Side Events – GFCS & JCM/BOCM

JL from the WMO chaired the session on the GFCS and he imposed a no-acronyms policy for the duration of the side-event… or in other words, Jerry Lengosa, from the World Meteorological Organization requested that the speakers minimize the jargon when talking about the Global Framework for Climate Services; there were a few transgressions, but by-and-large, the participants adhered to the ban.

So what is the Global Framework for Climate Services?

“Better management of the risks of climate variability and change and adaptation to climate change, through the development and incorporation of science-based climate information and prediction into planning, policy and practice on the global, regional and national scale.”

This is an upgrade of the work of the WMO, an agency of the United Nations, which is focused on all things weather and climate. The WMO gathers, compiles  and lobbies for more standardised weather and climate data, and it also works with many governments, national and international organisations to facilitate better sharing of this data. While most of the data the WMO gathers is for improved monitoring of weather and climate, it also has particular a focus on advance warnings for natural disasters, 90% of which are weather, climate or water related. A need was identified for an enhanced platform for this work and thus the GFCS project was born.

The GFCS has four priority areas: agriculture, water, health and disaster risk reduction. First and foremost, the GFCS will be a data portal providing access to the latest climate and weather information, in order to improve communications between the climate and agriculture and food security communities, partner climate services and water resources management and strengthen regional systems for providing climate services. The image below includes a list of expected users as well summarising what the GFCS will be.

Pillars of GFCS

As an example of what the GCFS is striving to do, many of the countries most vulnerable to climate change are also the most data-poor countries and are thus ill-equipped to form adaptation strategies: part of the goal of the GFCS is a technology transfer of observations and modelling capacity to these countries in order that they build the infrastructure required to monitor and predict weather. The GFCS is also a framework for identifying knowledge-gaps in current weather-climate prediction capabilities, one deficiency identified, but not remedied yet, is the current gap in weather prediction abilities between 10 days and 6 months. 

“We must account for current and future climate since these are not the same anymore”, was the conclusion of Darrel Danyluk, an engineer, from the World Federation of Engineering Organizations (WFEO, aka the UN of Engineers). Darrel first outlined the  relationship between the WFEO and the WMO (another definition coming up), which has been formalized in a memorandum of understanding, “technical collaboration to define and meet the needs of engineers and engineering for civil infrastructure for present and future climate information”. During his presentation, Darrel emphasized that his profession would require “information products” rather than raw data from the WMO. This difference between data and information was repeated in another presentation, “even when it’s raining data, there is an information drought”.

During the Q&A session I asked Darrel what variables he would need from the fifty Essential Climate Variables (ECVs), which the WMO have said are essential from the perspective of monitoring climate.

“For my work, rainfall duration, frequency and intensity. For electrical engineers designing the transmission and distribution system, they need data on the number of freezing nights. For building engineers, it’s snow loads, wind loads and freeze-thaw cycles.”

There’s more information about the GFCS on the WMO‘s website.

Next, it was a side event jointly hosted by the Japanese Ministry of the Environment and Global Environment Centre Foundation, which is based in Osaka, Japan. If the manner of starting of the Irish event had indicating a loose interpretation of punctuality, then the Japanese side-event demonstrated a much more literal attitude: at the precise starting time (16:45), the chair had all five of his speakers seated and ready, he then rang a bell to get the audience’s attention, informing them that the event was about to begin. But the tone was warm and friendly throughout, with lots of tittering amongst the speakers.

The side-event was entitled “Development of JCM/BOCM and its methodology through Feasibility Studies”. To explain these absurd acronyms, I must, unfortunately, introduce another acronym: CDM, which stands for Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). The CDM is a Kyoto Protocol mechanism whereby a developed country funds an emission reduction project in a developing country. For the developing country, the primary benefit is typically increased energy efficiency, improved air quality or enhanced energy security whereas the emissions reduction is typically a secondary or co-benefit. For the developed country on the other hand, emissions reduction is the primary purpose for their contribution to the project, because through various accounting mechanisms, they can claim some of the emissions reduction as credit towards meeting their own emissions reduction targets. In addition, for country like Japan, which manufactures nearly everything, there are clear economic benefits as well.

Yuji Mizuno, from the Japanese Ministry of the Environment explained Japan’s version of the CDM mechanism: JCM (Joint Crediting Mechanism) and BOCM (Bilateral Offset Credit Mechanism), two acronyms which both mean the same thing. The JCM/BOCM are seen as a complement to the CDM.

JCM

Japan is currently supporting JCM projects in Mongolia, Bangladesh and most recently Ethiopia. Although the JCM initiative is quite new so all the projects are only at the feasibility stage. It was very interesting to hear the perspectives from Mongolia and Bangladesh, two countries very different to Ireland.

Dr. Dagvadorj Damdin from the Mongolian Ministry of the Environment and Green Development gave a presentation about his country. As of 2011, Agriculture and Mining sector are together accounting for more than 50% of the GDP; concomitantly, the carbon intensity of their GDP is extremely high because of all the coal mining. The annual mean air temperature of Mongolia has increased by 2.14 C between 1940 and 2008. A UNDP study highlighted the potential for GHG emission savings by insulating the building stock and a NREL study highlighted the potential 1,100 GW wind resource in Mongolia.

A “Low Carbon Development Partnership” agreement between Mongolia and Japan was just signed in January of this year. Many of the activities to-date have been feasibility studies and demonstration of Measurement, Reporting, and Verification (MRV) requirements. There has also been substantial capacity building and knowledge raising including for example, workshops on “environmentally friendly technologies and measures in the energy supply sector”.

Mr. Ziaul Haque from the Bangladesh Ministry of the Environment and Forests gave a presentation about his country and potential JCM projects with Japan. Some of the GHG mitigation measures Bangladesh have identified include solar PV irrigation pumps, modal shift from road to waterway, metering residential gas supply (it seems their policy on gas consumption is like Ireland’s policy on water meters), solar PV lanterns to replace kerosene lamps and using higher efficiency kilns for brick making.

The most effective (and most expensive) mitigation measures are on the energy supply side: upgrading the existing coal-fired power generation to supercritical boilers and building new gas powered electricity plants. The Japanese Marubeni Corporation is currently investigating construction of a new 410 MW Combined Cycle Gas Turbine (CCGT) power plant. This isn’t unlike Ireland, in that most of our emissions reduction in the electricity sector has to-date been as a results of much new CCGT capacity.

The last two speakers (Mr. Tatsushi Hemmi & Dr. Osamu Bannai) at this side-event discussed the administration of the JCM projects, but the clock was ticking on the event and their presentations were quite rushed. After a very brief Q&A, the chair cut short the event: the side-event had now exceeded its allotted time, and there was another group outside waiting to come in.

“We are now minus time”, said the chair.

Something that could also be said about the whole UNFCCC effort.

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The Irish Event – Agriculture, Food Production and Irish Aid

“Hello everyone. We’re only five minutes late, so I suppose it’s not too bad for Irish time”.

They were actually seven minutes late.

But after four days of listening to a worldwide potpourri of languages and accents, it was endearing to once again hear an Irish accent. The audience chuckled at John Muldowney’s soft, self-deprecating statement, which set the tone for a warm and informative side event. Representatives from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Teagasc, Bord Bia and the Department of Foreign Affairs presented to the audience on “Ireland’s National and International Initiatives on Agriculture, Food and Climate Change”.

After some opening remarks from Dr. Frank McGovern, the head of climate change research at the EPA, John Muldowney from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine gave a short presentation summarising Ireland’s agriculture sector from an economic and environmental perspective: the sector employs (directly and indirectly) 10% of Ireland’s workers and contributes about €9 billion to the Irish economy annually; on the other hand, it is responsible for 30% of Ireland’s GHG emissions, much higher than the European average for agriculture of 9%. Irish land is 90% agricultural and the cow and sheep populations are 49% and 13% higher than the human population respectively.

Some well-known facts about Ireland were presented with such a scientific turn-of-phrase that for a moment, their everyday meaning was almost disguised: for example, Ireland has one of “the lowest water stress indexes in the world”, i.e. it rains a lot; the three main causes of Ireland’s agriculture emissions are “enteric fermentation, nitrous oxide and slurry run-off”, that is, farts, fertilizer and feces.

Frank O’Mara from Teagasc then spoke about climate change and food security. Since 1960, the world’s population has grown by 1 billion people every 12-15 years and feeding all these people will require an increasing amount of food, a job Ireland takes seriously owing to its highly productive agriculture sector. Since the size of the Irish cattle herd is expected to increase in line with increased food production and exports, in the context of climate change, the focus is on reducing carbon intensity, rather than absolute GHG emissions. Were Ireland simply to reduce food production (along with associated emissions), the required food would be produced elsewhere, almost inevitably with a higher carbon intensity; this is what is meant by carbon leakage.

While Irish farmers wouldn’t necessarily be the most vocal climate change activists, they are worthy heirs to the tradition of hard-nosed pragmatism and in this context, Teagasc had developed a marginal abatement cost (MAC) curve for Irish farming. Many of the measures on the MAC curve are primarily about economic efficiency, with carbon intensity generally being a secondary concern.

MAC

EBI (Economic Breeding Index) is simply breeding more productive animals. Ext. grazing is increasing the length of the outdoor grazing season (the level of enteric fermentation is inversely proportional to the amount of feed in an animal’s diet). The initial explanation for Weight gain, that an animal bred for food should always be gaining, rather than losing, weight during its lifetime was unintentionally funny.

“If you’re a farm animal and the end of your life is slaughter, well the sooner you get there the better”.

The audience were then introduced to the Carbon Navigator, a recently developed and impressive tool for farmers to benchmark themselves against better performing, equivalent farms. Again, the emphasis for the farmer is on improved efficiency, which will reduce his (or her) bottom line, but will also make the farm less carbon intensive. Some of the Carbon Navigator metrics are grazing season, calving rate, age at first calf and weight for age. The approach generally is to make suggestions about areas that could be improved.

“We don’t want to beat him over the head with it”, explained Frank O’Mara.

The final part of the presentation was about some of Ireland’s work in the developing world to support improved farming techniques, particularly in Ethiopia. When the presenter introduced this topic, he noted that Ireland, though being a developed country, hadn’t forgotten its famine in 1845, 1846 and 1847 – he was visibly choking with emotion at this point, so much so, that I thought he might start crying. But he held his nerve and described the PhD students from Ethiopia who were spending some time in UCD.

From the perspective of the 170 countries to which Ireland exports food and drink products, Padraig Brennan from Bord Bia emphasized the importance of Ireland’s green image and branding. Retaining this image is essential for the continued economic health of the Irish agriculture sector and Bord Bia has developed a new sustainability branding system, Origin Green, to help communicate and prove Ireland’s green credentials. What Padraig Brennan didn’t mention, was the extremely polished promotional film about Origin Green, with music composed by John Walsh and featuring Irish actress, Saoirse Ronan.

Lastly, Tara Smith from Irish Aid discussed some of the Irish Aid programmes that run in nine different developing countries: Ethiopia, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Timor Leste, Uganda, Vietnam and Zambia. One of the projects was a simple water gathering feature in Ethiopia, which enabled the local farmers to be more resilient to variation in annual rainfall. Another project, in collaboration with the International Potato Centre, involved introducing a new sweet potato in Malawi, thanks to which the local women said, “their bodies are healthier and their husbands are strong”.

There were a number of questions from the audience, some of which were quite testy:

“You talk fossil fuel subsidies, but what about food subsidies?” asked a delegate from Saudi Arabia.

“Why not support family planning in developing countries?” asked a woman from Australia.

“The work you’re doing is very impressive and you’re way ahead of us” said a man from New Zealand.

It was good to see Ireland on the international stage especially in an area, which though it might not be glamorous (enteric fermentation anyone?) is one where Ireland is arguably a world leader. It’s true that you can’t please all of the people all of the time, and some answers to some of the audience questions were satisfactory to some, and unsatisfactory to others. But in conclusion, Teagasc have demonstrated real expertise, innovation and tact when working to reduce the carbon intensity of the agriculture sector and for that, they deserve to be praised.

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Side Events – Loss & Damages, Antarctica and Deforestation

Better than a thousand days of diligent study is one day with a great teacher.
Japanese proverb

My main reason for attending the first week of the climate change conference in Bonn was to attend the numerous side events that are organized alongside the main negotiations. So far, they’ve all been incredibly informative and I feel privileged to have so many experts take the time-out to explain their field. Over the first two days I’ve been to presentations on non-economic loss and damages of climate change, a scientific update on the latest developments in Antarctica and non-market approaches to preventing deforestation.

Non-Economic Loss and Damages was not a field I was familiar with, and to be honest I came to the presentation somewhat under false pretences. The event description I read beforehand only mentioned Loss and Damages, so I assumed it would be an attempted economic quantification of the impacts of climate change; I was wrong, and I learned a lot. What could have been a very wooly discussion was given firm concreteness by the three panelists: Dr Bill Hare, Dr Koko Warner and Dr David Wrathall. Most illuminating was Dr Bill Hare, an IPCC author and a real heavy-weight on the climate modelling scene. He discussed the impact of climate change on three parts of the world: Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and South East Asia. He stressed that his study didn’t assume adaptation, but the usefulness of his research was to outline the adaptation challenges that climate change will present.

Some of the expected changes in South East Asia are rising sea-levels, which will impact the large coastal territory of Vietnam, the Mekong Delta, the main “rice-basket” of that country. Expected sea-level rise of 30 mm over the next 20 years will lead to a 12% loss of land-area of the Mekong Delta, with the resultant loss of agricultural land having serious consequences for both the population who depend on agriculture for their livelihoods and the wider population who depend on this region for their food. Since simply moving inland is an extremely constrained option – there are already other people living there and that land isn’t necessarily as agriculturally appropriate as the land that will be submerged. A different issue, but for the same country, is the expected impact of ocean acidification, which is likely to cause fishing grounds to move out of the national territories of the fishermen who currently fish these grounds. Some coverage of this loss and damages side event is online here.

The scientific update on the Antarctica was a press conference given by the Scientific Committee on Antarctica (SCAR); a video of the event is here. First of all, I learned that the cyrosphere is the layer of Earth where water is frozen, either in the form of ice or snow. The changes in Antarctica are complex: ice-sheet loss is estimated to have contributed to 0.2 mm sea-level rise, but the total ice-shelf area is actually increasing by 1.3% per decade. Three methods were used to assess the ice sheet volume change: laser altimetry, mass budget and gravity changes, all explained here; also being taken into account is the glacial isostatic adjustment, which is the slow rebound of the earth as the weight of Ice-Age glaciers recedes. The rate of changes to the ice sheet varies considerably with large reductions in the Antarctic peninsula and Western Antartica being offset by increases in East Antarctica. The role of the infamous hole in the ozone layer is critical: its warming effect has increased the strength of the Southern Ocean westerly winds by 15-20%, effectively cutting Antarctica off from the impact of oceanic warming taking place around it; this is unlike what is happening in the Arctic, where the overall loss of sea ice there is having an impact on circulation patterns in the wider Northern Hemisphere. The hole in the ozone layer has stabilized in size and is expected to start decreasing in size in 2017.

I also learned about how climate change is affecting three species of penguin of Antarctica: rockhopper, chinstrap and the adelie, see the graph of penguin population vs ice cover below. In general, the penguins who prefer sea-ice are doing better than the penguins who prefer rocky outcrops (you can probably guess which penguin species that is). However, once again, the changes are complex – a loss to biodiversity is certain, but the precise impact of that on individual species is uncertain.

Penguins

A third side-event I attended was hosted by the Global Forest Coalition. Only in the most general terms, was I aware of deforestation as a problem and my knowledge of the subject was extremely sketchy. If pushed, I would have said the deforestation rate in the Amazon rainforest was happening at a rate of one football field equivalent per minute, a number I more-or-less plucked from the sky (it actually used to be about four football fields a minute, but Brazil have gotten it down to about one and a half football fields currently).

“Unsustainable farming, mainly livestock, is by far the main cause of deforestation in Latin America”, declared the chair as she opened the event. The starting point of the side-event was that market-based measures to limit and prevent deforestation have to-date, not worked. The topic is germane to climate change negotiations because the GHG emissions that result from Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) can be enormous: in 2000, Indonesia had the 3rd largest GHG emissions volume in the world (after US and China) and 83% of these emissions were attributable to deforestation, which from a UNFCCC accounting perspective is LULUCF.

The first speaker spoke at length about agroforestry, a combination of agriculture (crops and/or pasture) and forestry, an approach seen as being environmentally optimal. The current main approach – Payment for Environmental Services (PES), essentially payment to farmers to modify their land – was viewed by the speaker as bad, in the main because it shifted the risks to the poor, who lacked the economic resilience to take on risk. Co-investment with the farmer was seen as a superior method and some of the recommended farming practices were intercropping, cover cropping, mulching and system of rice intensification

Another non-market based approach to thwarting deforestation was supporting indigenous peoples, who often lived on the land marked for deforestation, but had little rights since the land tended to be owned by the state. A woman from an indigenous peoples group (Tebtebba) gave an inspiring talk about her organisation’s work with indigenous peoples in Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Nepal, Congo, Kenya, Cameroon, Peru, Mexico, Brazil and Nicaragua. The focus of Tebtebba was empowering local communities through knowledge, capacity building and negotiating acumen. With limited knowledge and negligible political influence, indigenous peoples were often strong-armed off their land by large scale deforestation projects so Tebtebba was engaged in helping indigenous people to map their area, build a resources inventory and by linking traditional knowledge to scientific knowledge, build capacity in the best sense of the term. Thus armed, an indigenous people could negotiate from an informed standpoint, getting a better deal for themselves, which nearly always aligned with a more environmentally sound proposal for the region, since their continued dwelling in the preserved forest, was in the words of modern jargon, a great example of sustainable development.

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Towards A Post 2020 Climate Agreement

On Wednesday morning, I attended a meeting of the ADP group in the plenary room, with all the attending countries of the world present. The co-chair, Jayant Moreshwar Mauskar, opened the morning’s event and bid the assembly, “Happy World Environment Day!”. We were then informed that this year’s motto was, “Think, Eat, Save”, an exhortation to waste less food. In a world where 1 billion people are obese and 1 billion people are hungry, this is a common sense outlook. Co-chair Mauskar then got down to business, a round table discussion on ADP workstream 2, “Building a practical and results-oriented approach to increasing pre-2020 ambition”.

The title of this article, Towards A Post 2020 Climate Agreement, is my own attempt to summarise what the ADP is and does; in the words of the UNFCCC website, “The ADP is mandated to develop a clear path toward an effective universal agreement by 2015, and a plan of work for enhancing mitigation ambition”. From my pre-conference research, I had figured this much out; from my attendance at this, my first ADP meeting, I learned there’s anything but universal agreement amongst countries about what that pathway will be. If you ask a climate scientist, the challenge is clear: find agreement on GHG emissions reduction to put the world on a pathway to a temperature increase of no more than 2 degrees. But if you ask China what the challenge is, you’ll get a very different answer to what Brazil says.

So the meeting topic was “increasing pre-2020 ambition” and the session opened with an excellent presentation by Professor Joseph Alcamo from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) on the current 2020 emissions gap. He deftly explained a host of different climate scenarios and targets with ease: in a nutshell, for the world to reduce GHG emissions sufficiently to stay within the 2 degree limit by 2100, global GHG emissions need to peek before 2020, and then be approximately 44 giga tonnes (Gt) in 2020; however, the world is currently on a pathway to overshoot this 44 Gt interim target and this is the “emissions gap”. In a business-as-usual scenario, ie. assuming we carry on as we are, global emissions will be 58 Gt in 2020 and the gap will be 14 Gt; in a best-case scenario, ie. assuming all pledged emission reduction are successful, global emissions will be 52 Gt with a corresponding emissions gap of 8 Gt in 2020.

“That’s the bad news part of the presentation”, said Alcamo. 

“The good news is looking at technical potential only, there are enough measures, if adopted, to reduce global GHG emission by more than enough to bridge the current emissions gap.”

As an example, he described how a dedicated bus corridor in Mexico City could save 14.3 kt CO2eq/yr. Alcamo also described successful policy interventions in Brazil and Costa Rica, which had limited, or completely stopped deforestation, a major cause of emissions in Latin America. Before the audience got too complacent however, he reminded everyone of the dangers of lock-in, that is, what happens now if everyone purchases inefficient vehicles, power-plants or buildings: because of the capital investment, these technologies will then be used for their long lifetimes (7 years, 30 years, 100 years) and by the time it comes to replace these technologies, its too late to purchase efficient equivalents, because we’ll be too far gone on the high emissions pathway.

“We need far less lock-in and much more ambition!”, stated Alcamo as he finished his presentation.

Then co-chair Mauskar opened the floor for questions.

“I see Nauru, China, Venezuela, EU, Bangladesh, Brazil, Kenya, Slovenia and Saudia Arabia. Nauru first”

Nauru asked a relatively harmless question about the potential role for urban planning.

When it was China’s turn, they came out all guns blazing: what about accumulated emissions since the industrial revolution? What are the causes of the gap? Can’t Annex 1 [developed] countries make all the cuts? Are these results just based on modelling? Technologies can’t make cuts by themselves, we need to talk about stakeholders! Annex 1 countries should play major role! We need more time to discuss our views on this topic.

Fighting talk from China! And a familiar narrative, developed countries should make the largest emission cuts in line with their historical responsibilities.

Venezuela then asked a question about levers for shifting consumption patterns, which I wasn’t sure whether or or not it was a veiled reference to the developed world and their responsibilities, ie. we’re only the oil suppliers, don’t blame us!

The EU sought two clarifications about how many country pledges the analysis included and what accounting rules the presenter thought needed improving; theirs was a very non-confrontational, technocratic type approach. Bangladesh then queried the differing roles of the private and public sector.

When it was Brazil’s turn, what began as a question turned into a comment. They thanked the presenter for acknowledging their work on slowing deforestation rates, which they then elaborated on further. In reference to policy interventions to reduce emissions, “Developing countries are taking the lead”, said the Brazilian delegate, “but historic emitters must take the lead”. This was becoming a familiar refrain.

Kenya then asked a question about adaptation and Slovenia asked about barriers to implementing mitigation measures.

Then the camera turned to Saudi Arabia, and even before the delegate spoke, a strong impression was formed, for the man was wearing an extremely flash, chequered suit and was working from a slick new MacBook Air. The bling of the Saudia oil empire was visible to all. The man’s question though was mild, what about mitigation from agriculture?

Professor Alcamo did an admirable job answering all the questions. China was allowed more time to voice its concerns, and they more or less repeated what they had said in their opening barrage. Resolution was reached after the Chinese delegate offered to share their own analysis of the same issue on the UNFCCC website, and co-chair Mauskar said he was happy for this to happen, and for anyone else with relevant work to also share it on the UNFCCC website.

The meeting then moved on to the next agenda item. Because I’m not familiar with all the acronyms and jargon of the ADP group, this unfortunately was somewhat incomprehensible, so I slipped out. The first part of the meeting had been an education, both in the positions that various countries were taking on the emissions reduction issue, but also in the way these positions were expressed in a public forum of the countries of the world. China really took the gloves off, which I didn’t expect; Brazil really seemed to show leadership, another thing I didn’t expect; and the EU just politely plodded on, something I did, pretty-much, expect.

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First Impressions Of The Bonn Climate Change Conference

Initially I thought that a two week climate change conference was far too long, what could all the attendees be possibly doing for two weeks? Then I flipped my impression, how could a plenary session with 195 countries and a host of civil society groups ever come to an end, let alone reach an agreement? So, the answer to the first question is country-groupings, as for the second question, there’s no agreement yet. At the plenary sessions for the three different UNFCCC bodies (SBI, SBSTA, ADP) all countries have a seat, but they typically only speak through the country representing their country-grouping, for example, as the current holder of the EU presidency, Ireland is the country currently speaking on behalf of the EU. The composition of the country-groupings is usually geographic, but it also gives an insight into how climate change is affecting the world, a non-exhaustive list is as follows: Swaziland currently leads the 54 country African group, Nepal leads the 48 Least Developed Countries (LDC) group, Nauru represents the 54 strong Alliance of Small Island States, Fiji represents China and the Group of 77 countries (G77), Australia speaks for the Umbrella Group, Papua New Guinea speaks for the Coalition for Rainforest Nations, Thailand heads the Like Minded Developing Countries, Chile the Association of Independent Latin American and Caribbean States (AILAC) and Bolivia speaks For The Bolivarian Alliance For The Peoples Of Our America (ALBA).

There are a host of civil society groups too: environmental groups, indigenous people’s groups, local government groups, gender-equality groups and youth groups. Despite the diversity of country-groupings and NGOs, after a few minutes listening to the speakers at the plenary session, it becomes clear that there’s a much simpler distinction driving most of the climate negotiation process: the difference between developed countries and developing countries, with the latter consistently calling for more ambitious action from the former. Even outside of the plenary sessions, in the lobby, this distinction is clear; here, there are a number of exhibit stands, where amongst other things, a number of environmental groups publish their daily newsletter: Earth Negotiations Bulletin, Third World Network Bonn News Update and ECO newsletter are some of the ones I pick up. The positions and opinions of these groups are clear and they don’t hold back on their views. This is effectively lobbying, with the environmental groups trying to build momentum for their green agenda. It is telling however, that’s there no overt lobbying in favour of the positions of the developed countries, since they clearly have the stronger bargaining position.

The first day of the conference began with a plenary session for each of the two subsidiary  bodies: the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) and the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA). While the latter meeting moved briskly along, the former stalled before it even began; the key word in the name of the group, implementation, becoming an ironic reminder of exactly what the group wasn’t doing. On the first day the SBI meeting was twice suspended because the countries couldn’t agree which agenda to use: the supplementary agenda or the provisional agenda. After no agreement at the end of the first day, the opening day plenary session was recommenced on the second day, after which there still wasn’t agreement about how to proceed.

The true story was that Russia (supported by Ukraine and Belarus) was not happy, and when not allowed to introduce an item to the agenda about rules of procedure, they effectively held up the entire show. From reading the daily bulletins from the various environmental groups, it all apparently went back to the Doha COP in 2012 when the Qatari COP President severely irked the Russians when he gavelled a decision on how many credits could be taken from Kyoto Protocol 1 into Kyoto Protocol 2. Russia had done well from the first Kyoto Protocol (2008-2012) because the timing of the collapse of their economy in the early nineties meant they had a surfeit of carbon credits, a position they were probably keen to preserve in the second Kyoto Protocol (2013-2020). After getting short-changed (as the Russians saw it) at Doha, there was even a rumour that Putin had personally called Ban-Ki Moon in order to remonstrate. As I chatting with a colleague yesterday, the Russian delegate member at the centre of the current impasse walked by. All I heard was, “Niet, Niet, Niet”,  and my meagre knowledge of Russian told me that he still wasn’t happy. At the end of the day, ECO, one of the environmental groups held a mock press conference where their “Fossil of the Day” award was given to Russia for, “holding up the climate negotiations for two whole days”. No-one from Russia was on-hand to accept the award.

While the SBI has completely foundered, the SBSTA moved along at pace. I attended an interesting talk in the afternoon, where a number of senior researchers, including a number of authors from the IPCC, presented some climate research updates including some preliminary findings from the fifth assessment report (AR5), which is due to start coming out later this year. This will be the IPCC’s most recent work since the fourth assessment report (AR4) in 2007. AR5 has already been called an epic piece of work by another author and I realize how true this is when I learn that for one part of the report alone, 30,000 comments were received! Pulling together the work of over 800 authors based on the latest climate science is no mean feat. During the session, we learned that for absolute GHG emissions, China now equals the US and EU put together, but for GHG emissions per capita, the US is still way ahead of the rest of the world. Dr. Sybil Seitzinger presented some interesting work about black carbon, which is now understood to have a warming potential (1.1 w/m2) second only to CO2 (1.7 w/m2). At the end of his presentation, and almost in reference to the obstreperous disputes elsewhere in the conference, Dr. Jean-Pascal van Ypersele reminded the audience that, “The climate system cannot be negotiated with”. During the Q&A with the audience, India, the climate agnostic, asked a question about the, “hiatus in global temperature between 2001 and 2012”, – the response from van Ypersele – “climate is defined as being at least 30 years long, there’s no hiatus”.

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No Ordinary Conference

When I left Cork at high noon on Monday, the city was in the throes of the annual Cork City Marathon. Thousands of people of all shapes, sizes and ages were challenging themselves to run 26 miles, some for a good cause, and some just because. I passed the finishing line as the three-hour runners were coming home, and audience and MC alike cheered their heroic efforts. I took the bus out to Cork airport and an hour later, caught a flight a Brussels.

Via a friend, I had gotten a tip from a Bonn resident that the best way to travel from Cork was to get a plane to Brussels and catch a train to Bonn. It all went well until I arrived at the train ticket desk in Brussels airport. I had made the mistake of NOT booking a train on the evening the Bonn climate change conference was opening. All second-class seats on three different trains were booked out: I had to travel first-class, my wallet, “Ouch!”. It was a very pleasant journey, and when I arrived in Bonn Hauptbahnhof, the street outside was glutted with taxis. A 10 minute taxi-ride later, I checked into CJD Bonn and found my room, clean and functional, with a present of a packet of haribo sweets on my pillow.

After I originally booked my hotel accommodation online, I double-checked the address only to discover that CJD stood for Christliches Jugenddorfwerk Deutschland, literally, Christian Youth Village Germany. My fear of being woken at dawn to sing hymns before breakfast, were ill-founded. I awoke at 8 and had a hearty breakfast of cereal, sausages and lots of coffee.  I decided to walk to the hauptbahnhof, where I’d catch a metro to the convention centre. The morning walk presented my first view of Bonn, a very liveable city with relaxed leafy streets, and sunny platzs were men ate their morning bread roll with a bottle of beer. I passed the house where Beethoven was born, the Rathaus (townhall), Münsterplatz (cathedral place, not to be confused with the province in Ireland) and I arrived at the train station after 30 minutes.

The efficiency of German organisation of the conference starts to manifest when I catch the metro to the conference centre, for I use the all-modes Bonn public-transport ticket I received when I booked my accommodation through the conference website – the ticket lasts for the duration of my stay at the conference, happy days. Over the course of the seven-stop journey, other conference delegates start to amass on the train, conspicuous are the blue ribbon UNFCCC names badges. While walking the small distance into the hotel, I strike up a conversation with two of the delegates, who it turns out are from South Africa. After a bit of small talk, one of them asks me:

“So how’s Gerry Adams?”

“He’s fine”, I say, a bit taken aback.

“He’s still in politics?”

“Yes, he’s a politician in the South now”

“And the IRA? They still around?”

“Officially, no”, I say, intrigued at the man’s knowledge.

Turns out the parallels between the Sinn Fein and the ANC are strong. The similar pathways from pariah-political party, to peace process, to government are what my South African friend is so clearly informed about.

We enter the hotel, the entrance to the conference, and find a high-security checkpoint: we are commanded to decommission our bags, unsheath our laptops, and put them all through the x-ray scanner. Safely inside, I register for my name badge, which I only receive after showing my passport, which they verify against the passport number I submitted a few weeks ago. My status is, Party Overflow. “That’s a good badge to have”, the friendly American woman behind the desk tells me.

I move into my first plenary session, Swaziland have the floor, speaking on behalf of the 54 Africa nations.

“Adaptation is a priority for Africa…”

This is a real global event.

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UNFCCC in 2013 – The Ongoing Climate Challenge

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was conceived in 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio De Janeiro; two years later, after a long gestation, the UNFCCC was born with the declared purpose of “stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”. Incidentally, the first signatory on the new convention agreement was George H.W. Bush. In 1991, the year before the Earth Summit, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere was approximately 355 parts per million (ppm). Just over twenty years later, as delegates and visitors from 195 signatories to the UNFCCC assemble in Bonn, CO2 concentration in the atmosphere has reached 400 ppm, a symbolic threshold and an indication that greenhouse gas concentrations have been anything but stabilized; since the lofty mission statement in 1994, CO2 concentrations have risen by 2 ppm every year.

To-date, the Kyoto Protocol has been the main mechanism by which the countries of the world have agreed to reduce their emissions in an attempt to “stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere”. Most developed country signatories to the Protocol  (Annex 1 Parties) had binding emission targets; for the European Union, the goal was a reduction of emissions of 8% below 1990 levels for the evaluation period 2008-2012. Ireland signed up to a 13% reduction and in 2007 the Irish government launched the National Climate Change Strategy with a host of policies designed to lead the downward trend in emissions. Final figures for 2012 will soon be released by the EPA and it looks like Ireland will meet its Kyoto targets. In part, this has been due to some excellent policy intervention: the CO2 emission-based car tax has reduced the CO2 intensity of the private car stock by 20%, wind turbines and new natural gas power plants have reduced the CO2 intensity of the electricity power system by 16%. Arguably however, Ireland will achieve its Kyoto target thanks to a single policy, one which wasn’t in the original climate change strategy, but which has had more of an impact than all the other policies put together: the recession.

Worldwide, the final accounts on the last year of the Kyoto Protocol (2012) will be settled imminently and it is expected that most countries will reach their goals. It should be said though that the Kyoto Protocol was only ever an interim measure. The original deadline for a successor to the Kyoto Protocol was the Copenhagen COP in 2009, which is why that meeting was dubbed “Hopenhagen”. Disappointingly, no agreement was reached and the only outcome of the Copenhagen COP was a broad consensus among nations that CO2 equivalent concentration in the atmosphere should not rise above 450 ppm – this was considered the target to preserve global temperature rise to within 2 degrees. Eventually a successor to Kyoto was agreed upon two years later in Doha. However, this was only an extension of the Kyoto Protocol, i.e. another interim agreement until 2020. The new deadline for having a permanent post-2020 agreement is 2015. The sense of having considerably room for manoeuvre has become more and more acute. The Germans have a good word for this: torschlusspanik, literally, door-shut-panic, ie. the panicked sense of rapidly diminishing opportunity.

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