Follow this page for regular updates for our COP 22 reporter and Economics of Sustainabilty Research Assistant, Alexander Pfeiffer.

As Reported in The Ecologist:

Only 'we the people' can rise above the false promise of COP22

Alexander Pfeiffer, Elizabeth Dirth & Alex Clark

23rd November 2016

The COP22 climate conference in Marrakech was given an impossible mandate: to make the Paris Agreement happen, write Alexander Pfeiffer, Elizabeth Dirth & Alex Clark. But it failed. The task now falls to civil society - and to succeed we must move beyond the alienating discourse of science and diplomacy, and show marginalised communities that climate solutions can also deliver for them.

In the early hours of Saturday morning, the 22nd UN Conference of the Parties (COP) on climate change was brought to an official close, amid a series of final declarations.

Many had called for COP22 in Marrakech to be the 'COP of action'. There's a big problem here, though: the fundamental nature of these conferences is not active - it's diplomatic. And diplomacy is far better at holding action back, than driving it forward.

The reality is that Marrakech was never going to be the COP of action in the way that campaigning groups around the world advocated for. It was the COP for cleaning up the forced, last-minute consensus of the Paris Agreement forged at COP21 last December.

Paris was the photo-op, and Marrakech was the first of the nitty-gritty, argumentative, tense meetings that would follow. COP22 was always going to be the one where the Parties decided what the Paris Agreement actually meant. This is not a recipe for ambition, or grand bargains. It is a recipe for pragmatism - and that's exactly what we saw.

Kicking the diplomatic can down the road

High-level diplomatic action is a very different beast than putting-to-work action or implementation at the level of national governments, local governments, the private sector, civil society - down to individual households.

Marrakech did feature action, but predominantly diplomatic and rhetorical action - which does not amount to much in the real world, and certainly does little for the legitimacy of the UNFCCC process.

That's not to say there was a great surge of diplomatic action in Marrakech, either. In fact, there are many reasons to be disappointed by the lack of progress. The technicalities of implementing each country's National Determined Contributions (NDCs) remain vague.

The open questions that have been kicked down the road at every COP for so many years - like financing, adaptation and compensation to states suffering from loss and damage from climate change - saw the usual spirited debate and confusion, but very little progress.

On new topics raised by the Paris Agreement that needed to be filled out in detail and implemented into the Paris framework - like the 'Rulebook' for state action and the 'Facilitative Dialogue' for non-state action - the advance was limited, and disappointed observers and Parties alike.

The best that can be said about this year's COP is that it sent a firm, appropriate signal in the aftermath of the US election, thanks in no small part to the Chinese delegation. In the 'Marrakech Action Declaration', Parties to the COP "call on all non-state actors to join ... for immediate and ambitious action and mobilization, building on ... important achievements".

This, at least, is where we agree - if we want the fast and decisive action on climate change needed to have any hope of achieving the Paris goals, the best place it can happen now is outside the COP process.

Climate campaigners must give up their own denialism

As 2016 draws to a close, earth-shattering election results in two of the world's major powers, first the UK and now the US, have profoundly shaken global - and environmental - politics. The implications of these developments for the COP were captured by UNEPExecutive Director Eric Solheim at this year's Sustainable Innovation Forum, the most high-profile business-focused side event during the COP.

It is not the US electorate that has failed us, he argued, it's the climate change community, the already converted climate action-ists: "If we cannot make environment a kitchen conversation in Kentucky and Texas, then we are failing." The climate change community must learn how to work with the new wave of ultra-conservative, post-factual populism. The task at hand is to stop failing people that do not align with the promised neo-liberal, sustainable development utopia.

It has never been so obvious that deploying the same old arguments to convince climate sceptics doesn't work anymore, despite the ever-growing mountains of evidence. Maybe it never worked to begin with. And maybe the issue of climate change in itself doesn't have much to do with it.

In a media world unconcerned with truth, disenfranchised and disillusioned citizens are less and less receptive to traditional arguments, facts, or statistics. The climate action community must speak the language of the people, not the dialect of the climate scientist or the diplomat. There are some organizations that understand this - is perhaps one of them.

We must frame the social changes that we all believe are necessary for tackling climate change in the context of the social and economic benefits they will bring with them. Those disillusioned with globalisation have little interest in the self-reflected glory of international diplomacy or UN agreements. In fact, this is only pushing them further away.

The self-congratulatory celebration that followed the signing of the Paris Agreement is the polar opposite of the way the discussion should be framed to reach those persuaded by Brexit, Trump, and bad science.

A new audience for climate action?

The Paris Agreement is only made possible in a globalised, multilateral world in which diplomacy takes small and incremental steps - the same world that drives disruption, rapid change, and exploitation of communities across the world. When your very well-being and security is threatened, incremental international climate diplomacy does nothing for you.

If this sea change in communicating climate change is the task at hand, a COP of action was never going to achieve it. This is not the purpose of a COP, nor is it the task of traditional diplomacy, or even a task for major multinationals, or the President of the United States.

It is a task for individuals, local governments, schools, universities, community action groups ... it is a task for 'we the people'.

Now is the time to ride this new wave of populism and make it work for the climate movement: to show that the new economic thinking necessary to stop climate change can also raise the disenfranchised and dispossessed from the economic margins.

To make the case towards not only a cleaner and more sustainable but also a better and more just livelihood. It is time to put people right at the centre of climate action.

Alexander Pfeiffer is head of Young European Leadership's delegation to the COP and a doctorate student at the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET) at the Oxford Martin School. See his website.

Elizabeth Dirth is the Chair of the 2050 Climate Group and studying an MSc in Sustainable Development with a specific focus on international climate governance.

Alex Clark is the Henry Fellow at Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, having graduated from Oxford University with an MSc in 2015. He is currently working on energy policy, climate change and global health and is also Project Leader for Operations with SDSN Youth.

COP 22 Daily Blog – Days 13-14 (Week 2), Weekend Nov. 19-20, 2016

Goodbye Marrakech – Breakthrough or Business as Usual?

by Alexander Pfeiffer [1]

In the early morning hours of Saturday morning the 22nd COP came to an end with some final declarations. Unfortunately, we, the YEL delegation, could not attend this final plenary, as it was closed to observer so only official negotiating parties could attend. Instead we followed the process of the plenary via live stream and news-ticker.

What came out of these 2 weeks of intense negotiations?

Overall I must say that I am slightly disappointed by the progress that has been made during the conference. Yes, there are some encouraging results but especially on the technical side and the open questions that have kept the COPs busy for so many years -- like Adaptation and Loss & Damage -- there was a lot of debate and confusion but only little progress.

One of the success stories of this COP was certainly how countries have reacted to the US election early in week 1. While the Trump victory came as a surprise to many of us, it didn’t have the effect so many observers feared. Neither China nor other countries showed signs that they were planning to drop out of the effort. Quite the opposite seemed to be the case when, on the penultimate scheduled day, the conference adopted a call for nations to honour the promises made in Paris and to renew their attempts to avoid planetary disaster.

Another good news can be reported on the ratification effort of the Parties regarding the Paris Agreement. Over the course of the conference, 11 governments ratified the Paris climate agreement (Australia, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Finland, Gambia, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Pakistan, and the UK), bringing the total to 111. Since the beginning of September, a staggering 88 nations have ratified the agreement -- to become law, which it did in the week before the conference began, only 55 nations representing 55% of global emissions would have been necessary.

Ambition level

On the ambitions side no big developments have been made. The Paris agreement acknowledges that current pledges by the parties to cut GHG emissions will not be enough to bring us even close to the agreed target of 1.5-2.0 degree Celsius. Nonetheless, parties did not manage to bring forward adapted INDCs with steeper emissions cuts, and instead focused on reinforcing existing plans.

The small positive spin on this overall frustrating result is that some countries have agreed to review their 2020 targets, notably the ‘Climate Vulnerable Forum’, a 47-strong coalition of developing countries, which declared it “will strive to lead” the green transition and aim to go 100% renewable. Furthermore, some countries -- the US, Canada, Mexico, and Germany -- published roadmaps for cutting their GHG emissions through 2050. 22 other countries, as well as 15 cities and nearly 200 private sector companies backed the “2050 pathways platform.”


A progress on the much-needed rulebook for the implementation of the Paris Agreement has been postponed as politically charged decisions on the balance between national sovereignty and global uniformity were put off to later meetings. It has been re-confirmed, that 2018 will be the next major meeting for negotiations under the Paris Agreement so the rulebook must be ready latest in that year. In that context, it appears inconsistent that governments agreed to more consultations but there will be no new or extra meetings.


The topic that was one of the main reasons why the COP didn’t end, as initially planned, in the evening of Friday but instead went on until long after midnight on Saturday morning. One of the questions that needed to be solved was whether the Adaptation Fund, started under the Kyoto Protocol, would be continued under the Paris Agreement. Recipients of the funding generally favour a handling of adaptation finance via the Green Climate Fund (GCF), as it is relatively small compared to the flagship climate finance initiative announced in Paris and supports also small- and medium-sized adaptation projects. However, its major source of funding, the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) is currently drying up. Despite the COP Presidency’s call at around 7 pm on Friday evening to find an agreement on this issue before reconvening at 10 pm parties did not manage to find common ground on this issue and postponed a decision on this issue for another 6 months.

Loss & Damage (L&D)

Being always one of the trickiest topics at the COPs, a satisfying solution on this topic has, yet again, not been found at COP22. The answer that will eventually have to be found to satisfy affected parties and observers, is how to compensate small and vulnerable countries for the loss of land and the damage that is being caused by already ongoing and future climate change. This is mostly caused by the historic emissions of developed nations like the US, Europe, and increasingly also China. The result that has been achieved at this COP was that parties agreed on a framework that will provide the basis for the next five years of talks about this topic. Overall a rather unspecific negotiation result.

(Climate) Finance

Being usually another difficult topic at the COPs, climate finance was less controversial this year. It wasn’t expected that this would be the COP of big financial so it can almost be seen an unexpected success that some donors (e.g. the US, UK, and Germany) pledged some $50 million to improve carbon accounting in developing countries and $23m for a centre to share clean technology expertise. Moreover, Germany almost single-handedly replenished the Adaptation Fund, which had asked for $80m.

However important these pledges may be, they are only a drop in the ocean compared to the $100 billion per year developed countries have promised by 2020. Nevertheless, developing countries cautiously welcomed a roadmap, prepared by the UK and Australia, on how to get to the $100 billion figure by 2020, with some reservations about the accounting methodology.

Other news

As the final plenary was not open to observers and the conference ended on Saturday morning, the YEL delegation had the opportunity to attend the ‘Fossil of the Year’ award on Friday evening, also known as ‘Colossal Fossil’. This year’s Colossal Fossil went to Russia for several ‘crimes’ against the environment and climate, such as oil & gas exploration, subsidies, and arctic oil drilling.

Looking back at these past two weeks I can say that they yielded some invaluable experiences for me I would not want to miss. I had the chance to speak to many interesting people; ministers, ambassadors, scientists, negotiators, activists, and business professionals. While many of them work hard on scalable and innovative solutions to this global problem I can’t help but notice that many seem to lack the sense of urge they should have. Climate change, while already visible in many parts of the world, still seems to be a problem that many locate in the future.

While I am writing this, news run the ticker that the North Pole is an insane 20 degree Celsius warmer at the moment than it should be at this time of the year. In this context, hearing that many of the questions that so urgently need an answer and bold action have been postponed, yet again, by several years leaves me with a bad feeling in my stomach.

I have the feeling that this ‘COP of Action’ as it was labeled in in the run up to the conference is yet another COP with impressive declaration but little concrete action. If we really want to limit global warming to any level that leaves us with a realistic chance to survive non-state actors and businesses need to take over now and push the effort forwards.

[1] Alex is the head of Young European Leadership’s delegation to the COP and a doctorate student at the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET) at the Oxford Martin School

See also our daily video blog from the COP: Young European Leadership at COP22 days 13-14

COP 22 Daily Blog – Day 12 (Week 2), Friday Nov. 18, 2016

Youth at the COP22 -- Change Needed?

by Casey Catherine Miller [1] and Alexander Pfeiffer [2]

Coming to my first COP I am pleasantly surprised by the amount of passionate youth dedicated to making an impact in their world that I have met at the conference. It’s difficult to go to a side event without making contact at least once with a young person who has developed a project in their local community or created a youth climate advocacy organization. The passion and dedication of my generation is alive and well at COP22.

Yet is this passion being utilized as it should? I for one don’t believe it is. From what I’ve seen this week at COP22, youth involvement here seems to come in two forms. First, there’s the meetings where youth discuss youth issues with other youth. These are important tools for organization and development of a strong common message, yet discussion in a closed circuit of youth will not influence much outside of these meetings unless combined with action.

Second, there’s the token involvement of youth from high level officials, an issue brought up by Siamak Loni, Global Coordinator of SDSN Youth. Ministers and representatives from various countries will come to an event, give an impassioned speech on the importance of involving youth and then leave when their speech is over. They do not listen to the presentations and speeches of the youth. This form of involvement may make the high level official look good, but what real impact does it have?

At a side event on intergenerational equity and youth empowerment hosted by the Italian Climate Network and the Taiwan Youth Climate Network, Ronny Jumeau, the climate change ambassador of the Seychelles, called for national delegations to include the active participation of youth. This inclusion shouldn’t come through token speeches with little weight behind them, but through actually giving youth the coveted pink badges and including them as official members of the national delegation.

By relegating youth to youth-focused side events and discussions we are allowing youth to be seen as the “other.” When youth are allowed to participate directly in the negotiations through national delegations the idea that youth are a vital and necessary part of all climate change talks is solidified. Until more countries follow the example led by the Seychelles, the Philippines, and other countries with involved youth delegates we can’t state that the passion and dedication brought by youth is being utilized as it should.

As COP22 winds down talk is turning towards COP23. Let’s hope in Bonn we see more youth actively included in national delegations in a way that allows for their active involvement in these vital negotiations.

[1] Casey is the media delegate for Young European Leadership at COP22 and is finishing her joint masters studies at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences as part of the ELLS EnvEuro program

[2] Alex is the head of Young European Leadership’s delegation to the COP and a doctorate student at the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET) at the Oxford Martin School

See also our daily video blog from the COP: Young European Leadership at COP22 day 12

COP 22 Daily Blog – Day 11 (Week 2), Thursday Nov. 17, 2016

Sustainable Infrastructure, Chinese Cities, and the Marrakech Partnership for Climate Action

by Alexander Clark [1] and Alexander Pfeiffer [2]

Good afternoon from Marrakech! It’s Thursday of Week 2 at COP22, and it has been quite a whirlwind so far.

China and Sustainable Infrastructure

Lord Nicholas Stern, esteemed economist and author of the infamous Stern Review, joined the Chinese pavilion for a discussion on sustainable infrastructure over the next two decades. According to Stern, sustainable infrastructure spending is fundamental to the economic transformation challenge facing the world’s large economies, and most urgent of all in China. The policymakers of today have a huge responsibility on their shoulders to avoid being locked into a congested, polluted future. Speed and decisive, credible action by governments on infrastructure decisions matters enormously at this stage. Billions of dollars will be invested in such assets over the coming years and these investments decide which path our economies will go.

Stern presented infrastructure spending as a “fourth way” out of the stagnant growth that has been plaguing many key economies since the 2008 crash. The other three options -- monetary policy, fiscal policy, and structural reform -- are either reaching their limits, politically unfeasible, or too long-term to be of use. Simply to meet the energy and emission needs of a 2 degree Celsius climate scenario we will require 30% more investment in power production, and a 37% increase in efficiency.

In China’s case, stable and credible policy making by the Party’s central committee gives it a great advantage in moving towards the removal of fossil fuel subsidies, revolutionising city design, and implementing carbon pricing. These are all prerequisites to making smart infrastructural investment decisions in an environment of what Stern termed “predictable flexibility.” This is a world away from how policy making on renewable energy is being conducted in the West. Stern concluded by underlining the immense costs of getting the transition wrong. As our YEL Team Leader has written at the Institute for New Economic Thinking, we have little room for manoeuvre on high-carbon infrastructure and risk locking ourselves into a much higher emissions path, with disastrous consequences for our planet’s climatic stability.

The Marrakech Partnership for Climate Action

The focus on state-to-state negotiations at the COP conferences too often neglects the role of non-state actors -- and yes, this means business. It has taken so long to reach any sort of agreement on climate, that the global economy is now in a position where any hope of keeping temperature rises below 2 degree Celsius requires full participation from every actor able to contribute. This ranges from consumer goods firms to religious groups, pension funds to advocacy networks. Unifying all these actors under one banner, and helping them collaborate with states, is one of the primary challenges that COP22 must address. Earlier this morning, the UNFCCC released a draft edition of the Marrakesh Partnership for Global Climate Action, the aim of which is precisely this -- making interaction between countries, businesses, cities and other sub-national governments, civil society, investors, faith groups, and other actors as effective as possible.

An exciting week will come to an end tomorrow with the closing plenaries and it has been a very exhausting week so far. The Partnership declaration seems an appropriate way to begin the last days of this historic conference.

[1] Alex Clark is the Henry Fellow at Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, having graduated from Oxford University with an MSc in 2015. He is currently working on energy policy, climate change and global health and is also project leader for operations with SDSN Youth

[2] Alex Pfeiffer is the head of Young European Leadership’s delegation to the COP and a doctorate student at the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET) at the Oxford Martin School

See also our daily video blog from the COP: Young European Leadership at COP22 day 11

COP 22 Daily Blog – Day 10 (Week 2), Wednesday Nov. 16, 2016

Cooperation is the Only Choice

by Yanzhu Zhang [1] and Alexander Pfeiffer [2]

Greetings from the Young European Leadership’s delegation at COP22 here in Marrakech! It is Wednesday of the second week of COP22 conference.

After the first week of the negotiations and well into the second week there are some good and some less encouraging news about these issues. However, while it is probably too early to call it already a success, things are looking promising. On further ambitions in the ratchet mechanism, for example, China stated that it would continue with its ambitious climate policy and try to accelerate decarbonisation despite a potentially unwilling US presidency.

In the aftermath of the US election many negotiators and experts now look towards China and hope for a Chinese leadership in climate actions. At the China’s Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Press Conference, many European journalists, particularly the Germans, seemed to be very interested to learn more about the potential of China-EU collaboration to take over the future climate leadership and ramp-up climate actions.

The High Ambition Coalition, a group of 35 states including Pacific island, African and Caribbean governments, EU member states, the US, Mexico, Canada, and Brazil, gave a similar statement, alas without the US. In the second week’s negotiation, however, pace will have to pick up as current technical discussions around NDCs, baselines, and methodologies progress slowly and many countries criticized the COP Presidency for the slow progress.

Furthermore, negotiators from developing countries said, that the Moroccan government’s first draft of the so-called “Marrakech Call” lacks political balance and reads extremely partial to the interests of rich countries. Some observers argued there would be a backlash if “Marrakech Call” could not reflect the political balance that has been achieved in Paris Agreement. Then and now, the “principle of equity” and “common but differentiated responsibility” is still of high relevance and fought for by the groups of developing countries.

Given this continued pressure, the first draft “Marrakech Call” has been further revised and renamed “Marrakech Action Proclamation for Climate and Sustainable Development” which states major solutions offered to combat climate change. In this proclamation, 196 governments call on non-state actors to take climate action. It reads as “We, collectively, call on all non-state actors to join us for immediate and ambitious action and mobilization, building on their important achievements, noting the many initiatives and the Marrakech Partnership for Global Climate Action itself, launched in Marrakech.”

In other news, the High Level Champions announced the Marrakech Partnership for Global Climate Action, which clarifies how countries and other actors will work together to drive immediate, transformational climate action.

Later today I went to the press conference of China Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr. Liu Zhenmin, and asked Mr. Liu about China’s policy support for climate actions of non-state actors. Mr. Liu confirmed that governments and the public sector cannot deal with climate change alone and the private sectors have a tremendous role to play in combating climate change. He explained that China is supporting the private sectors’ innovations and are incentivizing its investments in low carbon solutions.

Towards the end of the day I attended an event with Professor Nicholas Stern from the London School of Economics and Political Science, Professor Robert N. Stavins from Harvard University, and Mrs. Teresa Ribera from the Institute for Sustainable Development. The panelists gave interesting presentations on climate finance and low carbon scenarios at the NCSC Think Tank event hosted at the China Pavilion. I felt extremely intrigued by the presentations and also inspired by John Kerry’s talk later in the afternoon.

As the negotiation is getting to the fiercest and most contentious point, it is seems to me that all negotiators have a common understanding that we all only have one earth and “cooperation is the only choice”. We very much look forward to the final declaration on Friday!

[1] Yanzhu is is a member of Young European Leadership’s delegation to the COP, an alumnus of the Blavatnik School of Government (MPP Class of 2015), and alumnus of EU Climate-KIC fellow and EU Erasmus Mundus Master’s programme

[2] Alex is the head of Young European Leadership’s delegation to the COP and a doctorate student at the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET) at the Oxford Martin School

See also our daily video blog from the COP: Young European Leadership at COP22 day 10

COP 22 Daily Blog – Day 9 (Week 2), Tuesday Nov. 15, 2016

The Low Emission Solution Conference

by Alexander Clark [1] and Alexander Pfeiffer [2]

Good afternoon from Marrakech! It’s Tuesday of Week 2 at COP22, and the week is already half over.

The Low Emissions Solutions Conference, the first of its kind to be held at any of the UN climate conferences, took up the first half of the week. Bringing together over a hundred speakers discussing everything from low-carbon cement to hydrogen vehicles and the role of IT in facilitating the implementation of the Paris Agreement agreed at COP21 last December. The conference was hosted by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and World Business Council on Sustainable Development (WBCSD), in collaboration with the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI).

Multiple acronyms notwithstanding, the conference showcased an extraordinary range of cutting-edge solutions being put forward to accelerate our collective ability to bring down emissions. Tensions rose on more than one occasion as sharp disagreements over the future of sustainable energy arose between panellists.

Rachel Kyte, CEO of Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL), opened the session on advanced biotechnology with a plea to the audience and climate advocacy community to keep an open mind on the source of carbon emission reductions. She underlined the importance of developing substitutes for oil in the transport industry, in which electric vehicles are struggling to get off the ground. With the existing state of battery technology, she said, clean biofuels are the short-term solution to quickly improving the efficiency of large vehicles -- trucks, buses and planes -- and improving the air quality of the world’s dirtiest cities.

Sean Simpson of Lanzatec took the audience through his firm’s research on using industrial waste gas, solid human and animal waste, and plant waste as a feedstock for biofuels, rather than the traditional (and problematic) sources of corn and sugar crops. Simpson highlighted the potential for the technology to address emissions in heavy industry, but made a clear call for regulatory change to allow products currently seen as waste to be reused in as a source of fuel. Zaid Burns from RSB announced that South African airlines is beginning to use high-tech biofuels to power its fleet -- an enormously important development given the sizeable contribution of air travel to carbon emissions globally.

Looking back on the conference, it was more than exciting to be a part of this event, which was the first of its kind, and hear all these pioneers in their respective fields speak. Some of the solutions presented during these few days showcased new and promising possible pathways to decarbonize certain sectors and we’ll most likely see more if these solutions and conferences in the future.

[1] Alex Clark is the Henry Fellow at Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, having graduated from Oxford University with an MSc in 2015. He is currently working on energy policy, climate change and global health and is also project leader for operations with SDSN Youth.

[2] Alex Pfeiffer is the head of Young European Leadership’s delegation to the COP and a doctorate student at the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET) at the Oxford Martin School

See also our daily video blog from the COP: Young European Leadership at COP22 day 9

COP 22 Daily Blog – Day 8 (Week 2), Monday Nov. 14, 2016

Implementers and Initiators: The Need for an Inclusive, Two-Way Exchange of Environmental Education

by Casey Catherine Miller [1] and Alexander Pfeiffer [2]

After a Sunday to collect our thoughts on week 1 and explore the maze-like streets of Marrakech, week 2 kicked off with a day focused on education and its relation to climate change. Countless people stood up to espouse the benefits of environmental education, discussing the need to educate the global population on the impacts of climate change and why they should care. Yet the most valuable contributions came from those who outlined the need for a two way exchange of information.

Discussions regarding environmental education typically surrounds the educating of our future generations in hopes that they’ll adopt more climate-friendly practices as they age and become the next generation of leaders and policymakers. This does not cover the whole picture of what is needed. While introducing the recently launched UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report, Manos Antoninis of UNESCO mentioned the need to start viewing indigenous communities as partners in environmental education.

This open exchange of information is not only needed to encourage participative communication methods. Indigenous knowledge should be viewed as a vital resource for climate change adaptation. Jaime Webbe of UNEP gave the example of the indigenous Sami people in Northern Scandinavia. While talking to Sami reindeer herders they were told about the ways the Sami people know it is time to breed the reindeer by checking the softness of the reindeer’s stomach fur. Information like this must be protected and respected.

As often seems to be the case, few people acknowledged the barriers of utilizing indigenous knowledge in environmental education. Acknowledging the value of indigenous knowledge and its benefit to climate change adaptation is not enough -- we need to elevate it to a standard where it is respected by non-indigenous scientists and policy makers. Webbe stated for the “need to change our appetite” in terms of environmental knowledge, calling for a validation mechanism similar to the peer-reviewed standard of academic journals that is relevant to indigenous knowledge. This indigenous knowledge must also be used in partnerships with the communities it comes from, avoiding the extraction of knowledge from an indigenous community without an open dialogue on the results of the study and how this information is being used.

As the day came to a close, it was clear that environmental education is no different from any other climate change topic. Inclusive partnerships, where stakeholders from various backgrounds are put on an even pedestal and given a chance for participation is crucial.

[1] Casey is the media delegate for Young European Leadership at COP22 and is finishing her joint masters studies at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences as part of the ELLS EnvEuro program

[2] Alex is the head of Young European Leadership’s delegation to the COP and a doctorate student at the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET) at the Oxford Martin School

See also our daily video blog from the COP: Young European Leadership at COP22 day 8

For a longer piece about an indigenous perspective on climate change see our guest commentary by Selina Leem here: Why should climate change be on top of the agenda of young people all over the world and in Europe in particular?

COP 22 Daily Blog – Days 6 and 7 (Week 1), Weekend Nov. 12-13, 2016

Replacing COP with People

by Shrina Kurani [1] and Alexander Pfeiffer [2]

COP is two weeks long, meaning one thing: a weekend to replace stiff deliberations with warm-blooded people. There was still work to do on Saturday, but both days also served a selection of external events outside of the COP village.

The Development and Climate Days were a breath of fresh air from the Blue Zone. Hosted outside of the COP village and open to the public, the DC Days were packed with a spread of seminars from using local foods to tell compelling stories with Data Cuisine to pitching corporate resilience commitments in the Dragon’s Den.

How can food stuffs convey data? Using the spicy sambal mixed with yogurt to show how temperatures have been heating up around the world. Illustrate graphs with olive tapenade to give the Great Acceleration a kick that makes people take a second look. Or put the proportional amount of beef, chicken, and grains in buckets of water to show how much water is used to produce our beloved animal proteins.

The Dragon’s Den brought together researchers and business people alike to not only generate solutions but pitch them for “investment”. Highlighting that resilience means greater returns, that supporting livelihoods means more workforce stability, that building infrastructure means optimized logistics. Just as the ecosystem was marketized with the concepts of natural capital and ecosystem services, sustainable (human) development is chugging along the same path.

DC Days tackled real problems with a relevant audience in mind: the rest of the world, that frankly, just doesn’t care about climate change and sustainable development. Whether you agree with working within the neoliberal paradigm or not, the perspective is compelling and effective for what we’re in dire need of: action now.

Sunday brought on the Transportation Day hosted by SLoCaT, at another beautiful Palace. As a representative of civil society, the day had a strong educational component highlighting different organizations and projects around the world. It was also marked by the announcement of a huge energy win: Germany’s commitment to decarbonize its transportation sector by 2050.

The energy for the weekend sparked Saturday night at the legendary Climate Action Network (CAN) NGO party, where delegates old and young alike connected in mass, excited to not only push the climate agenda forward, but also enjoy the exchange with like-minded people from around the world. The momentum gathered and solidified into a both physically and emotionally moving climate march on Sunday afternoon, and the COP of Action and COP for Africa fused into one. Moroccan children and international NGOs marched side by side, stopping traffic as the city stopped to look and learn about what their fellow citizens cared so much about.

[1] Shrina is a delegate of the Young European Leadership’s delegation to COP22 and a budding entrepreneur in Silicon Valley and Berlin, with a focus on the food-water-energy nexus

[2] Alex is the head of Young European Leadership’s delegation to the COP and a doctorate student at the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET) at the Oxford Martin School

See also our daily video blog from the COP: Young European Leadership at COP22 day 6-7

COP 22 Daily Blog – Day 6 (Week 1), Saturday Nov. 12, 2016

The Dwindling ‘Spirit of Paris’

by Elizabeth Dirth [1] and Alexander Pfeiffer [2]

The weekends at COP seem to be a combination of three things: a continuation of the COP itself, other side events and activities taking place, and this time, the palpable sense of lack of achievement.

Main plenaries on Saturday featured a stock taking of the progress so far at the COP and a series of thorough presentations from the EU countries on their progress on implementing action. A session like this gives the opportunity for other countries to both learn from and also question EU countries on their progress towards their 2020 targets. It is an important part of transparency of implementation and action as the EU countries can be hold accountable (or learned from) in this forum by the global community. The session saw high representation from a number of countries, and it seemed to be mostly their technical staff that attended to learn from other countries. It was hence closely related to the ‘capability building’ of developing and least-developed countries, that is an important part of this year’s COP agenda.

This session in many cases showed that many EU economies have successfully decoupled growth and emissions reduction. However, this claim is undermined by the fact that no consumption emissions are included in the calculations. It would likely be a very different conversation if countries would be evaluated based on their carbon consumptions, i.e. the carbon emissions that are implicitly included in the products which consume and which lead to actual carbon emissions in other, mostly lower developed, countries. These emissions, however, are currently considered externalities and not in the scope of the INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) of national economies. This shortcoming might only be one of many equity issues in the whole governance framework.

In general, the feeling at the venue on Saturday was a bit lack lustre and I can’t help but notice the difference between the middle Saturday here and the middle Saturday at Paris. There doesn’t seem to be a clear objective and the momentum feels to be dwindling. The delegations have moved beyond the shock of the US election news. Unfortunately this has re-framed or refreshed some of the political tensions at the COP and certainly colors the way that the US conducts themselves (as the dominant voice in every discussion) in a new, somewhat less legitimate, way.

Aside from this stark reality, Saturday at the COP was certainly more quiet than the other days, likely because there were many other social events happening during the day on Saturday (e.g. development days event, transportation days, and the climate march), and the famous CAN party (Climate Action Network) on Saturday evening. Read more about them in our daily blog.

[1] Elizabeth is a delegate in Young European Leadership’s delegation to the COP and the current chair of the 2050 Climate Group

[2] Alex is the head of Young European Leadership’s delegation to the COP and a doctorate student at the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET) at the Oxford Martin School

See also our daily video blog from the COP: Young European Leadership at COP22 day 6-7

For a longer piece about what to expect from week 2 at the COP see here: Can Marrakech COP22 solve the unfinished tasks of Paris COP21?

COP 22 Daily Blog – Day 5 (Week 1), Friday Nov. 11, 2016

Energy Day

by Romy Abou Farhat [1] and Alexander Pfeiffer [2]

Day 5 at the COP was focused around energy, in particular issues of energy access, energy storage, and renewable energy. Almost every country or region present at the COP held an event around these topics, to demonstrate where they are in terms of technological capacities, innovation, and accessibility. It was very interesting to witness the energy and technology gap between different regions first hand. Energy services are crucial to human well-being and to a country's or region’s economic development in our modern world. Yet, globally over 1.3 billion people are without access to electricity and around 2.6 billion people live without clean cooking facilities.

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), an intergovernmental organization that supports countries in their transition to a more sustainable energy future, and Sustainable Energy for All, a global platform that empowers companies to achieve access to clean energy, held a global energy action showcase event. For this they gathered a diverse panel of leaders in this field, including businesses, governmental organizations, institutions, and NGOs. These high-level panelists gave thoughts on how to increase energy productivity and leverage the transformative role of renewable energy. In the afternoon, experts discussed ways to close the energy access gap cleanly and affordably. In particular they discussed how to reach the furthest first, what the impact of energy access on women’s lives and livelihoods can be, and the prospect of lifting millions out of poverty with renewable energy options.

A couple of private influential corporations were showcasing their energy efficiency strategies and sustainability commitments. In fact, the private sector accounts for around half of the world’s electricity consumption. Switching this demand to renewables could accelerate the transformation of the global energy market and aids the transition to a low carbon economy. Among the corporations present at the event, Facebook had the most impressive low-carbon model. They have invested millions of dollars in operational efficiency and shared their learning and expertise with other companies for free. They engineered the most efficient data centers on earth, build only sustainable workspaces, add large amounts of renewable energy to the grids, and support their operations by making it more accessible to all.

Another inspiring talk of today was held by Bertrand Piccard, the initiator, chairman, and Pilot of Solar impulse -- the plane that travelled around the world with no fuel, using only clean technologies and solar energy. He announced the creation of a new global alliance for clean technology -- a second phase in the realization of his vision that clean technologies can accomplish impossible goals and offer tangible solutions to solve many of the challenges facing global society today as well as reach the objectives of the Climate Action Agenda. It aims to gather up to 1,000 companies, start-ups, institutions, and organizations by next year, to produce, implement, support and accelerate the use of clean technologies.

Ventures and visionaries like these are, what makes look optimistic into the future, despite the challenges ahead.

[1] Romy is an Imperial College London M.Sc. student in Sustainable Energy Futures

[2] Alex is the head of Young European Leadership’s delegation to the COP and a doctorate student at the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET) at the Oxford Martin School

See also our daily video blog from the COP: Young European Leadership at COP22 day 5

COP 22 Daily Blog – Day 4 (Week 1), Thursday Nov. 10, 2016

Powering Forward with Empty Chairs?

by Shrina Kurani [1] and Alexander Pfeiffer [2]

This morning the general sense was that the first week of COP22 is slowly winding down, but it turned out the ‘Young and Future Generation’s Day’ was just charging up. The young seems to have rebounded first after the travesty of the U.S. election, and this thematic day’s highlight event provided an energetic start in the day.

The ‘Intergenerational Inquiry by the UNFCCC’ was the flagship event of the day and many young people attended and got fired up. Some notables, such as Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Haiti, Sharon Campbell even conceded that “maybe we’re too old” so every attendee had a clear sense that young people have a place in the negotiations - so why did the event still feel like a sham?

“This event is an excellent opportunity for youth delegates from around the world to engage with key players in the intergovernmental climate change arena. This year’s inquiry will focus on role of youth in implementing the Paris Agreement.“ The daily programme gave youth delegates the mic. The Inquiry never plugged it in.

The session that immediately followed was on financial, technical, and institutional support for scaling up youth climate action, and the room emptied to just the first two rows. If you weren’t in the first two rows, here’s two things you missed:

1.Methods for getting involved
Crowdfunding, which tends to be underutilized for the climate but is actually really useful for reaching out to millennials. Social entrepreneurship made a strong and vibrant stand with Ari Eisenstat from Dream Ventures, supported by Alexandra Akira in that there is a growing use of technology and market mechanisms for climate change mitigation and adaption. Akira was also the champion for reaching out to private corporations for funding and support (I could almost feel the audience cringe).

2.The “Comments” Section
It’s always the best part, isn’t it? A few delegates from the global south spoke up about fair representation. In response to a question from the audience about even YOUNGO leaving the global south behind, a representative from Mauritius stood up to talk about the strong movement that’s evolving in her country, including hosting their own COY. And I think THAT is representative of what we need to do to be heard - to not be complacent and let our [insert label here] get left out.

We, as the generation that will be building careers and raising families in this rapidly changing climate era, must have a clear vision: to plug the mic in and turn the volume up. And not just at the COP22 or any other future COP -- we need to do this within our own communities, our social networks, our homes. It is our responsibility to elbow our way into negotiations, and also sit our parents down at the dinner table.

There is tension and mismatch in current youth climate movements, from de-growth to social entrepreneurship, from divestment to private funding, but that makes the greater movement even more robust. Because the solution is not exclusive to any one of them: if there’s one thing I learned today, there’s no silver bullet for climate change mitigation and adaptation, especially when you’ve got the whole world weighing in on it.

[1] Shrina is a delegate of the Young European Leadership’s delegation to COP22 and a budding entrepreneur in Silicon Valley and Berlin, with a focus on the food-water-energy nexus

[2] Alex is the head of Young European Leadership’s delegation to the COP and a doctorate student at the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET) at the Oxford Martin School

See also our daily video blog from the COP: Young European Leadership at COP22 day 4

COP 22 Daily Blog – Day 3 (Week 1), Wednesday Nov. 9, 2016

The COP after Trump

by Romy Abou Farhat [1] and Alexander Pfeiffer [2]

The third day at the COP was somewhat uniquely interesting, for the YEL delegation, the COP participants, and basically for everyone who is active in the fight against climate change. Waking up to “Trump, the new President-elect of the US” as a headline resurged a post-Brexit feeling in all of us, and somewhat a sense of frustration. Trump is clearly a disaster for the climate, and bad news for COP22’s climate action goal: if the world’s second largest GHG emitter were to pull out of the Paris Agreement, what does that mean for the climate?

We arrived at the COP quite perplexed, but also looking forward to witness how this whole situation will be officially dealt with at the COP22. As I first arrived to the venue, I stumbled upon an American woman sobbing in a corner. Everywhere at the COP and also over lunch, you could overhear small Trump discussions, feel the tense atmosphere and pick out revolted and exhausted expressions. An American group of young people sang for climate justice whilst holding a banner with a “People’s [Presidential] to-do list” with the word “Presidential” crossed out.

On the professional program we attended the third plenary meeting in the morning. Unsurprisingly, not all parties attended, and negotiations were quite slow and filled with silence. Parties were asked to propose amendments to the Convention under Article 15, but rare were parties’ incentives to object or negotiate change. It was quite awkward how long the silence was at times, and how parties lacked enthusiasm – was that linked to the uncertain and unclear future with Trump now as a president?

We attended the “Business and Industry Day” side-event that brought together representatives from the private and public sectors, to showcase corporate climate action and discuss how it can rapidly be scaled-up ahead of 2020. As opposed to the plenary meeting, there was certainly more enthusiasm and engagement from non-state parties in their commitment to climate action, and this excitement was felt in all the side-events we attended.

Mme Sylvie Lemet, Director of the division of Technology, Industry and Economics of UNEP, stated that all businesses today should be driven by two motives to engage themselves in this climate fight: first, to demonstrate leadership in providing support to governments to meet their climate targets; and second, to future-proof their business from unforeseen climate risks. She emphasized the main drivers of corporate change that are tackled and being reinforced at the COP22 this year, which include:

  • Science based targets – an initiative by UN Global Compact (UNGC), WWF, WRI and CDP, that sets corporate greenhouse gas targets in a rate consistent with the pace recommended by climate scientists to limit the worst impacts of climate change. It aims to raise ambition for corporate mitigation efforts and drive transitions in low-carbon business strategies. This initiative made impressive progress in climate corporate action, influencing up to 196 companies today to sign up, and ratify the Paris Agreement
  • Non-State Actor Zone for Climate Action (NAZCA) – a UN Global Climate Action platform which tracks the commitments to climate action by companies, cities, regions investors and civil societies, that are helping countries achieve their national commitments. It provides transparency and helps checking and assessing progress made in our fight against global warming. According to UNEP, these non-party initiatives could reduce emissions as much as the national climate plans by 2030
  • Assessing Low Carbon Transition Initiative (ACT) – a CDP and ADEME initiative that provides sectoral methodologies based on quantitative and qualitative data to assess companies’ carbon accounting and drive corporate action towards the 2C goal. In this past year’s pilot phase, 20 companies (including Carrefour, ENEL, EDF and General Motors) in 3 sectors (Energy, Auto manufacturers and Retail) agreed to be assessed transparently

A thought-provoking discussion around the business case for responsible corporate adaptation highlighted how businesses should strengthen their adaptation strategy to mitigate climate risk and at the same time support the vulnerable communities