Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Workshops and Workstreams

Even after five years, there is much to be confused about at the COP meetings between all the acronyms, jargon, and complicated governance frameworks. There are contact groups, informal consultations, open-ended consultations, meetings, workstreams, work programmes (yes, the British spelling is correct), workshops, daily programmes (that change several times a day), briefings, official documents, informal papers, and even non-papers. (I am not kidding about that one!) Plus, some of these sessions are open to observers (civil society) one day, but not the next. Week one is an intense work week as different groups collect data and ideas to draft language and plans for moving forward. When the high-level segment commences on Tuesday of week #2, high ranking ministers and heads of states use these materials, but have also been known to scrap all the work and start from scratch at the negotiating table. Science seems so much easier (and more logical) than this multilateral policy stuff!

This year, there seems to be an unusual number of workshops. I have been to three already, and it is only day #3. I went to one last year, which was the first I ever recall seeing on the agenda, err, I mean daily programme. In subsequent posts, I will elaborate on the content of the three workshops I attended on
  • “Issues related to agriculture” (as mandated in paragraph 83 of FCCC/SBSTA/2013/3);
  • "Gender and climate change”; and
  • “Lessons learned from relevant experience of other multilateral environmental agreements.”
When I was a graduate student in the 1980s, our lab worked on the impact of increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide on photosynthesis in algae and plants. This information had implications for crop yields (agricultural productivity), and we knew that different types of plants (C3 vs C4; I won’t bother you with the biochemical details) respond differently to increasing carbon dioxide availability. During those graduate school years (1981 – 1986), carbon dioxide levels went from 338 to 346 ppm. This year the levels hover around 400 ppm. As the implications of rising greenhouse gases became more apparent, scientists realized that there would be many impacts on agriculture.

Yet despite the wealth of scientific publications around this issue, it wasn’t until COP17 in Durban, South Africa (2011) that text was adopted that enabled (mandated) a dialogue about agricultural impacts and adaptation. This was assigned to a working group within the SBSTA framework, and plans were made to hold this workshop – now two years later.

What is SBSTA (besides one of the many IPCCC acronyms)? Following the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol, two bodies were set up to deal with the technical discussions. The Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (or SBSTA) is one of these. And alas, agriculture is one of the issues that now falls under this group’s auspices.

At COP18 in Doha, issues of women and gender were front and center (oddly enough in a country where women’s rights are a bit different than what we are accustomed to in the United States). Concerns centered on the fact that, globally, women are disproportionately impacted by climate change for many reasons, yet the policy work related to the environmental problem is negotiated mainly by men. Two important decisions were adopted which “promote gender balance and improving the participation of women in Convention negotiations and in the representation of the Parties in bodies established under the Convention or the Kyoto Protocol.” The work to implement these decisions fell to the SBI, the Subsidiary Body for Implementation – the group that advises the COP (Conference of the Parties) on “improving the effective application of the Convention and the Kyoto Protocol”.

The third workshop was organized by yet another group – the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action or ADP. This new working group was established in 2011 in Durban (sometimes things make sense) and is charged with adopting an agreement by 2015 to be implemented in 2020, effectively replacing the Kyoto Protocol. Given the difficulties in achieving consensus on pretty much anything – details of mitigation (reducing the causes of climate change), adaptation (learning to live under a new climate regime and increasing resiliency), and financing things like technology transfer, a Green Climate Fund, or loss and damage resulting from historic, current, and future emissions – this new group is looking elsewhere for ideas. In this workshop, representatives from other successful multilateral agreements related to the environment shared their models of decision making and implementation. These included CITES (an agreement related to endangered species and international trade), an agreement under the Stockholm Convention related to Persistent Organic Pollutants (the “dirty dozen” and other toxic compounds), and the Montreal Protocol that addresses the phase out of ozone-depleting chemicals that degrade the stratospheric ozone layer.

If you are still following along, you should know that these items represent only a small percentage of the work that goes on at a COP meeting!

A panel discussion during the "Gender and Climate Change" workshop

Note:  I am grateful to the Organization Internationale de la Francophonie for their extremely value resources including the "Guide to the Negotiations for COP 19 and CMP 9 (#13), and "Background Analysis".  These resources are handy references and contain detailed analysis on the history and status of negotiations.

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