Reflections on the COP Outcome

In the three days since negotiators reached an agreement in Paris, I’ve seen the deal heralded as everything from “the world’s greatest diplomatic success” to “just bullshit”. There seems to be little consensus as to whether COP-21’s outcome was phenomenal, devastating, or even meaningful whatsoever. Personally, I’m happy (and, frankly, somewhat surprised) to see language regarding a 1.5 degree goal, loss and damages, and human rights make it into the text. At the same time, I know that current INDCs still add to 3+ degrees of global warming from pre-industrial levels and that the legal status of the agreement is still uncertain in many countries (including the U.S.). But overall, I align with commentators who claim the deal was better than expected.


To be clear, I didn’t expect much from the outcome document. Heading to the conference, I tried to eschew any belief that the parties would reach a deal at all. I anticipated that the process would be slow, opaque, and potentially inconclusive. I knew that the COP was a fundamentally political undertaking and that the negotiators faced immense institutional inertia in attempting to reach an agreement. In this respect, the proceedings presented many pleasant surprises. I was excited to see shifts towards transparency and accommodation for all parties, regardless of delegation size. Developing countries still faced undue barriers in comparison to their developed country counterparts, but structural elements like the Paris Committee and Indaba meetings gave me hope for an increasingly inclusive COP process in the future.


After reading the final text, I can’t say I feel excitement or despair or even anything in between. Mostly, I just feel relief. Even though I don’t think we know yet what this text means for decarbonization, fossil fuels, or the environment as a whole, I’m thrilled that the UN successfully provided a space for 196 countries to reach a substantive agreement. This agreement offers a clear focal point for further civil society movements, scientific research, and political negotiations around the world. All of these elements together will determine the trajectory of international climate change policy in the future. For now, the UNFCCC has served its purpose by providing an integral first step that will catalyze countless subsequent actions.


Last Wednesday night, when an agreement seemed to be a distant if not impossible prospect, I feared what an inconclusive COP would mean for both the future of the environment and the viability of UN processes as a whole. It’s my opinion that the global nature of climate change requires a global, intergovernmental solution. Nations don’t bear the brunt of global warming equally, but climate change undoubtedly affects the lives and livelihoods of every person on the planet. If governments can’t all come together to do something at COP, I thought, what chance do they have of addressing other issues like peacekeeping or refugee crises, where the moral imperative for action is considerably murkier? Luckily, the parties managed to reach an agreement. And I left the conference with hope, which is, upon reflection, better than expected.

-Anita Desai

From Le Bourget to the Streets

While diplomats and negotiators attempted to come to an agreement this morning in the suburb of Le Bourget, thousands gathered across Paris for a series of demonstrations to mark the conclusion of the conference. These demonstrations’ fate has been in flux over the past month following the attacks in Paris, following with the French government imposed a State of Emergency and banned nearly all demonstrations. Coalition Climat 21 (which includes organizations like and Avazz) was unable to gain authorization for two demonstrations. A planned march on November 29th the weekend before the COP and what organizers said would be the largest ever civil disobedience today (Saturday 12 December) to conclude the conference. Potential demonstrations faced threats of tear case and clashes with police.

A smaller action did take place on November 29th, but the 10,000 participants were a far cry from the hundreds of thousands expected. Actions organized by and Avaaz included a human chain through the downtown the placement of thousands of pairs of shoes – including ones from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Pope Francis – at the Place de la Republique to symbolize the people who would have joined the march. A peaceful march in Paris that day clashed with police in riot gear using tear gas on protesters. Nevertheless, over 800,000 people around the world marched in solidarity as part of the Global Climate March.

Despite the protest ban, Coalition Climat 21 planned a mass civil disobedience action, though the ban deterred many, leading to lower interest than expected. Nevertheless, the coalition trained thousands of activists this week in preparation for the action and for the likely scenario of arrest.

However, early this morning, the government decided to officially authorize the demonstration. A mass text sent from Coalition Climat 21 at 6 am this morning read: “BREAKING: massive mobilisation pushes French Gov. to PERMIT #D12 #redlines action. We didn’t accept demands to change plans & prevailed. See you on the streets.” In the end, an estimated 15,000 people converged within sight of the iconic Arc de Triomphe on Avenue de La Grande Armée at noon wearing red to form red lines to symbolize the ‘red lines’ demanding negotiators and political leaders not cross (one references repeatedly during the COP was the need to keep warming well below 2 degrees Celsius). Banners read, “It’s up to us to keep it in the ground” and “Crime Climatique – Stop!”

Later in the afternoon, thousands chanted, sang, and linked arms to circle Champ de Mars and sit-in in front of the Eiffel Tower. This closed out with a rally with music and speakers, including author and activist Naomi Klein. She shared her reactions to the final draft text (which had been released just hours before and had yet to be approved). She heralded the agreement as a clear sign that the fossil fuel age is ending, but called for greater action, noting how countries’ existing INDCs (see our earlier blog for an explanation) set us on path for over 3 degrees Celsius of warming. She pointed to the fossil fuel industry’s immense power in domestic and international politics as a major inhibitor of an ambitious deal at the COP.

However, she expressed hope for the coming months, highlighting the development of the climate justice movement over the past few years, citing the Keystone XL win, a growing number of fossil fuel divestment commitments, and institutions like museums cutting ties with fossil fuel companies. She highlighted plans for a series of global civil disobedience actions organized by in May in which she said thousands around the world would “go up against the biggest fossil fuel projects in the world.”

Klein’s response echoed the views expressed by and many other climate justice organizations over the past few days, and today as the parties finalized the agreement: the agreement is a major step in the right direction and provides a clear example of the effectiveness of civil society engagement. However, it is not enough and civil society and social movements will need to step up the pressure over the next few years to counter the power of the fossil fuel industry and ensure countries go above and beyond their INDCs and, for those in developed countries, pressure governments to provide financial support to less developed countries to support in adaptation and mitigation efforts.

A couple more long nights

Though the COP was planned to end this evening, negotiations are still ongoing in order to finalize an agreement. This is not unusual for COPs, which often extend into the weekend following the planned conclusion. This time is allowing for high level negotiation to work out major sticking points, including loss and damage, ambition, differentiated responsibility, and finance.
COP President Fabius is expected to convene Paris Committee (Comité de Paris) on Saturday morning to present a final draft, following intensive consultations with the Parties during the last two days. As one of the knowledgeable people we talked to said, there will be an agreement, its ambitiousness will be open to debate, but it will pave the way for further action on climate change. Fingers crossed. Au revoir, for now.

Human Mobility/Forced Migration and Climate Change

As we walked towards a panel facilitated by One UN on human mobility and climate change, we debated the applicability of the word “mobility” in this case. “Mobility” seems to suggest voluntary movement; whereas we felt that climate-induced human movement better resembles forced migration.  Fortunately, our skepticism about the event’s title was allayed as soon as the panel chair started speaking, emphasizing that of issue here is forced human movement and “forced migration.”  The panel was informative and saddening at the same time.


A representative from the Norwegian Refugee Council stressed that since 2008, an average of 22.5 million people have been displaced each year due to natural disasters related to weather and climate events.  As some of the panelists noted, while we may not be able to say climate change caused these disasters (consider the El Nino in Ethiopia this year, which caused the country’s worst drought in 30 years), climate change exacerbates existing extreme weather events, for instance by intensifying El Niño cycles.  At the same time, those who are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change have the least ability to adapt to its negative repercussions.  There are, thus, complex but strong linkages between climate change, poverty, poor governance, civil war, and the displacement of people. 


A number of panelists referred to the 2014 IPCC report’s recognition of this important issue: “Climate change over the 21st Century is projected to increase displacement of people” and “can indirectly increase the risks of violent conflicts in the forms of civil war and inter-group violence by amplifying well-documented drivers of these conflicts such as poverty and economic shocks.”  As an example, decreased food security and water availability caused by extreme weather not only exacerbate poverty, they might also compel people to move.  Conflict over scarce resources poses yet another risk.

The panelists also drew attention to the Nansen Initiative, which refers to the 2011 conference in Norway that laid out 10 principles with the recognition that “a more coherent and consistent approach at the international level is needed to meet the protection needs of people displaced externally owing to sudden-on-set disasters.” 


The panelists called for more data and more monitoring.  For instance, we do not have adequate data on displacement after disasters, and contrary to common assumptions, people who move to a natural disaster are not necessarily able to move back, leading to, what the IDMC calls, “protracted displacement.”  Another issue that requires more study and better policy is “planned relocation,” by national, international, sub-national, and non-state agencies.


Despite the depressing statistics, the panelists seemed encouraged that the Paris text might recognize the linkages between human movement and climate change. This would build on efforts from the 2010 meeting in Cancun, when parties endorsed a linkage between adaptation and displacement. Tonight’s (Dec 10) draft agreement included a request for the Executive Committee of the Warsaw International Mechanism “To [enhance understanding, coordination and cooperation with regard to climate change induced displacement, migration and planned relocation][initiate a process of identifying arrangements, modalities and procedures to convene and promote work on climate change displacement], draw upon the work of and involve, as appropriate, existing bodies and expert groups under the Convention, as well as that of relevant organizations and expert bodies outside the Convention.”  Whether this bracketed reference will survive remains to be seen, as we await the penultimate draft of the Paris agreement tomorrow.  Stay tuned!


-Anita Desai, Stephen O’Hanlon, Ayse Kaya

Follow us throughout the week on Twitter (@SwarthmoreCOP21) and Snapchat (SwarthmoreCOP21) to get real-time updates.

Two Long Nights

Tonight, as the Malaysian minister declared to a vast conference room packed full of people, “everybody seems unhappy.”  As the third-to-last day of COP-21 came to a close for observers (negotiators will remain at le Bourget longer into the night), the prospect of an ambitious agreement seemed tenuous. Despite the fact that the new version of the draft text released today boasts a ¾ reduction in square brackets (though, some delegates remained unhappy about the deletions), serious disagreements remained amongst the parties.

Let’s rewind to earlier in the day.  In the morning, observer groups, ranging from BINGO, to RINGO, to indigenous peoples’ organizations, got a chance to have a briefing with Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, Christiana Figueres, as well as H.E. Minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, President’s Special Envoy to Observers at COP 21/CMP 11.  Vidal served as President of COP 20 and is here in Paris as both the minister of Peru and the conference’s envoy to civil society. Throughout the briefing, various organizations voiced their discontent with the lack of access to negotiations given to civil society. Participants were clearly concerned with finance and differentiation, among other issues, but felt that the meetings lacked transparency and an appropriate avenue for them to voice their concerns. In a candid response, Figueres said that this COP outcome will be a fundamentally “intergovernmental agreement,” and that, in the end, it is the national parties who will have to reach consensus. However, she guaranteed the observers that the agreement “is not going to be moving into the direction of national interests,” but instead will “be moving into convergence, onto common ground.” Yet, despite the discontents voiced, there were also moments of laughter and applause.  For instance, when Figueres received presents from one of the indigenous people’s groups (see picture), the room broke into applause. The group presented her with gifts as well as a message, “we must all grow in the same direction.”


Then, at 3pm, we received the first draft text of the Paris agreement in a meeting that lasted about five to ten minutes.  Observers, and other non-Party participants of the conference, could get the text right after its release from the “Documents” booth.  We wish we could have taken a picture of the chaotic crowd clustered around the booth with hands sticking up in the air for a copy, but we were a part of the crowd with no free hand for a picture!

Now the Parties (and everyone else) had time to study the text, consult with their groups and others, and reconvene at 8pm, for tonight’s Comite de Paris meeting (Paris Committee – see our earlier blog).

At tonight’s session, which lasted until about 10:30 pm, many countries’ interventions expressed forceful and seemingly irreconcilable viewpoints on the future of the agreement. Once again, the G77 + China maintained a strong presence/support base amongst the speakers. The minister from South Africa spoke first as the representative of this group. She outlined the substantial work that still needs to be done with regard to differentiation, adaptation, implementation, capacity building, and loss and damages. Other developing and least developed countries echoed her statement and added additional concerns. A common theme within their interventions was praise for the strong language supporting a 1.5 degree goal, but a fear that this goal will be futile without the appropriate implementation and financing mechanisms. As the representative for Venezuela noted, the current INDCs allow temperatures to rise to 3+ degrees from pre industrial levels. Without more substantial contributions, an agreement on 1.5 degrees would be rendered meaningless.


In stark contrast to the G77 + China was the Umbrella group*.  The Umbrella Group was represented by Australia, whose delegate expressed frustration at the lack of balance in the draft agreement. The group seems to feel that their acquiescence to the 1.5 degree goal warrants significant concessions from developing countries that have not yet been made. For example, one huge issue is how stringent the monitoring, reporting, and verification of the mitigation commitments should be, with countries like China preferring to retain sovereignty over reporting, while others, like the EU, pushing for a review every five years.

Notably absent from tonight’s proceedings was the voice of the United States. Although the U.S. is a member of the umbrella group, our negotiators themselves remained silent throughout the meeting. Earlier in the week Secretary Kerry stated that the U.S. would be willing to support the 1.5 degree goal, so long as other countries were willing to compromise on loss and damages. But tonight, neither issue was addressed by our delegation. Whether or not this was an overt statement of dissatisfaction with the course of negotiations, not having the USA participate in an almost universal discussions of the new draft of the Paris agreement was disheartening and surprising.

In all, tonight’s events struck us as a diametric shift from the positive tenor of yesterday’s Comite de Paris meeting. This COP has been applauded as calm, orderly, and polite in comparison to other conferences. But as some of the delegates spoke, their exhaustion, exasperation, and sadness was palpable. We could clearly hear two divergent tones coming from the speakers. From some (the EU, Japan, Australia and others) came a terse dissatisfaction with what they have found to be intransigence on the part of many developing countries. However, these and other more procedural interventions were punctuated by sincere pleas for swift and ambitious action from many countries (particularly Small Island Developing nations, or SIDs). The minister from Barbados, for example, said that he was “not here begging for sympathy,” but that inaction on climate change would mean the “certain extinction of [his] people.” For those most vulnerable, the fate of their countries still rests within square brackets.  

There is very little time left and many differences to be ironed out.  Hopes are pinned on two long nights.

-Anita Desai, Stephen O’Hanlon, Ayse Kaya

Follow us throughout the week on Twitter (@SwarthmoreCOP21) and Snapchat (SwarthmoreCOP21) to get real-time updates.

*From the UNFCCC site:  The Umbrella Group is “a loose coalition of non-EU developed countries which formed following the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol. Although there is no formal list, the Group is usually made up of Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Kazakhstan, Norway, the Russian Federation, Ukraine and the US.”

Sub-National Level Efforts: Mitigation and a Just Transition

In the official negotiations and media coverage of them, there is substantial focus on national governments, especially the submission of INDCs.  However, sub-national levels, including sub-national states, provinces, cities, regions, are playing an increasingly important role in climate action. Multiple panels this week have focused on their role in taking leadership on mitigation and adaptation. Here, we wish to highlight one of them hosted by the Climate Group and the Network of Regional Governments for Sustainable Development (nrg4SD).

This event focused on a growing network of subnational governments collaborating on climate leadership. The Climate Leadership members collectively account for 331 million people, 11% of global GDP and 2.6 Gigatons CO2 emissions.

Climate Leadership members list

The heads of these subnational governments cited the importance of ensuring constituent support for renewable energy and decarbonization in order to create durable and ambitious climate action policy under sometimes hostile national governments. They also emphasized that one of the ways in which constituency support can be generated is to highlight the important role transition to green energy can play in job creation. Across multiple panels, subnational leaders described as critical to gaining support policies to create a ‘just transition.’ A ‘just transition’ refers to the a transition away from fossil fuels that ensures a) working class people who are part of the fossil fuel economy as well as those most impacted by climate change and the fossil fuel industry receive economic assistance and b) that new renewable energy development takes place in a manner that increases democratic participation and promotes racial, economic, and gender justice.

While climate change will affect every part of the planet, for many, particularly in working class communities, economic concerns are also very important. Often, especially in the United States (as Governors Shumlin and Inslee of Vermont and Washington,respectively, have noted this week), economic prosperity is framed as in opposition to action on climate, which dampens support for climate action. By ensuring that renewable energy development benefits workers and local communities, the just transition framework provides an opportunity for politicians and activists to counter this framing.


First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon talking about the Scotland’s transition to renewable energy

Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, described how direct public benefits were critical to building public support for renewables in a country where many work in the coal industry and there was intense skepticism about renewables from an economic and, to a lesser extent, aesthetic perspective. Today, Scotland generates more electricity from renewable energy than coal and gas combined and aims to produce 100% of their electricity from renewables by 2020 (though this target is looking increasingly unlikely). The Minister emphasized the 10 million pounds per year, Scottish communities receive due to the Community Benefit and Ownership program. She notes: “local energy now helps to fund energy efficiency schemes, fuel poverty alleviation programmes and befriending projects which reduce isolation for elderly people. They meet local priorities because they are run by local communities.” (Despite this program’s benefits, not all companies participate in the program because it is not mandatory.)

Sturgeon and Vermont Governor Shumlin both talked about the importance of community input and governance in increasing support for renewables among the public. In particular, Shumlin noted the local town-based Energy Committees, which allows community members to contribute to decision-making, push for lower energy costs, and pressure reluctant politicians to take action. Similarly, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne expressed her regret that Ontario did not focus enough on public participation and attributed lack of public support (and some active opposition) to lack of community engagement and benefits.\

Moreover, cities, states/provinces, and regions provide an opportunity to connect the localized impacts of climate change to climate action and renewable energy. Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Durban Mayor James Nxumalo both emphasized the importance of educating the public to connect local severe weather incidents with climate change to increase support for renewables and action on climate.

However, subnational governments do not operate on an island. National action can support, but often threatens this local progress. Wynne and Sturgeon noted how Canadian President Stephen Harper (who just lost office this fall) and UK Premier David Cameron have hurt attempts to shift to renewable energy through actions such as cuts in renewable subsidies. And, as is well-known, the US Congress contains many skeptics on climate change, which prevent substantial subsidies for renewable energy in the first place.

-Anita Desai, Stephen O’Hanlon, Ayse Kaya

Follow us throughout the week on Twitter (@SwarthmoreCOP21) and Snapchat (SwarthmoreCOP21) to get real-time updates.

Paris Committee Meeting

Having scored tickets to the Paris Committee’s (see our earlier blog) December 8th meeting, we huddled into the large plenary room at 7pm.  Two of our three tickets came from the YOUNGO group and one of our tickets was from the RINGO group.  Both organizations are given a limited number of tickets for the plenary events, which they distribute to their constituency members.  Even though we could have watched the Committee’s deliberations through teleconferencing in nearby rooms, we felt excited to witness the whole of the vast room, filled with negotiators, academics, simultaneous translators, and students.


At 7.30pm (half an hour after the publicized time of the start of the meeting), dozens of people were still flowing into the room every minute, even though the discussions had already commenced.  Just then, one of the Party delegates from India asked to have the floor to remark that while empty seats remained for Party members, they were not being allowed in and being told the room was full. In response, the COP President, Minister Laurent Fabius, reassured the representative that he would have this mistake corrected immediately.  Whether or not it was the intervention from the President, by 7.45, there was barely any standing room left in the massive conference hall.


During the event, different facilitators of the Paris Committee reported back on their consultations, which almost always included bilateral negotiations as well as multilateral negotiations.  The facilitators lead each of the committee’s work streams in pairs, typically with one representative from a developing country and one from a developed country.  During their presentations, many facilitators applauded the common ground found in their negotiations and praised the increased inclusiveness and transparency of the proceedings.

It seemed from this briefing that the 1.5 Celsius language is becoming a real possibility.   Yet, the two sticking points — differentiation and loss & damage — continue to divide the Parties.  Many of the facilitators emphasized that their negotiations were going to continue that evening, particularly with regard to these two issues.  Following the facilitators’ reports, the floor was opened to all Parties. Speaking first, the South African representative expressed the necessity to allow ample time for all Parties and regional groupings to consider the draft of the agreement, which is expected today (Wednesday the 9th) at around 1pm.  Her intervention emphasized the position of G77+China that the Paris text should be “Party-owned”.  As representatives continued to take the floor, an impressive number of delegates referenced the G77+China.  These Parties expressed particular concern with Article 2 of the draft agreement, the section that most explicitly deals with human rights, differentiation, and equity.
As we were leaving the negotiating hall, Al Gore’s impassioned call from his speech earlier in the day rang in our ears — “Our best hope for addressing the climate crisis before it is too late is: Here Now.”


-Anita Desai, Stephen O’Hanlon, Ayse Kaya

Follow us throughout the week on Twitter (@SwarthmoreCOP21) and Snapchat (SwarthmoreCOP21) to get real-time updates.

Gender Day at COP21

Today was Gender Day at COP21, and given the importance of the day, we attended a fascinating panel on the issue of gender and climate change – Experiences from grassroots: Why we need Gender Responsive Climate Finance – in the Netherlands’ government pavilion.  This panel demonstrated the importance of side events that bring together both officials (be they from governments or multilateral institutions) and non-governmental organizations and grassroots movement leaders.  In this case, the panel included a dialogue between the NGO representatives from the Central American Women’s Fund, the Global Greengrants Fund, The Samdhana Institute, and AKSI! Indonesia, and a Board member from the Green Climate Fund, to which hopes are pinned for climate adaptation and green economy funds in the poor countries.


This was such a rich panel that it is difficult to do it justice in a blog post.  While the discussion presented hopeful prospects for the future of climate finance, some of the panelists and members of the audience were clearly discouraged by the immense amount of work left to do in this area.


On the upside, the Green Climate Fund (GCF), as the Board member stressed, is the first multilateral financing institution to incorporate gender into its mission and policies from the start.  As GCF documentation indicates:  “The Fund will strive to maximize the impact of its funding for adaptation and mitigation, and seek a balance between the two, while promoting environmental, social, economic and development co-benefits and taking a gender sensitive approach.”  The potential for the GCF to support all sorts of organizations working to improve the lives of women across the world is huge.


However, the GCF’s funding mechanism offers some challenges to non-governmental organizations.  To simplify a complex process, institutions must be accredited to receive funds from the GCF.  Non-accredited institutions can apply for funds, but need to work with accredited institutions.  Things get more complicated, however, because the GCF works through Nationally Designated Authorities (NDAs), which it calls the “interface” between the country and the Fund.  The NDAs are meant to align the distributed resources of the GCF with national objectives and priorities.  Even more, applications of accreditation to the GCF need to have evidence of nomination from the NDA for the country in which the project is to take place.  And, projects submitted for funding to the GCF need a “letter of no objection” from the country’s NDA for the country in which the project is to take place.  But, NDAs are political institutions that don’t necessarily have the same priorities around gender as the GCF.  These difficulties can easily pose an unwelcome barrier between the GCF’s funds and their ultimate intended recipients, vulnerable communities that need help.


Moreover, the GCF process poses significant capacity challenges for small grassroots organizations.  Panelists from these groups cited the large amount of time and resources needed to prepare documentation for and file applications, which must be completely in English, a significant barrier in many developing countries. These ‘costs to entry’ make the fund less friendly to small scale grassroots projects, which often are led by women. They suggested additional advising and support from the GCF could support small-scale projects.


The GCF appears dedicated to integrating gender as an integral dimension of its operations, but as always, the devil will be in the implementation.

-Anita Desai, Stephen O’Hanlon, Ayse Kaya

Follow us throughout the week on Twitter (@SwarthmoreCOP21) and Snapchat (SwarthmoreCOP21) to get real-time updates.