The Interdisciplinary Centre on Climate Change (IC3) at the University of Waterloo is sending a delegation of staff and faculty as well as many of our top graduate students. Attending COP25 will provide our students with an immersive experience in global climate change negotiations and exposure to institutions and organizations from around the world. The students will be providing their reflections on the experience throughout their time in Madrid to engage a wider group of interested students, faculty and staff from UW and beyond.
Meet the COP25 Student Delegates
Valentina is a Master of Environmental Studies (MES) student in Sustainability Management in the Faculty of Environment’s School of Environment, Enterprise, and Development (SEED). She is currently researching cross-sector social partnerships that have implemented sustainability community plans in three major cities; Barcelona, Spain; Gwangju, South Korea; and Montreal, Canada. Her interests at COP25 are governance mechanisms, stakeholder participation, and both adaptation and mitigation policies for climate change.
Lowine is a first year PhD student in the School of Environment, Resources and Sustainability (SERS). Her research focuses on socio-ecological sustainability issues of small islands in the Caribbean. This year's COP is on oceans; a topic that Lowine is very passionate about. By being part of the University of Waterloo's Delegation, she will be able to better understand the challenges faced by small islands and how her research can contribute to the islands' sustainability priorities and overall well-being.
Muhammad is a graduate student in the Master of Environmental Studies, Sustainability Management program where he focuses on climate policy and sustainable finance. He has a strong passion for having a positive impact on the world environmentally and socially. He has a diverse set of work experiences with non-profit organizations, marketing, business positions in the tech industry, and sustainability consulting.
Verity is a student in the Masters of Political Science program with a research focus on Loss and Damage funding procurement strategies and emissions attribution modeling. She is also the production manager for Climate Action Network International's policy newsletter ECO at COP25.
Janetta is a PhD candidate in the Department of Geography & Environmental Management, working in the SPROUT lab with Dr. Sarah Burch. Her research focuses on the extent of regulatory capture in the fossil fuel industry and the development of restrictive supply-side energy policies.
Isha is a second-year master’s student at the School of Planning. She holds an undergrad degree in Planning and have extensive planning consulting experience in a developing country.Isha’s broad research interest is estimating GHG emission in the Urban Freight Transport sector and also in developing improvement strategies to reduce overall carbon emissions in the Transport Sector.
Brooklyn is a Masters of Climate Change student and is particularly interested understanding how negotiations happen on an international scale. At COP25 Brooklyn hopes to follow discussions about food security, the role of civil society in climate action, and how to incorporate all forms of knowledge (indigenous, local, and scientific) into adaptation and mitigation planning.
Blogs during COP25 - Week 1
Written by: Janetta McKenzie
The fantastic thing about attending an international climate change conference is that everyone taking part, from activist organizations to high-level negotiators, deeply understands the necessity to act quickly and well to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and other negative impacts of climate change. No one at COP25 needs to be convinced of the dangers of rising sea levels, increasingly variable temperatures, and more frequent catastrophic events. There is a lot to feel optimistic about in the first days of COP25, which, after a last minute venue-change to Madrid from Santiago, is emphasizing the need to develop an international carbon market mechanism as is laid out vaguely in Article 6 of the Paris Agreement. One of the central themes of COP25 is an explicit focus on rapid ambition to enact deep institutional changes.
In the opening remarks of the conference, UN Secretary-General António Guterres implored the national delegations to commit to ambitious and swift action, emphasizing that “what we need is not an incremental approach, but a transformational one”. The need for ambitious , rapid transformation has been echoed in other recent United Nations reports, which indicate that we no longer have the luxury of time.
This sentiment for rapid transformative change is echoed in many of the side events and panels; for instance, the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) hosted a panel on the need to bridge the gap between committed fossil fuel extraction and existing NDC commitments. Essentially, the fossil fuels we have already planned to extract ( to say nothing of unexploited reserves) are currently too high to meet global Paris Agreement targets. Given the Secretary-General’s declaration for transformative change, COP25’s theme of ambition, and next year’s COP26 which promises to deliver much stricter Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) from the Parties to the Paris Agreement, we need to aspire to more with regards to dealing with fossil fuel production. Supply-side restrictive energy policies, which the SEI discussed in detail with attention paid to successes in Costa Rica and New Zealand, are a crucial yet under-utilized policy instrument for national governments to signal commitment to rapid, cross-cutting transformation. Canada in particular, as one of the world’s top fossil fuel producers, needs to learn from its international cousins and begin to actively scale down the oil and gas industry while protecting and supporting the regions that rely on these industries.
Written by: Brooklyn Rushton
Two days of COP25 have come and gone and I am starting to notice a general theme in the topics that I have been following over the past two days. One of the main focuses of COP25 is to enhance ambition for action. While this has been noted in many of the events, one thing that I took away from this ideology of ambition was the power of people and importance of collaboration in society for positive, forward shifts.
I found that, so far, events that highlighted actual people and communities behind climate change impacts and/or solutions became most memorable for me. I think putting a face behind climate change really has potential to create increase momentum on ambitious actions. Throughout the past two days, we heard a lot about the impact of climate change on vulnerable communities and how this trickles down into the actual people that live in these communities. Stories were shared from Indigenous communities in northern regions to Small Island Developing Nations in more tropical regions. As an example, there is a lot of vocalization from delegates from the Bahamas on the impacts of Hurricane Dorian. One delegate at the Earth Information Day on December 3rd stated that, “we are not the major culprit of climate change, but we take on the major impact”. We also heard from representatives of Indigenous communities in the Amazon Rainforest. During these conversations, there was a lot of discussion about the current crisis regarding forest fires and land use in the Amazon Rainforest and how indigenous people currently have no legal base or title on their territory. This lack of legal basis leaves them with little rights and increases their vulnerability to climate change currently and in the future. I found that this really highlighted the importance of recognizing land rights of Indigenous communities going forward to ensure an equitable fight against climate change.
While it is important to understand the impacts of climate change on humanity, COP25 has also highlighted the importance of incorporating people into the solution going forward. One event that discussed this regarded bridging the gap of fossil fuel production to reach targets outlined in the Paris Agreement. Conversations discussed that this bridging involves an accelerated movement away from fossil fuel reliance in communities across the world. However, it was emphasized that for this to be a successful and equitable process, people who are affected, such as workers in the fossil fuel industry, need to be at the frontline of this transition. We heard about this from a Canadian perspective, as well as from an international perspective. For the Canadian perspective, Joie Warnolk from UNIFOR discussed the importance of empowering Albertan coal workers by putting them at the heart of the transition in order to achieve a successful phase out of coal in Alberta by 2030.
We also heard from Alysha Bagasra, who is working on the transition away from fossil fuels in Taranaki, New Zealand. She mentioned that a lot of this transition involves allowing people to “see an opportunity for them and their families in the transition process”. Since the start of this transition, Alysha mentioned that people working in the fossil fuel sector have actively partnered with people to create a shared vision for the future.
Overall, what I have really appreciated about COP25 so far is that the events really do highlight the importance of climate action for humanity through hearing real stories from vulnerable communities, while also highlighting the power of people to make change going forward. Also, the ability to learn from other countries to understand their vulnerabilities, while also highlighting and celebrating their climate change solutions, has been extremely empowering for me.
Written by: Muhammad Koya
As a University of Waterloo delegate at COP25 and through my work with Youth Climate Lab, a global non-profit organization focused on accelerating youth-led ideas, projects and businesses that tackle climate change, I received an opportunity to host a guest session at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies’ (IASS) Co-Creative Reflection and Dialogue Space. I spoke to and discussed with other delegates from Switzerland, Brazil, the United Kingdom, and Germany on how impact investing initiatives can address climate change solutions with youth-inclusive climate finance. Here are some of the highlights from the discussion!
Snapshot of the presentation and discussion with other delegates in the IASS Co-Creative Reflection and Dialogue Space
Young people are at the forefront of climate action, driving practical solutions in their cities, communities, neighbourhoods and families. They represent the demographic most affected by climate change, yet have been historically disempowered to scale their solutions. Youth-led solutions can be high-reward, low-cost approaches to mobilizing climate action at local levels, while simultaneously cultivating an ecosystem of green entrepreneurs at the forefront of the upcoming generation’s clean economy boom.
Current climate finance has largely been unsuccessful in reaching the most poor and vulnerable communities. In response, intersectional and inclusive approaches to evaluating investment and granting decisions have begun to emerge. Despite this recent and growing effort, the youth demographic, one disproportionately affected by climate change far greater than any other, remains under-considered and under-funded.
By definition, impact investing is when investments are made into companies, organizations, and funds with the intention to generate positive social and environmental impact alongside a financial return (Harji, Reynolds, & Best, 2014). Impact investing challenges both of the long-held views that social and environmental issues should be addressed only by philanthropic donations, and that market investments should focus exclusively on achieving financial returns.
You can clearly see young people everywhere at the events, pavilions, negotiations, and other spaces at COP25. They are coming from universities, non-profit organizations that they have started, they are participating in programs, and internships, and creating their own projects. Many of them are funding their own way. Their efforts back home are also largely under-financed. Young people today have immense ambition and generally work on smaller scale projects within smaller groups and communities, that do not have the same level of access to financing for their work compared to big projects that the Green Climate Fund or a bank may finance.
Youth Climate Lab works with young people around the globe and are exploring how to better support youth-led efforts through financing. We are conducting research on youth-inclusive climate finance through a policy workshop at the UN Youth Climate Action Summit not long ago, a literature review, online surveys of climate entrepreneurs, and targeted interviews with global youth and experts. What we have learned so far is that there are many financial setbacks that relate to the challenges and gaps youth face when trying to achieve action and pursue solutions on climate change.
With this in mind, it is clear that investments in environment are closely linked to poverty, hunger, and health which are challenges that the youth of today are unfairly extremely vulnerable to, especially given that they have inherited the burden of the climate emergency (Sachs & Reid, 2006). On top of this, it is evident that the financial sector has the power to invest in solutions that positively affect the environment and society, while meaningfully contributing to sustainable development. Impact investing methodology poses innovative new approaches to investment and financing models that can allow youth to persevere in climate action.
Harji, K., Reynolds, J., Best, H. (2014). Impact investing in canada. Retrieved December 5, 2019, from https://www.marsdd.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Impact-Investing-in-Canada-State-of-the-Nation-2014-EN.pdf
Sachs, J. D., & Reid, W. V. (2006). Investments Toward Sustainable Development. Science, 312(5776), 1002.
Blogs during COP25 - Week 2
Written by: Verity Martin
Welcome to week two! What exactly are we doing here?
COP25 seems to largely be one of those in-between, low pressure COPs. With the stress of completing the Paris rulebook largely out of the way and the first official stocktake of the Paris Agreement not scheduled until 2023, there seems to be little to focus on aside from the revised National Determined Contribution (NDC) submissions countries are expected to prepare in advance of UK hosted COP26 in 2020. The SBSTA and SBI plenaries are closing this afternoon with high level statements beginning tomorrow as the Ministers arrive.
But none of this is to say that anyone concerned about climate, inside or outside the venue, are particularly happy with how this COP is progressing. Half a million people marched through Madrid last week, demanding action. Great work has been done at this COP to enable and elevate the voices of Indigenous Peoples and youth — Greta Thunberg is using her platform admirably as she works to lend her audience to other youth leaders. Both groups are urging leaders: be ambitious.
Party delegates have been fighting over Article 6 all conference long with the Chilean Presidency determined to get it finished this COP. Article 6 has been placed front and centre and has been so contentested that by the end of the first week delegates had all but given up on it, concluding that the state of play on Article 6 sends "a very negative signal". Last nights floor fight over transparency has not set the stage for a happy resolution, sending negotiators home at early hours in the morning and back to the drawing board on policy progress.
Civil society isn’t having the best time at COP25 either. With fights with the secretariat over publication distribution, meeting space, and approval for vital CSO actions, it seems the theme of shrinking CSO space in Katowice has carried over to Madrid. Interestingly, there seems to be no shortage in the venue for the participation of TNCs and fossil fuel companies. Motivating ambition has long been a top priority for civil society at this COP, however, heading into the second week, with the end and no progress in sight, the question is being asked: where are we really?
The Annual UNEP Emissions Gap report was released a few weeks ago and it did not herald in hope. Not only are global emissions still on the rise, but as we inch closer to 2030 and 2050 tipping points, the level of action needed to regulate warming to 1.5 or 2 degrees above industrial levels is skyrocketing. The ratcheting up mechanism has always been crucial to the success of the Paris Agreement given how slowly this mechanisms seems to be moving, the likelihood of Parties sufficiently increasing their ambition in such a way that allows the Paris process to work drops. Parties are simply not acting with the urgency needed. They are not making use of the Paris Agreement, and the validity and viability of the NDCs and the Paris Agreement are beginning to be called into question.
What can we accomplish in the next few days that will make this COP something we can call a success? And what can we do in the next year to ensure countries show up with serious climate action plans in 2020? If the UK and the EU put forward NDCs that are sufficient will everyone else take that signal and step up? Is the Paris process working? Currently we have more questions than answers and more political posturing than policy progress.
On a positive note: I'm glad to see the increased focus on dealing with eco anxiety at this year's COP; it's certainly setting in.
Written by Valentina Castillo Cifuentes
“We are the most fragile thing on earth”, Luca Parmitano.
As my interests are related to partnerships and stakeholders’ participation, most of the events I have attended are aligned to these topics. In particular, I have been following the community engagement mechanisms that different countries and local governments have implemented in their sustainability and climate action plans. I was surprised by the amount of side events and country pavilions’ events regarding community engagement. It seems that authorities are understanding that without inclusive collaboration with communities there is no room for action.
One of the cases I have been following closely is Brazil. Originally, Brazil committed to host COP25, but last year before COP24 in Katowice, Poland, the Brazilian government announced that they will not host the 25thversion of the Conference of the Parties in 2019, due to constrains in their budget, but also because their current administration is skeptical to climate change. This announcement left people shocked because Brazil has been participating in the fight of climate change actively. Let’s not forget that the Brazilian amazon has more than 60% of the Amazon rainforest, which represents the largest and most diverse rainforest in the world. Unfortunately, this enormous piece of land is being threatened by deforestation caused by excessive exploitation of its resources regarding farming activities, mining, among others. In 2019, the region faced wildfires that affected 906,000 hectares.
Therefore, actions towards deforestation and reduction of GHG emissions have been the topic of the Brazilian’s side events. The first event I attended was an ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability’s side event where the Mayor of Recife, Gerardo Júlio, talked about towards their path to the declaration of climate emergency in the city of Recife. The Mayor stated that, despite that there have been cuts in the financial support from the national government, the city has committed to reduce significantly their carbon emissions. This is an example of resilience, and that actions need to be done now. Another side event that I attended was related to the partnerships that the state of Amazonas have been creating in order to tackle deforestation, and how they have involved their community in the decision-making processes. I was surprised by the awareness that their community has, and how they have developed empowered grassroots organizations that include women and young people. Both events gave me hope, because despite that their national government is constraining their budget to develop plans for reducing GHG emissions and fight against deforestation, local governments and communities are working together along with several partners to achieve their goals.
Another event that I attended was a special event with the UN Secretary-General António Guterres, the COP25 President Carolina Schmidt, and other world leaders. This meeting had a live connection to space with the Astronaut Luca Parmitano (International Space Station Commander), who is the youngest astronaut sent in a long-term mission. It was such a great opportunity to witness a connection with somebody who is watching the earth from the space. The UN Secretary-General asked several questions to the astronaut regarding his experience. One of the questions that Parmitanol was asked it was about the most beautiful and the most fragile thing on earth that he can perceived. I want to highlight that his answer regarding the most fragile thing on earth were us human beings. I believe that such a strong answer urge us to work even faster towards implementing stronger mitigation policies, and that world leaders need to commit strongly to the Paris Agreement. The slogan of COP25 is #TimeforAction, but as the COP25 President mention, the speed of action, unfortunately, is slower than expected.
Written by: Lowine Hill
"If not us, who? If not now, when?"
This quote, from the Commonwealth Secretary-General Hon. Patricia Scotland, summarises the current expectations at COP25.
In the past two days, I have attended several sessions aimed at translating the results of research and negotiations into action on the ground. Country ministers and civil society leaders are sharing their experiences of working alongside local communities and scientists to help advance resiliency and adaptive capacity for the islands and costal communities.
These sessions have been extremely informative, but for me, there were two events that have been the highlights of my first couple of days at COP25:
The first event was the joint session with Pacific and Caribbean Small Islands Developing States. This session focused on how these States have come together by first, recognising that the challenges that they are facing are similar, second finding value in working together and sharing their experiences, both the wins and losses, and third looking “at mitigation within the context of adaptation” instead of separately. I think, this collaboration is timely especially as the conversations around climate change are shifting toward climate emergency, rather than climate change.
Ms. Shanna Emmanuel, St Lucia
Dr. Melchior Mataki, Solomon Islands
The second event was an all-women panel discussion, chaired by the ECLAC sub-regional headquarters for the Caribbean, on empowering local communities in climate action and ecosystem conservation. The discussion focused on the human rights aspects of climate change and environmental degradation.
The main takeaways from these two events are:
- In order to promote effective climate action all stakeholders must be meaningfully involved in climate discussion and overall governance; and
- This can only be done through an inclusive, responsive and participatory decisionmaking process.
Discussions during the the side events at COP25 are focused on putting people at the heart of the fight against this climate emergency. I think it will be interesting to see how these discussions translate in the outcomes of the negotiations.
Written by: Isha Rana
Three days of attending the COP25 made me realize how far we have come on this path to combat Climate Change. But it is Not Enough!! is what I gathered from attending various events and discussions at the COP. Being here as a UW graduate student is a lifetime opportunity as this event exposed me to the real global picture about the climate change crisis. During my short time here, I got a chance to listen to people from all across the globe, and they shared their stories on how their communities are suffering because of Climate Injustice, and how their leaders are lagging behind in taking some serious steps towards climate change.
Conference of the Parties or the COP is organized every year by UNFCCC to bring the world leaders together and negotiate the climate related targets. The 25th COP focuses on ensuring that all the counties implement their Paris agreement targets by 2020 and become carbon neutral by 2050. This goal is mainly to stick to the 1.5 degrees global temperature rise. This seems a lot to achieve considering UN is organizing its 25th COP and countries are still negotiating and only talking about what is to be done on oppose to discussing challenges and solutions. As an observer at the COP, I witnessed two very different sides of this event, one from global leaders’ perspective who are very optimistic towards achieving their Paris Targets and second, from climate activists’ and youths’ perspective, who showed their extreme anger by protesting and demanding Climate Justice and instant actions.
One of the biggest protests, I witnessed at the COP25 on my third day, happened outside the High-level event on Climate Action, where on one hand Mary McAleese (Ex-President of Ireland, one of the panelists) asked people to get Angry! and get Active! while on the other hand about 200 activists/ protesters were de-badged from the whole conference.
Canada’s Minister Jonathan Wilkinson at the reception dinner assured that Canada is on right path and that the country will exceed its Paris Target by 2030 and will become Carbon Neutral by 2050. While people again asking questions and raising their voices about nothing being done for indigenous communities and Canada’s investment on pipelines. As an observer I witnessed multiple instances where contrary comments were being made and actions were taken by the leaders, and people attempting to question them every time. So far, COP25 has been very interesting experience and an eye opener for me. It makes me feel sad about the current leadership and political situations, but also makes me feel proud that us millennials are aware of the climate crisis and are actively working towards it. Gretta Thunberg, in her speech rightly said that “there is a hope, but it will not come from the government or corporations, it will come from the people”.
Indigenous People Protesting (left); Minister Wilkinson making address at Canada's Reception (right)
As a planning student, so far, I have attended about 6 official side events and some of the Green Zone (open to public) events, aligning with my research focus. It was very informative to listen to the researchers and activists talking about new concepts and initiatives being taken all across the world to combat climate change, including carbon pricing/ carbon-tax, private partnerships and engagements, gender responsive climate actions and building resilient communities. Lot of these discussions were focus on Climate Justice and need to scale up the actions towards communities which are poor and most vulnerable to climate change. I am very excited for my last days at COP and looking forward to interacting with more people and gather as much insights and information as I can.
Student reflection blogs
Written by: Janetta McKenzie
Week 1 at COP25: A Lesson in Balance
Attending COP25 was an intellectual rollercoaster, and my biggest takeaway from this experience was understanding the fundamental conflict in striving for balance: global frameworks vs. local achievements; specific, efficient action vs. comprehensive, systemic change; ambition fueled by urgency vs. taking time to build consensus. Reflecting upon my week at COP25, I am struck by the distinctive character of these debates and negotiations. There is no argument brooked regarding the existence or severity of the climate crisis, but there is an inherent tension in balancing ideology and pragmatism which I think was thrown into the spotlight at COP25. My own decisions reflected this tension as I spent about half of my time attending the side events, populated largely by activists, academics, and the private sector (with some representation from national governments) and the negotiations themselves, which were often limited to high-level civil servants and policy wonks.
Even in terms of the logistical setup, the negotiation rooms were separated from (although connected to) the side events, country pavilions, and research panels. Moving between the two areas was an exercise in contradictions, as the Article 6 negotiations (which aim to establish an international carbon market mechanism) were concerned with purely reducing greenhouse gas emissions quickly and efficiently, whereas the larger side event areas seemed to be emphasizing a much broader agenda focused on global climate justice and environmental degradation. This is not necessarily unexpected; it makes sense for the United Nations to encourage these discussions in an effort to foster inclusivity and diversity. And while the side events seemed to be concerned with more ‘big picture’ issues with globalization, capitalism, and historical oppression, they also grounded these debates in local, community-based experiences and examples. This is in direct contrast to the Paris Agreement negotiations themselves, which are concerned with the pragmatic task of setting up a global framework for reducing emissions and adapting to impacts that could be flexible enough to work in all contexts, all the time.
I was struck by the contradictions between these two ideals: grassroots, context-specific calls for climate justice on the one hand, and high-level, specific discussions regarding the minutiae of carbon markets on the other. Having said that, there were some panels and side events dedicated to the same topics that country negotiators were discussing, like the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage that addresses the already unavoidable impacts from extreme events in developing countries, or the Adaptation Fund that increases developing countries’ capacity to implement adaptation measures. However, for the most part the tone of the two areas seemed completely distinctive, and often at odds with each other.
Again, this tension is not necessarily a bad thing; it is good to have multiple approaches, worldviews, and ideologies represented at COP25, both to hold policymakers to account and to provide a platform for historically marginalized groups who have struggled to find a seat at the table. However, I would have liked to see more of an effort to bridge the gap between the grassroots ideals of climate justice and the macro-level focus on international frameworks. I think that there was room for more mid-level discussions on bridging theory and practice, ideology and pragmatism, giving the option for both the energy of community-led movements and the structure of international treaties to be used in concert to avoid climate catastrophe, and transform the underlying systemic paradigms that induced climate change in the first place.
Article 6 Informal Negotiations, 6 December 2019
At the end of the day, I think COP25 has done a pretty decent job of allowing everyone to speak to their experiences with climate change, while also acknowledging that ultimately the country negotiators are there to accomplish a much narrower set of tasks. Having said that, there is room for improvement going forward with regards to integrating these larger anxieties regarding climate justice and systemic inequalities into the United Nations. Due to the historically lackadaisical approach from international organizations and national governments, a certain loss of faith in those institutions from activists and marginalized groups is expected. But there does seem to be a newfound sense of urgency, ambition, and inclusiveness from the COP, epitomized by UNFCCC Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa imploring the attending nations that “we need your decisions. We need your leadership. We are out of time”.
Written by: Brooklyn Rushton
As the days went by at COP25, I started to become more and more aware about actions that are occurring on the ground level across the world. Since the theme of this COP is ‘Time for Action’, this realization was extremely refreshing as I sometimes find the lack of action on the national level frustrating. I find through media coverage, ambition on climate action can seem to be lacking. But what COP25 taught me is that there is more going on than can be seen by the naked eye.
Throughout the week, COP was full of events put on by NGOs, civil society organizations, and Indigenous communities across the world that are extremely active on climate action. One group that was very active during the first week of COP was the Global Ecovillage Network. Their work is extremely important as their mission is to catalyze communities for a regenerative world and act as a strong platform for international projects that accelerate the transition to more resilient societies. This organization has expanded all across the world, in both rural and urban areas, with one of their main projects involving the restoration of degraded lands with sustainable agricultural practices, such as permaculture, that helps sequester carbon and increase food security.
We also learned about the importance of civil society in the movement away from carbon-based energy sources. During an event called ‘Renewable Energy in Cities, hosted by REN21, Morocco was highlighted as a success story of how citizen activism can lead to increased ambition. Civil society in Morocco actually pushed the national government to understand the importance of environmental and renewable energy projects for a sustainable future. This push eventually resulted in the Government of Morocco adopting a 50% renewable energy target by 2025 and establishing a ‘Renewable Energy Unit’, that includes government officials and civil society working together to make this target achievable.
Another story of action was the banning of offshore oil in New Zealand due to citizen uprising. This was highlighted by a documentary presented at the Moana Blue Pacific pavilion. This 10-year fight against large oil companies showed the New Zealand Government what citizens wanted, which resulted in the current New Zealand administration prohibiting the granting of licenses for offshore oil drilling. The Moana Blue Pacific pavilion also presented a documentary called ‘Vaka’ that highlighted the island of Tokelau and their transition to all renewable electricity sources in 2012. This success story truly emphasised how small island nations, which are inherently those most impacted by climate change, are also the ones leading on climate action in many cases.
COP25 ended by bringing people together from all across the world with a performance by Maori artist Rako Pasefika in the “Moana Blue Pacific” pavilion. For me, this was a perfect way to end this amazing experience as I COP really opened my eyes to the power of communities across the world. Reminiscing on this amazing experience, I feel like my worldview has been enhanced by showing me the resilience that can be built solely due to strong social connections and the reconnection with the natural world.
This leads me to one of my key take-aways from COP 25. I think that we often believe technology will save us from this climate emergency. However, what COP has taught me is that while technology plays a large piece in this puzzle, the strength in our social connections and relationship with nature also hold a drastic part in the transition. All in all, COP25 was a truly inspiring and enriching experience and I am so thankful to IC3 and the University of Waterloo for giving me this opportunity!
Written by: Muhammad Koya
Currently widely reported in world news, the outcomes of the United Nations’ climate negotiations at COP25 were less than ideal to say the least. This year’s negotiations did not start off on the right note either, with the president of Chile announcing they would not be able to host the event due to the country’s serious anti-government protests in Santiago.
Luckily, a move to Madrid within days of Chile’s cancellation saved COP25 and allowed it to be held on the exact same dates intended. As the negotiations progressed, it became apparent most nations were not taking COP25’s motto, “tiempo de actuar”or “time for action”, very seriously. Unfortunately and ultimately, a consensus was not reached in many different areas of the negotiations and most decisions have been postponed to next year. However, I still feel there is hope for the state of climate negotiations and global progress on the climate crisis.
Perhaps my source of hope for climate progress comes from a recurring theme of resilience in my own life, yet I feel my experience and exposure at COP25 allowed me to witness a groundswell of action from actors other than governments. COP25, and the UNFCCC COPs in general, are organized with a variety of sections and have many attendees from organizations around the world. There are negotiations, side events, pavilions, civil society meetings, press conferences, and even protest actions by attendees to put further pressure on governments. Beyond the layout of the COP25 space, the attendees are made up of government delegations and representatives, civil society members, non-governmental organizations, educational institutions, universities, research institutes, private sector organizations, amongst many more.
All of the events, meetings, and presentations that occur outside of the negotiation process illustrate climate action is being conducted in many different places. While the history of the UN climate process has always placed focus on negotiations between governments, there was a light shone on the many environmental and social initiatives being carried out globally by communities, private sector, non-profits, and other groups. On top of this, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals have been deeply embedded in the minds of anyone working within the realm of sustainability and climate change. I believe these initiatives, that are external to the work of governments, highlight a deeper level of resilience within our society that is typically not reported in media and generally not discussed amongst us. Not to mention that 60-75 years ago, it would have been next to impossible to have every country in the world sitting at the same table, in one room, trying to discuss and achieve international cooperation on a single issue. If anything, my one take away from attending COP25 is that action needs to happen from every facet of our society for progress to be made on climate change. Better yet, there is clear evidence that pockets of action are emerging at all levels of society.
As a student in the University of Waterloo’s Faculty of Environment, both during my undergraduate degree and currently in my master’s degree, it is quite disheartening to see the world’s governments fail to collaborate on the most urgent issue of our time. Despite the negative outcomes from COP25, the growing loss of faith in the UN climate process, and the level of inaction from government, I still have hope and believe that a certain level of resilience is required within all of us to ensure progress is made from other fronts. It is time for all of us to act – tiempo de actuar.
Written by: Verity Martin
COP25 was my third UNFCCC COP and my fourth time observing UNFCCC negotiations. I am very familiar with the centers, the schedule, the process, the flow of the side events. But from the moment I stepped into the conference center this one felt different. This last year has been monumental for the fight for climate action: Greta Thunberg launched a global movement, motivating children and adults to strike for the climate. The Green New Deal brought climate change back to the forefront of American politics, and many other federal elections had a newly significant climate element. The IPCC Special Report on 1.5 degrees with its succinct “12 years left” line resonated with the general public more than any other argument thus far. Its importance was felt at COP24 and the fact that its rhetorical impact has lasted an entire year is nothing short of miraculous. The public is finally latching on to the global climate movement; environmentalists have found their tipping point.
Despite this huge shift elsewhere in the world, the mood during the second week of COP25 is best described as grief and anger. Grief for the Indigenous people facing increasing violence in their fight against the destruction of the Amazon being blatantly facilitated by the Brazilian President Jair Bolsanaro, grief over the 2020 GAP report which made it clear we are farther than ever from meaningful climate action, and grief for the process which was and is being willfully dismantled and disrespected in front of our eyes. Anger at the shrinking space for civil society in a venue packed with oil, gas, and business lobbies, anger at the absurd tone deafness of party delegates refusing to respond to the calls for action echoing outside, and anger at our own complicity in a process that does not and cannot hold parties accountable.
This COP was not meant to have enormous significance with the Paris rulebook mostly behind us and the 2020 NDC submission and review still ahead. Reaching a satisfactory COP decision would have been as simple as keeping or integrating human rights into all articles of the Paris agreement, adopting the Gender Action Plan (the single victory), settling on a common time frame (ideally five years), and reaching a deal on carbon markets that would prevent hot air and double counting mechanisms. On the last of these points (Article 6) the Chilean Presidency was determined to come to a resolution. Article 6 dominated this COP; a blockade of big emitters, led by the US, Brazil, and Australia, actively stood in the way of progress, fighting for the carryover of Kyoto credits and the protection of other double counting mechanisms. This battle held much of the negotiations on other topics hostage, with countries holding out on issues of transparency and loss and damage in response to issues over hot air and double counting. And so COP25 ended, nearly 48 hours later than it was meant to, with so little progress it almost seems like we're going backwards. Parties invoked Article 16 in multiple negotiations, pushing them back either to Bonn in the Spring or Glasgow next winter. Some party observers whispered that the intention seemed to be to invoke Article 16 indefinitely; there is no limit on how often it can be invoked.
So other than nowhere, where does this leave us leading into COP26 in Glasgow? If there is little to no progress made at the intersession in Bonn the agenda for COP26 has effectively doubled in size. Beyond that, COP25s failure to set parameters around time frames, measurement, and transparency have handed parties a perfect excuse not to revise their NDCs in advance of Glasgow and integrate more ambition. How can a country plot it's emissions targets if there is no consensus on whether these targets will be for five or ten years? Beyond that, the fragmentation within the Paris Agreement weakens it. If the US pulls out, providing Brazil with the political cover to do the same, the significance of the Paris Agreement, most of which is given due to its near universality, will diminish. Barring all this: it has been made very clear that Parties will continue to act in their own short term interest. Much of the messaging coming from civil society in the final days was along the lines of: if you can't come to a decent agreement it would be better not to come to one at all. What makes us think Parties are likely to be in a more cooperative position any time soon? This seems less an indication that COP25 has failed and more an indication that the Paris Agreement is failing.
Beyond the apathy of the Parties it was incredibly disheartening to face the indignation of the UNFCCC Secretariat who made it very clear to civil society that they were not only unwelcome, but a nuisance. I will note here that the UNFCCC pavilion was sponsored by Facebook, Visa, and many other transnational corporations (some of which with oil ties). There were multiple sanctioned side events hosted by oil, gas, and business lobbies and associations. In contrast, civil society organizations were often denied meeting room space (there was plenty available), had meetings rooms abruptly switched with five minutes of less notice. Two civil society publications will a long history of being distributed at UNFCCC negotiations were banned, with one being reestablished in the second week after a hard fought battle with the Secretariat. Several applications for actions were denied, and when those actions took place without permission over 200 observers were corralled and forcibly removed from the venue. All observers, regardless or involvement, were disallowed from entering the venue for the remainder of the day and despite significant lobbying efforts from a broad coalition of civil society representatives three observers were debadged for the remainder of the conference. As the closing plenary dragged on into Saturday, civil society was denied the right to hold an alternative People's Plenary until 50 civil society representatives marched into the Secretariat's office and insisted.
It is imperative that the civil response to the COP failure be one that fights to hold indocity governments accountable. Parties have given themselves an excuse to delay action once again. They must not be allowed to use it.
Written by: Valentina Castillo Cifuentes
It has been one week since COP25 was concluded, and I have to say that I have a mix of feelings regarding this experience. After COP I went back to my home country Chile, and when people asked me how did it go answer that it went well for me because it was a such a wonderful experience, but at the same time the negotiations did not go as expected so I was disappointed. People around the world already knew that the outcomes were not the expected, therefore there have been news, twits, and comments regarding the negative role of Chile as the holder of COP25’s presidency.
Despite of these outcomes, I would like to highlight the great experiences that I had at COP25. As mention in my past blog, I was surprised by the actions taken by local governments around climate emergency regardless that their national governments do not believe in climate change. I had the chance to assist to the Green Zone of COP25 which is open to the public, and I was amazed by the activities and the large number of young people that assisted. Young people have taken seriously that this is the #TimeForAction, and there is no way back. The feeling I had from that experience is that the Blue Zone was somewhat disconnected from the Green Zone, which shows that there is lack of connection between authorities and governments, and their communities. People at the Green Zone were actually talking about real life experiences, and how the consequences of climate change and inequalities have modified their way of living. While in the Blue Zone delegations, and side events were talking about how great their communities are doing, and the actions that are needed to undertake in the future.
While wandering in the Green Zone, one of the organizations that caught my attention the most was Climate Collage, which is a French organization that aims for educating as many people as possible about climate change. Climate collage is game where people have to organize cards that contain information from IPCC reports regarding causes and consequences of climate change. I had the chance to play the game at one of their side events in the Blue Zone, and I was surprised about the things I did not know about climate change. As it is an education tool, and the organization’s purpose is to reach people all over the world, everyone who play the game can become a facilitator and play the game with their community. Since I participated of one of the games, I am planning to organize a workshop during winter term and play the game with our community at the University of Waterloo.
Another great moment at COP25 was the reception that the Canadian Minister of Environment Jonathan Wilkinson and the Canadian Ambassador to Spain Matthew Levin hosted. The reception started with a welcoming speech from the ambassador followed by a speech from the Minister Wilkinson that focused on the role of Canada in the negotiations. Indigenous peoples that were invited to the reception gave their speech as well, highlighting a lack of inclusiveness in the negotiations.
What I believe is that this lack of inclusiveness, and disconnection from communities, youth and marginalized people was a topic in COP25. Some critiques around this were the sayings of Jennifer Morgan, director of Greenpeace International, and Mohamed Adow, director of Power Shift Africa. Morgan stated that Chile’s focused was not in the people, instead the country focused on the polluters. Adow declared that the Chilean governments is failing in fighting climate change, as well it is failing to their own people. Let’s remember that since October 18th, 2019, Chile has been facing protests and riots as a consequence of social injustice and high levels of inequalities. Ongoing protest and manifestations were the cause that COP25 was moved to Madrid, Spain.
As a Chilean, I believe that Chile missed a great opportunity to celebrate COP25 in its territory. As the government mentioned in their website, Chile is facing 7 out of 9 problems of climate change, especially around droughts. Therefore, it is urgent to educate our people regarding climate change, and to make strong regulations that are in favour of people instead of protecting emitters of GHG. As it was well said by Mohamed Adow, Chile is failing to their own people and it is true. The behave of the Chilean authorities at COP25 protecting corporations, was just a reflection of what the Chilean population are facing every single day, and that is one of the reasons why protests keep going on after two months. Chile did not realize that this was not a show off marketing conference, this was about making decisions about the world’s future.
2020 is the year that countries have to show their National Determined Contributions, and we hope that their contributions allow us to boost climate action at both local and global level, as well as to achieve climate neutrality by 2050. The upcoming years are crucial, and it is urgent to work collaboratively with several stakeholders, including countries that are already facing climate change consequences, as well as the big polluters like United States, Russia, India, China, and Brazil. Climate action is needed, and for us that fight climate change COP25 is an opportunity to keep fighting. I am eternally thankful for having the chance to attend COP25, there are tons of lessons learned that I am looking forward to sharing with my community, both in Chile and in Canada.
Written by: Lowine Hill
"If not us, who? If not now, when?" Commonwealth Secretary-General Rt Hon Patricia Scotland
I had the opportunity to assist to the Development and Climate Days (or D&C Days), this “unconference” event geared at linking the climate discussions taking place in-between the two weeks of COP with development and climate action taking place on the ground. The goal was to brainstorm solutions to the climate-related “wicked problems” of this world, such as disaster resilience, nature-based solutions and gender-responsive financing. Concrete and practical possible solutions emerged from the experience of various practitioners, researchers, policy makers and grassroots organisations representative working on the ground. I must note though that islands and ocean issues were completely absent of these discussions. Regardless, the D&C practitioners have a clear message: we must act NOW.
Following the D&C days, I attended the second week of COP. COP25 was the last COP before the Paris Agreement comes in force in 2020, and it was off to a rough start. It was supposed to be hosted by Brazil, but the newly-elected and climate denier President Bolsonaro refused to do so. The US, with President Donald Trump officially started the process to pull out of the Paris Agreement. Finally, social movements in Chile, the country who stepped in to preside the event, erupted just weeks before the start of the negotiations. Luckily Spain offered to host but, in the process, many from civil society organisations couldn't afford the change and were not able to participate.
Nevertheless, between the different side events and informative discussions with country delegates, solutions and “how-to” were being shared. With thousands of representatives from the 197 signatories of the UNFCCC, civil societies and indigenous peoples highlighting and sharing their respective experience in addressing some of those “wicked problems” they are facing, the COP25 was bound to be successful. I was particularly interested in following the discussions related to the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage (WIM) which aim to address loss and damage associated with impacts of climate-related hazards, such as extreme weather events and sea-level rise; and to the Gender Action Plan. This COP was the longest one so far; it ended in the afternoon of Sunday December 15, 2019, two days later than originally planned.
During the event, things didn't go smoothly. Protests were organised inside and outside; more that 300 indigenous peoples, people of color and youths were (quite violently by some accounts) escorted out of the premises as they protested the negotiations process – delegates spending sometime 20min debating on trivialities such as misplaced comas – instead of focusing on finding ways to solve the current climate emergency, as it is now labelled in most discussion circles. And in fact, the outcomes do not reflect the latest scientific information available nor the urgency faced by some nations.
Before participating at COP, I had a somewhat idealised and naïve vision of the negotiations. For instance, it was really surprising that fossil fuel was never mentioned before. It would be logical to think that, with non-renewable fossil fuel being at the core of climate change, this would be the first topic that would be tackled by the discussions. It appears that unlike the World Health Organisation, which has prohibited the tobacco industry to take part in the COP discussions, the UNFCCC has no mechanism in place regarding the involvement of fossil fuel lobby within the process. The fact that Spanish energy giants Endesa and Iberdrola sponsored the meeting, responsible for the majority of Spain’s GHG emissions, illustrate the irony at play. This raises the questions: are we complicit in the final outcome of these failed negotiations by just participating in the event?
Having met and discussed with other observer representatives and some members of the African Group of Negotiators and the SIDS Group, here is my own two takeaway messages of the event:
- Money is the main divisive factor. This was highlighted on two occasions: first, countries failed to agree to on the rules for carbon markets – under the article 6 of the Paris Agreement – which signal the disconnect current extremely limited progress and global goals an ambition. Another similar example is the WIM, with countries like the US or Australia blocking any call for additional funding to compensate for climate impacts that SIDS and LDCs for instance, are facing. Allowing funding for the WIM would equal to an admission, from the big polluters, that their (in)action does have an effect on the more at-risk countries and would be an important step toward climate justice. The talks failed to reach consensus for these two points. It seemed that the call for action of local and indigenous communities fell in deaf ears.
- There will be no lasting, transformational change without the consideration of human rights, inequalities and power imbalances: one of the few positive outcomes of this COP is the adoption of a new comprehensive 5-year Gender Action Plan intended to “support the implementation of gender-related decisions and mandates under the UNFCCC process” (UNFCCC decision 21/CP.22, paragraph 27). This is an important step forward for human rights in general and indigenous peoples’ rights specifically.
Last but not least, I am extremely grateful of having been given the opportunity to participate at the conference and to meet the amazing people working day and night to bring forward the needs and hopes of the local communities they represent. There is no doubt that what I have learned during the conference will have an important influence on the direction of my research. However, I find myself asking: does the current negotiation system work? To be honest, I am not optimistic regarding any significant changes on climate change policies and debates happening at national and international levels. The aforementioned questions from Hon. Patricia Scotland were on the lips of most participants at the end of the conference. However, I believe that real change happens on the ground and that it is our duty, as future researchers and leaders to support and empower the people who are truly working for transformation.
Abreu C. and Henn J. (December 16 2019). Finally saying the F-words at UN climate talks. Climate Home News. Retrieved from https://www.climatechangenews.com/2019/12/16/finally-saying-f-words-un-climate-talks/
Evans S. and Gabbatiss J. (December 15 2019). COP25: Key outcomes agreed at the UN climate talks in Madrid. Carbon Brief. Retrieved from https://www.carbonbrief.org/cop25-key-outcomes-agreed-at-the-un-climate-talks-in-madrid
Written by: Isha Rana
COP-25, Was it as Success?
From the perspective of an observer, a student, an immigrant and a traveler.
I was fortunate enough to attend this year’s Conference of Parties in Madrid as a University of Waterloo student delegate. I was one of the 27,000 delegates who attended this mega event on fight against Climate Change, organized by United Nations and hosted by Chile.
Event Venue, Feria De Madrid, Madrid, Spain
Overview of the Event and Conclusion
This year’s COP had a difficult start with Brazil backing out last year, Chilean government also decided not to host the event due to the country’s difficult circumstances. Considering the current climate crisis and urgent need of hosting this event on the said dates, Spain stepped in and decided to take on the event in Madrid. Despite of the change of venue at the last minute, the event was organized in similar fashion to what was decided. The whole event venue was divided in to two zones – the Green Zone (open to public) and the Blue Zone. The green zone had various events and workshops with a sole agenda to make community more aware about the climate change and its consequences and to showcase how individuals can contribute towards this fight. Blue Zone was more formally structured, and all the negotiations and official side-events were happening in the area. The Blue-Zone was restricted to only the parties and the observers.
The main events and negotiations of this year’s COP were mainly focused on finalizing the terms of Article-6 of the Paris Agreement by setting some rules for global carbon market. Article-6 promotes “Climate Justice" by putting a price on carbon emissions, in other words, it suggests that the countries which are responsible for emissions must bear the cost of global warming. However, as an observer at COP, I understood that the countries responsible for large scale emissions are the ones who can impact decision making. The one of the reasons, why this year’s talk was unable to reach the consensus and why decisions were pushed to the next year. Many leaders including UN Secretary General said during the conclusion meeting that COP25 was disappointing as the countries failed to showcase their increased ambitions to tackle climate change. Young activist Gretta Thunberg said in her final speech that the annual COPs are truing into opportunities for countries to negotiate loopholes. Listening to these world leaders and young activists, made me realize that counties are far behind from even showing their ambitions towards climate change fight which is supposedly the first and foremost step. Without this ambition, it would be extremely difficult to achieve the goal of allowing 1.5 degree of global temperature rise by 2030.
My Experience and Key Learnings
As a transport planner, I followed various events related to my research which is about reducing emissions in transport (especially urban freight sector) in Canadian context. The most relevant event I attended was on “Sub-national efforts to Reduce Transport Emissions in North America”. Panellists from various states of US (Minnesota, California and Hawaii) and Canada (Quebec) presented their best practices and current policies in place.
However, the discussion was mainly focused on reducing emissions in passenger transport mainly by providing public transport and promoting active transport. Focusing only on passenger transport was not at all surprising for me as through my research I already knew that freight is often overlooked especially in North America. However, with increased demand of e-commerce and rising emissions in this sector, I was expecting more events focusing on freight. Another interesting viewpoint, I got from an organisation called “Sail to COP”. About 20 representatives from this organisation were protesting to include international aviation sector in the carbon market. Aviation is one of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases and currently not included in carbon tax system or usually not talked about in these COP negotiations. Some of the other interesting events I attended and briefing of these events are presented below:
- Impact of Climate Change on Job market; this event highlighted some shocking facts and forecasts about the economic impact. One of the panellists highlighted that by 2030, world will lose 2.2% of its total working time (~18 million jobs) to climate change.
- Gender Responsive Climate Actions; this event was presented by women activists from all across the globe. This event highlighted that due to security and safety reasons women tend to emit more emissions than men and that there is a need to link women safety with climate change.
- Community Resilience Partnership Program by Asian Development Bank; in this event ADB highlighted the need to increase participation of local communities in climate action. In this event ADB also committed that in next 10 years the focus of their investment ($80 million) will be towards climate change mitigation and adaptation in Asian & Pacific counties which will target poor and vulnerable people.
- Fashion Industry for Climate Change Charter, from COP24 to COP25; this event highlighted interesting facts about fast fashion business models and how they promote over consumerism and over consumption.
Panel talking about Gender Responsive Climate Action
Attending these side events gave me the impression that global researchers and policy makers are well aware of the scientific facts and the forecasts of climate change impacts. However, I found various gaps in most of these discussions in terms of implementation strategies and laying out strict timelines.
I am an immigrant from India, which has a huge coastline, diverse geography and vast population. I am worried about the impact my country and several others in the similar situation, might face due to climate change and sea level-rise. I am also a travel and have just started to explore parts of the world, I am worried that I might not get to experience this beautiful world. During my time at COP25, I witnessed two very different sides of the event, one from global leaders’ perspective who are optimistic and are working on their own pace, second, from younger generation’s perspective, who are scared and disappointed and are demanding Climate Action and Climate Justice Now. Seeing all the efforts from the organizers, researcher, activities and young protesters, made one thing very clear to me that globally we more aware of the issue, the only thing missing is our increased ambition to fight climate change together.
Reflections on COP25 by Ian Rowlands
A special blog post written by Ian Rowlands, Associate Vice-President, International, & Professor, School of Environment, Resources and Sustainability, University of Waterloo.
December 6th, 2019
COP25 undoubtedly means many different things to many different people. The 30,000 (approximately) people involved in the United Nations Climate Change Conference are arriving in Madrid, Spain with different priorities, are interacting with various (but necessarily only limited) parts of the broad and deep agenda, and are engaging in a variety of conversations and activities throughout their time here. Of course, there is a collective agenda, and securing progress on the Summit’s priority items is critical. But the purpose of this blog is to reflect upon COP25 from a personal perspective.
And that person is me – a University of Waterloo faculty member and administrator, who has had a long-standing interest in climate change issues in general, and in the COP process in particular, and who has also supplemented his sustainability research and teaching interests with administrative activities during the past few years.
So, after four days at the Conference, here are some of my reflections.
1) The rich agenda
For those interested in climate change, the Conference offers the chance to be like the proverbial kid in the candy shop – there are so many interesting sessions, posters, displays, presentations, and debates, let alone people, here in Madrid! Be it across the dozens of side events that are held daily, or in the many pavilions that are also hosting activity, it is somewhat akin to a major conference (with multiple parallel sessions) housed within a larger intergovernmental negotiation.
Indeed, this is one striking difference for me – compared to my experience at COP21 in Paris, four years ago. On that trip, I was part of the University of Waterloo’s ‘week two’ delegation, and, by that time in 2015, focus at the Conference had turned to securing what became known as the Paris Agreement. Indeed, I have come to appreciate that, at COP, it is just as the Earth Negotiations Bulletin describes it:
Delegates will take stock of the implementation and ambition of climate action before 2020 through a series of technical meetings during the first week, and a high-level event for delegates to discuss mitigation, adaptation, support provided, and the Marrakech Partnership for Global Climate Action, during the second week.
What a privilege it has been to be part of ‘week one’ this time and thus to immerse myself in this rich agenda.
2) The climate emergency
Surrounded by so many people with such vast knowledge and strong commitment, one thing that is particularly striking is the magnitude of the climate change challenge. In basic terms, greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, and global temperatures continue to rise. These trends need to be stopped and reversed ... and we have only a limited amount of time in which to take action. If we want to meet the Paris target of limiting global warming to 1.5°C, we need to start realizing 7.6% reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, annually! If we do not do so, the consequences – biophysical and social – will be dramatic.
Of course, what brings people to a COP is – for the most part – a desire to take action on global climate change. Consequently, it should not be particularly surprising that the level of urgency feels higher here than elsewhere in the world. But I sense that it feels particularly high here, because I am coming from Canada – indeed, from North America – which not only has relatively lower levels of concern, but – perhaps more importantly – is also a location where the climate change issue seems to be more partisan than in many other parts of the world. Whatever the reason, I have been reminded of the urgency of the climate change challenge these past few days.
3) The particular issues
As noted above, I recognize that I am seeing only a bit of the broad and deep agenda here in Madrid; nevertheless, there are items that are useful to the various roles I am occupying while here.
Interdisciplinary Centre on Climate Change (IC3) – With IC3 spearheading the University of Waterloo participation in COP, it has been a pleasure to represent its interests here. One of the eight University of Waterloo university-level research centres and institutes, IC3 has members working on virtually every aspect of the climate change agenda. And at every turn here in Madrid, when I hear a theme being raised, I can think of a researcher back home doing work in that very area. Moreover, seeing Waterloo’s standing as one of the world’s top five universities for climate action highlighted in one of the Conference’s side events further illuminated the Centre’s global standing. I will take home a number of potential connections for us to pursue.
University of Waterloo senior leader – With my involvement in the development of the University’s recently-launched Strategic Plan – and the importance of that Plan going forward – I find myself often thinking of ways in which external opportunities fit with the Plan. This week in Madrid has presented me with a wealth of relevant possibilities, both generally and specifically:
- Climate change is mentioned multiple times in the University of Waterloo’s Strategic Plan. It is identified as one of the most important global challenges with which we will align our research strengths deliberately. Thus, the Plan encourages – in fact, demands – continued interaction, on the part of the University, with the climate change issue globally.
- And activities on the ground here in Madrid have suggested to me that Waterloo’s specific approach to these global challenges – interdisciplinary, international, and innovative – is particularly relevant at this time. As but one example, the emphasis upon connections between climate change and digitization – a fascinating theme I have heard many times here in Madrid as I have been introduced to the work of, for instance, the UN Secretary-General, the activities of the Climate Chain Coalition, and the priorities of the European Commission’s new leadership – speaks directly to many of Waterloo’s strengths. Indeed, my time here has shown that Waterloo’s expertise at – and experience with – collaborative, crosssectoral approaches is especially germane, for that is just what is being called for by the global community.
COP25 side event entitled, ‘How digital technologies can support climate action’
Faculty of Environment Researcher – My work as a climate change researcher has largely focused upon the ways in which decision-making at various levels (individual through to the global) around climate change mitigation options (particularly those that are energy-focused) unfold. Empirically, much of my recent work has been around energy storage technologies, as I have led a programme of work on ‘social acceptance’ within a pan-Canadian research network. And conceptually, I have been led by the interests and writings of many of my graduate students as they have used ideas from the ‘transitions literature’ to inform their investigations.
Of course, there is much of relevance for me as a researcher here in Madrid. Mitigation is still a critical issue, with it being clear that the present suite of NDCs (‘nationally determined contributions’) – even if successfully implemented – will still result in significant increases in global temperatures (by approximately 3°C). More needs to be done, and the Conference has revealed the role of actions at the individual, community, sub-state, state/national, international, and global levels. (Indeed, those last two levels have been central to the ‘Article 6’ discussions – conversations which take me back to my academic roots!)
And I have heard the word ‘transition(s)’ many times here. While not everyone quotes Prof. Frank Geels when using it, at least implicit in the delivery is the notion that a transformative shift from the status quo is necessary. Moreover, the word is often delivered side-by-side with another: ‘just transition(s)’. This encourages consideration of the pathway for sustainability, recognizing its multiple dimensions. There is, of course, a rich discussion about the term, with contributions from labour, researchers, and others. Ways in which fairness and related issues are considered within countries, across countries, and across generations are critical.
European aficionado – Those who know me know that I have a long-standing connection with Europe, as well as an ongoing affinity for the continent. It is wonderful to be in Spain for the first time, and to experience the beautiful city of Madrid. The street-scenes – for instance, the pastry shop windows and the inhabitants bundled into their winter-clothing in 10°C weather – bring back fond memories of my time living in Italy. And the complex (and effective) public transport system, plus the – for lack of a better term – ‘density of life’, remind me of many happy years in London.
What, however, is uniquely Madrid is what a wonderful host the city is proving to be. In any case, delegates would probably have said how smooth the proceedings have been run – accessible conference location, highly-functional facilities, warm hospitality, etc. – in any case; the fact that the city stepped up only a month before welcoming the world to its door makes this all the more remarkable. ... Well done, and thank you, Madrid!
4) The next steps
My time at COP25 is almost over. Week two will see a new set of University of Waterloo representatives here in Madrid. And, as noted above, they will be witness to negotiating efforts to take a number of ‘big issues’ across the finish line.
Regardless of the extent to which negotiators are successful next week (and, of course, I hope that they are extremely successful!), we will still be in a climate emergency. And 2020 appears set to be a pivotal year for the issue. The Paris Agreement-prescribed deadlines for decisions on a number of issues – in particular, mitigation and finance – will serve to make COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland in November 2020 critical. ‘Ambition’ is another oft-heard word here in Madrid. We need not only to articulate clearly our ambition, but also to act upon it, and ultimately to realize it!