Day one – let the negotiations begin!

I spent the morning watching the opening ceremony for COP23. There were performances by youth from the International School of Bonn and Fiji setting the stage for the next two weeks. The song by the schoolkids was “We Are An Island” with the theme that we are all an island needing to work together. The Fiji ceremony was a traditional island ceremony that involved chanting and drinking some sort of ceremonial drink. It was a fun, non-substantive way to get my COP feet wet. Check out my twitter feed @leighcurrie for a few clips!

The president from COP22 then officially kicked things off by discussing last year’s COP that was held in Marrakesh. The statement by the COP22 President was all in French, and I didn’t get to the room early enough to get a headset, so I was glad for my little bit of French so that I could vaguely follow along. I heard phrases like hard work, climate change, devastation, and inspiration. The COP22 President then literally handed the gavel over to this year’s president of the COP from Fiji. The Fijian COP23 President noted the fact that this was the first time that a COP had been presided over by a vulnerable Pacific Island nation like Fiji. He emphasized the need to make progress on implementing the Paris Agreement. He said that the need for urgency is obvious, that we need to meet our commitments in full and not back away from them. Aiming for no more than a 1.5-degree temperature rise from pre-industrial levels is a serious challenge, but it gives us a mission. And, who knows what me might achieve when humanity’s capacity for innovation is unleashed.

I was about to watch “APA round table on agenda item 3 (further guidance relating to the mitigation section of decision 1/CP.21).”

If you read that and don’t know what it means, join the club. But it sounded official and it was related to mitigation, which is what I’m most interested in. It was in a very official looking room with microphones and country name plates, so I was mostly hoping they wouldn’t figure out that I didn’t belong there and kick me out.

So, I made it through over two hours of the APA round table session and, turns out, it was interesting! It reminded me of when I first became an energy attorney and spent meetings writing down acronyms to look up later. Here’s what I learned: the “APA” is an ad-hoc working group on the Paris Agreement that discusses the rulebook on how to implement the Paris Agreement. This group was given a mandate coming out of Paris to develop “guidelines” around implementation.

I gathered from the statements that in order to reach agreement in Paris, the specifics were deliberately vague with the idea being that this group would develop specifics by COP24 in 2018. The problem is that the disagreements still exist. There are countries that want a single set of guidelines and that the differentiation between countries will come from the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). There are other countries that believe that developing and developed countries should be held to different standards. Some of these developing countries are negotiating as a “group” of Like-Minded Developing Countries” or LMDCs. I think being a “group” is a specific negotiating status, but I’m still figuring that part out. Today’s discussion was not an attempt to resolve disagreements, but to identify the points of disagreement for focus in the next year. The good news is that it appeared to be a point of agreement that nothing in the Paris Agreement should be renegotiated. (The U.S. was not part of this discussion, but that’s a good subject for another post.)

The takeaway from today is that there is still real on-the-ground work happening to implement the Paris Agreement even though the U.S. has repudiated it (or maybe reinvigorated it because the U.S. has repudiated it).

Today’s discussion would have been a much different experience if I were viewing it through the lens of how these guidelines would apply to the Clean Power Plan, but unfortunately it was instead viewed through the lens of watching the world negotiate aspects of a global agreement that we have vowed not to be a part of. What I wonder now is what happens if, under our next president who hopefully understands it, we sign back on. We’ve essentially given up our seat at the table now. I don’t remember that much from law school, but I’m pretty sure showing up is a good first step when trying to negotiate a good deal.

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