Climate Conference of Madrid, Spain
The inability of any one person to see all of the sights at the COP was never made clearer than on my last full day in Katowice. This was the concluding day of the first week of the conference, and the subsidiary bodies of the UNFCCC were rushing to complete their work before sending it off to be handled by the Parties’ ministers in the second week. As such the bodies were required to hold their last sets of informal consultations and contact group meetings in the morning and their closing plenaries in the afternoon and on into the night, able to adjourn only when the work was concluded. I left around 7:00 P.M. and wasn’t even there for the conclusion of the first of these plenaries!
The tensions of the day before were amplified that morning, where I witnessed the frustration of the Parties with the co-facilitators at one of the final consultations of the SBSTA Adaptation Committee. Here, as in the APA meetings I had been attending in the days before, Parties decried the failure of the new iteration of the draft negotiating text to take into account their various views. Things started out fiery, with Uruguay (G77) immediately requesting that the group go into informal informals, given that there were provisions present in the text that were “impossible” for the negotiating group to accept. Australia and Norway agreed that this might be the only way forward, given the lack of consensus. Following this, Argentina asked for five minutes to huddle the countries of the G77 and discuss what would be required of a document hybridizing the previous iterations. And huddle they did far from my earshot, but I didn’t have to wait long before they returned to their seats and Argentina described the group’s demands, which largely consisted of specific reversions to the first iteration of the draft document. The United States quickly piped in to oppose what it saw as a rollback in progress and the addition of options it was uncomfortable with.
This was the first of a set of stronger opposing stances that would emerge from the U.S. delegation today, which I speculate was the result of the arrival of higher-ranking State Department officials (in other words, those under closer scrutiny of the administration) to join with the career environmental policy experts who had been covering the previous days of correspondingly lower-level talks. Most of what I had seen from the U.S. negotiators prior to these shows of defiance had been a real willingness to work on the policy questions presented here, especially when such work was primarily of a technical nature. Sure, there were no outward demonstrations of great political will from the Americans, but there was also little effort to stand in the way of the first week’s negotiations, which, as my blogs may indicate, seem to be a little less dramatic than those that take place after the ministers arrive.
The decision made by the co-facilitators, met with tacit approval by the Parties, was to revert to the first iteration of the draft negotiating text, with the exception of Section E (methodologies for reviewing adequacy of adaptation and support), around which the consensus was that the second iteration’s text here was fine. This allowed the text to reflect the concerns of the G77, while keeping options reflecting the diversity of views on some other controversial sections.
In the afternoon, I attended the APA contact group on agenda items 3–8, which gave a summary of the progress of each of the working groups associated with the APA agenda. In general, the co-facilitators for each set of consultations, now having all been concluded, had made progress in finding solutions. Many even reached a third iteration of the draft texts being discussed. Of course, this all sounded bright and cheery before the floor was opened to the Parties to voice their plentiful concerns on an item-by-item basis. Given that the COP operates on the basis of consensus, the ability of Parties to work together to find mutually acceptable solutions is vital. Therefore, one of the goals of negotiations here is to eliminate so-called “red lines” or stances that are so strongly held as to make defying them grounds for refusal to continue discussion. As the invocation of red lines raises the possibility of Parties having conflicting red lines, killing any chance of reaching consensus, negotiators are naturally keen to avoid making anything “non-negotiable”. However, as the time for discussions came to a close on this Friday, Parties seeing their preferred language dropped from iterations of the draft conclusions resorted to stronger and stronger language. By the time of this stocktake, provisions that were previously “concerning” became “unacceptable”, stoking fears that the night of plenaries ahead would be a long one.
Gabon (African Group) began the string of interventions with assertions that the agenda item 3 (mitigation, NDCs) document was “very weak” and that those resulting from agenda items 6 (global stocktake) and 7 (implementation and compliance committee) had language that made for a poor starting point for the coming ministerial talks. Things only got more heated when Saudi Arabia (Arab States) took the floor. They went straight to saying the R word and declared a red line on linking inconsistencies to compliance in the agenda item 5 (transparency framework). They also opposed the role of non-party stakeholders in participating in the global stocktake (surprise, surprise). Per usual, the remainder of the interventions here were mellow compared to that of Saudi Arabia, with Maldives (AOSIS) and Australia (Umbrella Group) keeping their suggestions labeled as “concerns” for the most part. Ethiopia (LDCs), Colombia (AILAC), and Switzerland (EIG) kept their two cents much briefer and also restrained their opinions to “should” rather than “shall” in the interest of keeping the window for unanimous agreement open. The co-chairs concluded the session with a reminder of the options which remained for the draft conclusions: identify clearly that more work is needed in sending the current texts to the COP president, revert totally to the first iterations, or forward nothing in writing. The wind whispered into the translation headset, “please not the last one”.
The SBSTA 3rd plenary meeting was the last event I attended before heading back to the hotel to prepare for my return home and it was not a finale to scoff at. I couldn’t have hoped for a more dramatic series of exchanges between bona fide diplomats as my send-off from the COP. It began with a bit of comedy, as the SBSTA chair, Paul Watkinson, took his post and began to speak in his native French, prompting a great exodus of Parties and observers alike out of the plenary room as they realized they would need their translation headsets from the table outside. Refusing to be delayed, he continued on, only giving a pointed remark translated into my ears as “Yes, go get your headphones, because I will be speaking in French”. He was allowed to continue just to the point of announcing the agenda item they would be addressing, when his foil, the delegate from Saudi Arabia, rose (so to speak; he pressed his mic button) to intervene. Slow down, he pleaded, lest the chair gavel in the wrong document. The chair, patient as ever, explained which document was being dealt with in the agenda item being discussed, being sure to repeat the document symbol three times, slowly. You know, for good measure. Then, after the chair was allowed to get a couple more words out, Kuwait chimed in with a (not so fast, Brendon Urie) set of comments about the document the chair had just explained that they weren’t dealing with at the moment, and the chair once again took a deep breath and detailed exactly how he was proposing to proceed.
Finally, the body was able to adopt conclusions on the Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture, the SBSTA/SBI improved work programme, and the joint annual report of the Technology Executive Committee and the Climate Technology Centre and Network. Things were going swell until we were all reminded of how the international aviation and maritime emissions consultations had been so far derailed as to push further discussion until SBSTA 50 in June 2019. Seeking to keep things moving, he lamented the lack of agreement, but moved on to consideration of the draft conclusions regarding research and systematic observation, and this is where things got really interesting.
Before half of that familiar “hearing no objections, it is so decided” could be uttered, Maldives (AOSIS) asked for the floor, suggesting that there had been no consensus on the response to the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C. This is where Parties had previously run into disagreement over whether to “welcome” the IPCC report or merely to “note” it. The text had ended up retaining the weaker language, and now Maldives scolded the lack of urgency and the refusal to accept the best available science signaled in this phrasing. The chair asked if this meant that AOSIS was proposing an amendment, which was confirmed explicitly by the delegate from Maldives. The chair then received a few dozen requests for the floor and allowed Parties to take it one by one. And one by one, twenty or so countries representing negotiating groups of more than 80 expressed firm and explicit support for the amendment to “welcome” outright the IPCC report. It was a remarkable parade of recognition for the need to act quickly and boldly to fight climate change. Of course, they hadn’t been able to reach consensus in the meeting rooms and it wouldn’t come easier at the plenary. Four countries rose in opposition to this amendment: Saudi Arabia, Russia, Kuwait, and the United States. Saudi Arabia’s intervention began with verbal guns blazing. “How exciting”, the delegate remarked about this “showdown of countries”. His sarcastic rebuke of the process continued with lamentations of how such discord over a single word meant bad news for negotiations about real substance. After noting that Saudi Arabia too could bring its own barrage of states to oppose this amendment, the delegate attempted to end the discussion on a point of order. The chair asked for objections, and AOSIS didn’t technically object, it was argued. There are no objections, so we shouldn’t be hearing views on any amendments. This parliamentary confusion was quickly dispelled when St. Kitts & Nevis took the floor to say in no unclear terms, “we object to paragraph 11” and that what was occurring before them was the UNFCCC being in opposition to welcoming a report that it invited the IPCC to prepare. The delegate from St. Kitts concluded with “If there is anything ludicrous, it is that we are not in a position to welcome this report”, which met with applause throughout the plenary room.
How to proceed, the chair wondered aloud. The only option seemed to be to conduct further informal consultations until consensus could be reached, after suspending the meeting. Tuvalu asked that the chair seek the views of the plenary before this suspension and Saudi Arabia insisted that they might as well discuss the whole document now that the pandora’s box of paragraph 11 had been opened. The chair, being unallowed to continue with the agenda in the meantime suspended the plenary and for two hours or so, the plenary room was left empty while Parties attempted to iron out all of this noting/welcoming business. When the Parties resumed the plenary, it was clear from the first interventions that things hadn’t gone so well behind closed doors either. Delegates once again spoke one after the other, this time expressing disappointment about the lack of consensus and, in the words of the Swiss delegate, the politicization of this report. Cheeky as always, the Saudi delegate chimed in to ask “Did you gavel on Rule 16? I didn’t hear you gavel”, Rule 16 being the provision that ends discussion on an item in the absence of consensus. The chair thanked Saudi Arabia for its attentiveness and gaveled in the measure pushing further discussion on research and systematic observation to the next SBSTA meeting in June 2019.
After several more countries reiterated their support for the work of the IPCC and their disdain for the previous proceedings, eventually the chair was able to make it on to the next item of the agenda, the draft conclusions on the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform, which passed without a hitch. Praising the success of this platform in supporting the rights of indigenous peoples and the important role of traditional knowledge in climate action, the constituency of Indigenous Peoples Organizations made a statement emphasizing the importance of urgent and rapid action on climate change. Several nations then made interventions supporting the work done throughout the conference on this agenda item and welcoming the participation of local communities in dealing with greenhouse gas emissions, which affect them with such disproportionately devastating results.
It being about 7:00 P.M., I had to leave the conference at this time to debrief with the newly arrived ACS folks covering the second week of negotiations as well as to prepare for my flight in a matter of hours. Seeing as there were still the SBI and APA closing plenaries scheduled “upon completion of SBSTA plenary”, it seemed apparent that Parties would be talking into their microphones well into the wee hours of the night. This final bit of drama I was able to witness as the finale to my time at the COP, while entertaining, was disconcerting as well. How were they ever going to get a working rulebook out by the end of two weeks when multiple hours were spent arguing over the strength of a single word in one paragraph of one report of one subsidiary body? Let alone the fact that the goals these countries are working to achieve, even if met with flying colors, probably aren’t enough to prevent warming of 3.0 °C by the end of the century. Let’s not forget that the report they were arguing about described the catastrophic effects on human life occurring at half that figure. If we want to prevent the displacement of hundreds of millions, the more common occurrence of devastating storms, and the degradation of our most valued ecosystems, we cannot accept the insertion of a little more symbolic weight to our language as a success. There is no time left for bickering over red lines. There is no time for denialism or hiding behind myths of panacean market forces. There is certainly no time to entertain the idea that the rising industrial average will allow anyone but the industrialist to outrun the rising sea. I wonder how many will be able to keep their heads above water.
The end of the first week of the COP drawing near, facilitators were becoming visibly more anxious to produce streamlined documents to present to the environmental ministers set to arrive for week two negotiations. This was evident in the sixth day’s APA agenda item 7 talks, where there was a good bit of tension between the co-facilitators who had produced a second iteration of the draft document and the Parties who weren’t too fond of it. As an attempt to move towards a “landing zone” or a document with fewer options and less bracketed texts which could get in the way of consensus further in the process, the draft conclusion was significantly slimmed down and Parties took turns berating the removal of their respective preferred sections and the general loss of balance in the representation of their views. In addition, many delegates were annoyed by the late release of this document, a mere thirty minutes before this session began. As such, few had had the chance to fully parse the document and the position of the co-facilitators was essentially “you have the room; work on finding solutions until our next meeting this afternoon”. Of course, the hour would instead be spent with the Parties asking for guidance on how to move forward (with many insisting that it simply could not done with such essential elements removed) and asking for the options in the first iteration back in the negotiating text. After each intervention, the co-facilitators attempted to calmly remind Parties of the rapidly approaching deadline for the completion of the working group’s agenda item and pleaded with them to use that time to find common ground with one another. I was unable to attend the second session of the day, but it would become clear that the effort of the co-chairs of the APA to push things forward faster met with similar pushback in the other agenda items.
I attended another side event, this time at the Indonesian pavilion. Several countries and organizations operated pavilions in an area separate from most of the meeting rooms, where side events and exhibits were held to demonstrate those nations’ specific contributions to sustainability technology and climate policy. These spots were also well-populated due to the free food and merch goodies available to event attendees, like cappuccinos at France, exotic meat samples at Poland, and ornate bags and bottles of powdered ginger at Indonesia (I wasn’t just holiday shopping, okay?). The event I attended, which followed a traditional dance routine in an open area of the pavilion, was titled “Traditional Society Actions in the Changing Climate” and detailed the role of indigenous knowledge and rights in reducing domestic carbon emissions. The first speaker was Mina Susana Setra, Deputy to the Secretary General of the Indigenous People Alliance of the Archipelago-Indonesia, who explained her organization’s work in getting the Ministry of Environment and Forestry to recognize indigenous people’s customary lands. According to the ministry’s requirements for this recognition, it is estimated that 5.7 million hectares of customary forest has the potential to be recognized and this organization has worked to map out these areas and assist in the paperwork required for local governments to maneuver the process. This work was underscored by the large carbon sequestration potential from these large swaths of land and the high economic value that their ecosystem services can provide to indigenous communities given proper management.
Next was Agung Wibowo, Senior Researcher at The Association of Community- and Ecology-Based Legal Transformation, who discussed frameworks for dealing with customary forest in Indonesian law. The legal system in Indonesia, in accordance with the third amendment to its constitution, recognizes adat, or the customary law of indigenous peoples within the country. This and several key constitutional court decisions have also created a process for territories and forests to be granted back to these peoples, in a process which has accelerated under the current president, Joko Widodo. In the future, this association hopes to augment the land rights of indigenous peoples by the further reform of land rights law, increased recognition of human rights within the country, and harmonization of policies affecting different sectors. Following Wibowo was Aristia H. Wanjaya, Program Manager for the IDH Sustainable Trade Initiative. If you’re curious, IDH also means Sustainable Trade Initiative, but in Dutch. This presentation focused on the various ways sustainable production and trade can benefit people economically. By assisting local communities with implementing agricultural best practices, capacity-building for production and protection of ecosystem-specific commodities, and access to markets and finance, this organization has sought to benefit the capability of these groups to grow their economic output and prosperity. In Indonesia, these efforts have focused on improving the sustainable production of mangrove honey and coconut charcoal as trade commodities and operation of ecotourism ventures.
Next in line was Vadis Vik, Environmental Counselor at the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Washington, D.C., who gave a brief overview of the Indonesia-Norway REDD+ Agreement. REDD+ is perhaps the most marvelous acronym I came across at this conference, because the plus operates like Hermione Granger’s bag, holding far more words than any reasonable initialism would normally allow. The full expansion is “reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries”. How neat is that? Anyway, this agreement provides pay-for-performance financing, that is, Norway gives Indonesia up to US$1 billion for achieving verified GHG emissions reductions. After gracefully sidestepping a question about future amendments to this agreement, she gave the floor to the final speaker of the event, Monica Tanuhandaru, Executive Director of Kemitraan: The Partnership for Governance Reform, who spoke of her group’s efforts to work with civil society organizations and government agencies to—you guessed it—reform governance. Her presentation focused on the local wisdom and traditional knowledge held by indigenous groups about preserving forests. Many villages in Indonesia depend on the forest and the services it provides for their livelihood, but have disproportionately less access to that forest and the rights pertaining to it relative to corporations and the state. This discrepancy is made that much more important by the increased vulnerability of these local communities to the effects of climate change. Social forestry efforts in the country aim to legalize access by local peoples to the forest by the issuance of management and use permits. Another major effort is to simplify regulations that pose a barrier to the return of farms to their customary claimants. Social forestry is implemented in national policy as part of Indonesia’s NDC, due to the high carbon value in forested area (deforestation would reduce in huge net emissions growth). In addition, forest upkeep provides income for poor communities and thus fits into the country’s sustainable development efforts. Social forestry also provides a platform for testing possible incentives for sustainable forest management. As an example of the successes of this program, key examples of the improvement of degraded forest by returning the land rights to indigenous peoples were presented. Further, it was shown that long-term facilitated social forestry sites have led to greater economic benefits than new forests. Recommendations from the talk included delegating parts of the permitting process to local governments to accelerate application review, formulation of a multi-stakeholder working group on social forestry to speed up development and verification of proposals, increased financial support from the central government, and stronger cooperation between different bodies within the Ministry of Environment and Forestry. As someone who went into this conference with very science-minded interests, I felt I learned a lot about the role of traditional knowledge in sustainably managing ecosystems, something rarely encountered in the academic study of environmental science.
Later, at an APA stocktaking meeting, where the APA co-chairs checked up with progress on all of the discussed agenda items, I heard more of what the Parties at the APA 7 meeting had expressed earlier: the new iterations of draft proposals went too far in eliminating options. Nearly every single negotiating group went through a laundry list of issues with the work of the co-facilitators, which in their view had thrown concern for reflecting the Parties’ views out of the window. Saudi Arabia and the US went so far as to suggest that their ministers would not even participate in discussing a document that did not meet certain criteria. Even Switzerland, which expressed many of the same concerns as the co-chairs that progress was not quick enough, slipped in a couple of points about paragraphs they needed to see back in the documents. Despite the co-chairs’ best efforts at urging the Parties to be “solution-oriented”, it seemed that for the moment, such solutions were still out of reach. This second-to-last day of the first week of negotiations (and my time at the COP) seemed to be a microcosm of that charge of the IPCC Special Report on 1.5 °C, that we are almost out of time, but not yet out of time.
“Pre-2020 Stocktake on implementation and ambition” by UNclimatechange is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Negotiations on procedures for the committee to facilitate implementation and promote compliance per the Paris Agreement continued on the fifth day of the COP, and I was able to attend another session. This session was open to observers, although between open sessions the working group had met in a number of “informal informals” or meetings totally closed to observers which are, I imagine, rather informal. Legends even tell of a mysterious “informal informal informal” consisting of a small number of delegates engaging in discussions quietly over coffee at an undisclosed location (there were so many coffee stations at the venue; it could be any of them!). Because the open meetings were only a fraction of the total meetings surrounding this agenda item, each time I came into the room, there were a few holes in my understanding of what was going on. Delegates would from time to time reference proposals made and discussions had in closed session, but overall, as long as I was looking at the current iteration of the draft documents, I was never left too lost in the woods.
While the scope of this day’s meeting was broader (Sections A, B, E, F, G, and H were all fair game), the actual discussions taking place tended to focus on more minute details of the working of the committee, compared to the previous day’s proceedings. In fact, the majority of the substantive work took place within Section B, on institutional arrangements, or the legal and procedural mechanisms and agreements allowing the committee to operate effectively. The hot topics of the day included determining who shall develop the rules of procedure for the committee, which are the more detailed version of the modalities and procedures being laid out by this document. The distinction between the modalities and procedures and the rules of procedure is important, if only because Parties, seeking to avoid conflict or too much prescription (a common concern of the Canadian delegation), would often decide certain issues should be left for the rules document, which will be adopted by the larger meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement (CMA) at a later time. Most countries speaking on the details of the paragraph addressing the when and how of rules adoption preferred to allow the committee to develop its rules of procedure, subject to adoption by the CMA, with a general consensus, most vocally headed by Tuvalu, Argentina (representing itself, Brazil, and Uruguay—name a better trio, I’ll wait), and China, that this ought to be done by CMA 3 in 2020. Mali, representing the African Group, did express a preference that the CMA both develop and adopt the rules of procedure, but something tells me this isn’t a hill any delegation was anxious to die on.
There was a wider set of views concerning the chairpersonship of the committee, which in the contemporary iteration of the text read as the committee electing from among its members two co-chairs for a term of three years, one each from a developing and a developed country. Mali (African Group) supported this as written, but Costa Rica (Independent Association of Latin America and the Caribbean) and Japan expressed the desire to remove the requirement for equity between developed and developing countries. China, known to be very mindful of the importance of this label, sought further clarification on which definition of developed country Party would be used. Australia sought to augment the clause by the addition of a requirement to elect these chairs by consensus, and the EU and Costa Rica (AILAC) both expressed a sticking preference for having a single chair along with one or two vice-chairs. What hard work the co-facilitators must have put in each day to write a text they hoped to appeal to (or disappoint) all Parties equally!
The committee’s existing requirement to begin meeting at least twice a year, starting in 2020 met with urging by the EU and Australia to be amended to once per year. The EU, Argentina (Brazil and Uruguay), and Costa Rica (AILAC) also wished for these meetings to begin in 2019, so that rules of procedure could be developed and the committee could begin its work as the Paris Agreement enters into force. What an exciting (and disappointing) surge (and retreat) of ambition?! The countries were more closely split on whether the committee’s meetings would be public or private by default, with the EU and Australia supporting open meetings, Mali (African Group) and Saudi Arabia supporting closed meetings, and St. Kitts & Nevis opposing the inclusion of such a paragraph in the first place. Thank goodness everyone (Tuvalu, St. Kitts & Nevis, Costa Rica (AILAC), China, Mali (African Group), and Norway) could come together to oppose the paragraph allowing the committee to conduct its work electronically. The beauty of international cooperation truly is immeasurable.
If you thought the highlights of that meeting had you on the edge of your seat, just wait until you hear about the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice’s (SBSTA) informal consultations on emissions from fuel used for international aviation and maritime transport. The attentive reader may note that this was the agenda item held up at the SBSTA opening plenary over whether the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) had actually been invited to speak or not. Well, guess what issue took up the entirety of the discussion on this item once again! The session began with Singapore raising the all-important and certainly still unanswered question of whether the draft conclusion on the floor really invites the IMO and ICAO to give their reports at SBSTA 50 in 2020. With South Africa’s insistence on the importance of getting a legal opinion, the co-facilitators sent for the UNFCCC Secretariat legal counsel once again to address the elephant in the room. In the signature caustic style of their delegate, Saudi Arabia quickly took to criticizing the trivial nature of this question and asked for its conclusion, as if it hadn’t been the entire reason for the delay in the first place. The co-facilitator denied this request, due to the apparent lack of consensus, reinforced by the EU insisting that the agenda item remain open and the US insisting that we might as well use the previous session’s draft conclusions. Indeed, while most Parties seemed to agree that the topic had been discussed enough already, their lack of agreement on which set of draft conclusions best represented this fact led, perhaps ironically, to the continuation of said discussion. The legal counsel arrived and reinforced the opinion of the SBSTA chair that there was a standing invitation for the IGOs to deliver their reports at SBSTA meetings, regardless of whether such an invitation was reiterated or not by the draft conclusion. Seeking to expedite the consensus-building process, the co-facilitator asked the Parties in the room to go into informal informals. Observers are often kicked out of the room when this begins, but not this time! Of course, as the Parties at this time spoke to one another in circles without the use of microphones, I have no idea what exactly was said, probably by design. Lo and behold, after ten or so minutes of huddling, an agreement was reached and our planet was forever saved from the scourge of unaccounted for maritime and aviation emissions. Just kidding: they couldn’t agree on which draft conclusions to adopt and so no report was produced on this agenda item, as would be lamentingly reported by the SBSTA chair at their closing plenary.
Don’t worry; they’ll meet again next year.