World Climate Summit – The Investment COP

Wow, it felt so surreal that we finally made it to Madrid! Following the Swat Delegation’s posts and keeping abreast of the news coming out of the first week of negotiations had built up my anticipation. Still slightly jetlagged but brimming with an equal measure of excitement, I made my way to the World Climate Summit: The Investment COP, which was conveniently next to the airport. The Summit, dubbed as “the most important official COP25 side event,” has, over the past ten years, brought together leaders in the public and private sectors to seek and share “business and investment-driven solutions to climate change.” This event interested me because I genuinely believe that if we are to tackle climate change successfully, then we need everyone on board, especially businesses. Certain businesses pollute, while others are innovating for solutions to address climate change. Either way, there is no denying that we can’t get close to meeting the Paris Agreement without the private sector’s support.

At the World Climate Summit
At the World Climate Summit

I arrived at the Summit in time for the first break out session on “The Future of Energy – Decarbonizing the System,” The speaker offered a synthesis of the requirements for stabilizing the climate and why the next decade is critical, which are broadly categorized as “reduce demand, change how we power and fuel our lives, scale up a ‘carbon management’ industry, and tackle other greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.” On the last point, what stuck out to me was how if all the cows in the world were a country, then the Republic of Cows would be the world’s second-largest contributor of GHGs! Our diets are definitely something that must shift if we are serious about combating climate change, so I will also look forward to reading Isabel’s posts about agriculture. On a lighter note, one of the panelists joked in this session mentioned how he took his first flight on an electric plane this year and joked how the range matters more on an electric plane than an electric vehicle. I found this to be pretty funny and appreciated the humor because climate change conferences can, at times, feel a bit “doom and gloom.” Another session I appreciated was an interactive workshop on “Physical Climate Risk and Response.” The speaker discussed topics such as “will countries like India get rich before it gets too hot?” Such questions really need to be at the forefront of policy discussions considering extreme heat conditions will be at a level when humans cannot survive, so how would India cope when ¾ of its workforce works outside, and only 7% of its population has air conditioning? Another interesting topic was about “how will long-term mortgages exist for risky geographies?” Typically insurances operate on one-year contracts, so with climate change making disasters more frequent and severe, then premiums might become too cost-prohibitive. Also, mortgages are usually for 30 years, but you need insurances to have mortgages. In such situations, this could even lead to a crisis in places like Florida, which depend heavily on property tax. Risk is a very fraught issue because it’s tough balancing the various needs of stakeholders involved. A point brought up in a later session that I thought also fed back neatly into the discussions around insurances was the concern of Small Island Developing States (SIDS). Their worry is that the increasing talk about the risks climate change poses to their country will also drive up the cost of capital, leading to a drain on capital. That could then be a vicious cycle because it would leave less capital available for adaption. Jet lag is hitting me, so I’ll wrap up for now! Don’t worry, these are all areas I hope to further explore at COP25. I still have so much to learn/share!

SubNational Engagement

It was a busy first day of week 2, figuring out where the venue was (thanks Jenn for the subway directions!), getting our badges and settling in. Like yesterday, everyone hit the group running. I started off in the RINGO daily meeting and got inspired to go the the informal on Article 6. Article 6 is a big deal at COP-25 and I wanted to hear positive progress. I am not saying it wasn’t positive, I actually am not sure what it was. I was reminded that listening to delegates list their problems with text doesn’t captivate me, and certainly doesn’t make me hopeful. And I will be getting my Article 6 updated from the Eco Newletters from here on out! Kudos to those of you who find this kind of dialogue thrilling!

I shifted focus for the next part of the day, attending a series of side events focusing on subnational involvement and specifically on things that cities have and are doing to help meet national NDCs. These sessions were much more up my ally, and it was great hearing about different initiatives that cities are doing. Various mayors we are the events, and they talked about how they aligned climate friendly initiatives with the desires and needs of the people living in the city. They talked about different program they initiated, many of which were common across the different cities (which spanned three continents). They stressed that a lot of what they do is highlight to their citizens how the initiatives are helping them, which gets support to having tax money devoted to this work.It was great to hear about the ways some cities were pledging to be carbon neutral and some were even targeting carbon positive initiatives (https://www.turku.fi/en/news/2018-06-08_turkus-new-climate-plan-global-forefront).  A resonating theme was that when a city government makes emission control integral to all aspects of government and makes sure to listen to the needs of the city, then everyone wins. They also stressed that by setting ambitious targets, you can really help shape truly transformative change. I found it really inspiring.

 

The Week 2 Delegation has landed!

We made it to Madrid! It was an uneventful flight, and we actually landed early. Nancy hit the ground running, changed at the airport and went to the World Climate Summit. Isabel and I went to the apartment and got settled, and then she went off to an advocacy training session lead by CAN. On a day when COP-25 is not officially happening, it was still a busy day!

In past COPs I’ve attended, I have focused a lot on the Indigenous People’s Platform and structured my time around events where engaging Indigenous communities was forefront. Unfortunately, there is not a lot on the agenda regarding these issues at COP-25 (at least in week 2). I’m going to switch gears and make the focus of my week on sub-national engagement. This is something Max was focusing on, and I’m going to ride his headwind what looks like some great side events. I am specifically very interested in the resilience of urban dwellings and developing city initiatives to combat (and weather) climate catastrophe. I’ll keep you posted though-out the week!

Day 5: #WeAreStillIn

Hi everyone! Today marks the end of our time at COP 25 and on this blog, facts that may result in sadness for some and relief for others. Luckily, Swarthmore will be sending another delegation for week two of the conference, so those of you enjoying our posts should look forward to hearing from Chris, Nancy, and Isabel!

This morning, I attended the opening of the US Climate Action Center at the WWF pavilion. The US Climate Action Center hosts the #WeAreStillIn delegation, a network of subnational government, tribal, business, college, healthcare, and cultural professionals committed to collaborative climate action in the U.S. The work of the #WeAreStillIn campaign operates in direct opposition to the current federal administration’s anti-environment position and policies.

From today until next Tuesday, leaders from the #WeAreStillIn delegation will present best practices, models, and frameworks for continuing and furthering climate action in a number of sectors across the U.S. The coalition represents nearly 70 percent of U.S. GDP and 65 percent of the U.S. population and thus forms a powerful voice in mobilizing U.S. society to enact policies and programs to promote the green economy and limit our carbon output.

The #WeAreStillIn campaign is also committed to engaging with foreign leaders and delegates at the COP in a (seemingly) more meaningful and collaborative way than our State Department delegation. They are working to bridge the developed/non-developed divide and provide funding sources for cities and regions in developing countries.

As much as I am not proud of our federal climate policies, I am proud that so many of our civic and industry leaders recognize the urgency of the climate crisis and are forming coalitions to mobilize support for and further climate action.

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US Climate Action Center

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Day 4: Exploring the Green Zone

Today I attended the Article 6 informal negotiations, a side event on Article 6 and decarbonizing the energy sector, and a side event on climate finance. The Article 6 negotiations were extremely well-attended — negotiators and observers filled the big plenary hall, and there were also lots of people interested in the finance panel. Several panelists in the finance panel pushed for more climate finance to be delivered through multilateral development banks. (The US is a donor to five of these: the World Bank, the African Development Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and the Inter-American Development Bank.) The argument was that these have been the most effective in mobilizing climate finance so far, and that they can move quickly using existing institutional knowledge and relationships. At the same time these entities can have conflicting priorities and varying mandates, so it seems that this might make more sense as a complement to mechanisms like the GEF, GCF, Adaptation Fund and (eventually?) a fund for loss and damage.

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A painting by Vincente Mercegue Cartes, Age 12, Chile

I also got a chance to visit the Green Zone, which is the area with broader access than the Blue Zone where negotiations, official side events, and pavilions are hosted. This area turned out to be a very corporate and sanitized space, meant for engagement with Spanish society. I saw lots of school groups, a VR headset exhibit, and an exhibit of children’s art and letters that had been sent over from Chile.

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Campground complete with green floor mat, picnic tables, cabin and a trailer selling hot dogs.

Day 4: Nature-Based Solutions

Sadly, we are nearing the end of our time in Madrid. We have all had an amazing (and hectic) week navigating the COP and this beautiful city.

Today, I attended a fascinating panel on nature-based solutions (NBS) in cities. Nature-based solutions have formed a large part of this year’s COP and refer to measures taken to protect, create, and restore ecosystems (in cities NBS essentially refer to green spaces, roofs, and infrastructure). Nature-based solutions are hugely important as they are often cost-effective and provide multiple environmental and social co-benefits. For instance, green spaces in city squares can simultaneously increase social interaction and pedestrian traffic, cool cities, and remove carbon from the atmosphere.

Unfortunately, nature-based solutions can also result in negative outcomes —most importantly “green gentrification” — which is especially important to me given my parallel interests in social justice and environmentalism. Green gentrification is a tricky issue. While urban areas, especially poor urban areas, lack access to environmental amenities, those same environmental amenities can drive up property values and result in displacement (think the High Line or Prospect Park in New York City).

As of now, I want to dedicate my life’s work to the planning of green spaces and thus am generally supportive of NBS measures. I am just fascinated by the fact that the activation of public spaces can transform cities from dark and imposing to beautiful and social. For instance, one of the panelists today outlined work that his company had completed in Germany. They had essentially placed a small, mobile park in the middle of an empty square, and, by the next day, the previously unused square had become the center of urban activity. The large impact of such a small action amazes me, especially given its environmental co-benefits (carbon uptake, increased walking, etc.).

Importantly, however, citizens of a city must never be left behind, even if we lose some environmental benefits. Thus, NBS measures should include participatory planning processes and must be implemented with ALL city citizens in mind. If not, a network of NBS will only be helping to solve one problem (e.g. climate change) while creating another (e.g. displacement).

P.S. One quick note from the presentation that I found fascinating: NBS planning must account for climate change. Generally, we plan for how nature-based solutions will positively impact the environment. We must also, however, take into account how an environment might be altered in response to climate change and thus plan to implement an NBS that can adapt to and perform in a changing or new environment.

WIM Day 4 – Disappointing stances from US, EU, Australia and Japan

Hi all, I’m currently sitting on the floor of the convention center with 20% laptop battery so this is going to be a shorter post! Today I went to another WIM negotiation, and things started to heat up quite a bit. Last night, the co-facilitators wrote up a draft document outlining a summary of the key recommendations the parties had suggested for enhancing the WIM throughout the week. Notably, there was absolutely no mention of additional financing for loss and damage, despite the fact that this request had been made multiple times. The LDCs, G77, Vanuatu, Uruguay, and Sudan came out strong, reminding the co-facilitators that additional finance for loss and damage was important to include on the summary document. The US, EU, Australia, and Japan, however strongly opposed the need for additional finance for loss and damage much more clearly than in any previous negotiations. The US negotiator that I met with a few days ago, Farhan, said that the WIM specifically had absolutely no role for the provision of additional finance, therefore completely prejudging the outcome of the WIM review and dismissing the pleas from LDCs and other supporting parties. This was personally a pretty heartbreaking moment for me – I was not proud to be from the US in that moment. Japan proceeded to talk up the use of adaptation funding to support loss and damage (a conflation issue I discussed in my last post), as well as the role of insurance facilities in helping with loss and damage (another problematic argument). Lastly, the EU said that they saw no value in creating additional finance for loss and damage, and that finance discussions should be reserved for COP agenda item 8 in the finance room. These were all highly disappointing stances, given the urgent need for financial support in the most vulnerable countries. This session ran over time by an hour and a half, and another informal session may be scheduled for tomorrow at 4pm (I wonder how long the WIM review sessions can be extended…). More updates to come, but the unified stance against additional financing from the US and EU is incredibly disappointing, to say the least.

BTW, good introduction to WIM here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yXK1W0S015I

GEF BTR Roundtable

On the way to the Article 6 negotiations this afternoon I ran into the wonderful Liz Nichols (former Swarthmore professor and now finance negotiator from the State Department) and decided to tag along with her for a bit instead.  We stopped by the US State Department Delegation Room and chatted while her colleagues busily prepared for their meetings.

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I followed Liz to an informal meeting about the details of providing GEF support for Parties to the Paris Agreement to submit the (new) required BTRs (biennial transparency reports).  These are huge all-sector audits that contain a national greenhouse gas inventory and progress updates on achieving NDCs.  These reports are hugely expensive for developing countries, so funding is a make-or-break issue for whether these will be ready by January 2024.  It’s hard to manage emissions without measuring them, so this is a really big deal for tracking progress and reducing emissions.

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I sat at a small table in the GEF pavilion with Liz and a couple of other US negotiators, GEF leads, representatives from UNDP and UNEP and three donor and LDC parties.  The discussion was a technical one on how to design the funding process for the BTRs to make it accessible and effective.  Even in a small group there were a lot of competing interests and perspectives even though everyone had (more or less) the same goal.  It really drove home what Liz had told us before — that the details are important and hard to get right.

Day 3: Subnational Actors and a Small Preview of COP 26

At this year’s COP, my focus is on subnational actors and their role in both official negotiations and in promoting climate action more broadly. As more than half of the world’s population lives in urban areas and cities emit 75 percent of global CO2 emissions, municipalities play perhaps the most important role in combatting the climate crisis on the ground.

Luckily, unlike many countries, cities are increasingly committed to climate action. For instance, almost 100 megacities across the globe have joined the C40 Climate Cities Leadership Group, which commits all of those cities to a Global Green New Deal and to developing climate action plans by 2020. Thirty C40 cities have peaked emissions and 25 have pledged to be emissions neutral by 2050. Similarly, almost 2000 small municipalities are members of Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI), which is a big proponent of data sharing, greenhouse gas inventories, and future emissions predictions. Together, these networks of municipalities are fighting for a greater role in the Paris Agreement, perhaps through LDCs (locally determined contributions) as a supplemental mechanism to NDCs. They are also working to improve urban climate finance mechanisms, especially in developing countries, as well as to pressure their national governments to up their NDCs.

Today, I attended an interesting talk on how many cities across the globe are aligning their policies and plans with a 1.5C pathway. One of the speakers at the event was Susan Aitken, who serves as the leader (mayor) of Glasgow, a city that will host next year’s COP. Susan, as she preferred to be called, outlined Glasgow’s plans to become the UK’s first net-zero carbon city (by 2030). She discussed a public-private partnership with Scottish Power to boost investment in renewable energy production and storage, as well as to promote the use of electric vehicles.

Refreshingly, she also spoke in depth about a moral responsibility for climate justice and a just transition, especially given that Glasgow’s bad air quality is concentrated in poorer areas of the city. She emphasized the need to expand the city’s public transportation networks to poorer neighborhoods, as well as to promote access to green space and recreation in those areas. Importantly, she stressed the importance of including citizen voices in any sustainable planning processes.

Susan Aitken speaking at the WWF pavilion
Susan Aitken speaking at the WWF pavilion

It was really interesting to learn about Glasgow’s innovative leadership role in combatting climate change — both through the private sector and through participatory planning. It also made me excited about next year’s COP (even if I won’t actually be there). Hopefully at COP 26, Glasgow emphasizes the importance of including subnational actors more directly in the COP process. I also hope that being in Glasgow will provide other subnational leaders with a model on how to decarbonize former industrial cities. Glasgow was where James Watt conceived of the modern steam engine. Now it is becoming a pioneer in new, participatory, just environmental technologies and policies. The city has come a long way from its industrial roots.

Quick video summary of Glasgow’s net-zero efforts here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ANLdqvzi44s.