Thursday 16 December 2010

Impressions and Highlights from a COP Novice

I am currently an Environmental Change and Management MSc candidate at the ECI and took the elective International Climate Politics with Heike Schroeder in Michaelmas term. After gaining some more insight into the minefield of climate negotiations I came to the realisation that unless I actually sunk my teeth into a COP I would remain ignorant of the on the ground reality of many of the processes discussed in the elective. Thus when the possibility arose to attend COP 16 with the Oxford delegation I jumped at the opportunity. Given that the dust has started to settle on most of the COP 16 madness I want to reflect on some of the experiences that left a lasting impression on me.

The first major event on the cards was Forest Day on the 5th of December which consisted of all things green and leafy: from REDD+ financial mechanisms to discussions on landscape level environmental management. These thematic days (i.e. Forest Day and Ocean Day) between negotiation weeks have apparently become quite an institution and it is not hard to see why. At the conference all major speakers and representatives of institutions are scheduled into one day and issues are discussed in more detail than is feasible at other side-event talks. It was a fantastic opportunity to see amazing speakers such as Frances Seymour from CIFOR (Centre for International Forestry Research) and Lord Nicholas Stern. Yes, it is probably going to take a while for me to not get star struck by environmental celebrities.

Another lasting impression was the sheer amount of talks that were happening at the same time. It was a bit frustrating that COP 16 was spread out between the Cancunmesse (where the main side-events were happening), the Moon Palace (where the actual negotiations were taking place) and the Climate Change Village (a space promoting dialogue related to environmental issues amongst non-governmental organizations, the private sector and civil society). So every day was spent mapping out exactly what bus to take and what talks would fit into which time frames. Needless to say the planning usually paid off because the selected speakers were interesting, from all corners of the world and experts on a diverse array of issues. Another thing that struck me about the COP was the fact that I had not quite comprehended how much happens outside of the formal processes. For example, it is not uncommon to see party members mingling in restaurant and bars and joining talks. I suppose one imagines these international negotiations to be quite sterile yet this is definitely far from the truth.

Another highlight was a field trip to a forest project managed by rural Mayan campesinos. The project is located 3 hours away from Cancun and the trip allowed me to learn about the experiences and challenges of REDD+ projects and forestry carbon credits. Each group was assigned three guides that all had worked on the project and the outing helped contextualise the complexities present in forest and land-use management.The guides explained that the local communities often struggle to make ends meet from the forest management project and that more capacity building is needed in the region. Overall the outing was a welcome break from the neon lights and air-conditioning that had engulfed me. It was amazing to stand in the Meso American forest the second largest forest in the Americas after the Amazon.

So all in all, the knowledge gained is something that I would never have learnt from academic journals and I hope to put the experiences to good use over the next few months. Additionally, I will be closely following the progress of the set of agreements reached at COP 16 with a much better understanding of the weird and wonderful landscape of international climate negotiations and am very excited for COP 17 which will be in my country, South Africa, next year. A special thank you to the ECI team that was in Cancun for allowed me to stay with them and for answering my stream of questions during the conference. This trip was a definite highlight of my studies at Oxford thus far…

Inka Schomer-Current ECI MSc Student

COP17 in SA next year

Forest Day

Lord Nicholas Stern

Dr. Heike Schroeder- Oxford side-event

Oxford side-event

Dr. Connie McDermott at the Oxford side-event

Amazon photo gallery

EU Pavilion

Ban Ki-moon

Oxford-ECI stall

Final day departure picture

Friday 10 December 2010

Regained trust in multilateralism

It's 10:40 pm and the informal session is still in process. The room is packed and I wasn't allowed in so I've been sitting on the floor with the press outside of the room looking at the CCTV. It's been quite eventful, when Patricia Espinosa entered the room there was a standing ovation from all delegates to which she gave her heartfelt gratitude. This was followed by shouts from outside because some delegates weren't being allowed into the room by the UN guards (this included the main negotiator for Bolivia).

There's a general feeling of positivity and excitement from the delegates, a lot of praise to the Mexican presidency for the transparency of the negotiations, the reestablishment of trust and a new sense of confidence in multilateralism. Some, like Australia, have accepted the package as it is and others, like Venezuela and Saudi Arabia, are asking to go back to finish negotiating certain details. It seems that after the informal session they will go back to polish the text and then convene the plenary session, the closing ceremony will probably be some time tomorrow morning.

I'm going back to see what happens and will write more about my impressions tomorrow!


Thursday 9 December 2010


I went to the Klimaforum yesterday, which meant walking on the highway outside of the Cancunmesse (the venue where the COP's side events are held) and passing an army tank to take a bus to the gas station at Puerto Morelos. From the station (guarded by about 30 soldiers with big machine guns) I took a Klimaforum shuttle to the Polo Club where the alternative forum is being held. The other 9 people on the shuttle were all from youth groups from the U.S., between that and the reggae blasting from the speakers I had already started feeling a different vibe to the stuffiness of the Cancunmesse. I was imagining crowds of young, eager people gathering in tents by the time we arrived. This expectation contributed to my shock to find that there was, at the most, 30 people and that the big Polo field was empty.

Nevertheless, the first session I went to was more inspiring than most side events I've attended at the COP and I'd like to share some of it here.

Organized by the Global Ecovillage Network, the session included a talk by Nicolas M├ętro, founder of 'Trees & Life'. After 20 years of working in marketing he decided to pursue his interest in trees and forest conservation, embarking on a 5 year quest to try and convince Danone to use acacia gum in their Activia yogurt. His plan was to get them to source the gum from Chad, providing a source of income to producers, ensuring proper management of the trees and giving them the alternative to have a livelihood that could reduce the exploitation of nearby forests. He also got Danone to return 10% of the profits from the final product to the producers, a fund used for capacity building and construction of schools.

With the money he made from the project in Chad he then went to Senegal to implement agroforestry projects in a small community, providing the seeds and infrastructure to make nurseries. They planted fruit trees, vegetables and some jatropha (while the fruit trees grew). Nicolas placed a lot of emphasis on fostering a relationship between people and the trees they planted in order for them to feel a sense of ownership and responsibility for the trees so they would take care of them.
The project was so successful that apparently the Senegalese government is going to create a Department of 'ecovillages' to replicate this project all over the country. One of the challenges of scaling up though, as pointed out by Nicolas, is trying not to fall into cookie cutter molds and making sure that the uniqueness of each place is taken into account and that a creative and flexible approach is always used. An idea he also stresses to funding bodies with sometimes rigid frameworks such as the GEF which is funding 10 Trees for Life pilot projects in Senegal.
I think it's interesting to see how finance bodies and government departments respond to the increasing trend of scaling up, which requires more flexibility than the usual top-down approach. It will also be interesting to see if conservation of forests in these 'ecovillages' does indeed improve and the changes in livelihoods of the people in the communities.

On another positive note, Maria Ros, the Latin American Representative of Permaculture said that after 20 years of efforts, the Public Education Department of Mexico had approved the inclusion of permaculture in the public school curriculum. She will begin implementation in the state of Puebla. As a volunteer in a school in Tepoztlan, Morelos I find this news particularly exciting, especially the fact that this includes activities that address how children relate to nature and to themselves. I think this ties in to what Evo Morales was talking about today (I recommend reading his speech), about addressing the underlying causes of climate change and not only the symptoms. It's true that if we wait around for the old habits to suddenly change overnight and ignore the symptoms, the symptoms will get much worse. Nevertheless, I think its time we payed attention to something the ecovillage veterans have learned over the past 20 years- about what makes an ecovillage 'make or break'. They say it's not enough to concentrate only on the physical landscape around you but equally important (or maybe even more so) to concentrate on the invisible landscape inside you.


ahs (former BCM student)

Wednesday 8 December 2010

Of snow, protests, and all things REDD

Rather than being a diligent blogger and posting my thoughts on Cancun as they’ve occurred to me over the last few days, I’m stuck with summing it up in some marginally coherent manner nearly a week into the trip. Here goes:

1. The journey

As Heike has already described, it was no easy task to travel from the UK to the slick, commercial Mexican mini-Vegas that is Cancun. While it seemed at first that the English weather was giving us an unquestionable kick out the door to sunnier pastures, turquoise water and powdery beaches were not to be obtained without a demonstration of our devotion and test of our mutual will. It was highly ironic to spend nearly nine hours on buses, frigid bus stops outside of Gatwick, interminable re-booking lines in Heathrow, and a circuitous ride through most of central England to end up only 45 minutes from Oxford (at a hotel in Windsor). Even so, Lauren and Heike were in amazing spirits, and we had many moments of love for British Airways’ attempts to feed us, water us, and get us off the island as soon as humanly possible.

After an uneventful flight to Miami the day after we were originally supposed to leave Oxford, we were collected at the airport by a dear friend of mine who leads a glamorous life serving as the chef on the private yacht of a ga-jillionaire. She took us on a driving tour of Miami, pointing out the mossy Spanish-style villas and gaudy retro hotels of South Beach, before we settled in for an over-priced dinner and good conversation. Lauren instantly wooed my friend with her spectacular stories of bushmeat studies in Gabon, and Heike (in that quiet way of hers) slipped in humble anecdotes from her childhood in Japan and other magnificent adventures.

Finally, the next morning we arrived in balmy Cancun. One final adventure was to be had, however, as Lauren’s and Heike’s bags didn’t arrive on the carousel (as mine did), leading to wild speculation that the porcupine blood on Lauren’s bag – the result of said adventures in Gabon – had triggered some highly sophisticated and inevitably Patriot Act-activating alarm. We made fast friends with Arturo, the Mexican baggage handler who we were convinced was slipping on rubber gloves for some procedure more traumatizing than searching through our bags.

At last we burst out of the Cancun airport and made our way to our shared flat, within spitting distance of the ocean and well-equipped with all we really need: a functioning internet connection.

2. Not giving talks at COP16 side events

The main purpose of my presence in Cancun was to deliver two talks at side events on Thursday December 2nd and Tuesday December 7th. It has become clear, however, that I’m not destined to perform any compelling professional function while here. My first talk, of course, was derailed by the trans-Atlantic adventure. My second was to occur yesterday. I attended a meeting at the venue on Monday afternoon in order to scope out the seating, audience, and technical arrangements. I arrived at the Cancun Climate Change Village, a sort of climate change theme park hosted by the Mexican government and geared towards the Mexican community. I made my way to the Green Forum, the venue for my side event, to discover that what I thought would be a boring carpeted meeting room with the obligatory microphones and tables was instead a massive outdoor amphitheatre with a 40-foot screen and a thumping sound system. I was both excited and terrified by this, and, after returning home, feverishly revised my slides (mostly containing 3D computer-generated visualizations of local climate change scenarios) to account for pixels the size of my fist.

Yesterday I awoke at dawn and gradually made my way to the buses that would take me to the venue to deliver my talk. Moments before the bus departed, local conference organizers boarded our bus and informed us that a protest was amassing outside the Climate Change Village, and security had locked down the entire stretch of road leading up to it. I soon discovered that one of the other passengers on my bus was to speak alongside me, so we began plotting strategies for being dropped off near the venue and wading through the protest. The Mexican representatives assured us that a) it might be dangerous to walk blindly into a protest about which we knew very little, and b) if we couldn’t make it in, it was extremely unlikely that any attendees would find more success.

Though wildly disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to have the time-honored experience of being pelted with rotten tomatoes by an angry mob in an amphitheatre, a happy twist nonetheless occurred. My co-passengers on the bus asked what I had intended to present, and (curiously) asked that I present to them anyway. So, I did. We had a great conversation about participatory scenario development in cities, the challenges of formulating integrated climate change responses, and the power of visualizations to elicit visceral reactions and drive behaviour change. We collectively decided that visualizations needed to be produced for Durban in advance of COP17, so I left the stuffy bus with my enthusiasm intact.

3. Walmart, George Soros, and Robert Zoellick

I have spent much of the week attending side events (Heike’s and Connie’s on REDD was particularly smashing), and have gotten a fairly good grasp of the major issues up for debate here in Cancun. Last night, for instance, was the launch of the Carbon Disclosure Project’s Latin American arm. I was struck by the incredibly strategic way in which the CDP has gone about harnessing the power of over 500 investors (representing over $64 trillion USD of capital) to request that the world’s largest emitters disclose their emissions. While the uptake has been impressive, I would’ve like to see a deeper discussion of the voluntary and selective nature of the greenhouse gas inventory process, and the likelihood that disclosing emissions actually leads to future reductions.

This evening was a high level event on REDD+ featuring an all-star cast: Secretary General of the UN Ban Ki-Moon, President of the World Bank Robert Zoellick, Walmart Chairman Rob Walton, and many others. Wangari Maathai and Jane Goodall send video messages, which were lovely but made me wonder why the women were kept at home. The messages were predictably broad, political, and generally powerfully in support of fast action on REDD+. I was left with a strong desire for greater specificity, but I suppose that one cannot expect this given the audience.

So there it is: early impressions of a rather peaceful week in Cancun. In the coming days I will hopefully plug back in to the negotiations themselves and leave with a clearer vision of the plans for the funeral of the Kyoto Protocol.

Sarah Burch

Tuesday 7 December 2010

First day of last week

I guess everyone is too busy negotiating, researching, reporting or enjoying the beach to blog so since I leave Cancun today I will provide a parting commentary!

Yesterday morning I attended a briefing by UNFCCC director Christiana Figueres who summarized the state of play as slow progress with a couple of major roadblocks. As in Copenhagen there are the two tracks of negotiations - the Kyoto track seeking to establish a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol with binding commitments and the LCA convention track which is basically creating a parallel agreement which would include some form of promise of emissions reductions that would include the US and other major emitters such as China. At the moment the KP track is in trouble because Japan, Australia and Russia have said they will not make binding commitments for a second period. The LCA track has made a fair bit of progress and has a draft text that includes a forest deal, adaptation, 2 degree target etc but this is stuck because many G77 countries want to see KP continue and may not support the parallel track unless there is some sort of link to KP. Other issues to try and resolve this week are whether the target should be 1.5 or 2 degrees, whether the adaptation funds should be used only for the adverse effects of climate change or for compensating for the effects of climate policy (e.g. for losses of income from fossil fuel exports - called response measures), who is eligible for adaptation funds, and how to record mitigation efforts and promises within the LCA text. The Mexican government has made establishing a 'green fund' that will provide finance for mitigation and adaptation after the fast track finance ends in 2012. Many other details to be resolved.

Yesterday I was over at the main negotiating site (from today access by NGOs is limited) and talked to several friends who are on delegations and went to a briefing with Mexican president Calderon. I would say that the atmosphere seems more relaxed than the chaos of Copenhagen and people do say the negotiations are more cordial. The conference site is large with lots of tropical plants and with iguanas and coatimundi (a rust colored raccoon like creature) wandering around. Apparently during a ministerial dinner on the beach the Mexican COP president Patricia Espinosa had ministers help a bunch of newly born sea turtles into the ocean.

People told me the Mexicans have done a very good job in terms of keeping things as transparent as possible and rebuilding trust between negotiators. That said, we are still a long way from any decisions that will prevent dangerous climate change and the KP/LCA bottleneck is really hard to resolve.

I have seen lots of friends and ECI alums. A dinner on Friday night saw ECI alums and friends in multiple roles (delegates from Japan, Grenada, PR Congo, NGO reps from CI and WWF, researchers) and the NGO party on Saturday night was insane with people dancing like maniacs over the lagoon.

Over the weekend I attended Agriculture and Rural Development Day where we launched an exciting new program of collaboration between the international agricultural research centers of the CGIAR and the international global change research community. The initial seeds for this program originated with Oxford based GECAFS and will now see millions of dollars each year for adapting global agriculture and food to climate change. I also went to IIED's climate and development day (to sessions on adaptation). Monday I was at events on business and climate change, on the role of US states in emission reductions (which is significant, especially California), but missed the very successful ECI side event on forests and REDD.

I have also been meeting with lots of people to plan for the second international conference on climate adaptation which we will host in Arizona in early June 2012 and am heading home with an outstanding set of names for the international planning committee and some exciting promises of cosponsorship from international development organizations.

In summary, I think Cancun will make some modest steps towards adaptation, REDD and (voluntary) mitigation and has gone some way towards rebuilding trust. I have come away with lots of new research ideas and contacts. For me the most significant change is that the major international development institutions have really taken on climate change in a very serious way now. Even if countries do not act the momentum in the development community is now really mainstreaming climate into lending, projects, and long term planning.

Diana Liverman

Friday 3 December 2010

First hurdle: getting to Cancun

After 3 days of traveling, Sarah Burch, Lauren Coad and I finally arrived in Cancun today. It all started to go "wrong" when Sarah got a text message from BA that our flight out of Gatwick was cancelled. By then we were about 5 minutes out of Oxford. But because the bus driver's radio was broken he insisted he couldn't just let us out but needed to drive all the way to Gatwick anyway. At Gatwick we got ourselves straight onto another bus back to Heathrow in the hope of getting onto another flight so that Sarah and I would not miss our presentations the next day. After 4 hours of cheerful queuing we were indeed successful at rebooking -- thanks to friendly BA IT department employee Ian who helped out in the queues. Our new itinerary took us via Old Windsor for the night (courtesy of BA) -- getting worryingly ever closer back to Oxford -- to Miami and then to Cancun the following day. Thanks to Sarah's friend Victoria from Fort Lauderdale, who generously put us up for the night, we had a very fun time dining and enjoying cocktails in South Beach that evening. The next day we could barely believe our luck that all went according to plan and we indeed landed in Cancun. The only near surprise was that Lauren and my suitcases didn't show up. But we secured them later from customs. It was probably the ECI annual reports that were just too good a read!

A newspaper article in the Independent about Japan backing off a 2nd commitment period under Kyoto got us thinking about the future of international climate governance. If there was no continuation of Kyoto, who and what would fill the void? This got us wondering whether national governments and non-state actors would be (1) all the more, (2) just as much, or (3) less committed to action if no agreement was reached internationally. The procedural and methodology-developing functions aside, what political weight does the UNFCCC really have today? How can it be strengthened?

Heike Schroeder is an Oxford Martin Senior Research Fellow in Forest Governance at the Environmental Change Institute.

Reforming the CDM in Cancun

The Clean Development Mechanism, the UN-administered carbon credit scheme set up under the Kyoto Protocol is once again in the spotlight at the COP in Cancun. The CDM has been hailed as a great success, perhaps unsurprisingly, by its own Executive Board (EB), having already delivered about 450 million tonnes of emission reduction credits to be used against compliance purposes, proving that the concept of flexible market mechanisms can deliver clean technology based emissions reductions in developing countries and reduce the cost of compliance in industrialised countries. However others point out that the vast majority of credits come from industrial gas destruction that has few if any side benefits to sustainable development, and, some argue, should have taken place anyway even without the CDM. Only last week the CDM EB meeting reported that accusations of fraudulent HFC credits were unfounded and that there was 'no evidence' that any projects had recived more credits than their due. They nevertheless withdrew the methodology concerned with immediate effect - meaning no new HFC projects until a revised stricter methodology is in place.

Meanwhile the EU announced it would no longer accept HFC credits after 2013. These developments may contibute towards a shift away from over-reliance on a few industrial gas facilities to reduce emissions, and the controversy over many millions of euros of European money going to just a few industrial gas facilities, mainly in China and southeast Asia.

This Tuesday the CDM Executive Board held a Q&A session that was dominated by criticism of the sustainable development benefits (or percieved lack of) for CDM projects. A group of waste pickers from countries as far afield as Brazil, South Africa and India accused CDM landfill gas flaring projects of destroying their livelihood. The waste pickers were passionate advocates for their cause.

Unfortunately for the waste pickers the EB has little power to stop projects on the grounds of negative social and environmental impacts. Essentially the Board's hands are tied by a political decision at Kyoto to leave the potentially controversial definition of sustainable development to the host countries. I wonder if the waste pickers would get as sympathetic a reception with their own governments as they did with the EB members here in Cancun?

Meanwhile, wider reform of the CDM is on the agenda of the COP negotiations. One difficult subject is the legal liability for any credits that are found to have been over-issued. In Marrakesh in 2001 the negotiating parties decided to assign this liability to the private auditing companies ('DOEs') that validate and verify CDM projects. However a recent proposal by the UNFCCC to put this theoretical liability into practice through a detailed procedure was met with widespread hostility by market players. The auditing companies complain that the scale and degree of liability being inposed on them, regardless of whether they acted negligently or acted properly, is unfair and unmanageable. They also point out that it creates a perverse incentive for project developers to defraud the auditors, since the developers keep any excess credits without suffering any penalties, whilst the auditors, who did not benefit financially from any excess credits, face huge financial penalties.

What the COP will decide on this complex and legally difficult area remains to be seen, but unless a secure way of ensuring the inegrity of credits is found, such as a fund into which all project developers pay in, the likelihood is that CDM will become much more challenging in the future. This is due to a likely increase in transaction costs to try and cover the enormous liabilities, and a reluctance of auditors to take on complex projects that are seen as more risky.

On other issues related to CDM, it looks like the appetite of the COP to further reform the mechanism may be somewhat diminished this year.

Clearly there are wider priorities, and the EU has already declared that its 'shopping list' of reforms that it would like to get out of Cancun is considerably smaller than the massive Wal-Mart sized shopping trolley it bagged in Copenhagen. Right now the focus of the negotiations on the CDM is likely to be on following up what was called for last year and either congratulating or berating the EB on the progress/lack of progress (depending on your point of view!). So don't expect massive changes, but watch the details such as DOE liability. These issues have to potential to derail the working of the mechanism in the future.

Jonathan Avis, ECM 2003-4