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COP 22: University of Minnesota Perspectives

This week, 10 University of Minnesota students and faculty as well as four students and faculty from other institutions are attending the 22nd Conference of the Parties in Marrakech, Morocco. Their reflections, photos, stories, insights and impressions help us understand what’s going on at COP 22 from an insider’s perspective.

This page will be a live document that will continuously be updated, so stay tuned for more!

Framing and Context

Last fall 2015, the high-profile international Paris Climate Talks, or COP 21, achieved key goals for global climate change action and the framework for each nation of the world to pledge action on climate change. The most visible goal achieved was setting an ambitious global temperature goal that, if achieved, would limit a future rise in temperature to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius.

An equity goal was also agreed upon in the Paris Agreement, recognizing the different capacities and responsibilities of countries to act on climate change. The temperature goal, likely what most people would associate with COP 21, reflects the work of the “ambitious coalition” and the organization of a “1.5 to Stay Alive” campaign heard both in the convention halls and on the streets of Paris.

Steffen Kallbekken, director of the Centre for International Climate and Energy Policy, explains that “by the time the pledges come into force in 2020, we will probably have used the entire carbon budget consistent with 1.5°C warming. If we stick with the INDCs we will have warming between 2.7°C and 3.7°C.”

Since the world is currently on course for temperature to rise by 3.7°C, the path to achieving the 1.5°C goal is unclear, but the hope is that the world’s nations become more ambitious. The equity goal that civil society and NGOs concerned for human rights advocated for in the negotiations leading up to the Paris Agreement, of acknowledging “common but differentiated responsibilities,” was also achieved.  CBDR signals recognition of historic responsibility and current capacity being higher for some countries, while acknowledging that all countries must take responsibility for climate action. This CBDR concept, first set forth in the Rio Declaration of the Earth Summit in 1992, suggests that even as all countries should commit to working to mitigate and adapt to climate change, certain countries bear more responsibility and thus need to have greater ambition than others.

COP 22 will strive to progress toward further implementing the actions and ideas highlighted in COP21, and formulating new ideas to address parts of the agreement that weren’t fully resolved.

Insights and Reflections

Insights and Reflections

anderson_ellen-260x300Ellen Anderson – Executive Director of the University of Minnesota’s Energy Transition Lab

Marrakech Reflections: the University of Minnesota at COP22

I arrived in the beautiful city of Marrakech with trepidation, wondering how the U.S. election and President-elect Trump’s stated intentions to walk away from the Paris Agreement would be received. The Paris Agreement was possible in large part due to the active participation of the United States, in particular the bilateral agreements President Obama forged with China and India, for the first time committing the largest emitting countries to significant CO2 reductions. These agreements and the structure of the Paris Agreement, with each country bringing its own self-determined climate action plan or Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to the table, created the foundation for a global agreement with virtually every nation participating. How would the world react if the U.S. were to back out of its commitments, would it threaten to unravel the global consensus?

The answer I heard repeatedly in Marrakech was mostly positive but tempered with realism. At COP22 nations, civil society, business leaders and others are more determined than ever to move forward. The most commonly heard words: momentum, urgency, and action.

Peder Garnaas-Halvorson HeadshotPeder Garnaas-Halvorson – Humphrey School of Public Affairs, Masters of Science in Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy

Climate Action as a Tool for Justice

Yesterday morning, I went to a great master class on access to climate finance through a gender lens. One of the speakers was Liane Schalatek of Heinrich Böll Stiftung North America, a think tank on climate change and finance. Her organization has a great website in partnership with the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), which tracks global climate change finance flows. Schalatek spoke specifically on the barriers to accessing climate finance faced by women. An overview of this topic can be found here. She spoke of differentiated impacts of climate change on women saying that, “climate change is not gender neutral”. This differentiation is in part caused by the denial to women of land ownership, financing, legal rights, and other tools that could grant them more autonomy and resilience in many countries. Globally, women work almost twice as much as men, but earn only 10% of global income. Additionally, in Africa, only 15% of landowners are women. Schalatek argued that in this context it is imperative that climate financing work toward improving the economic conditions of women around the world while adapting to and mitigating climate change. However low levels of financing for micro and small enterprises, the laws and gender norms of certain countries, and the general trend in climate finance to favor mitigation over adaptation are obstacles to delivering climate finance to women. Schalatek said these issues must be addressed because, “climate finance is not taking place in a normative vacuum”. A copy of the info-packed PowerPoint from her presentation can be found here.

As I reflect, I think about the idea of climate justice—in the sense of equitably distributing benefits and managing risk of mitigation and adaptation finance—but also about how actions to address climate change can be tools for increasing justice in contexts outside of climate change. The norms and processes established by climate action implementation or finance can directly give a voice to marginalized groups or incentivize national governments to give these groups a seat at the table. Giving space and power to these groups has the potential to not only rectify injustices, but also lead to more effective implementation and finance practice. However, the extension of climate action as a tool to solve all of the world’s ills can also be a dangerous proposition. Gender-oriented, justice-oriented, or other-issue-oriented climate action can bring resources and attention to neglected justice issues, but in the absence of financial constraints would overlapping these issues really be the most effective way to resolve them? Might the integration of climate issues and other justice issues also represent mission drift that prevents effective action on either issue? There are definitely areas in which important synergies exist between climate and other justice issues, but they should be pursued on the basis of real co-benefits, not access to finance.


Jen Kader – Graduate Student, Masters of Urban and Regional Planning

Understanding Innovation

Monday and Tuesday of this week, I attended the Sustainable Innovation Forum (SIF).

Sustainable Innovation Forum (SIF)

SIF focuses on the opportunities for and barriers to the role the business sector can play in addressing climate change. Now in its seventh year of being held alongside the annual COPs, SIF grew out of a partnership between the UN Environment Program (UNEP) and Climate Action. At this year’s event, SIF16, keynotes and panelists from around the world came together to discuss the need for innovation to address climate change.

Between sessions and over meals, there was plenty of time for networking. In fact, networking was facilitated by the Whova app they encouraged attendees to use, and was one of the main reasons I could connect with a number of people (Twitter also helped: @JenWenKad).

At times, I was frustrated at how superficial a lot of the conversation seemed to be—we weren’t really getting to a whole lot of depth. Other times, I found myself swept off my feet with optimism and excitement for the future (see Solar Impulse and Peace Boat’s Ecoship for reasons why). At the end of the two-day affair, though, the biggest takeaway for me was a reframing of what innovation means.

Prior to COP22, and even for most of the event, I was operating under the idea that innovation is just about coming up with new technology or finding new, flashy ways to address climate change. I don’t consider myself to be the most technologically skilled, so innovation seemed like something that other people would do and I would just wait for it to happen.

I see now just how misguided that sentiment was. It didn’t occur to me that innovation in the context of climate change would be more than inventing increasingly efficient technology or finding a way to reduce cost of existing technologies. It didn’t occur to me that innovation and capacity building could be so closely linked, but they are.

Yes—innovation is about inventing and coming up with new ways to do things. But it is also about implementing known things in new places or in new ways. It is about understanding why technologies or practices in one area face barriers to implementation in another. It is about education and training so that these same technologies and practices, once implemented, can be country-owned and operated, and replicated. At its core, innovation is about problem solving.

Boiled down to that understanding, it feels like a big “aha!” It shouldn’t have, but this “aha!” really took me by surprise. Fortunately, our speakers at SIF, capacity building and problem solving as inherent components of innovation were givens. As I attend other sessions in the Green Zone now that SIF has come to a close, I am listening differently, with an eye to how innovation can help us find success in the Paris Agreement and beyond.

Photo of Gabriel ChanGabriel Chan – Assistant Professor, University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs in the Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy (STEP)

“Accelerating innovation is going to be critical to the feasibility of achieving the 2-degree target of the Paris Agreement. Facilitating the necessary innovation in cooperative arrangements may be an essential tool in closing our “innovation deficit”. Cooperative arrangements are also a critical tool for broadening participation and increasing ambition in the broader climate regime. Offers to collaborate in innovation provide a very rare opportunity to deploy politically feasible “carrots” (positive incentives) in a regime dominated by a fixation on costs.”

Communications Assistant


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