Action at COP-25

Wednesday was a day of working with YOUNGO again, beginning with the spokescouncil or daily meeting in the morning, which Nancy facilitated. After this, YOUNGO had a bilateral with the President of the UN General Assembly. Bilaterals are one of the multiple ways that constituencies like YOUNGO can get involved in the negotiations, although it was difficult for me to see more to it beyond a PR move. Firstly, all interested YOUNGO members had to submit their questions beforehand so that they could be reviewed, so everything was pretty scripted. After all of the scripted questions, there were some more spontaneous ones, but since the PGA took them five at a time he was able to skip over certain topics and focus on others. Some of the questions were: What are your plans as PGA for impacting economy and security of LDCs? In 2020, what will the UN’s process be to include young people in the discussion and how will UN cater to changing needs of youth? After 25 years of having the UNFCCC negotiations, we can all see outcomes are not meeting needs of time. Don’t you think we should redesign the negotiations to facilitate more collaboration and contribution? The considerations of human rights have been sidelined in negotiations leaving many communities vulnerable… what will you do to ensure human rights and indigenous rights?

Before the meeting and bilateral Nancy had introduced me to a Haverford graduate who has been working for the UN for the past several years. I spent some time talking with him after the meeting, and we ran into someone he knew, who mentioned something called the “contra COP.” I was immediately curious. I had heard about how in Chile they were holding an alternate climate meeting, but I didn’t know there was anything like that going on in Madrid. I got some more information, and found their website, which was all in Spanish and listed all of the events they were holding that week. I decided I would try to go there that day or the next, to see what it was like.

I had heard that there would be an action that morning in front of one of the plenary rooms, protesting the removal of human rights language from the Article 6 negotiations, but when I went there, all I could see were several groups of people chatting together. Wondering if maybe they were preparing for the action and trying not to look suspicious, I asked someone, but they told me they had all just gotten out of the last event. A security guard then asked everyone to clear away.

A bit confused, I decided to go to an event I had heard about that highlighted the work of Bayer Crop Science, a soil company that was doing research on no-till farming as a method of carbon sequestration. The VP of Environment at Bayer was presenting alongside the CEO of Gold Standard, a company that produces sustainability standards for other agriculture companies, someone representing the Farmers Union of the UK and Wales, and an economist from the USDA. The highlight was Bayer’s ongoing soil research, which was being done through satellite imaging of farmer in the Midwestern United States. The satellite technology could pick up how much the soil had been tilled, and then the researchers could test the soil to see how much the carbon content in a given field’s soil corresponded with how much that field had been tilled. The USDA person also talked about their grant program CIG (Conservation Innovation Grant) which gives money to those trying to develop tools for next generation’s conservation efforts on working agricultural land, through researching or implementing market-based solutions to resource challenges. The speaker said that the key words here are working land, because it shows that conservation can happen at the farming level, not just through preserving pristine national park lands. But I also hear another key term: market based strategies, and found that throughout the panel, the narrow focus on the no-till carbon sequestration methods they were trying to develop meant that other key aspects of GHG generation from industrial agriculture, such as pollution from pesticide production, could easily be ignored.

Later that afternoon I went to the CAN meeting, where they were discussing who would be the fossil of the day for that day. They also began discussing the action that was going to be happening that day. For some background, most actions at COP are very highly regulated and have to be registered with security beforehand. This one was unauthorized. Just as someone announced this, a security guard was seen entering the meeting hall… someone said, “This is a closed meeting for CAN members only,” but it took a little bit more discussing to finally get the guard to leave. After that, the details of the protest were sent via email. The instructions were for us to stand around chatting in groups inconspicuously outside the plenary hall entrance a few minutes before the protest was supposed to start. Upon hearing the signal, a whistle, everyone was to make as much noise as possible using anything they had. I used my glass water bottle and a bamboo reusable straw, both of which had ironically been given to me in a swag bag from COP. The protest got pretty heated… there was a central group of people who were doing call and response, and I was pretty close to them when I noticed that people were starting to sit down. I saw a security guard and I thought they were probably trying to get people to sit so they could get them under control. Someone next to me said “they are going to de-badge people!”


The security guards started to form a human blockade and edge the protesters who were within their blockade towards a large garage door-like exit, which was opened. As the crowd booed, they pushed people out of the doors. They began to close the doors, but people crowded around them and booed louder, and so they began to form another blockade around those people; I was among them but I eventually slipped away before they actually formed the blockade. Many people who were in press slipped out from the blockade and were allowed, but others who tried to go under the guards’ arms were stopped.  It was hectic!

I took a video, but it was too large a file to upload, so here are some screenshots of security letting someone from the press out:

Screen Shot 2020-01-20 at 11.11.37 AM

and stopping others from escaping:

Screen Shot 2020-01-20 at 11.12.09 AM Screen Shot 2020-01-20 at 11.12.17 AM

About 300 people were locked outside in that courtyard area, and they blocked off anyone from entering that hall for the next hour. A lot of people were de-badged, though the next day they were allowed back into the conference, after a lot of push back. It was definitely an exciting experience.

After that, I wandered around the various booths where different groups were presenting their work in video or poster format. There I met an indigenous Amazonian from Peru, and we talked about the Peruvian Amazon and the organization he was involved with. I also asked him if he felt like he was able to have a voice at COP and impact the decision making. He said not really at all in the higher-level decisions, but that it was good to be there to bring more visibility to his town and community. The next week he and others in his group were going to be speaking with the environmental Minister of Peru in Lima about a specific issue affecting the Amazon river, in which a Chinese-based company was planning to dredge the river to make it more navigable, at the risk of ecosystem collapse and the damaging of indigenous lands.

Indigenous presence at COP (oficiál)


Hi everyone, I know that I’m posting this very late, but I wanted to share some of the things I learned with you and wrote about a while ago but didn’t get a chance to post earlier.

On Monday Dec 9th I attended an interesting panel, which consisted of someone from the French Ministry of Environment, someone from the French Agency for Development, an indigenous leader from a community in Chad, and someone from the Tropical Forest Alliance (TFA), and someone from the Ministry of Environmental and Sustainable development in Colombia.

The panelists representing government and NGO talked about the programs that their departments or organizations are working on regarding deforestation.

The French government has a program in Cote D’Ivoire, working with local farming communities on sustainable cacao production and agroforestry. They’re also developing an anti-deforestation Action Plan, which is supposed to be out in 2020.

The TFA works on negotiating with private sector food providers that are contributing to deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, and getting them to stop sourcing their products from deforested areas. The companies currently sourcing meat from deforested areas had a goal of net zero deforested sourcing by 2020, but have missed that goal.

This talk was interesting to me not just because of the content, but also the way it was delivered, and a specific thing that happened afterwards: after the panel, during the Q&A, a woman stood to ask: How can you in the French government say that you are doing so many great things, when right now you are supporting deforestation, the devastation of primary forests, and indigenous communities in French Guiana by goldmining companies? The French Minister was a bit at a loss for words, though he did say that they needed to change their now outdated mining laws, and said that he would like to talk about that issue with her afterwards. I wonder how that conversation went. Here’s a link to learn more about this issue:


I wanted to hear more from Hindou Ibrahim, so I went to another talk that she was participating in that evening. It was a series of panels spotlighting indigenous leaders or youth who had worked with indigenous communities, hosted by the UN. The main topic was about NDCs, how Nature Based Solutions can and should be main contributors to NDCs, and how indigenous communities are leaders in nature-based solutions. It was great that the UN was giving a platform for different indigenous people to bring attention to the issues affecting their communities, though as Hindou said, the time of negotiations are finished; we have gotten as much agreement as possible and it is time for us to see how we can localize what we decide at the national level… there’s no time to negotiate anymore, and it’s up to communities to apply the recommendations that have been brought together at the international level, along with indigenous knowledge of land management methods that is thousands of years older than scientific knowledge and that can be paired with science to meet the NDCs and the needs of communities experiencing climate change. She said that we have the tools we need, but what is needed is implementation and financial investment: investment in nature and in youth.

The next day, on Tuesday, I witnessed a different kind of interaction between indigenous peoples and the UN. I had stayed late at the venue, and it was already 6:30 when I was about to leave, but I heard singing coming from the IPCC pavilion. I went to see what was going on. It was an event with a lot of people from an organization called La Minga that brings together indigenous peoples from all over Latin America to advocate for their rights and make their voices heard. They also did a ceremony there and one indigenous leader from Brazil addressed the Spanish IPCC representatives and asked why they haven’t done more, why are they allowing the killing of indigenous peoples. Her words were translated by a young indigenous woman. Then, they presented their charter on climate change, and a woman from Chile read it. It was emotional and raw. Here’s a link to the charter:


Disappointed but not daunted 

COPs often run overtime, which is why CAN even holds a wager for delegates to guessing the date and time COP will end. Earlier this week, we knew the negotiations in Madrid were expected to be prolonged especially when word circulated that staff at the venue had been asked to work over the weekend. We did, in fact, witness how negotiations dragged on because governments with large emissions dragged their feet on targets. Ultimately, the lack of consensus prolonged COP25 to such an extent that this is now the longest ever meeting in UNFCCC history.

Source: Twitter
Source: Twitter

Perhaps, these negotiations have been hampered from the get-go by everything ranging from adversaries to the negotiation strategy employed. The Chilean Presidency’s approach to the negotiations has been criticized for not using their office to have set higher ambitions, knowing that “blockers” would want to reduce the targets, and compromise can be reached somewhere in the middle.With the immense and imminent impacts of climate change, old tactics of incrementalism no longer meet the challenges the world faces.

However, what transpired was that the Chileans had expected other governments to lift ambitions so shad et the initial targets too low, which meant a far more difficult uphill battle in the negotiations. Now we are left with a COP that was supposed to be focused on “Ambition” and “Action,” but has not delivered on neither. Even the UN Secretary-General has voiced his disappointment.

Source: Twitter
Source: Twitter

There is already enough analysis out there offering a breakdown of the watered-down outcome of COP25, so I’ll touch on more of my personal takeaways from attending the conference from my positionality in a follow-up post. Now more than ever, we need to remain hopeful and not be daunted by the challenges ahead in our fight for climate justice.

Musings in Pollution Pods

Most days of COP, I have stayed in the “Blue Zone, ” which is the area of COP for accredited delegates and where plenary sessions and the vast majority of official side-events are held here. Next door is the “Green Zone,” which also has various exhibits and is open to the public.

COP25 Green and Blue Zone
COP25 Green and Blue Zone

One art exhibit in the Green Zone I had looked forward to (and FINALLY got around to) seeing was the “Pollution Pods.” The installation, by artist Dr. Michael Pinsky, uses fog machines and perfumes to imitate the smog of 5 cities around the world: Beijing, Sao Paolo, New Delhi, and London.

Pollution Pods at the COP25 Green Zone

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Air pollution and climate change are two sides of the same coin: both are largely caused by the same sources and have similar solutions. Ambitious climate action has the potential to both safeguard our health and future, and to reduce the yearly seven million premature deaths from air pollution.”

Walking from one pod/“city” to the next really showed how stark the contrast was. Entering “Beijing” and “New Delhi,” it suddenly looked hazy in a very noticeable manner. Fortunately, the fake smog in the pod is non-hazardous. Still, it’s so sad to begin thinking about how millions around the world are literally being smothered by the toxic fumes due to the burning of fossil fuels (I’ll blog later about my thoughts on climate change/social justice).

The only upside of this situation is that the health impacts of air pollution are convincing citizens and governments in affected areas that climate action must be taken NOW. Protests in mainland China are rare, but people still took the risk to protest against insufficient air pollution measures because they are so fed up with the detrimental impacts of smog. When a problem affects a large swathe of a population, such discontent no doubt raises concerns in a country like China that values social stability. China’s progress on climate change clearly indicates its government’s long-term planning and foresight about the necessity of climate action. I found the experience of the Pollution Pods to be an effective way of connecting the dots between the climate and health nexus.

As some food (or shall I say “air”) for thought, I’ll end today’s post with an excerpt from the Pods’ creator, Dr. Pinsky about his installation:

“Five geodesic domes are connected to form a ring. Within each dome the air quality of five global cities is recreated. A carefully mixed recipe emulates the relative presence of ozone, particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide which pollute these cities. Starting from the hosting city, the visitor will pass through increasingly polluted cells, from dry and cold locations to hot and humid.

The release of toxic gases from domestic and industrial sources both increase the rate of global warming and have a direct effect on our present day health. In the West, in cities such as London, one in five children suffer from asthma. Whilst in the developing countries such as Delhi, over half the children have stunted lung development and will never completely recover. However, this pollution is difficult to understand through images, as the smog of such as Delhi seems almost romantic and much of the most dangerous toxins are not visible at all.

Much of this pollution is driven by the insatiable appetite of capitalist consumerism.  Whilst we here in the developed world live in an environment with relatively clean air, people in countries such as China and India are being poisoned by the air borne toxins created from industries fulfilling orders from the West.

The experience of walking through the pollution pods demonstrates that these worlds are interconnected and interdependent. Our need for ever cheaper goods is reflected in the ill-health of many people in world and in the ill-health of our planet as a whole.”

Climate Neutral Now

Today I attended a showcase highlighting the work of the Climate Neutral Now award winners as part of the 2019 UN Global Climate Action Awards. It was a fun event and one that drove home for me the importance of engaging corporations (and communities, and cities, and all levels of sub-national governments) in the fight to stay below +1.5. Some of the really transformative work is being done by companies, and the four winners of this award really showcased some excellent initiatives. Four organizations won the award (video can be seen here:

The representative from MAX Burgers went first who talked about their Climate Positive menu. He showed the analysis their company did on when their emissions was coming from (surprising no-one, a lot cam from beef) and how they tackled reaching 0 emissions. Their goal was to introduce more plant based food options and have every other meal not have beef (there were other things as well). He was asked about pushback to the menu and he responded by saying that there was some pushback, but also said that in general people have been very responsive and supportive. He felt that the marketing the change in a positive light (Climate Positive Menu) helped.

Apple went next, and I was skeptical. The organization has several environmental initiatives, but the representative specifically talked about their transition to 100% renewable energy at their sites. The speaker gave some interesting stats, including that Apple was responsible for 0.1% of all global emissions. The company set a goal to have all Apple owned operations powered with 100% renewable energy and generate a total of 4 GWt by 2020. They are investing in their own projects and doing it as locally as possible, which creates jobs in the areas where the facilities are. They met these goals early and have no switched to help their suppliers meet the goal of using 100% renewable energy for the production of the materials Apple uses. I found this really positive, because they not only made this demand but also helped these supplier make the energy transition. The combination of adding pressure and then providing resources and support is powerful, and corporations with the influence and money like Apple should be doing this work. They added another 1 GWt of energy production through this. I felt strangely proud to have all three of my Apple devices with me during this talk…

Natura, the 4th largest cosmetic company in the world, went next. They talked about packaging and materials. The thing I took away most here was how they have partnered with the Indigenous Peoples of the Amazon to use local ingredients for their cosmetics, which supports the livelihoods of the people and provides a local and sustainable supply chain.

The final presentation was from Infosys, a global tech services and consulting company headquartered in India. There path to zero emission used a combination of energy efficiency (highly efficient new buildings and deep retrofitting of old buildings), transition to renewable, and off-setting. I rolled my eyes a bit on off-setting, but the presenter impressed me because all of their offsets have been done at the local level. They invented off-sets that engaged and supported the local community and improved the general quality of life for the people living there. This is the kind of off-setting that I can get behind!

In total, I found this event very inspiring! There is some much positive and transformative work going on, and it is good to be reminded especially when it feels like the policy makers are not acting fast enough.

COP Curtailing Civil Society

The irony did not elude me that I spent International Human Rights Day at a UN event, witnessing the UN attempting to curtail the very same rights it adopted 70 years ago. Last week, it was the ECO newsletter, while this week, it was the Fossil of the Day Award, both of which were prohibited but later reinstated. I’ll focus this post on Fossil since I have been part of the team of volunteers putting on the event each night. Fossil of the Day takes place at the end of each day at COP, and select countries (and some terrible organizations) are presented with the ignominious award for being “the best at being the worst” at the UN Climate Talks. Through a very participatory process, members of CAN (the organizers of Fossil), nominate and vote for members based on which country stands out for their atrocious climate policies or for actions such as “blocking” negotiations. Alongside Fossil of the Day, a Ray of the Day is also awarded to recognize the efforts of climate champions.

To put the impact of Fossil into perspective, last night we awarded Japan with a Fossil of the Day, and already multiple news outlets have now covered how Japan’s “environment minister failed to commit to the phasing out of coal-fired power generation in a speech at a UN climate conference.” Also, the other day, as we were setting up the stage for the award ceremony, a man came over and asked what Fossil is and why Belgium’s flag was on the Fossil leader board (a running tally of all the Fossil winners over the course of this COP). Once my colleague explained the award and said the full explanation of why Belgium won is available on the Fossil Facebook page, the curious man explained that he’s from Belgium and shocked to see Belgium on the list. At this point, I noticed his pink badge, which means he’s a part of the government delegation. I saw the man type notes on his phone before walking away. Hopefully, the Belgian man will look into why CAN awarded his government the Fossil Award, relay the information back to his delegation, and then try harder to advocate for stronger climate policies.

No one, and governments especially like to be named and shamed, which is precisely what makes the Fossil award an effective advocacy tool. It’s also easy to understand why, after a long day of dense negotiations and plenary sessions, a crowd of delegates and media gather each night at the Fossil award ceremony. Though it has a serious message, Fossil is a fun and engaging event with costumes, props, and even a theme song for the daily ceremony. Delegates can enjoy the light-hearted and engaging nature of the event, while media is also on hand to capture the novelty and satire that is used to call out insufficient or outright troubling climate policies. Though some countries try to fly under the radar, Fossil of the Day is a reminder for these states that their actions will come under scrutiny!

A Fossil of the Day awarded to Australia
A Fossil of the Day awarded to Australia

So now that you’re hopefully convinced that Fossil of the Day is a great event, we can return to my original point about the clampdown on civil society space. On Wednesday, we were told in the morning the award could not go ahead because “it is the start of ministerial day, they have no “security capacity” to cover Fossil of the Day. So they [UNFCCC Secretariat] did not authorize this key daily action today. We tried to push back but we had no success.”

The attempt to stop Fossil was neither the first nor the last time civil society space had come under attack during COP25. Last week, ECO was banned from being distributed at the conference venue. ECO is a daily newsletter put together by civil society to inform all delegates at COP about the developments with negotiations and other informative updates from various NGOs. Without warning or any wrongdoing on the side of ECO distributors (who are just volunteers handing out information), security removed the volunteers and banned the newsletter’s distribution at the conference venue. Fortunately, with support from delegates and coordinated push back from CAN, the UNFCCC Secretariat relented. By the time I arrived for Week 2 of COP, I was able to get my daily dose of ECO!

Given what had just happened to ECO, it’s easy to understand why members of CAN did not want to relent and were suspicious of the UN’s motive in not allowing Fossil to take place. Firstly, this excuse is quite suspect since there is so many security personnel available and especially since few other events are also happening at 6pm that requires manpower. Moreover, Fossil is a daily event and not a protest, it was not like many security guards were even needed for this orderly and predictable event in the first place. It seemed far more plausible that the lack of security was only a cover story for banning an event that was effective in calling out the bad behavior of governments. The CAN organizers negotiating with the UNFCCC Secretariat that the Fossil award would go ahead regardless of their authorization because it never posed a security threat (we would even have volunteers to help with crowd control if security was the “real” concern. There was even a suggestion to nominate UNFCCC for a Fossil because of this attempt to stop Fossil of the Day.

Over the course of the day (Human Rights Day no less!), the discussion was that the Fossil award should still happen even with the risk of “de-badging.” Without authorization to carry out this action, if we went ahead with the event we risked being “de-badged,” which means being banned from attending the rest of COP25. The hope was that if Fossil volunteers really do get removed from the premise, then this was more evidence to be used in the media to call out the UNFCCC for the shrinking civil society space. One of the Fossil organizers was kind enough to explain this risk to me and said I didn’t need to feel pressured to participate because she knew I was a student and didn’t want me to get in trouble with my school delegation.

At this point, I really did consider the consequences of whether I should take part in the fossil award that day. On the one hand, I thought that on the off chance I did get de-badged, hopefully, Swarthmore would be understanding. As a double major in Political Science, Peace and Conflict Studies, could Swarthmore really expect that I wouldn’t stand up for what I believe in? On the other hand, I would feel guilty if I could not attend the rest of COP25 because I know many other students also applied to be on the delegation, so I’d feel like I took someone else’s spot then did not even make the most of this opportunity. I could argue that attending sessions is the only way to “get” something from attending COP because I think a lot of learning can also happen by encountering and understanding more about inherent power structures and barriers faced by civil society, I’ll touch on this point further in a future post.

For better or worse, I was truly saved by the bell and didn’t need to be decisive in this moral quandary. As my colleague was still in the middle of discussing the de-badging risk with me, at 5:29pm (so only 1 minute before our daily set up time of 5:30pm), we received the breaking news in our team WhatsApp group chat that the UNFCCC Secretariat backed down and authorized our event! Luckily, all the hard work of the CAN team negotiating with the Secretariat about the matter had paid off.

Despite the ultimate win for ECO and Fossil, this pressure on civil society is a worrying trend because civil society is so crucial for holding parties accountable. Also, let’s not forget that there is already a massive power imbalance at COP. Civil society, as observers at COP, have less political clout than countries who can directly vote as member states in this state-led UN process. Civil society also has less financial resources than businesses. When highlighting the fact that businesses had their logos on massive banners around the venue. In contrast, our Fossil of the Day backdrop was only a small makeshift display, the Fossil award host joked that we “shouldn’t buy the corporate greenwash unless we recycle it together.” So given the extra institutional and financial constraints compared to governments and businesses, civil society’s power is in having the voice that transmits beyond such barriers.

The ban on ECO led to the use of slogans on Twitter, such as “Not just Time for Action but also Space for Action,” a play on the motto of this year’s COP, and I could not agree more. Also, as our school’s Quaker values continuously reinforce, it is so important to “speak truth to power.” Being a part of the fantastic Fossil of the Day team has definitely been a highlight of COP25. It could not have been more apt, when at the end of the Fossil Award on Human Rights Day, someone from the crowd shouted, “Long live civil society!”

Gender Day

What a day it was today! I am sure Isabel and Nancy will post more about some of the actions going on, but I am going to focus on an event I went to today related to Gender Day. I went to what I think was the most moving, impactful event I’ve attended across three COPs, which was titled Women for Climate Justice Leading Solutions on the Frontlines of Climate Change. It was a panel of six grassroots and indigenous women leaders from three different continents that are at the forefront of the climate movement. After some powerful opening remarks from the moderator (Osprey Orielle Lake) the conversation was opened to each panelist who shared their person story about why they have engaged in the climate battle. There was so much passion and fortitude in the stories and the whole room was captivated. The prevailing theme was that women have knowledge and power that men don’t have, and that their knowledge and efforts can (and should) be harnessed to help shape policies that can be impactful in addressing climate change. Many of the women talked about how it was not only the western civilization they were battling, but also the men in their own groups whom they needed to work against. Basically, these women have struggled against the patriarchy from all fronts. When they started talking about men, and specifically how men do not take their contribution seriously, I looked around the room to see what other men were present. It was pretty sad, frankly. Less than 10% of the audience was male and I was within the top 3 in terms of age. That made me sad, and angry. I speculate that a lot of men stay away from events like this because they think it is women’s issues and it makes them uncomfortable. Whenever I attend an event where a woman speaks, especially about climate, I am moved. I appreciate that I cannot know what it means to live in her shoes, but I can certainly hope to walk with her and learn from her. I challenge men to walk into a space dominated by women the next time they have the opportunity and sit and listen. Don’t speak, don’t offer your opinion. Listen. Learn.

I cannot hope to recount each of the stories from the women, they were too personal and frankly I was too emotional to take excellent notes. But I can share some of the key take aways/quotes.

We will not get out of this crisis with weak policies. – Nina Gualinga

It is not only a struggle for water and air but it is also a struggle to change the patriarchal and capitalist structure – Ruth Nyambura

Women are the emotional center of the family and community,  and we are crushing them with this pressure. – Jackie Patterson

Climate change is amnesia. We’ve forgotten we are part of this world. – Daiara Sampaio

A sacred cycle of life has always been in place. Everything is part of it and is nature. We are not just here defending nature, we are nature. We are here defending ourselves. – Casey Camp Horinek

“All my grand daughters are graduates of MIT: Matriarch in training.”  – Casey Camp Horinek



YOUNGO and Agriculture, Dec 9-10th

Our first day at COP started with a YOUNGO meeting, where I was helping to take notes.  YOUNGO is a group of youth-led NGOs, who interact with COP negotiations in a variety of ways: through submitting policy recommendations, doing actions, asking questions of Ministers at meetings called bilaterals, where constituencies can submit (scripted) questions and express their opinions on specific issues. YOUNGO’s governance is arranged in a non-hierarchical way, where there are focal points who are voted in each year as coordinators of 25 different working groups focusing on wide-ranged topics. One of these, which I am working with, is the YOUNGO Agriculture working group.

The YOUNGO meeting started with an introduction to YOUNGO, all of the 50-odd people went around and said who they were and what organization they represented, and we went through the schedule of the day on specific important events that would be happening, for example, opportunities for YOUNGO interventions at high-level events, where a YOUNGO member could take two minutes to express our views and recommendations. We also went through all the working groups with an update, noting when they would meet.

After this I met with the Agriculture working group. Most of the people there were new that week, but one person who had been there Week 1 told us a bit about how the negotiations on Agriculture had gone. For some background, the main negotiations around agriculture are focused on the Koronivia decision, also called Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture (KJWA). It was signed during COP-23, the first time agriculture was addressed at COP. KJWA asks for collaborative work and decision making on agriculture, to be presented in 2020 at COP-26. The method for reaching this is several workshops where Parties and external experts from international organizations exchange views on the different selected topics. Some of these are soil, nutrient use, water, livestock, methods for assessing adaptation, and the socio-economic and food security dimensions of agriculture in climate change. Through these workshops, NGOs (such as YOUNGO) and UN research groups can submit their positions to be considered by the Parties in their negotiation.

In Week 1 of COP-25 there was a Koronivia workshop on Soil and Manure; nutrient management. Since I wasn’t here, I’m not really sure what it was like, but from what I’ve heard there was a lot of support for agroecology, which is a diversified, context and culture-specific approach to agriculture, where farms are treated as whole ecosystems and agriculture actually improves the natural ecosystem rather than extracting from it. Agroecology also draws on traditional knowledge of how plants and animals and soil microbes interact and grow together, and how humans can help those relationships flourish. While it is a broad term that can apply to many different actual techniques in farming, in general, it refers to farming guided by ecological principles. This means focusing on intercropping (planting diverse plants next to each other to help each other grow), and holistic soil microbes/nutrient management in order to ensure crop strength and productivity.

Although agroecology was talked about a lot in the workshops and at side events, it didn’t show up in the language of the Koronivia decisions for this COP. The negotiators had been up until 2AM on Saturday trying to reach something, and they finally came up with a list of ten bullet points that really don’t say anything. Funnily enough, I also heard that Koronivia has been cited as a success of this COP, since it was resolved by Week 1, and hasn’t caused so much back and forth dithering in the way Article 6 and Loss & Damage have. For the YOUNGO Agriculture working group, who put a lot of effort into making recommendations and researching improved soil and nutrient management, the results of Koronivia were really disappointing, though I’m not surprised. A general theme at COP-25 has revealed disappointing results from negotiations alongside inspiring work from non-party stakeholders.

On Tuesday, even more people showed up for the Agriculture working group meeting (there were about six of us there the whole time and 3-4 others who came and went). We sat on the floor outside one of the side event halls and I took notes for the group while we brainstormed ideas for the livestock Koronivia workshop that’s happening in June in Bonn. YOUNGO is actually partnering with CAN on producing a common position paper on the different topics for the upcoming workshops, two of which will happen in March and two in June. I’ll double-check what they’re all on and update this, but I know one is on water/land use, one on sustainable agriculture methods, one on livestock and one on food security and the socio-economic aspects of agriculture. We met with three people from CAN that day, to brainstorm what we wanted to state for the water and land use and sustainable methods workshops. In both meetings, it was exciting to hear what everyone else had to say; on land use, one person mentioned how agroecological methods could create more climate-resilient soil systems and thus help prevent soil erosion, for example. I found that the things I’d picked up from studying agricultural issues were helpful, but I still had a lot to learn! For example in the YOUNGO brainstorming meeting, I learned that when we’re talking about smallholder livestock farmers we also have to talk about pastoralist livestock farmers who have different needs because their lifestyle is such that they don’t stay in one place but move around to different areas to graze their livestock. Another interesting point that someone brought up was that certain governments that might dismiss agroecology saying that it is too difficult to fund, could reallocate their funds within the funding that they already put towards agricultural subsidies. If governments funded ecologically resilient small scale agriculture instead of subsidizing soil-degrading chemical fertilizer, agriculture’s overall emissions would decrease and the problems that fertilizer subsidies pose for farmers would be gone. The problem is that mostly the private sector fertilizer companies have their governments in their pocket… so it will take more than just a few well-chosen words of advice to shift funding.

On both Monday and Tuesday, I also attended some really interesting side events with indigenous speakers. I want to talk about these in more detail, so my next blog post will focus on conversations about agriculture, deforestation and the indigenous presence and agenda at this COP.

Greta & Gore

Today was another busy day. It started with all of us rushing to the venue first thing to try to get seats in the #UniteBehindTheScience event hosted by youth climate activists Greta Thunberg and Luisa Neubauer. There was a lot of energy in the room even before the panel showed up, and I thought that the panel was excellent. The two activists were joined by five different scientists from various organizations (IPCC, The Stockholm Environment Institute, Union of Concerned Scientists, The Fletcher School) and I found it very impressive that both young women had used their ability to bring people into the room (there were A LOT of cameras) and then let the experts do the talking. Greta started by saying she wanted to use her privilege to have an important conversation (something I think she did yesterday as well with a group of Indigenous activists) and then turned it over the the panel. Something that I really liked about this panel is that they focused both on the scope of the climate issue, but also stressed the scientific solutions and where they think the path forward is. The panel pretty much unilaterally said that we have the technology to solve the climate emergency and that the problem was policy implementation, which is something that I have heard over and over at this COP. They stressed the importance of engaging the people and making sure that the transition does not widen already existing inequities. And they also talked a lot about the importance of education, and this is the one place where Greta did contribute when she stressed that there were plenty of adults who needed educating as well, not just school children. It made me think of an outreach event I did recently with a 5th grade class focused on the scientific basis of global warming. The kids at that event were very eager to learn and open to the information we were giving them, which we did with a series of slides and demonstrations/activities. I wonder what kind of outreach we can develop for a group of adults? Maybe the same exercises would be appropriate, actually.  In all, I found this event very uplifting and inspiring.

I also attended Al Gore’s talk, where he gave an overview the climate problem and outlined various natural disasters that have been amplified by a warming planet. I thought that the examples were effective, although it was a lot and verged a bit toward disaster porn. Gore himself was an interesting presenter and there were several times where he basically started yelling. The presentation reminded me a lot of his documentaries (not surprising, since his documentaries are all him) and since I had just come from the panel it struck me that in all the things I’ve seen from Gore he is the focal point. I am not sure I’ve seen him use his platform to enable other voices. Maybe I’m being unfair here, I certainly have not watched everything he’s put out or been in the room for all of his talks. But I did find myself wondering if he’s ever sat down and not talked when given a stage. Personally I did not find his one person show as engaging or as inspiring.

CAN the Parties resolve Article 6?

Madrid was misty and cool when we landed in the morning and made our way to the Airbnb in Embajadores. Although I was pretty tired from the flight, I wanted to take full advantage of the time here, so I decided to attend a training event that was happening in the city, hosted by Climate Action Network (CAN). As a refresher, or for first time readers, CAN is a non-profit that connects and provides resources to different environmental advocacy organizations around the world. Each country in CAN has its own domestic network, led by nodes, who are specific people that report back to the larger international CAN structure.

They were going to host an advocacy training on how to contact your country’s Minister and stay in touch with them after COP, which sounded great but unfortunately didn’t happen because of low attendance. Instead, the two other people and I were invited up to one of the first meetings of CAN’s newest working group: the Grassroots WG.

It was a round table meeting, and almost everyone at the meeting was either CAN node or a leader of a CAN member organization, which was a bit intimidating at first. But it didn’t need to be, because even though perhaps to the other attendees I didn’t have any apparent reason to be there, I was very welcomed and found the ensuing conversation interesting. The most interesting part was how there were so many different perspectives on what grassroots organizations looked like, and how much going around and around a topic it took to really get to a consensus, even in a group of mostly like-minded people. There was also a relatively diverse range of countries and regions represented by their nodes or org. leaders: New Zealand, Australia, Europe, Zimbabwe, U.S., Malaysia, South East Asia, East Africa. It seemed like one main goal for the grassroots group was connecting community-based organization engaging in climate action to a political platform, where their experiences and knowledge could be amplified but also where they could connect to policy makers, influence policy and receive greater support and resources, both financial and educational, for their efforts. I wish I could write about this forever and ever, but for your sake, I’ll cut it short. If you want to hear more about this I can email you separately, just let me know!


After the meeting I sat down with one of the nodes to try to learn some more about CAN. He is the node for Southeast Asia CAN, a really kind person and genuinely interested in what I was doing and why I was at COP. When I said that I’m here following the agriculture negotiations and researching how NGOs, youth and activists reach policymakers at COP, and whether it’s effective, he said that CAN would be a perfect case study for that. He also said he would be happy to get me into their closed (member-only) daily meetings and introduce me to the person heading the CAN agriculture working group. Although I’d already been in touch with the YOUNGO Agriculture working group for a while and am aiming to work with them during COP, I think that it would be great to also look at what CAN is doing this week (and beyond) as well.

The 6-hour CAN Strategy session was happening next, in the same building, so I stayed on for the beginning of it. That’s where all present members of CAN get together and plan their actions and tasks for the rest of the conference. It was in this huge, gorgeous chapel, which you can see in the photo. The meeting started off with some announcements from the CAN board; updates about their budgeting and their HR department, new hires and how they are trying to implement a more equitable hiring process. Next there was a presentation on current events; grounding the meeting in current news: climate-related disasters such as the typhoon in the Philippines, climate protests in Iran with extreme government crackdown, Chile’s hosting of an alternate climate meeting, the Trump impeachment, and recent commitment of fossil fuel companies to become carbon neutral by 2050.

Then there was a brief but very helpful overview of the main negotiation outcomes of last week. They talked about Article 6, which Jen blogged about earlier. Essentially it is the part of the Paris Agreement that deals with carbon trading, putting a price on carbon credits on the international market. The goal with this is to have the countries that are causing the most carbon pollution purchase credits from the countries with less carbon debt, funneling money into countries that need it more and beginning to shift the power imbalance (sounds a bit idealistic, no?). However, many CAN members who spoke up were worried about how the language being currently used (as of week 1) for Article 6 does not ensure clear standards for how carbon trading happens or uphold human rights, especially indigenous rights throughout the process. The negotiations from Week 1, both on Article 6 and the Warsaw International Mechanism on loss & damage were inconclusive, probably leading to the sure signs of pessimism in the people in the room. One telling quote: “But what they’re agreeing to is basically no standards… no human rights, so why bother legitimizing that? …. So many of us are now going, this is going to put a massive hole right in the middle of the Paris Agreement… undermining what we’re trying to do… we cannot celebrate the Paris Agreement being about emissions if we have this huge terrible Article 6 carbon market thing. So maybe we’re coming to the perspective that no deal is better than a bad deal.”

Throughout this time, there had been two presenters (one on the world news and one on the COP news) and many people from the audience who had passionately opened dialogues, posed questions, presented comments. This was all very stimulating and informative to witness, and I was frantically taking notes the entire time sometimes writing down ideas or words I’ve never heard of and other times feeling intensely reminded of the gravity of the reasons that we were there. The structure of the next part of the event was a panel of representatives from five “countries to watch” in the coming week. There were four men, representing the EU, Chile, Brazil, and India, and one woman who represented all “vulnerable countries.” Here are some updates from each of the countries/regions/groups:

EU: there’s a lack in cohesion in stance among EU’s nation states. The EU has had bad experiences with carbon pricing, in which it messed up their energy markets, so they won’t be supportive of Article 6. EU refuses to accept new language into L&D negotiations; they just want to make it a general issue (see Allie’s posts for more on that!)… also, said that the EU wants people to see the issue of climate finance as a glass half full, not half empty: in other words, be grateful for what we’re already giving… (wow)

India: This one had more jargon so I had some trouble understanding representative’s exact position on the negotiations. But he did mention that a lot of people don’t know that India is made up of five large states, two of which are some of the largest producers of coal. Despite this it seems that India is leading in its efforts to complete its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Brazil: There was a lot of talk about the deforestation going on in Brazil. Many people held a space for mourning the lives of two indigenous forest protectors who were shot in Brazil, just the day before: (read more about this). Despite a president who is actively against indigenous rights, the Brazilian Minister of Justice came into COP with the goal of raising $10 billion to fund forest protection.

Vulnerable Countries: The representative started off singing the song that goes “I can’t get no satisfaction…” saying that this is how it is for the more than 50 least developed countries and small island nations that she is talking about. They are the ones that have been asking for the new amendments to the Warsaw Mechanism… they are the ones that have been advocating for capping GHG in Article 6… and their leadership are starting to get tired of being the ones who are always doing the real homework. There’s a lack of capacity in LDC and small island governments, and they are getting tired.

I’ll be back tomorrow with more news on Agriculture negotiations, on the ground work with YOUNGO and CAN, and what new things I can glean about Article 6.