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EcoLogic in France: Our take on the Paris COP

Dave Kramer, Senior Manager for Impact, Learning and Innovation, participated in the events surrounding the 21st meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held in Paris in December 2015. Dave has been with EcoLogic for over 10 years and serves as a key representative of our model and approach with peers and allies.

Dave Kramer, Senior Manager for Impact, Learning and Innovation, with Sarah Lupberger, recipient of a Fulbright-Clinton Placement in the Peruvian Ministry of Environment

Dave Kramer, Senior Manager for Impact, Learning and Innovation, with Sarah Lupberger, recipient of a Fulbright-Clinton Placement in the Peruvian Ministry of Environment

You might be wondering: Was EcoLogic at the Paris COP events at the end of last year? And does it have an opinion on the Paris Agreement I’ve been hearing about? Well, yes we were; and yes we do (Note: EcoLogic wasn’t a part of the official Paris COP negotiations, but participated in side events and conferences). Coming back, we are bursting at the seams with new reflections and insights, and we made a lot of new friends and potential collaborators with whom we’re excited to engage in 2016. Our aim in this post is to provide a bit of background and overview of EcoLogic’s experience in Paris and dish up a curated list of what we see as some of the best articles, blog posts, and op-eds that have been published in the weeks since the agreement was reached. Undoubtedly we have missed many, and we would love your suggestions and comments on this post. No matter what, we ended the year on a hopeful note, and we hope you will join us in committing to taking on the critical thinking and tangible action needed for us to solve the climate challenges facing us in the years to come.

The Paris COP was the 21st meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The setting of COP21 itself was historic, coming on the heels of horrific terrorist acts just weeks before. We were fortunate to be there, with staff member Dave Kramer and Board members Robin Chazdon and Lance Pierce in attendance. The energy of the many events and campaigns was palpable, bringing color to the gray fall, illuminating the City of Light. It was a Paris that seemed full of people focused on the potential and need for change. During our brief time in Paris, we attended the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF), COP21’s largest officially sanctioned side event. And Dave spent his final day at two inspiring events: a working group meeting for the Landscapes for People, Food, and Nature Initiative (LPFN) and the UNDP Equator Prize Awards Ceremony in a historic theater in downtown Paris, a few days before the final Paris climate agreement was signed.

One of the key outcomes of the Paris deal is that, after twenty previous COPs, forests emerged victorious. In the past, forests were given short shrift. Earlier negotiators couldn’t even see the trees, much less the whole forest. The 1997 Kyoto Protocol notoriously left out forests from the mix, and the struggle to figure out REDD+ and other mechanisms was never backed up by the weight of an international agreement. At the GLF, there was a sense of optimism, with many of the speakers and attendees noting how much the tide had shifted over just the past few years (this was GLF3) and how much more cross-sector integration has become the norm, where efforts like that of the LPFN are a driving force for change. For example, agriculture and forestry are considered more closely linked and interdependent than ever before.

The importance of restoration, not just preservation of land, was, as we say in Boston, “wicked” clear to everyone. And it’s true that, to solve the wicked problem of climate change, we need to restore massive areas of degraded land—absorbing (sinking) carbon emissions, reconnecting forests, and rehabilitating nature’s own capacity to provide services we depend on, such as water.

Dave losing himself in a virtual reality that visualizes forest change and deforestation, created by the Peruvian Ministry of the Environment

Dave losing himself in a virtual reality that visualizes forest change and deforestation, created by the Peruvian Ministry of the Environment

We’re particularly proud of the role that Central America played at COP21. Various Central American nations joined forces with the Small Island States to push for more stringent temperature increase targets (1.5 degrees C instead of 2 degrees C), and Panama (the homeland of EcoLogic’s Director, Barbara Vallarino), led the Coalition of Rainforest Nations, which came into the negotiations with a bold strategy to pepper the text with references to forests and worked feverishly to keep forests and land use in the final, binding text.

However, we share one major concern that many have voiced, and one criticism that many have lobbied at the Coalition of Rainforest Nations. Land tenure and indigenous peoples’ rights were highlighted at the GLF and fiercely defended at the Equator Prize ceremony. Because the Paris Agreement includes a strong focus on forest conservation and restoration, it’s possible, even likely, that countries will respond to international pressure and commitments to lower their carbon footprint at much too high a cost to indigenous peoples. As one article below points out, scientists estimate that 20% of tropical forest carbon is stored on indigenous land. This is land that, despite being the historical home of its people often has no formal land tenure in the eyes of the relevant national government. With no safeguards built into the binding sections of the Paris Agreement text (only mentioned in the non-binding preamble) it’s now up to groups like EcoLogic’s local partners to find ways to advocate for themselves and fend off land grabs and other ill-advised uses of their land that don’t properly consult and consider the needs, interests, and rights to self-determination of local communities and indigenous peoples. Fortunately, EcoLogic is well aware of how this dynamic plays out in the regions where we work, and we are well positioned to support our local partners to continue rising to the challenge. While we feel disappointed about this shortcoming of the Paris Agreement, we’re encouraged by the efforts of groups like the Rights and Resources Initiative to protect land rights through mechanisms like the International Land Tenure Facility, announced at COP21.

More than anything, we are still hopeful overall, as a blog post listed below makes the case, that Paris is just the beginning of an awakening in which we all, as global citizens learn to act with our collective interests in mind. Perhaps that’s too much to ask, but one thing we know for sure is that we are inspired by the dozens, if not hundreds, of fantastic organizations studying and writing about the “what next?” post-Paris landscape (and landscapes!). Together, we can all inform one another, debate constructively, and keep applying the necessary pressure to make even the most aspirational language of the Paris Agreement a reality in the years to come. We’re all going to need to do our best to stop climate change in its tracks while helping one another adapt to the challenges and changes inherent in the warmer planet we’ve already created; not to despair in paralysis but to rally in conviction that “Yes, we can!” So, on that note, we leave you with the following list of links to articles to dig into:

General posts about COP21 Paris Agreement:

Forests and Landscapes:

Rights and Indigenous Land:

Central America in the Hurricane’s Eye of Climate Change:

Technology:

 

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