Day 2 of COP 20 Peru - When the side show may be the main event

December 4, 2014
World Resource Institute (WRI) Act 2015 consortium presentation. (UNFCCC)

The UNFCCC site tells us that “the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) took up its work on 2 December.” The ADP is the subsidiary negotiating body tasked with developing a universal legally binding protocol raising global ambition to address climate change, to be completed no later than 2015, so as to come into effect and be implemented from 2020. Formally this is a process of diplomatic negotiation, which can be as exciting and substantive as watching paint dry.  In reality, there is a complex of coalitions and networks of research and advocacy by NGOs, think tanks, academics, government officials and business interests that help shape the environment for the negotiations.  Thus, side events by observer organizations are sometimes a better indication of where negotiations are heading than the diplomatic discussions themselves.  They may be designed specifically to “socialize” a way of looking at a problem that will then be perceived as more acceptable in the diplomatic negotiations. 

An example of this was the World Resource Institute (WRI) Act 2015 consortium presentation at a side event on Day 2. The WRI Act 2015 project sets out three climate change negotiation scenarios: steady, dynamic and pioneer, to illustrate the benefits and risks of each.  In their presentation they recommended three essential elements for an effective and long-lasting global climate agreement:

  1. A long-term goal to phase out of all GHG emissions to net zero as early as possible in the second half of this century, noting different timeframes for developed and developing countries;
  2. A long-term goal to reduce the vulnerability and build the resilience of communities facing climate impacts through collective actions of all countries based on their “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities”; and
  3. Establish five-year cycles for assessing and strengthening countries’ actions to reduce emissions, adapt to climate change and support low-carbon growth in a manner that is fair, equitable and just. 

The presentation was both credible and practical, and diplomats in the audience may well have taken note. It is not far-fetched to think this approach could influence how the new protocol is framed and implemented.

A second example was a side event on Lessons Learned from the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which highlighted the importance of international human rights being integrated into the Climate Change agenda.  From this panel one learned that even with the best of intentions the Clean Development Mechanism can find itself embroiled in controversy if there is inadequate consultation and collaboration with local communities.  In particular, the benevolent donor quickly loses its “good guy” status if it is seen to be financing projects that violate human rights of local communities.  This raises interesting questions about how to build adequate due diligence and review processes into the CDM procedures so that problematic situations can be identified early, investigated promptly, appropriate action taken and the decision publicized. With more robust and transparent procedures the CDM could avoid being implicated in possible human rights violations by national governments, and would be better able to defend itself.  This is not so much new territory as a somewhat novel application of international corporate social responsibility practices that have been developed to ensure key actors exercise due diligence within their sphere of influence and thereby avoid contributing to, or being perceived to contribute to, human rights violations by others. It was stated that the Green Climate Fund has adopted the appropriate safeguards to avoid this kind of scenario.

On this panel, CIGI Senior Fellow David Estrin introduced to the UNFCCC audience the International Bar Association report on Climate Justice.  The linkage between human rights and climate change is a growing field of interest at UNFCCC meetings, and there is now an informal working group dedicated to this topic that sought out the CIGI ILRP representatives for further discussion.

An obvious conclusion from the CDM panel discussion was that it will be important to include human rights protection explicitly in the new climate change protocol. This is precisely what has been urged by the Open Letter from Special Procedures mandate-holders of the UN Human Rights Council (PDF):

We urge the State Parties to the UNFCCC to recognise the adverse effects of climate change on the enjoyment of human rights, and to adopt urgent and ambitious mitigation and adaptation measures to prevent further harm. We call on the State Parties to include language in the 2015 climate agreement that provides that the Parties shall, in all climate change related actions, respect, protect, promote, and fulfil human rights for all. And we urge the State Parties at COP 20 in Lima to launch a work program to ensure that human rights are integrated into all aspects of climate actions.

Thus, we again see the side event “socializing” an issue so that it becomes somewhat easier for diplomats to bring it to the main event negotiating table.

The opinions expressed in this article/multimedia are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of CIGI or its Board of Directors.

About the Author

Oonagh E. Fitzgerald was director of international law at CIGI from April 2014 to February 2020. In this role, she established and oversaw CIGI’s international law research agenda, which included policy-relevant research on issues of international economic law, environmental law, IP law and innovation, and Indigenous law.