Time is running out

The COP presidency posted new text (144 pages!) at 3 a.m. this morning, with a slightly revised text posted at 10:15. The closing plenary was originally scheduled for noon; it’s been pushed back until 3 p.m. Old COP hands in RINGO are betting on 7pm or Saturday as an actual time. Evidently, the press has already been told that they need to re-apply for badges (observers’ badges will be extended, but the press have a lot of equipment, so they are treated differently).


Here in Katowice, the crossing lights are a steady green with a steady beeping sound when it’s safe to cross; when time is running out, the green man starts blinking and the rhythm of the beeps changes to a galloping sound: da da dum, da da dum, da da dum. I feel as if we should be at the galloping stage, because that red light is coming.


Media amplification of messages

Jonathan Watts of the Guardian published an article Thursday about using the term global heating instead of global warming.

Screen Shot 2018-12-15 at 8.19.39 AM

It was interesting to read this article because I was in the audience for the side event when Watts asked Richard Betts a question about global heating. This was the sequence: an observer? an activist, perhaps from Italy or Spain? asked “Hans Joachim Schellnhuber” (as Watts called him, though on the panel he was called more simply “John” and he noted that he had spent many years working in the UK) whether activists using the term global heating were supported by the evidence. Schellnhuber promptly took responsibility for the term, stating that he and his colleagues had used the term “hothouse earth” in their paper in PNAS, and that this might have sparked laypeople’s use of the term global heating. Heating, said Schellnhuber, was a more accurate term than warming.

After an intervening question or two, Jonathan Watts asked Richard Betts whether he agreed with Schellnhuber; Betts confirmed that he thought “heating” was a better term, because the energy systems of the earth were changing. That became the subtitle of the Guardian article, with an eminently British image focused on the British heatwave of this past summer.

Was Watts wanting to amplify the voice of southern European activists via the authority of the UK Met office? Was he wanting to credit a local boy (UK Met office) rather than a German scientists (Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research)? Did he just want to give Richard Betts some attention in a panel where almost all the questions went to Schellnhuber? I’m just curious–but I was fascinated to see this kind of journalistic intervention in action.


For the MPFS 6th grade science class…

I just wanted to mention a program called the Science and Technology Policy Fellowship, run by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. There are ten of these AAAS fellows at COP: the picture here is of Gillian Bowser, a professor at Colorado State University who has brought a group of students to the negotiations here. You may have also seen a picture of my colleague Liz Nichols in earlier posts.


Part of why it’s important to have these scientists here is that one big argument at the international government level is how seriously we should take science. (I believe we need to take the science very very seriously.) AAAS fellows are getting a lot of practical experience about how policy and science relate to one another.

Maybe some of you will one day be scientists, professors, AAAS fellows!


What if we miss the target?–or, Climate scientist disses William Nordhaus

The second half of the title is aimed at Jennifer Peck and any other economists who might be dropping in. 😉

If you don’t want to read on, here’s the argument in a nutshell: John Schellhnuber sat down last night with Nicholas Stern and they agreed that the problem with Nordhaus’s work on climate is that it does not consider non-linearities–the assumption throughout is that we can get to 3C in a steady state of gradually rising temperatures.

This panel began with talks by Richard Betts and Katy Richardson of something known as the Helix project, which is working to create much higher resolution models of climate with real-world applications. I arrived at the beginning of the food part of the panel, and I’ll try to represent that in a separate post, but the big ticket item here was John Schellnhuber, founder of the PIK: the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, the top-ranked climate think tank. He gave a terrific and fairly terrifying if low-key presentation. As John noted, the room was terrible: the slides were barely visible due to lighting issues, and the fans periodically made the presentations almost inaudible. But here’s the webcast for the panel as a whole. I encourage you to watch it.



Here is (the start of) my rough transcription of the first part of the talk, plus some of the Q&A.

John began by saying, almost casually, “We will miss the target. The question is by how much.” He noted that “this is the most important session of COP 24, and it should not be happening in a side event. The question is how much can we bear and still sustain civilization.”

IMG-8923 IMG-8925

John’s critique of the SR1.5 is familiar: they just went back through existing papers, looking for consensus. “The picture is too rosy; they are not dealing with non-linearities.”

This past summer’s devastating drought in Germany was caused by the meandering of the jet stream, itself due to the warming of the Arctic: as the temperature differential between the Arctic and warmer regions decreases, the jet stream moves into a series of curves (raspy [sp?] waves, apparently 7 of them over the surface of the planet).

IMG-8931We are seeing more synchronicity of extreme events due to the “holding pattern” created by these planetary wave dynamics.


PIK tried to publish a paper about these planetary wave dynamics back in 2001, but it was rejected by all reputable journals (which is when John knew he was onto something important); it was finally published in PNAS in 2013.

John proposed thinking of tipping points as the vital organs of our planet.

What will happen, he suggested, was that as we pass key tipping points, these organs will be transformed. Some will die: the coral reefs. Some will be transformed: the Amazon will turn from tropical rainforest to savannah.


The Greenland ice sheets are experiencing non-linearities.


Regional weather patterns will also be affected: Pennsylvanians might pay special attention to the impact of a weaker Atlantic overturning (which may be helping produce our harsher winter weather).


John’s major point was that we have hit major tipping points already: the die is cast.


John compared the tipping point with glacial melt to removing the plug from a bottle. This slide was actually a simulation, so it’s worth going to the webcast, to get the fuller effect here (among many other reasons).


The Paris Agreement was a kind of guardrail: at 2C, we pass or engage some five tippoing points–but if we go above, then others follow (the Amazon, the Boreal forest, El Nino, permafrost, and so on). This was the “second most important slide.”


There was also a global map of potential tipping cascades, but my photo is too blurry to read. I’ll include the photo below, bad as it is, just as a basis for saying that the little globe in the middle of the diagram is far more likely to fall into a hellish red hot area than it is to wobble its way to a safer landing zone.


There was some “good news” in that PIK has gotten better at forecasting El Ninos and monsoons, and that improvement has the capacity to save millions of lives–but that seems like small potatoes in view of the destruction forecast by the presentation as a whole.

John thought methane hydrates were indeed a sleeping giant, but he thought that tipping point wouldn’t kick in for another thousand years. “But we should be funding research on this! We can’t wake that giant!”

Someone asked all the panelists to tell one story about 3C global heating in Europe. Richard pointed to the forest fires in Spain, Portugal, and Greece and one of the most confident predictions in the new modeling. John replied, “With 3C sustained globally, we would have a temperature rise of 4.5 in Europe. Southern Spain would be part of the Sahara.”

Someone from the climate observatory in Brazil asked why John was so much more pessimistic now than he had been in Paris. He replied with three reasons: 1) we have more scientific knowledge showing that we are entering the slippery slope; 2) the complete lack of action since Paris, despite heroic efforts on various parts; 3) the election of madmen like Trump and Bolsonaro.

That pretty well blew out my day. I had a migraine, but even without it, I think I would have found it hard to focus. The projections don’t surprise me: I am a card-carrying climate pessimist at this point. But it’s oddly difficult to hear one’s views confirmed so authoritatively. I keep hoping someone will persuade me I am wrong. Apologies for the bad slides and the bad news.


Negotiating guidance for GEF: diplomacy in action

The final open contact group on GEF (Global Environment Facility) guidance happened after lunch Tuesday.  Some context: Iran believes it can’t get funding because the US blocks it. South Africa is speaking for the African Group of Nations, which itself is part of the G77 and China (in other words, most developing nations). China is not present in the negotiation, so presumably its interests are being represented by the G77 or other allies. The US doesn’t recognize Palestine as a sovereign nation. Japan is part of JUSCANZ along with the US; the EU is a Party to the COP in its own right, with its own representation in addition to individual state delegations. The EU joins JUSCANZ in the Umbrella Group (UG).

When people fight about language, it’s because they believe it has real-world consequences for them, for their ability to get funding for projects to protect their people (and perhaps in some cases, the funding will grease some palms–some of the delegates here are pretty frustrated with a culture of corruption in their home countries). (Me too.)

From the US side, we might note the difference between “Welcomes” and “Notes.” This is from a handbook on diplomatic language prepared for delegates from least developed countries:




Urging is another word the US tends not to like:


This was the language on the projection screens at the start of the meeting: IMG-8856

Introduction: It’s not done until it’s done. We will go through the text as far as we can, knowing that the whole decision is in the brackets until it’s done. If we can lift the [more local] brackets, that’s a good thing: finding common ground.

What you see on the screen is the last text…

You just said the whole text is still in brackets. We request you keep old text until…

This is the old text.

We may use the “Takes note,” so we can remove brackets for the first paragraph.

We have a proposal to change “welcomes” to “takes note”—the rest of paragraph one will stay as is. We can live with that? Good. Paragraph 2.

We can agree with “note” as long as don’t delete “with concern” in ¶2.

We would like to keep “welcomes.” (Is the US blocking “welcomes” here or is a developing country unhappy with the low level of replenishment?)

If Japan is proposing to link paragraph 1 and 2, we propose a linkage between 1 and 2 and 10 and 11.

Palestine and Japan are demonstrating flexibility. Iran is taking aim at later paragraphs that are a source of significant conflict between the US and most other countries.

We know everything is connected to everything, but let’s take it piece by piece. Let me give you some thoughts from the past. After replenishments, contributions are still welcome. In the last round, some developing countries contributed and increased their contributions. From the chair’s perspective, “welcoming” is appropriate. (The chair is pushing both sides: China and others who have some money could contribute to the fund too; but as chair, he’s holding to the majority view on “welcomes.” US, look for a little flexibility.)

Let’s move on. Some suggested that Parties could agree on absolute amounts instead of percentages. Could you express yourselves on that? EU?

We would be ok with “recognizes with concern,” but would do full stop…

…or just take out the brackets…

And the text with it.

Of course the text with it. (The Chair accidentally suggested that the EU would agree with the point it wanted removed from the text.) 

Percentage: why can’t we keep the percentage?

Other views? (Presumably, everyone already knows why the EU is proposing to remove the percentages, so the chair doesn’t want to dive into that question himself.)

We are also willing to have not the percentage but figures as a compromise. We propose to retain “welcomes.” If the numbers are absolute amounts, “with concern” should go away.

All right. We are not making much progress. Paragraph 3. (He’s just trying to get through the text to see if there’s anything people are willing to agree on. So far, there’s not.)

We are happy with “welcome.” We need to delete “overall financial package” from paragraph one. It’s misleading to have the figure. In paragraph three, we understand that the percentages may be questioned. If we take out 46 %, we should add the word “significant.”

Neither numbers nor percentages are correct—the figure depends on the exchange rate, the time you compare numbers (at the beginning or end of the replenishment)…

You are opposed to numbers because these are misleading. We have a proposal from South Africa to capture the numbers with the word “significant.”

Since we are starting with “recognizes with concern,” we have to say what we have concern about. We have to include the percentage for assessment tool, to give a dry sense of what we are concerned about.

I remind you—this is looking back at GEF 7 (replenishment): this is all just commenting on water under the bridge. Everybody younger than me in the room, which is everyone, should follow the example of looking forward. We’ll park it for the time being. (Many of these points seem valid to me, but I agree most with the chair that it’s time to get moving and find some agreement. South Africa’s compromise seems like one way to do that.)


Here is the lead negotiator for Australia, in black, leaning forward on her phone: many of the delegates really are very very young. There’s a lot of consultation going on via text and/or WhatsApp.

Para 3. (Whispered consultation) The Secretary is proposing becoming an inf inf (informal informal, closed to outside observers) to work. 

They don’t kick us out, maybe because there is then some progress made on paragraph 4: substitute “projected” for “potential.” Everyone agrees that the current version of paragraph 6 micromanages the GEF, offering an inappropriate level of guidance. (The EU was particularly strongly opposed.) ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA offers a different version of paragraph 6, offering a way for new national entities to be certified to apply for funding from GEF. The US is relatively welcoming to this new wording but suggests this idea is covered in its new version of paragraph 9. Liz and the ANTIGUA rep have a quick huddle. ANTIGUA’s not ready to let go of his language for paragraph 6 yet.


Paragraph 9 is a stylistic mess, but 10 and 11 are the real minefield for the negotiation–a red line for the USA. The US is proposing to strike the first long stretch in brackets and substitute the second shorter stretch in brackets.


CoCHAIR asks the US to read out the proposed language on paragraph 9.
Is that acceptable?

At this time we do not accept.

We are more comfortable with the original language.

We h
ave to consult with our groups—it is very important to have access for national agencies.

We like the new language. 

EU (arguing against the first bracket.)
Biodiversity, desertification, chemicals, etc. GEF has to follow this guidance for all of them. If we agree to this, GEF will have nothing for Stockholm. We have to look at the bigger picture. Screen Shot 2018-12-13 at 2.15.49 PM

I am speaking in name of 38 countries who all together are biggest donors to GEF. (You people need to listen to us if you want our money.)

GEF has a very complex portfolio and scope. We are working on finding a way to meet the goals of Paris agreement. The best way for us to have maximum impact is the GCF (Green Climate Fund). How did this session (on GEF) find its way into the text? GEF needs to find a way to see how best it can develop a business model to speak to national agencies in developing countries. I am consulting with my constituency. (Guidance to GEF is part of this agreement because GEF will fund the writing of reports mandated by the Paris Agreement, and this is the only mechanism for telling GEF that it needs to take on this new job. But LIBERIA is right that there’s some confusion about what this conversation is expecting of GEF–if I’m following correctly, which is a big if.)

Get a response within the remaining time, please. We will park it for now. (whispers.) I propose a compromise:

Consider improving its access modalities, based on its own experience, and continue to monitor the geographic and thematic coverage, as well as the effectiveness, efficiency, and engagement of the Global Environment Facility Partnership.” (This cuts out a lot of the detail of the first bracket and replaces the specificity with “based on its own experience.”)

I am trying to be naive and accommodate your good suggestion, however, Mr. CoChair, very frankly, the proposal you made is not a statement of the fact because the fact is that we haven’t seen any improvement in policies to be applied or actions to be taken. Therefore we are not able to accommodate your suggestion. We propose to keep the sentence as it is.

I just noticed in the section it says within small island developing states! Why LDC’s are not mentioned here? We want to bring LDCs in.

In the climate finance landscape, national agencies are very important. The ultimate goal of trying to help them should include giving them tools and means to access them. In Liberia I work with many national agencies and the point of trying to work with national agencies cannot be overemphasized: it is important.

I was just trying to keep it short and clear. Please add LDCs. Para 10.

As I think we all know, GEF guidance here is intended to apply only to policy, programming, and eligibility, and should certainly not guarantee or secure funding in any way…

This is an unacceptable red line to US. Who needs para 10?

I am sorry I can’t go along with my colleagues from the US. The point of COP is to make sure all parties have access to GEF. We have highlighted the importance of making GEF transparent and central as per our common understanding. But GEF has not been able to fulfill finances and resources to all parties. Unfortunately, there are other influences on the GEF process to block access to funding developing countries. Paragraphs 10 and 11 are not a proposal from this delegation.

(IRAN made a reference to China requesting these paragraphs and another reference to the “diligence and cooperation of our colleagues here.”) I think Palestine reversed earlier support for the change, without rationale, but I can’t be sure. Maybe he got a text from someone.

CHAIR (after a little kerfuffle with EU about skipping over paragraphs 7 and 8, which had no brackets)
We have come to the end. We will submit this text with what we have now to presidency to give to ministers. Thank you all for your efforts on this one.

The dreaded drafting exercise–a brief glimpse

In the briefing with the APA co-chairs, Sara referenced “the dreaded drafting exercise.” I left that briefing to go listen in on some detailed negotiation around bracketed text about the GCF.

The session had started as a closed “inf inf” (informal informal, as opposed to an informal, which is sometimes open, or a contact group) but it had been opened at the suggestion of the AGN (Africa Group of Nations).

The text under discussion is projected on screens in the middle of the square of tables, and also at the sides of the room:


I arrived just in time to hear the start of some horse-trading. These notes are scrappy because it’s hard to grasp all the references and undercurrents. The discussion was focused on paragraph 6 of the document in question. My somewhat facetious translations are in brackets.


SOUTH AFRICA (speaking for African Group of Nations; delegations tip their name cards on end to show their desire to speak)
We retained the right to bring back the brackets of paragraphs 3 and 4 if our negotiating partners are not willing to consider the issues here. (If you all want to make progress more generally, give me some agreement here.)

It is important that when we are uncovering text that we should aim for harmonization. (Uncovering text = removing brackets. We have to bear in mind the work of other groups, too.)

Suggestions that there was better language than what we have here… [long whispered conversation with co-chair and secretary] We understand the concerns of each of you. I was very happy with the proposal brought by Norway.

Three agenda items (two discussed other negotiating groups) focus on the same issue. Therefore the language used here might be useful. In moving forward, we request Canada to work with Africa on the very correct language we think would be useful to use move forward. We are bombarding with you (Africa) with a lot of admin, but this is extremely important for you as you have said. (Can we take this out of committee, please, and let the opponents tackle the issue directly?)

We need to have this discussion in public, so that we understand why Australia, Canada, Switzerland have spoken out against the language. We agree with Norway that there is a need for coherence. I am late for a HODs (heads of delegation meeting). We are not suggesting three different paragraphs. What we have here is a very specific mandate: we would like to see mandate acted upon….

We are willing to have a conversation with parties about this agreed language, why our partners have such opposition to this agreed language. It is very difficult to engage with lots of silence in this room. (JUSCANZ is obstructing progress and not acknowledging their bad behavior.)

We are concerned about the characterization that we are trying not to follow the language. The language is improperly constructing bodies. This needs to be solved at a higher level. Nobody is saying let’s not address it, but let’s not give instruction to the SCF (Standing Committee on Finance). (Unfair! We’re just saying it’s not our job to tell the SCF what to do.)

Everyone wants to operationalize. This is just a matter of clarifying some of guidance. We reiterate our request to our three colleagues. We hear Norway, repeated by the US now—it’s a matter of getting language in best places: where it falls, how we give the guidance. We request once again to see if you can sit and get better language than that, if you agree. If you don’t agree, we will bracket paragraphs 3 and 4. (Can you please work this out over lunch?!)

It’s maybe better if you and Stefan (other co-chair) meet with acf and ltf (? chairs of other committees), just the four of you and you bring us a proposal. You understand the issues from this group; we are ready to be consulted by the four of you. I think it’s better that it sits somewhere else. (Africa is telling the chair what to do. Whoa. Also saying, it’s not going to be productive to try to solve this among ourselves over lunch–and besides, I have this other meeting.)

This is an interesting [?]. We would like to suggest a gentleman’s agreement that if an interesting proposal comes out of this, that we agree to move forward. (Africa is the one being an obstacle here: can we agree to a limit on how much more of this will happen?)

We want to clarify for our friends in the EU that we have no substantive disagreement to ¶4. We think it’s important to stop unilateral veto power of some parties moving forward. (I think this is aimed at the US and its power to block funding to states it considers enemies or invalid actors. In other words, let us remind you that we are not the bad guys here.)

Let us move to paragraph 10.

For the US, this tone is unacceptable. We suggest changing “urges” to “invites.” (The US doesn’t like any language that suggests constraint on national sovereignty.)

Is this acceptable?

We’ll have to come back to you.

CoCHAIR (looking around)
The rest of us accept. Africa?

Our preference would be to remain with the existing language.

OK, you can join the party.

The current language emphasizes the urgency of the situation. This seems appropriate.

CoCHAIR (after more whispered consultation)
We have in principle agreed everything except two paragraphs in brackets. On paragraph 6 we will consult with co-chairs of other agenda items between 1 & 2 pm with colleagues in room 22. We will invite some of you. On paragraph 10 we invited 4 parties (US, South Africa, Bhutan, Pakistan) to come up with agreed language. If we have no agreement on ¶6, we will have to bracket 3 and 4.

At COP22 the same language (in paragraph 10) was agreed: the situation has not changed since Marrakech.

Those who haven’t come through with first pledges, we urge them to do so.


We have to end here.


After lunch and a meeting on GEF guidance (see other post), the GCF guidance discussion picked up again:

The Secretariat passed out a three-page document for consideration (to everyone in the room, even observers). See below.

What text are we considering, precisely: new text on the screens or the paper version?

What is in front of you.
(There is some general muttering.)

SOUTH AFRICA (picking up on the discontent)
We said that we would go back to bracketing 3 and 4 if…

So let us begin with…

EU (picking up name card and banging hand on it as a means of interrupting the Chair)
Richard, WHEN did you propose to go and develop something? It was when we were not in the room. (Ooh, he’s mad. Interrupting the chair and calling another party out by first name. Breach of decorum.)

This was not the intent but it was a request for the African Group to develop a compromise.

(The Chair has “the power of the pen:” by asking AGN to develop new text, he may have leapfrogged over what others consider an acceptable process.)

With these two paragraphs I really have trouble understanding why these should have been part of GCF guidance. I can’t see why we are discussing them in this room. Perhaps not everyone in this room is aware of the language in the Standing Committee on Finance (and then she read it out–I couldn’t keep up): the SCR (Standing Committee on Finance) ¶10 also requests in collaboration with [someone] to explore ways and means either to assess the needs of developing countries or assist developing countries in assessing their needs and priorities …adaptation…

I do not think that these two alternative ¶s will be acceptable in this guidance: they would not be accepted by people working on guidance for the SCF.

Responding to something that you don’t know the context of is often unproductive. In this regard, it is unfortunate that Norway launched into this issue.

We are back to where we left off, with brackets on 3 and 4.

IMG-8874IMG-8875 IMG-8876

Briefing by the COP presidency

Ambition and a just transition
The Presidency briefing (conducted not by Kurtyka, but by one of his staff) happened at noon. I got there late again, just as the President’s representative was saying that the process of ramping up ambition would not end with COP24, but would come to a climax at the Secretary General’s climate summit next September. He also noted that the emphasis on a just transition introduced by the Polish presidency had been endorsed by almost 50 parties, but not by all parties. Still they were willing to include a reference to the declaration (on just transition) in the decision, which this representative seemed to take as “an endorsement of all parties on a just transition.” I’m very curious to see how this plays out.

RINGO welcomes the IPCC SR1.5
Tracy Bach announced that “as a constituency and individually as research scientists, we welcome the IPCC report.” She followed up by saying, “RINGOs don’t advocate for policy positions; we advocate for good process.”  Referencing an earlier question, Tracy then said, “You invited us to engage. It would be helpful to have insight into how we can assist you.” The minister thought about that, taking some time, and replied, “Perhaps we can help each other come up with an answer to that question.”

YOUNGO poses specific challenges
After starting with an appreciation for several contact opportunities, one of the YOUNGO reps asked about the lack of concrete guidance on loss and damage and the persistent brackets around 9.5 (finance). He also asked what COP24 wanted to offer as a way for universities and youth to participate in NDCs.

YOUNGO’s second rep expressed concern about current status in the rulebook for 3, 4, 5, 6–even the limited language there at present looks as if it will be left out of the work programme text. She also wanted to know whether any progress had been made on a carbon budget (individual, I think) and finance for local climate initiatives to meet more aggressive goals. 

The minister was silent for quite a while, then returned first to the question from RINGO. “I would see your support in your engagement with the parties, regional groups. We need them to show enough flexibility to have all technological issues finalized by 5 pm today, to have text ready for ministers to start big issues on political level. This is very practical guidance. To enable you to do this, have same debriefing on Thursday to update you on progress. It will be a good opportunity for coordination, discussion of how to enter the final two days of discussion.” (This is an unusual gesture, to add a second briefing from the presidency. The representative’s obvious effort to provide serious answers was also noted by experienced observers. At least one focal point [group representative] had boycotted the previous presidential briefing in protest at the previous cavalier treatment of constituencies.)

To YOUNGO, the minister gave thanks for the encouragement to consider non-state actors, and referenced a position paper encouraging parties to allow such participation.

Finally, the WGC (Women and Gender Concerns group) asked about the arrests of activists at the border. The minister noted that to enter the country there were two conditions: 1) a passport (and visa) in good order, and 2) not being registered as a threat to public order in the system. Poland was not responsible for the alerts in the system; the Polish border guard just implemented the law that was in place. He could not comment on specific cases because they were protected by a person’s right not to be… As the minister searched for the word “named,” someone behind me quietly supplied the word, “arrested.” There was a little ripple of reaction, and the speaker added, “What? Not the word he was looking for?”

Discussion moved on to a few other points–most notably, the idea that a target of 1.5 will be considered unless rule 16 is applied due to a lack of consensus–and then the meeting broke up.

Rule 16 is the consensus-breaking rule: any party can invoke it and the COP will simply hand the issue in question on to the next year’s conference. Are we headed toward a rule 16 moment? I sincerely hope not.

Briefing with APA chairs for constituencies (RINGO, YOUNGO, ENGO, WGC, etc.)

Once during each of the past few COPs, the co-chairs of the Ad-Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement have held a briefing for the various non-state actors at the COP.


I’ve heard from some of the more experienced RINGO attendees that Jo (left) and Sara (right) have done a terrific job, especially in comparison with the former (male) co-chairs.

I came a little late to the briefing, too late to hear the co-chairs’ opening remarks. I was just in time to hear a round of questions building on the metaphor of the Paris Agreement as a baby, growing toward toddlerhood (someone told me that Sara might be the one who started that metaphor, much earlier than this particular meeting). BINGO said something like, “We want to help the baby learn to walk. One of the issues with the baby wandering the halls is transparency–not that one wants a completely transparent baby.” Everyone laughed.

ENGO took the metaphor further: “We are concerned about the health of the baby. There is the transparency of the rulebook. Going forward there are political and technical issues: finance, loss and damage. How can technicalities be addressed? Is there any thinking about how good proposals from last week could be brought forward?”

Women and gender took the metaphor home: “The baby has been born, but what future will the baby be living? Where are rights in the rulebook? For the baby to survive, it needs rights.”

The co-chairs responded to these and other questions, stressing the limitations of their role as experts and facilitators: “When it comes to this role as experts, we are always going to be guided by the parties’ input and their take.” Sara said, “You must be tired of us telling you that this is a party-driven process. The value of having you here is to tell parties the importance of these issues.” (It’s worth remembering here that Sara and Jo are continuing to act as facilitators trying to help the Parties come to consensus.)

There was some reassurance: “The parties have not given up. They will address some of the proposals that came up last week, will see if they offer a path forward.” But there was also a caution, addressed partly to YOUNGO: “You were concerned about the risk of trade-offs. We are at the point of compromise to reach consensus. There will be trade-offs. We are looking for an outcome that is workable, has buy-in, but also remains critical and consistent with the Paris Agreement.”

Still, Sara, said, this rulebook was an important development, taking forward human rights, gender, Indigenous People. “The core part of the work you will see.”

They closed with a last encouragement to the focal points (and the rest of us crowded into the room and sitting on the floor).

Sara: “We always valued the opportunity to meet with you. It never felt like quite enough—one opportunity each COP. We loved hearing your questions. There has been a constant theme: it’s clear where your interests and priorities lie. You play a hugely important role and influential role in this process.”

Jo: “All power to your elbow. May you continue to keep Parties’ feet to the fire.”

Modeling the Talanoa Dialogue (Tuesday Morning)

At Paris, the Parties agreed to engage in a Facilitated Dialogue, concluding this year in Katowice. Many observers saw that facilitated dialogue as a dry-run for a global stocktake, since the first full global stocktake will only happen in 2023. Last year, in Bonn, the Fiji Presidency of the COP put a Fijian stamp on this facilitated dialogue, drawing on the Fijian tradition of storytelling, and launched the Talanoa Dialogue. Over the past year, everyone has been invited to take part in the Talanoa Dialogue, either by participating in a facilitated dialogue or by submitting a document to the UNFCCC. Cornell University made a submission, as did Cambridge University. Swarthmore, let’s sharpen our pencils!

Tuesday is the day for Ministerial Talanoa Roundtables. These were prefaced by an example of storytelling in the high-level session, immediately after the summary of the pre-2020 ambition global stocktake.

The COP President introduced the process, and the High-Level Champion Inia  B. Seriuratus summarized some of what the Talanoa Dialogue has produced, most notably a 2018 Yearbook and Summary for Policy-Makers demonstrating the breadth of commitments by nonparty stakeholders: cities, regions, investors, civil society (including, I believe, 9000 cities, 2400 regions, 6000 businesses).

Then the participants in the model dialogue came to sit together at the front of the stage. Seriuratus facilitated.


Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim was the first one invited to tell her story. Here’s a rough transcription:

“Climate change is a big crisis. Indigenous communities resolve by sitting down and sharing stories on reality. Women do this. I will only talk about the third question: how we get there. Indigenous people, we create the pathway of how we get there. We live in harmony and protect the environment because this environment is protecting us.

“A man who has hundred of cattle go for grazing: he make sure they have access to water and pasture. He doesn’t call the cattle a of home, b of home. They all have names. He looks at print in soil. We put our print in the soil to know who is whom. We [don’t] just sit in the back and we know if each one is home or one is missing.

“We do that because we have to take care of each of them. We don’t just count 100. Each solution matters. Each one matters.

“We have this window of action, this action taken by Indigenous People. We have to implement it right now; we have to do it all together. Finance matters, action matters. Time is not in our behalf.

“As Indigenous People what we teach in this history is how we live all together, how we get action where it is not happening. We cannot choose what we will do–we cannot choose energy and leave transport because another country is doing it.

“Indigenous People are 370 millions, 4 percent of the population, but we are protection for more than 80 % of world biodiversity. How we get where we are going.”

The Polish minister Henrik spoke second.


“History is very interesting and my age also allows me to reminisce more than 20-30 years, back to the 1970s when Poland as country depending on Soviet Empire developed a very extensive industry and mining. At that point in Silesia many mines opened and hundreds of thousands of people worked in mining and heavy industry. Emissions from coal were over 470 million tons—a huge volume compared to modern times.

“Surely all of us know the story of solidarity, the transformation of 1990s. (Does everyone still know this story? Do Swarthmore students know the story?)

“We were coming out of a period when all cars filled the roads, we paid no attention to air pollution. In the 1970s when houses were built, no one paid attention to heat permeability or costs of heating because we had a lot of coal availability.

“After the 1990s, we started closing down the burden of heavy industry–not far enough, but climate and air protection in Poland was gaining attention and having some effects. Now we are concentrated on transportation, electromobility: at least hybrid cars, the number of cars is growing—effort has to be vast—city centers suffer the most from the pollution. We created an electromobility fund—introducing public transport program—changing busses from diesel to electric.

“We also have huge emissions from single-family houses. Our energy is based on coal but our share of coal is diminishing; we still have fumes, but we are using the best technologies, reducing sulfur by 30%, NOX by 50%. We still have CO2 emissions. There is still the challenge of heating single-family homes—and today is the first snow of winter–in order to try to rise to challenge, implementing large scale (25 billion euro) modernization of 1970s houses. We will replace windows and structural elements to produce a 50% reduction in heating, with a reduction of 18-20 million tons of carbon emissions per year. This includes replacement of old boilers and stoves with clean gas-based heating. We want our residents to benefit, to pay smaller bills for heating live in friendlier houses. Changes to climate policy should be accepted and supported by residents.

“We have crossed a long path from the last century to today’s challenges.”

Ms. Radna [?] of Iceland (sorry, no photo!)

“A century back, Iceland was a country of the north, with long and dark winters. We had to do something to improve living standards. We had two energy transitions: 1) electrify with hydro and geothermal, and 2) geothermal. Geothermal has been the most significant factor in improving life in Iceland.

“How were we building renewables on a large scale last century? We started small—individuals, farmers, entrepreneurs. A farmer could build a small hydro system using river running through his land. He could utilize geothermal—he looked at a hot spring and wondered, “Can I use it to heat my house?”

“To improve more significantly, we had to scale up. Hydropower stations and geothermal were assisted by state. Mid-century, the state went in as big actor, mitigating risk (sharing with municipalities): it supported research, funded the national power company to build hydropower system and grid.

“Of course, there were challenges along the way as we developed geothermal. It took resilience and stubbornness. When trying new things, they don’t go as predicted in first round. The state had to rely on foreign loans; the state had to provide capital to build the system. It created a long-term contract with power-intensive industries which now use 80% of our electricity. Iceland is not first place aluminum smelting companies thought of sending their business…but now…

“So we have been building power stations in beautiful places. Iceland is a beautiful nation—should we utilize everything or conserve some? This is a big issue for the public.

“What challenges are waiting? Transport and fisheries still rely on fossil fuels: this will be a challenge for us. Iceland has promised to be carbon neutral by 2040: the state is engaging stakeholders and businesses in dialogue.

“There are no magic tricks. If something doesn’t work, you have to try something else. Individuals have to understand us, business and policy-makers have to understand each other.

“One thing about inclusiveness and getting people to understand: you have to have gender equality—women participating on all levels.

“It is not impossible to decarbonize and improve the economy at the same time.”


Prime Minister of Fiji

“Last night I returned from the Middle East. I was in Lebanon, then Syria, then Golan Heights in Israel. I also met up with two prime ministers, in Lebanon and Israel. Everyone knows about the issues in the Middle East. Does everyone know about the Pacific?

“We are all in one canoe. We must participate in sailing that canoe into safe harbor for our children, our grandchildren, our great-grandchildren. We need the political vision that will help take us in this canoe to this safe harbor. If you think you are safe, not vulnerable—you will be vulnerable if we don’t follow what the scientists have told us—and I commend the scientists for the report.

“Where are we? In Poland, the first snow. On the other side of the world, it’s nice and warm—our children would want to come and play in snow, but then they would want to go back.

“We need funds: billions of dollars to provide for adaptation. And we need to commit ourselves to look at our NDCs–more ambition so we can reduce emissions as we promised ourselves by 2050 to zero.


“Let me tell you something about what’s happening in the Pacific: Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, Vanuatu get hit by cyclones about every 6 months. Winston was a category 5 cyclone. We didn’t know how strong it would be. We have never seen devastation like that caused by Winston: not only infrastructure but also agriculture—no more foodstuffs. Now villagers are worried about the next cyclone. Villagers demand seawalls and hurricane shelters, not just on the coast, also those on rivers.

“Many cannot associate climate change and the problems it brings in problems of agriculture and infrastructure: 44 dead; 33% GDP lost, hundreds of schools and of course homes. We are building back better.”

I will give the last word to Hindou, who was kind enough to take a selfie with me after the talk, and who responded to a question from Seriuratus about the role of women.


“Women can get us there. We are half of the world populations.

“If you take decisions without them, it’s a problem. Not just two women and three men at a table—gender balance there. No! You need to listen to what they are saying.

“I am talking about those who wake first, sleep last, and take care of communities. I am talking about teachers and healers. I am talking about my grandmother who never had a smartphone, who never saw the color of electricity, who never saw clean water from a tap, who continues drinking from river, this grandmother has lots of innovations because she makes predictions. She makes predictions about the next six months weather based on the trees, the birds’ displacement. When cattle lie down, they face south, rainy season is coming. This knowledge of these women–these women who lead us exactly where we need to go.

“Everyone deserves the same level of recognition.”