Day 13: The Paris Agreement

  • 7:30 p.m. Paris Time: Paris Agreement was adopted universally by the 196 UNFCCC Parties, bringing COP21 to a close
  • 11:30 a.m.: 31-page final draft was presented to the Comité de Paris by president Laurent Fabius after intense overnight consultations
  • INDCs submitted by Venezuela (oil and gas nation) and Saint Kitts and Nevis — the total is now 187
  • Key points:
    • Temperature rise well below 2° C and 1.5° C if possible
    • Peak emissions as soon as possible and “balanced” out to zero by 2050
    • $100 billion legally-binding annual climate financing before 2020 and more after
    • 5-year ratcheting and transparency mechanism with updates or new INDCs by 2020
    • Loss and damage has its own article, alongside mitigation and adaptation
  • Many hail the agreement as historic, ambitious, binding, a cause for optimism, and a signal to businesses for a low-carbon future
  • Activists criticize the agreement’s shortcomings — even full implementation of INDCs will not keep global warming below 2°

Paris Agreement: The final document is here.

UNFCCC Press Release: Official summary of the agreement.

Ban Ki-Moon: Words from the UN Secretary General. “What was once unthinkable has now become unstoppable” and “The work starts tomorrow.”

News Coverage: The New York Times reports in detail.

A landmark accord, according to Reuters.

A disaster, according to activist George Monbiot.

Day 13: The Paris Agreement

Day 11: Almost There

  • Draft shortened again to 27 pages — and 48 brackets down from 316
  • Deadline will be Saturday, Dec. 12 at 9 a.m. Paris time (3 a.m. EST) — pushed back from Friday at 6 p.m. (12 p.m. EST)
  • The new draft limits global temperature increase to “well below 2° C” and, if possible, below 1.5° C, which is a victory for vulnerable nations
  • Differentiation between developed and developing nations and transparency monitoring systems remain unresolved
  • Progress on ratcheting mechanisms (nations will meet in 2019 to prepare for 5-year ratcheting cycles), financing (developed nations will finance a floor of $100 billion for developing nations), and loss and damage (rich countries may recompense poorer ones for climate change damages)
  • The U.N. Momentum for Change initiative gave awards to 16 Lighthouse Activities for addressing climate change in innovative, scalable, and replicable ways

Article of the Day: “It’s crunch time…”

*Behind the Scenes:

Clear analysis of Dec. 10 Draft:

Day 11: Almost There

Day 10: Pushing for More

  • Another, “clean” 29-page draft was released by COP21 President Laurent Fabius this afternoon
  • Big issues remain: long term goals for temperature, developed vs. developing nation differentiationfinancetransparency in monitoring and reporting, and ratcheting up future commitments
  • Intergenerational equity and aviation/maritime transport emissions were dropped from the text
  • Sen. John Kerry announced a doubling of U.S. grant-based financing for developing nations to $860 million
  • The U.S. joined a “high ambition coalition” to push for a strong agreement
  • No walkouts or threats of breaking consensus yet — unlike in previous years

Article of the Day: Several constituencies express concerns about the new draft.

Day 10: Pushing for More

Day 8: Mind Your Language

This morning, during the High-Level Segment of the Plenary Meeting, Enele Sopoaga, Prime Minister of Tuvalu, passionately exhorted negotiators to fight for a 1.5C warming limit, asserting that “we have no time for rhetoric or hiding behind agendas.” While Prime Minister Sopoaga rightly recognizes the extreme vulnerability of small island states and the need for immediate and ambitious action, perhaps he is too quick to dismiss the importance of rhetoric, language and discourse. After all, the entire structure of COP21 is assembled around the production of a text, where negotiators and politicians wrangle for hours, sometimes days, over the connotation of a single word (e.g. ‘outcome’ versus ‘agreement’, ‘synergies’ versus ‘interactions’, ‘request’ versus ‘encourage’, ‘CDM financing’ versus ‘financing of the CDM’). However pedantic or overly-academic this wrangling may seem, such a text can provide the crucial, comprehensive rubric for steering nations toward a clean energy and life-sustaining future. Further, no nation, politician or scientist is ever without agenda, and trying to eliminate or change agendas will only lead to frustration and disillusionment. As Paul Lussier, Director of Science Communications With Impact Network whom I met two nights ago at a Yale Alumnus event, claims, you cannot make someone care about something they don’t care about. What you can do, however, is attempt to lay out these agendas on the negotiation tables, clarify their underlying values and see if there are ways to align them and create trajectories or outlets that lead to the same end goal.

Thus is the importance of discourse-framing in global environmental politics. Discourse-framing refers to the construction of linguistic symbols and narratives that invariably demarcate what can or cannot be thought, ultimately shaping social relations and the scope of policy actions. One example of discourse at COP21 is the discourse of opportunity, as invoked today by subnational leaders at the Climate Actions Dialogue event. Governor of Washington Jay Inslee heralded clean energy as the biggest job-creating industry in his state while Mayor Gregor Robertson implored the audience to “bust that myth that climate and economy are at odds with each other”. Then there is the discourse of fear and alarm, where we see small island states banding together to bewail the inevitable calamity of sea level rise and demand an ambitious 1.5C warming limit. Equally evocative is a discourse of peace, where in light of the horrific Paris attacks, has chosen to re-frame COP21 as a ‘Peace’ Summit while political figures like Bernie Sanders and Prince Charles have articulated the link between climate change and terrorism. One might also be roped into a seductive discourse of legacy, where negotiators, politicians and business leaders urge each other to consider how they want to be remembered in the history books. And finally there is the prominent discourse of justice, in which many developing nations consistently preface their willingness to engage in robust climate action with the fact that they hardly contribute to global emissions, thus creating an atmosphere of blame and guilt that perhaps places excessive emphasis on the D in CBDR (Common But Differentiated Responsibilities) as opposed to appreciating the C.

According to U.S. negotiator Todd Stern at a press conference today, there is much unhappiness between certain developed and developing countries regarding the “language” explaining the expanded donor base, which at the moment is not legally binding for developing countries that have the capacity to contribute to climate finance. This effectively means that developing countries are allowed to decide for themselves if they want to chip in or not, which could preclude the adequacy of a global climate fund. Moreover, and disturbingly, the implementation of a rigorous transparency system (comprising inventory, report and review) for developing countries may not be something that negotiators even seek to address at this COP. Stern also reinforced the ideal of differentiation (a corollary of the justice discourse) when he admitted that the principle driving the agreement is the notion that mitigation targets are nationally determined. Thus, while there will most likely be legally binding means of assessing if nations reach their INDC targets, there will be little to no interference with the INDC targets themselves, which could ultimately obstruct the achievement of a 2C warming limit, since the majority of the INDCs are far from ambitious (as of now). These are but some of the many intersubjective, discursive elements at play at COP21 and it will be interesting to see how they compete and overlap as we enter the final, critical stretch of negotiations.

Day 8: Mind Your Language

Day 8: Raising the Level

  • After a day of rest, high-level negotiations begin and will culminate on Friday with a final agreement
  • Several groups led by a total 14 ministers from developed and developing nations focused on key issues, including financing, differentiation, and pre-2020 actions
  • Indigenous peoples issued three declarations for solidarity, protecting the Amazon rainforest, and keeping fossil fuels in the ground
  • The AFR100 Initiative between nations in Africa restore 100 million hectares of forest in the continent by 2030
  • Activists posted 1,000 “Wanted” posters calling out climate change deniers and big names in the fossil fuel industry on hotel doors

Article of the Day: A thorough summary of what negotiators need to resolve this week.

Day 8: Raising the Level

Day 6: An Ode to Action

  • Last day of COP21 Week 1! (And my last day here.)
  • Negotiators released a streamlined 21-page draft agreement to be negotiated by ministers next week — developing vs. developed country responsibilities, financing, and 1.5° C vs. 2° C global warming limits are still contended
  • Action Day presented ways to protect, engage, and transform the planet
  • 10 U.S. Senators led by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-NM) supported a climate deal in a press conference

A simple slogan captured the meaning of today, Action Day: “We must, we can, and we will.” Of course the subject is climate action. The “must” comes from our moral imperative to take care of our planet and prevent its degradation. The “can” comes from our technological capacity to take care of this planet, and I saw so many examples today. And the “will” comes from political will and the will of every individual and organization to recognize our moral imperatives toward the Earth and use our technology to save it.

The leadership of COP21 opened today’s series of events in the plenary hall La Loire, an open space with floors carpeted royal blue, the color of the ocean. In curved rows, thousands of delegates, representatives of organizations and businesses, and ordinary people like me sat and watched events unfold onstage. And indeed dramatic events are unfolding not only at what conference president Laurent Fabius called “the COP of action” in Paris, but also around the world —

In Chennai, where hundreds of people have been affected by floods —

In other cities and countries, where people are creatively confronting climate change —

In what UNFCCC executive secretary Christiana Figueres now refers to as an “Action World” —

In what COP20 president Manuel Pulgar-Vidal said was the start of a “virtuous cycle” between the actions of governments and common people —

In what French minister of ecology Ségolène Royal reminded us were the two places of our citizenship: our country and the planet.

We should be moving at a cosmic pace on climate action, astronauts on the International Space Station urged us in a video.

We should be mindful of our rapid anthropogenic effects, warned research Johan Rockström.

And we should seek justice, Oxfam International director Winnie Byanyima said. And rights for all human beings. And money. And will.

We should protect our oceans, said leaders who lamented water crises and thought of creative ways to solve them.

We should plant more trees, said actor and philanthropist Sean Penn.

We should focus not only on the international or national level, but on the level of city and regional governments, said speakers in the second session, which discussed how we can engage with the landscape of tomorrow.

Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo sat with New York mayor Michael Bloomber, who noted about cities, “The people live there, the pollution comes from there, the solutions are there.”

Park Won-soon, mayor of Seoul, leads an association of over 1,200 subnational governments around the world committed to climate action.

Governor of California Jerry Brown has transformed his state of 38.8 million into a massive experimental ground for renewable energy, strict building standards, and carbon emissions caps — while the rest of the country lags.

Big businesses used to lag. They used to venture for economic development at the cost of environmental sustainability and human welfare. But many have transformed so significantly as to have an event dedicated to them — the third Action Day event on transformation.

CEO of AP4 Mats Andersson has the interests of his grandchildren in mind when he runs his business. So does Philippe Couillard, premier of Quebec.

Bertrand Piccard, dressed with an old-fashioned helmet and holding a 1920’s era telephone in his hand looked not at the past but at the future of aviation technology. He doesn’t want to hear about the problems; he’s interested in solutions.

There are no frontiers to climate change, said minister of Egypt Khaled Fahmy. There should be none for technology, or innovation, or climate action.

There are 1.3 billion people in the world who do not have electricity, and it doesn’t matter whether they’re in Africa or Asia or the edges of a developed nation, said entrepreneur Hugh Whalan. There are children in the next generation of all countries of the world who deserve to know what an elephant is, or a blue sky, said Alibaba CEO Jack Ma.

François Hollande set us a challenge: to act for this planet because it needs us. Ban Ki-Moon held on to the microphones of his podium and told the thousands of people in the audience — including me — to mobilize as we had never before, in order to support a planet that support us all.

I will leave here tomorrow morning, early, before the sun rises. As I leave, I will remember the voices of all these people, whom we celebrate for leading cities, building businesses, and appearing in the media. They spoke with a unified voice. They called on you and me to act as citizens of the planet. They plead for us to save it. And they gave us a solemn blessing, which we must and can and will sustain: a love for Earth.

Person of the Day: You. Thank you for reading this blog and caring about the Earth.

Article of the Day: Yale made it into an official UNFCCC press release about a report on climate progress.

Day 6: An Ode to Action

Day 6: Action Day

Today is the COP21 Action Day, an event with speeches, debates, video screenings and artistic performances centered around immediate climate action. The Action Day Plenary session featured world leaders including François Hollande and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as well as local leaders. One highlight was the local leader panels including mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo, former Mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg, and the Governor of California Jerry Brown.

Gov. Brown emphasized that, “We’ve got a long way to go, and we can’t be complacent.” During the panel, the leaders highlighted that local governments can implement the regulations and incentives that national governments struggle to agree on. Fortunately, cities and states/provinces have already made progress on this front. Mayor Hidalgo and Michael Bloomberg organized the Climate Summit for Local Leaders and Gov. Brown organized the Under 2 MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) between California and Baden-Württemberg, which today has 65 signatories. Through this engagement, California has reached 25% renewable electricity, and is on pace to generate 50% renewable electricity by 2030.

Ultimately, the progress of cities is important because the primary challenge to effective climate policy is political will, especially at the national and international level. Local governments, being more accessible to grassroots power, can overcome this challenge by implementing the policies that we need, even when national governments stall progress.

Here at Action Day, we have seen the power of collaboration between local jurisdictions to address climate change. Although the progress we have made is not nearly enough, Action Day has served as a powerful reminder of the opportunity of the local approach to implementing sustainable policy and practices.



Day 6: Action Day

Day 5:#indigenousCOP21

Although as I mentioned in my previous post, this year’s COP places emphasis on ADP negotiations, there is still a wide array of public activity at Le Bourget. Today I spent time at the Climate Generations space, which is open to the public, to attend side events at the pavilions there. At this event, many NGOs have booths geared toward individual action for Climate Justice. Highlights from the side events at the Climate Generations space include:

  • a panel of mayors from across the world showcasing their city efforts to reduce emissions
  • an exhibit from MedWet: The Mediterranean Wetlands Initiative on how their organization unites Mediterranean countries’ efforts to conserve and sustainably use wetlands
  • a French exhibit on how to harness the power of citizens to encourage government and corporate change

Most striking, however, is the indigenous peoples’ space. Here, indigenous peoples from across the world gather due to the unique challenges they face as they are often at the frontline of the effects of climate change. Many visitors came in solidarity with indigenous peoples to advance initiatives to protect indigenous ways of life on a warming planet. During one event, the Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia, and Far East of the Russian Federation came to showcase the challenges they face and how it threatens both their culture and their survival.

Many of the talks at COP21 discuss various ways of mitigation and adaptation. For the  Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia, and Far East of the Russian Federation, adaptation is a particularly challenging goal. In a landscape where melting permafrost threatens an entire way of life, adaptation can imply sacrificing one’s culture. This event served to communicate that challenge for indigenous peoples.

Day 5:#indigenousCOP21