The Story of Tuvalu

Today, I started out the COP by attending the YOUNGO meeting and then heading over to a press conference held with the Prime Minister of Tuvalu, Enele Sopoaga because I wanted to get the live opinions on the negotiations from a Head of State. Tuvalu is one of the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) that has a population of just over 10,000 people and around 10 sq miles of land area. It is also especially susceptible to changes in sea level as well as storms and typhoons because of its low lying land-mass (just 15 ft above sea level) and a major concern is that sea level rises will cause Tuvalu to become inhabitable and potentially even force relocation of its citizens in the coming decades. With this background in mind, I settled into a seat near the front and pulled out the camera to record what I anticipated to be an thought-provoking speech. I was not disappointed, and there were a lot of memorable statements to be recounted.

The Prime Minister of Tuvalu, Enele Sopoaga
The Prime Minister of Tuvalu, Enele Sopoaga

After making a round of introductions to other dignitaries in the room, Enele got straight to the point. “Tuvalu is suffering.” He reiterated that a 1.5 degree Celsius cap was essential for the survival of the islands. He then pushed onto the negotiations, citing his support for a legally binding agreement to come out of the COP and sticking a point in to the Loss and Damages discussion about how if framed properly there would be a wider agreement between parties on this matter. “This is not about loss and damages, this is about survival.” was Enele’s reply and an adequate one I think for the PM of an island nation.  He then moved on to discussing how he felt things were moving along at the negotiating table, and this next statement sums things up quite adequately. “The process has been very slow, very (un)transparent, and there’s a lot of twists and turns that small nations like Tuvalu cannot follow because of logistics. And that defines a very unjust process already.”  This was followed by an even stronger statement about the impacts of political foot-dragging, “There is always a tactic of delaying until the last minute, and then being dumped upon, by something that is totally weak and is not worth the paper it is written on as we saw in Copenhagen.” Bang, no beating around the bush. Enele continued on, asking other parties not to utilize this as a tactic even citing the US as a culprit in dragging down negotiations and appealing directly to COP Presidency followed by another call, specifically to the leadership of the EU (Germany and the Netherlands in particular). for a legally binding solution and cooperation on loss and damages.

He then voiced his  desire for mechanisms that include regular and consistent reviews of the actions of their parties to meet their INDCs and mentioned Tuvalu’s impressive commitment to switch to 100% renewable energy by 2020. He then alluded to the Kyoto Protocol as a cautionary tale for the Paris agreement, finishing up this portion of his speech with another call to not hit a dead-end like in Copenhagen.

Finally, Enele switched gears to talk about financial mechanisms and their impact (or rather lack of impact on Tuvalu). Labeling the current situation as “unforunate” the Prime Minister described the inability of low-resource SIDS such as Tuvalu to submit sound, and scientifically justified proposals to obtain funding through UN sources such as the Green Climate Fund. “Bureaucracy is taking over. Not the parties. The parties that need resources such as the Green Climate Fund are being neglected.” He followed with a call for parties to do away with such “conditionalities” and to consider the vulnerability of nations rather than the quality of their proposals. Lastly, Enele used the CDM as an example to make a pitch for renewable sources of funding to be added to the current financing mechanisms so that money is not simply being siphoned off to the abyss of climate financing and that Least Developed Countries (LDCs) who have contributed the least to climate change are not continually being forced to finance their own adaptation which he labelled as a final “great injustice”.

Sunrise at the COP

It was hard to hear from Enele that the talks were still too slow to keep up with the demands of SIDS, but his talk inspired some hope in me. If a country as small as Tuvalu can put forth so much effort to push for change and still keep up hope despite being completely disadvantaged, it stands to reason that the US should have no reason to drag its feet. As a representative from a large, well-funded, and well-equipped delegation, this talk made me rethink my perspective on what needs to happen here at Paris. Having an SIDS perspective was really invaluable, and it is really important to keep these vulnerable countries in mind moving forward. Their voices matter too.

Technology Within the COP21

Technology ultimately plays a large role in the actual, physical mitigation and adaptation plans established by different parties and organizations. However, it should be noted much of the discussion of “technology” that goes on in the COP21 is pretty far removed from the actual science. Many bodies of scientific experts such as the SBSTA that are part of the COP simply compile and submit  relevant recommendations  for the COP to consider and can only influence the negotiations indirectly. Policy initiatives and mechanisms that integrate technology and are designed to aid for instance, Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS), seem to be largely set up to provide “technical assistance” or “capacity-building” and act as networks that connect these government entities with other firms that are concentrated bodies of expertise.

US Center at the COP21

During one of the side events I sat in on, I found that the Climate Technology Center & Network (CTCN) is exactly that, and is coincidentally recognized as the operational arm of the COP21 in this regard in conjunction with Technology Executive Committee (TEC) which is the policy recommendation arm. Through the CTCN, no finance is provided for projects nor actual technological solutions, but simply feasibility studies and other “requests” for technical assistance which governments who need the help must actually formally submit for through Nationally Designated Entities (NDEs) defined by the requesting country and then pay up to hundreds of thousands of USD ($100,000-200,000) for the services. Arguably, these countries can seek funding from other sources to pay for these services, but it brings to mind questions about whether technology is really being effectively implemented in this way given their already limited resources. If this is the process that a developing country must go through in order to simply identify which technologies to implement, I fear how the combined lag of international policy bodies to make decisions, these intermediate phases of technological development, and the actual implementation of technologies will affect our ability to cope with climate change when our preparation time is already in short supply.

Side event on CTCN and TEC
Side event on CTCN and TEC

Many Voices, Many Hopes, Many Problems

** Will upload voice recordings and videos to youtube channel at some point. Files are too large to process through wordpress

Today I tried branching out from the side event proceedings (which were getting increasingly stale) to try and mingle with delegates, observers, and participants from other countries and try my luck in the plenaries. This worked out far better than I imagined it would. Although there were individuals from all sorts of different backgrounds, everyone was open to talking about their problems and solutions though asking for hopes seemed to be a bit of a contentious issue. I managed to land some solid conversations and even interviews with quite a few people. I talked to a geologist from the Comoros about the effects of climate change on their nation as island-state, a lady from the French delegation about how France engages civil society in matters involving environmental initiatives, and a participant from Denmark from the Nordic Council of Ministers. I also got to hear about how Saudi Arabia is pursuing Carbon Sequestration technologies (most of which ironically involve producing byproducts to process more fossil fuels).

Plenary Hall La Loire
Plenary Hall

Additionally, today seemed to be a good day for sighting some higher level delegates. I recorded (Coming soon) some remarks by Kevin Rudd, the former PM of Australia who dispensed some helpful advice on pushing the political agenda for the purpose of combating climate change, and got to piggyback onto an ongoing interview with the President of Kiribati, Anote Tong, who apparently had been in some unsatisfying meetings with President Obama earlier on in the COP (also coming soon).  Also, in addition to having a satisfying day connecting with a broader set of individuals, I attended the “fossil of the day” award mock ceremony which is usually held to highlight “awards” to the Parties of the day who were the most obstructive to the progress of negotiations. Today, however was different. Instead of a fossil, the Phillippines and Costa Rica were lauded for being part of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) with other LDCs such as Bangladesh and Afghanistan to declare their intentions through the Manila-Paris agreement adopted on November 30th to move to 100% renewable energy and decarbonize their economies by 2050 in an attempt to limit temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius.  Pretty exciting for Day 2.

Ray of the Day for the Phillippines


Day 1 Summary

The first day of the COP21 started off at full tilt. Signs, graffiti, and artwork highlighting the event paved my way from the airport all the way to Le Bourget. After making a brief cameo at the hostel for a much-needed shower after my red-eye flight, I bolted over to the COP area to get my badge and throw myself in the mix. I got in later than most people since the registration was closed for NGOs this morning, but luckily security took pity on me and I managed to worm my way in just a bit early with enough time to scout around before attending my first side event. I was blown away. As soon as I entered the exhibit hall, scores of delegates from every country you can name flowed past me like schools of fish, weaving their way through the oceans of stands with their multi-colored climate-related flyers,  jabbering heatedly to one another in a trifecta of different languages. I passed gigantic rows of tables full of reporters and observers plugged into their computers, all simultaneously plugging away at their Macbooks and watching streams of the Leaders’ event being held in the massive plenary halls across the way. On one hand, it was definitely overwhelming to witness, but at the same time comforting to know that there were so many people invested in the outcome of the COP. After getting my bearings (by which I mean getting lost several times and also getting booted out of the press area), I finally settled down at the first of side events I attended that day, “COP21: The Key Issues”

Mural depicting hopes for the COP21

During the course of this event in which the delegates chairing the panel discussion trickled in and out, I was able to listen to representatives of developing countries including India, China, and the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) voice their thoughts on their own intentions for the COP21, what they believed the key issues on the agenda to be, and the results they wished to see. Each group had a different perspective on how they were approaching the COP, but there was a surprising amount of overlap between these nations especially  in regards to the role of developed nations and the issues they viewed to be crucial. All of the parties named adaptation and mitigation strategies to be the most important agenda items for this COP, and called for developed nations to take a bigger role in supplying technology and financial resources to ensures the success of these strategies. Both India and China in particular stood by their usual ground, using the argument of historically generated emissions from developed nations as the case for setting up “Common, But Differentiated Responsibilities” (CBDR) for developing nations and call for technology transfers and other aid to be provided to them by developed countries on this basis. To be honest, I wasn’t surprised.

First Side Event
First Side Event

The next side event I attended was centered on the inclusion of indigenous people in the Reducing Deforestation and Degredation (REDD) mechanisms ( Traditionally, REDDs are set up in such a way that the indigenous people living on the land may get persecuted for their way of life by the legal boundaries set by the REDDs without reaping any of the benefits which instead go to the governments or NGOs implementing them, bypassing indigenous people as stakeholders in their own cultural lands. The panel for this side event consisted of a coalition Peruvian and Canadian indigenous peoples who laid out suggestions and an alternative framework for ensuring that above all, the territorial and cultural rights of their people were preserved under REDD schemes. This framework stresses the importance of continued stakeholder involvement, proper implementation monitoring among other improvements to the existing REDD mechanisms.

Media Area
Media Area

Finally, I attended a side event on the role of civil participation in the Green Climate Fund. Unfortunately, this turned out to be one of the busts of my day, as basically all the panelists really had to say on this matter is that more civil society participation would be good for the GCF in a general sense to offer more feedback, insights, and opinions beyond the ones already there. Given that this would probably happen no matter who they added to the GCF board, I would say that this was sort of a cop-out answer. On the plus side, I did catch an interesting debate about the role of small-scale renewable energy distribution in Indonesia as a potential way of averting some effects of industrialization, and that made me happy in a nerdy sort of way.