UN Reps and Global Issues

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FAWCO Environment Task Force Co-Chairs Anne van Oorschot and Kara Fairchild will be blogging about the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to be held in Paris from November 30 to December 11, 2015. Here's a message from the Co-Chairs:

The UN Climate Conference in Paris is of historic importance! While no one from the Environment Task Force is able to attend the Conference, the Task Force will be reporting on what goes on in Paris. In addition to some general background information on the Conference (and definitions of the UN’s Alphabet soup of abbreviations), we will post summaries of what has taken place to date. Please check back often and stay informed on this important climate meeting!

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic as well!
Anne & Kara
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France was wise to organize the attendance of world leaders at the beginning of the Climate Conference. At the climate top 6 years ago in Copenhagen, the leaders came at the very end. In anticipation of their arrival, the negotiators seemed frozen, hardly daring to make any agreements, with insufficient time left to make a serious deal afterwards. World leaders in Paris opened the Conference with bold and urgent words about the climate. Unfortunately, the political momentum created by those speeches seems to have barely found its way to the negotiating tables. Old reflexes, mainly between rich and poor countries, have flared up and little progress has been made.

A concept text was created in the first week, but practically every sentence has passages [between brackets]. Those are the parts over which the countries are not in agreement. While some of those passages are about details, (whether goals are reached “collectively” or “cooperatively” ) disagreements are often about fundamental questions, such as if 2° of warming acceptable is, or is 1.5° a better goal. The concept text that will serve as the basis for the talks between the Ministers in the final week is about 40 pages long; while about 25 pages is deemed by many as the maximum manageable length.

Those opposed to a strong agreement can grasp every little detail to create an endless debate. A group called the “Like Minded Developing Countries” (Venezuela and Bolivia to name two) seems especially good at this. They see climate change as a product of capitalistic excesses that should be solved by the West.  The adaptation needed due to climate change and the costs associated with this are felt by some to be the biggest hurdle to a strong agreement. Mitigation (the reduction of greenhouse gases) is gradually becoming part of the strategy of businesses – with or without a climate change agreement. That is not the case for the adaptation needed in the face of a changing climate. Developing countries want to get money from the rich countries. While the wealthier countries a willing to pay, they are counting on the business world to help with the costs. Poor countries have little faith in this happening.

Christiana Figueres, chairman of the UN Climate Office is starting to become very concerned. She has stressed that we are not at the end of the first week of negotiations, but in the last weeks of 4 years of negotiations. The fact that an agreement must be made this year was determined in Durban in 2011. Thus far, the negotiations are moving much too slowly. While there is still time and opportunity to change that, it is hard to be confident that the change needed will occur.

The beautiful Paris City Hall was the venue of a climate meeting on Friday, December 4th hosted by Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo and former NY Mayor, Michael Bloomberg. In attendance were 400 Mayors and Governors from cities and states around the world, plus local officials. Somewhere along the way, the most urgent and inspiring voices in some of the most important issues of our times have switched from being politicians and policy makers to singers and actors. Robert Redford and Leonardo Di Caprio were among the speakers, and I found Di Caprio’s speech spot on:

  • “Climate change is the most fundamental and existential threat we face. It has the potential to make our planet unlivable.  (...)  I challenge all of you to please do more. Whether you are an elected public official, a business leader, a mother, a father, a student – you must commit today to making your communities and companies more resilient and more sustainable. Regardless of the scope of this agreement and what is reached here in Paris, the real work lies ahead. It lies in this room. You are the catalysts of that. At a moment where our differences push us all apart, we can find common cause together: our shared interest in a sustainable future. We are now in a race to better ourselves, to better our planet. Please do not let fear and doubt slow all of you down. Be bold! Be courageous! Do everything in your power to change our current course. After all, the entire world is watching you.”

For those of us not in Paris but in our own seemingly small lives, the Climate Challenge is also ours to meet and influence. Stay involved and do your best!


December 8th was the UNFCC declared Gender Day at the UN Convention on Climate Change in Paris.  Climate change disproportionately affects women, as the poor are most hit by climate change issues such as flooding, droughts and crop failure.  Women make up 70% of the world’s poorest, located in rural areas where they are responsible for securing food and water, as well as energy for heating and cooking. 

The UNFCC highlights programs throughout the world which are contributing to climate action.  Of this year’s 16 winners, 4 were recognized on gender day for their support or leadership by women:

  • Solar Market Gardens, Benin – solar-powered wells and pumps provide water during the dry season, enabling year-round crop production.  30 to 40 women farm the garden, and it has changed the lives of the entire community.
  • Harvesting Geothermal Energy, El Salvador – the surplus of geothermal condensation made in producing electricity is used for community projects, including irrigating coffee and cocoa plantations.
  • Planting trees to save the mangrove, Guinea – to stop the deforestation of mangrove trees, 4 islands have begun planting Maringa trees, which grow quickly and whose leaves have high nutritional value.  This leaves the mangrove trees in place, providing a natural sea barrier to combat rising sea levels.
  • Fostering cleaner production, Columbia – an all-women alliance is changing the local construction industry to use cleaner production methods through innovation.

Overall, the message was that women are best able to recognize opportunities for change, as they are on the front lines locally.  But it is not only women in developing countries who can make a difference; we can all make a difference in our local communities, and at least in our own households.  We can try to lower energy consumption, or decrease our food waste.  As Natalie Isaacs, Founder and CEO of 1 Million Women stated: “Climate change is a complex issue, and people shy away from doing something because they don’t know what to do.  Just do one thing, and I promise you, that one thing will lead to another.”   

What will you do to make a difference today? As important as the Paris talks are to give us long-term goals for global climate change, change can start today in your own home.  Be a part of the movement.

Stacey Kimmig


The polluter pays. That is the principle that was agreed upon 20 years ago at the Environment Conference in Rio de Janeiro as the basis of the International Environmental policy. At the Climate Conference in Paris, this is again an important topic. How do you make sure that those who pollute the atmosphere with greenhouse gases pay the costs of the climate change that results? And preferably, pay so much that the climate change caused by those emissions grinds to a halt.

In reality, the polluter very often doesn’t have to pay at all. The result is that the pollution simply continues and the damage caused is paid for by everyone else. Health problems caused by air pollution and heat waves, damage to infrastructure caused by flooding, failed harvests and wildfires caused by drought – all these things are partially, if not completely, caused by climate change. But their economic costs are paid by the society as a whole and not by the polluters.

Could the answer be a carbon tax? Studies done by the World Bank and Ecofys (a consultancy company for sustainable energy) reveal that more than 40 counties now have some kind of carbon price or tax. Most of the countries impose a tax on carbon emissions or sell “emission rights” to polluting companies. While imposing a tax is straight forward enough, how do you determine the price? Selling emission rights is more complicated to do well; if emission rights are auctioned and companies are allowed to trade with them, a “market price” will be created, which may be unrelated to the actual purpose of paying for damages caused.

Last Monday at the Climate Conference in Paris, The Netherlands came forward as an advocate for a worldwide carbon price/tax. The Dutch government has made 2 million Euros available to help in the creation of such a carbon tax and offered to hold a conference on this subject in the Netherlands in 2016. Sharon Dijksma, the Dutch Environmental Secretary said, “Once we have a worldwide price for carbon, it will be impossible for polluters to hide.”  The key word here is “worldwide”. If all countries don’t participate, the danger exists that companies will move operations to non-carbon tax areas. That would not help the climate and, according to Tata Steel (a major polluter), would create a situation in which you, “export jobs and import CO₂”. Tata Steel is not the only company that shares this opinion.  A “fair playing field” and sustainable competition are necessary conditions for companies to create powerful climate policy.  If this is in order, companies are certainly willing to accept a substantial carbon price/tax. More than 1000 large companies have already joined the Carbon Leadership Coalition. With a set carbon price/tax, companies know what they’ll have to pay; they know which investments will be profitable.

What the carbon price should be is the difficult question that remains. While there are countries and companies that already calculate a carbon price, there is a wide range of prices used. In Mexico $1 per ton is calculated, the European Union sets the price per ton at around 8 Euros, while Sweden calculates $130 per ton of carbon.  It’s hard to comprehend a link between the carbon price and its desired effect with this large a price range. Shell (oil and gas company) calculates a price of $40 per ton, since with that added price, oil and gas can still compete with the cheaper (and much more polluting!) coal. While that price is attractive for Shell, it’s too low to support the more expensive technologies needed to make the underground storage of CO₂ profitable. Environmental organizations suggest that a price of $100/ton is necessary to insure that all energy will be obtained in a sustainable manner by the second half of this century. There are many who feel that governmental intervention is the only way to achieve an accurate and mandatory carbon price. There will certainly be a lot more conversation about this topic at the Climate Conference.  

For FAWCO members living in or near Paris, or visiting during the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, you can participate in the debate on solutions to climate change.  The Climate Generations Areas (CGA) inaugural opening was December 1st and will be open to the public, free of charge, from the 1st through the 11th of December (except Sunday, December 6th) from 10.30 a.m. to 7.00 p.m.  The CGA is located next to the UN Conference Center at Le Bourget. 

The purpose of the CGA is to promote debate on solutions to climate change at both the local and global levels.  The public will be able to explore and participate through 100 stands, approximately 20 educational and interactive exhibitions, over 300 conferences and more than 60 film screenings.  A day-by-day schedule of the conferences and films along with a visitors’ guide are available at www.cop21gouv.fr/en

COP21, Paris, France December, 2015 Notes and Impressions 

The Following notes are based on a session Elisabeth von Sachse  attended in November at the United Nations in Geneva.

The session covered some of the basics of Climate Change Negotiations, and featured a panel discussion at the close. These are the key points highlighted in the session by the presenters of the session, as I observed, and do not reflect any personal opinions or convictions.    

Introduction: Even prior to the horrible tragedy that took place on 13 November in Paris, there were marked concerns over security expressed by certain members of the diplomatic community. Why? Because of the timing and timeliness of the upcoming Conference of Partners. A few key precursors were mentioned (including Pope Francis’ Climate Change Encyclical) as factors contributing to a certain sense of, if not urgency, very real responsibility. As we face 20 years plus after the historic Kyoto Protocol, here are some of the key issues, challenges, and hopes as diplomats, leaders, and citizens alike come together in Paris in an effort to ‘make this one count..’    

Key Issues

The Mitigation and Adaptation Balancing Act:  As explained by our facilitator from the IISD (International Institute for Sustainable Development), the negotiations encompassing Mitagation and Adaptation will be taking center stage in Paris, as partners on both sides of the equation come to the table. The stakes are high, as are the emotions. Contrary to some perception, Climate Balance Negotiations are far from simply discussions of a cold, scientific nature.

While concrete results are desired by all parties involved, how to achieve a variety of differing goals is extremely challenging. Like-minded, developing countries and coalitions (for example, the AOSIS) are pressing the larger, more developed countries (for example, China and the United States)to fill the Mitigation gap with actions that are monitored, reported, and verifiable. With 75% of all carbon emissions coming from fossil fuels (sidenote: it was mentioned here that China is building one coal fire plant per week..), these smaller, more vulnerable areas believe that the larger carbon emitters should shoulder the majority of responsibility when it comes to Climate Stabilization. Conversely, while large(r) carbon emitters claim to be stepping up to the plate with regard to mitigation actions, they are likewise pressing for better implementation and a more robust accountability structure with regards to adaptation.

Complex geopolitics aside, these issues are going to require some true diplomatic work from all players. Our discussion leader said that he found that Climate Balance Negotiations bore a similarity to Trade Negotiations (in the UN context, that is). So, how do we share the burden of controlling emissions? Considering that we’ve already used up 65% of our global Carbon Budget (using the 2° goal guideline), and our earth clock continues to tick, we move on to our next issue…  

Funding, Funding, and Funding (or, as some of us at the session liked to call it, ‘Hey Dude, where’s my $3 billion Water Purification Project?’): COST is the main reason given by developed countries, behind the rhetoric, for further action. The bottom line is..The Bottom Line.

Climate Finance, and the mechanisms surrounding it, are a hot-button issue worthy of an entire thesis. Along with nation’s INDC’s (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions), are coming more and more calls for increased monitoring, oversight and accountability. Even with the existing NAP (National Adaptation Plan) process in place, (which, among other things, assists in implementation strategies), concerns regarding the process, especially in certain developing nations and areas of the world, are a key factor.       

The Corporate Culture and their impact on Climate Negotiations: One of our featured panelists was a Climate Change Negotiator whose focus is assisting Corporations to adopt mitigation policies. They provide not only hard scientific data, including timelines, intended outcomes, etc., but also advise on possible ways and means to incorporate those policies into business practices. The largest challenge, they mentioned, was the corporate culture five-year-management cycle.

While Going Green for any company, large or small, looks great on paper, and is a powerful PR tool, the reality looks, feels, and sounds very different when in closed-door negotiations. It does on occasion occur, according to one of our speakers, that when presented with the scientific data, along with a very precise, down-to-the-minute timeline of when this will actually and actively effect their company, a course of inaction follows. The reason? It was suggested that the five-year management cycle might be a factor. If climate change only effects my company in five years, I’ll be either rotated out of here, moved on to another company, promoted, whatever. It will be someone else’s problem. Again, I’m only gently relaying this experience. It is not mine personally.

Also, this is not representative of the many wonderful and progressive companies/corporations out there who are richly engaged and committed not only in their own carbon emissions reductions programs, but in facilitating capacity building in other sectors and at other levels. And that’s where we as consumers enter the picture. By consciously choosing to give our business to companies who not only ‘talk the talk’ about going green, but who walk the walk and are invested in programs, policies and philosophies that practice and promote Climate mitigation. 

Expectations and Overview: We were asked at the beginning of the session what our (the class’) expectations were for Paris. Were they high? Were they low? Were we expecting much? The same was asked of our panelists at the conclusion of our session. As for our panelists, the reviews were mixed. While the overall mood was ‘tempered optimism’, some had quite low expectations.

One panelist, though, reminded us how far we’d actually come, both in terms of diplomatic development and in general global acceptance, since Kyoto. Of course mistakes have been made in the past, but then he reminded us that Climate Balance is journey, a process, a marathon and not a sprint. That what are perceived as failures can be seen as opportunities to build on and learn from. And that while several key players have become disillusioned, it is not that they have lost faith with the system or the ideologies that support it, but rather certain aspects of the process, and clarified that more research and continued refinement of the process is needed.

No matter what the expectation, though, be it the expectations, hopes, etc. of our expert panelists, or of the session participants, we could happily all agree on one certain fact: The cost of doing nothing about Climate Change was one that none of us were willing to accept.   So, I’ve decided to follow this week’s COP21 in Paris via live feed, if I can. Hoping to learn more and see what our leaders and participants have to offer. I also hope I’ve given some insight for FAWCO’s ETF. I really admire your dedication. This is a fascinating, tricky (in a good way!!) issue that influences us all.    

Best Regards, Elisabeth           

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