Getting a movement going

by Graham Reeder

So after two weeks of singing and dancing in designated, coordinated, preapproved, action spaces, the official youth constituency just made their first risky move at this COP. Anjali delivered a powerful high-level plenary intervention about how the youth are being failed and how developed countries are to blame for delay on ambitious climate action, and the youth followed it up by a powerful human microphone with the lines “Mic check! Equity Now! You’ve run out of excuses. We’re running out of time. Get it done! Get it done! Get it done!”  The Human Microphone (or the people’s microphone) has been a tactic used since before the World Trade Organization protest in 1999 but has recently made a comeback with the Occupy Movement.

What was truly incredible about this action was that it received consensus approval by the official youth constituency morning meeting.  Although it wasn’t clear whether or not this is an ‘unsanctioned action’, there is no doubt that it was a risk. The official youth constituency can’t approve unsanctioned action, and is usually very hesitant to push any aggressive messaging. Earth in Brackets is ecstatic to see the youth come together on the things that unite them and take a strong stance. I wonder though, why only now? Why is it that we have to wait until the last day of COP to get a sense of a movement being present in the halls of the ICC? My sense is that there were a lot of fears of people losing their badges and their chances of getting future accreditation. Although I understand this to a certain extent, I’m not sure I understand why it is that people are using such an intense amount of resources to get here and choosing not to speak up. Anjali made a good point in her intervention, ambition and action are not radical, what is radical is changing the climate of the earth, sitting back and letting it happen is radical too.  I’m concerned that I see a huge portion of the youth here itching for more risks but the sense of status quo remains dominant. I strongly commend the actions of the 6 Canadian youth who took a stand (literally) and interrupted the Canadian delegation’s speech to point out who they work for and the Abigail’s action for the American youth by obstructing Todd Stern’s public voice at the convention. Both of these actions have garnered attention from major western press outlets, I haven’t seen any sing-a-longs on the New York Times website recently. Their actions and others like them are what this movement takes, not a pep rally.

This doesn’t just go for the youth though, I’ve watched the largest environmental NGOs that have come to represent the environmental movement in the media continually cut dangerous deals and make compromises on issues that aren’t theirs to compromise on. I’m really concerned that a handful of European and North American non-grassroots NGOs are the ones who decide if Durban is a success or not for the media; it’s not up to them. There are plenty of grassroots organizations that represent a much broader constituency (and a much more vulnerable one) that have the opinions but not the voice, they end up leaving the room rather than taking it over.

My major questions are these: What does it take to develop a sense of ambition? How is it that activists and policy wonks like me can get the message across to civil society that their governments will have no interest in doing anything until something gets shoved down their throat by the people who elect them? In turn, what are the strategies that grassroots civil society groups can use to bring our governments’ attention span away in a real way from powerful dirty corporate lobbyists to a science and human rights based approach to climate change? How do we do the same with the top-down NGOs?

I’m not being naïve here, I understand that the fossil fuels industry is the most profitable industry in history and that, in turn, they have the most powerful lobby the western world has ever seen. I’m not particularly interested in either naïve idealism or lazy defeatism; I’m asking for concrete strategic thoughts and suggestions.

What’s health got to do with it?

by Graham Reeder

So how are climate change and health connected anyway? I don’t know about you, but the first thing that comes to mind when I used to think about climate change is arctic sea ice and major industry polluting. As I’ve developed a stronger interest in public health issues over the last couple of years, the human ecologist in me has driven me to make connections between climate change, social justice, and health. And guess what…I’m not alone. The wonderful thing about COPs is that if you’re passionate about an issue that relates to climate change in any way, you’ll probably find a group of people here who engage in it as well.

This year’s COP has actually been a big one for climate and health; Sunday saw a whole side conference on health and climate change and there have been many side-events and meetings about making that link. Unfortunately, my work following the adaptation negotiations has meant that I haven’t been able to go to most of those things, but I’ve had a number of great conversations with some of the people working on the issues.

Climate change has major impacts on health issues which vary from region to region. One helpful way to categorise our thinking about this is to think about extreme weather events and slow-onset events. Extreme weather events are things like hurricanes, floods, heat waves and drought, all of which are linked to climate change (See IPCC fourth assessment report working group II). What most of these events do is exacerbate existing health problems; when disaster strikes, it is consistently the least resilient who suffer most. This is because they have less access to preventative health care, emergency services, can be already suffering from some other under treated health issue, or are literally living in more dangerous locations (low-lying areas, along eroding coastlines, in urban hot-spots, etc…) All of these conditions make extreme weather events a serious concern for health. This is not to say that only the poorer countries of the world are affected, I don’t think I have to remind anyone that the heat-waves in Europe and Hurricane Katrina were a perfectly good reminder that inequality in resilience and access to services is ever-present in even the richest nations.

In terms of slow-onset events, media and international attention has a tougher time picking up the story. One might call it easy to gain wide readership of a front-page story about floods in Bangladesh that have killed thousands and cost up to 20 million USD over the last two years, but in a world where attention span is adjusted to twitter and everything is urgent, it can be much more difficult to expose the impacts of changing vectors on malaria patterns in sub-Saharan Africa or glacial melting causing water-access issues in Latin America, and of course the looming sea level rise issue that has low-level urban areas quivering in their boots. These long-term impacts will have catastrophic impacts on health unless serious work is undertaken pre-emptively to build resilience and strengthen communities’ ability to cope. I say cope because given what I’ve seen from the UN on adaptation policy progress, coping is the best we can hope for.  Some other climate related slow-onset events that are going to have major health impacts are ocean acidification, desertification, changes in salt-water/freshwater distribution, loss of traditional medicinal species, a major decrease in agricultural productivity, forest degradation, erosion due to changing rainfall, and mass migration due to environments becoming uninhabitable. I’ll touch on the migration piece in a future blog post, but all of these impacts have colossal health ramifications that most of the world’s infrastructures are completely unprepared to deal with. We have wasted so much time fighting about whether or not climate change is real and who should do something about it that it is coming around to knock us over from behind.

In short, the connection between climate change and health is a crucial one. Given the current ambition levels on the table and the likelihood of anything changing soon, it looks like we’re in for a whole lot of warming, and a proactive health/resilience centered approach is the only chance of dealing with this kind of catastrophe.

On a policy note, the most recent AWG-LCA (Ad-hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action) text has an addendum with, among other things, sections on building resilience; poverty and inequality; protecting and promoting human health; gender; territory, mobility, and urban development; and migrants. Most of the text in these sections involves looking into things and further investigating them rather than acting on the knowledge that is already there, but seeing this language in a text like this is a little bit refreshing. There is supposedly a new text coming out tonight or tomorrow, only time will tell if any of those sections remain.

A New Adaptation Framework: Don’t hold your breath for this empty shell

by Graham Reeder

This past week (and year), I’ve been following the issue of adaptation. As many of you know, Climate Change is not just a long-term threat that is looming in the horizon; it is being experienced by people now in a very real way.  The World Health Organisation estimates that climatic changes are causing 150,000 deaths annually; the vast majority of which are in sub-Saharan Africa.

One of the major, but unpublicised outcomes of Cancun was the groundwork for a new adaptation framework. The Bali Action Plan from 2007 laid out a track for mitigation and adaptation to be considered equally, but this has obviously not been the case. Laying out the Cancun Adaptation Framework is basically the first real step in doing anything sincere about adaptation under the convention. Having said this, the first step has truly been a baby step.

Negotiators have been working out how to incorporate the existing elements of adaptation under the convention, namely the Nairobi Work Programme that sets out to research how adaptation to climate change works and where the vulnerability lies, to fit into the new framework. It looks like the overarching body to oversee adaptation is to be the Adaptation Committee, a group of negotiators who will be responsible for creating coherence among adaptation activities and holding workshops. The composition of that committee is still being worked out; parties disagree about whether emphasis should be on the countries who will be doing the adaptation (developing), or the countries who will be financing that adaptation (developed, but not really). Under the Committee, there will be three branches, the first will be the Nairobi Work Programme, viewed as the scientific and technical arm of adaptation that will mostly do research, the second will be a work programme on Loss and Damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change, and the third will be the formation of National Adaptation Plans (NAPs). All of this will be nicely tied together by the Adaptation Fund, which will work with the Green Climate Fund and other partners to finance all of this bustling activity. But wait; don’t get too excited about all of this action yet, remember that the GCF isn’t operationalized, and probably won’t be for a while, and even if the Adaptation Fund gets operationalized, it remains nearly empty. Rich countries aren’t happy that they don’t have more say over where and how the money in the Adaptation Fund gets spent, so they stubbornly don’t fill it despite their obligation to do so.

But enough about finance, there will be plenty more on that from my colleagues who follow it more closely. There have been some very interesting arguments between parties about the 3 elements of the adaptation framework, work is still being done in back rooms about the adaptation committee, but the chair of the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (Robert-Owen Jones from Australia) is adamant that negotiations should be as transparent as possible and has kept his meetings on adaptation open to observers.

The group of negotiators who work on adaptation (the adaptation community, as they call themselves) are pretty much the same on all issues. A handful of strong negotiators from the US, Australia, the EU, Norway, Bolivia, Argentina, Colombia, the Cook Islands, and Timor Leste dominate most of the talking space. COA’s very own Juan Pablo Hoffmaister (07), one of the founders of Earth In Brackets, is the lead negotiator for the G77+China (a group of 131 developing countries) on issues of adaptation and works tirelessly to coordinate the group and keep it strong. The adaptation community is forwarding several decisions to the COP on the three components of the framework. They have developed a more solid plan for the work programme on loss and damage, after negotiating serious compromise between AOSIS (the Alliance of Small Island States) and the US/Australia on the issue of creating a mechanism to actually do something about it. The US doesn’t think they’re ready to commit to doing anything about loss and damage, saying that they need another year to learn about what it really means and how to deal with it before deciding on anything, while AOSIS is saying that they don’t need another year of sitting around a conference table twiddling their thumbs, they are suffering in terms of millions of dollars and many lives and need the issue to start being addressed as soon as possible. They have ultimately reached a compromise in which the possibility of a mechanism is mentioned, but there is no commitment to actually creating one.

On National Adaptation Plans, the fight has been a little bit more nuanced. Initial division was between developed and developing countries over involvement of the Global Environment Facility as an interim financer until the Green Climate Fund is created, developed countries wanted the GEF to have nothing to do with NAPs because the last round of adaptation programmes (National Adaptation Programmes of Action) that were focused on urgent and immediate adaptation needs were supposed to be implemented by the GEF and still haven’t been 3 years later. Developing countries also wanted to be clear that NAPs couldn’t just be a planning process, but needed to have an implementation component. The Least Developed Countries are sick of seeing money go towards plans that don’t get follow-through. The latest fight is within the G77 itself though, Least Developed Countries (a group of mostly African countries that also includes parties like Bangladesh and Afghanistan) and “particularly vulnerable countries,” a broader group that also includes some Latin American countries are disagreeing about including mentions of particularly vulnerable countries in the text. The LDC group have always been privileged in adaptation text because their capacity to deal with adaptation themselves is the lowest, but that doesn’t mean that they’re the only ones who are vulnerable. This is where finance becomes important, this fight wouldn’t be happening if there was enough money in the pot to go around, but countries are scrambling over the scraps that rich countries have made available. Because of this, the G77 isn’t united on NAPs, making it a lot harder for them to negotiate strongly on the issue. This is most assuredly part of an EU and US (particularly the UK) tactic to divide and conquer the G77.

On the Nairobi Work Programme, most of the fight has been figuring out how to bring it under the Cancun Adaptation Framework. Because it is the only piece of this puzzle that predates the framework, parties are squabbling over how it should fit into the picture. While most developing country parties want to see them report to the Adaptation Committee and start a new phase that is focused on more applicable adaptation needs, developed country parties are happy with the way things have been going and like that it has mostly produced a bunch of academia on adaptation that can’t be applied in very many contexts. After some tough negotiations, negotiators have agreed to start a new phase (the Durban Phase) of the work programme that will have a few of the elements that developing countries wanted, but still won’t be focused on implementation.

Overall I’ve gotten the impression that adaptation negotiations have been going well, they’ve made progress on issues and have (for the most part) worked in the spirit of compromise. That being said, there is absolutely no way that the work that is being produced by the adaptation community reflects the urgency and needs of climate change adaptation on the ground. In my SBI intervention yesterday I tried to stress that youth and other particularly vulnerable groups really don’t have time to sit around and wait for them to squabble over the placement of commas and that what practitioners already know about adaptation needs to be both implemented and funded.

Graham’s Intervention to the SBI:

Yesterday, Graham Reeder gave an intervention during a plenary of the Subsidiary Body for implementation.  Earth in Brackets plans to post videos of Graham’s and Julian’s interventions, so look out.


Thank you chair,
My name is Graham and I am here with College of the Atlantic to speak on behalf of the youth

We appreciate the work we have seen to ensure solid outcomes and progress on key issues, but the
ambition on the part of developed countries has not been high enough and has not reflected the amount
of work that all parties have contributed in the last week. Here are some key areas of concern for youth:


On finance, we call for better transparency within the GEF to make information and decisions relating to
amounts and flows of funds easily available. We want fewer obstacles to access of funding in order to
meet the urgent needs of developing countries, Least Developed Countries in particular.

The GEF must address the adaptation gap. We are concerned to see that 3.3 billion dollars have been
given to mitigation projects, and a mere 370 million for adaptation! We cannot wait for the green climate
fund: adaptation needs funding now. We call for an increase of activities under Article 6; the GEF must
ensure funding goes to systematic observations in developing countries,


We call for fair, equitable, and balanced solutions for the following three topics so that the Technology
Mechanism can become fully operationalized by no later than next year.

Funding for the CTCN must come from an equitable and transparent source with adequate safeguards in
place. Technology Needs Assessments must be accompanied by adequate training and support for
countries that will receive them. And equal attention must be paid to mitigation and adaptation within the
pilot projects under the Poznan strategic programme.
You have finished the review of Capacity Building but your work is not over. Negotiations so far have not
reflected the fun, passion, motivation and transformative power of Capacity Building that we feel every
Young people are experts on Capacity Building and want to be recognised for our work. We ask that you
explicitly mention youth as experts and practitioners and include stakeholder inputs in reports and reviews.
Parties have done good work on adaptation. We urge you to accept the AOSIS proposal for language
changes on an international mechanism, the research is there, and youth do not have time to wait for
developed countries to be vague and slow on this matter. We wish to stress that NAPs cannot afford to
suffer from the same dismal implementation strategies as the NAPA process that LDCs are still waiting to
see on the ground, that strong guidance from the Adaptation Committee will be crucial to the success of
NAPs, and that adequate and accessible interim financing will be key as we wait for the development of
the GCF.


We thank the chair for his hard work; he clearly understands the urgency of these issues and noted that
his own parents had lost their home in last year’s floods in Queensland. We urge those developed
country parties who have been slower to compromise and come forward with adequate financing to step
up to the plate and stop bracketing text on urgent issues. Remember that you need us, none of your
implementation strategies will work without the support and engagement of the world’s youth and we will
not stand for flimsy promises and stalled progress.

Finally, We have learned that several UNFCCC Secretariat staff working to liaise with observer
organisations will have to be laid off, with only two colleagues remaining. If governments are sincere
about meaningful participation of observers, then you MUST fulfill your financial pledges and provide ALL
the resources that the Secretariat needs as quickly as possible.