local governments, businesses, colleges and universities, and civil society to convince our new leaders to stay the course.

[1] The text of John Kerry’s speech at COP22 can be found at
[2] The “Business Backs Low-Carbon USA” letter to President-elect Trump:

Monday, November 21, 2016

Moravian College on NPR!

 Interview with Susan Phillips (photo by Hilde Binford)

The only NPR correspondent in Morocco was from State Impact PA. I contacted her to thank her for her coverage of COP22, and she ended up interviewing a group of us from eastern PA. The piece aired today on WHYY. We invite you to listen:

The COP for the Parties has become the COP for the Stakeholders

Ségolène Royal, the COP 21 president in Paris and Minister of the Environment and Energy in France, spoke at the French pavilion outlining the many achievements initiated in the past year, including a new African Renewable Energy Initiative. Other initiatives include an International Solar Alliance, Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition, Coalition for Clean Transport, Global Geothermal Allianc, and Central African Forest Initiative.  She also was grateful that the Paris Agreement was ratified ahead of schedule and is now “irreversible.”  No one country will be able to stop the momentum. She also declared that we are past the days when the COP was for the parties, but now it is for the stakeholders:  individuals, cities, states, NGOs, etc. 

This sentiment was echoed by the two “Global Climate Action Champions” appointed by the UNFCCC: Ambassador Laurence Tubiana and Minister Hakima El Haite.  They have been charged to:
"1. Build on existing initiatives, and supporting new and more geographically diverse initiatives;
2. Connect initiatives and coalitions with national action plans such as nationally determined contributions (NDCs);
3. Bring more transparency, tracking results and demonstrating credibility." 
In their report of the past year’s activities, it was clear that they, like Minister Royal, have been working with stakeholders all over the world.  And they emphasize that this is about real results, and not simply more meetings.

For us in the United States, the White House has published a road-map forward, the Mid-Century Strategy Report, which they hope will also provide a model for other countries. However, with the new president, it will now likely be the stakeholders -- NGOs, cities and states -- that will need to take ownership and leadership in terms of moving forward under the Paris Agreement and the UNFCCC.  Leading the way, the governors of Oregon, Washington, California and the Premier of British Columbia, have reaffirmed their commitment to climate action.

Friday, November 18, 2016

In Solidarity with Standing Rock

As always, there are many indigenous peoples from around the world represented here at the COP.  The Indigenous Environmental Network calls on world leaders and global movement allies to “Stand with Standing Rock” and made this one of the top priorities for COP  22.  
The Indigenous Environmental Network noted that energy and climate issues are “intertwined with a global threat to human rights and the rights of Indigenous Peoples.”  In the preamble of the Paris Agreement, there is language to protect these fundamental rights.   In a panel on human rights, the panelists noted several examples where governments built dams and other projects without consulting the native peoples.  Another concern is the “land grabs” as some countries turn to ethanol as a source of fuel. In addition to the loss of land, there are concerns about food scarcity as a result.