Bellies and Burkas: Vignettes from COP17

With my first step onto South African soil, I was greeted by a contrast that is seared into my memory.  As rhythmic Indian-infused music played, a line of ladies danced for us in midriff-baring tops and balloon-like skirts in vibrant fabrics.  We paused momentarily to take in the sight  and I noticed a line of women approach from behind the dancers clad from head to toe and faces covered with simple black cloth. Without their eyes visible one can only imagine what they thought of the dance.  The Climate Conference is a chance for the whole world to meet. For two weeks we are attempting to negotiate the cultural, environmental and socioeconomic differences that too often create a divide. If we are lucky…

I grew up in Southern California, so I always hear about the days when the surf is big or when snowstorms hit local ski resorts. Brush fires, earthquakes, and California’s perpetual water shortage have also been on my radar since as long as I can remember. This is about as far as I got in thinking about how climate change affects me — until recently. I knew that I should be cognizant of my carbon footprint, and that deforestation, droughts, and floods disproportionately affect the developing nations where I have traveled and worked. However, I thought that concern for climate change should take a back seat to the world’s more pressing matters — poverty, inequity, conflict, and disease. And frankly, I thought that all of this “going green” talk…

Curious as to what is happening at the current COP conference in Durban, South Africa?  Check out the UNFCCC-Durban portion of this blog.  We have about 20 students working hard as representatives for various countries and groups.  They are blogging about their experiences so you can following along too…

Dr. Pachauri from the IPCC addressing the plenary

Where is science at COP17? It seems to be a rare species around here. You may have caught a glimpse of it this morning, when Dr. Pachauri (Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) addressed the plenary… for about 10 minutes. Other than this, the IPCC can be found in a booth at the exhibition center, amongst a couple hundred other booths, far from center stage.

Follow this link for Dr. Pachauri’s plenary statement.

RTCC’s interview with Dr. Pachauri here.

Dr. Pachauri from the IPCC addressing the plenary

Dr. Pachauri from the IPCC addressing the plenary

IPCC booth at the COP17 exhibition centre

Going into the COP working on Latvia, we made sure we knew where the EU stood in terms of the Kyoto Protocol.  In October of this year, the EU adopted a resolution that emphasized its preference for “a single global and comprehensive legally-binding instrument” in the Long-term Cooperative Action (LCA) track and confirmed its “openness to” a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol “as part of a transition to a wider legally binding framework” in the KP track.  From our very first impressions, we got the sense that this position was designed to emphasize that Europe has made its commitments and it is now looking for other parties to step up and meet them at the same level.

We concluded in our…

First quoted by South Africa President Jacob Zuma during his opening remarks during the first day of COP17 and reiterated today by Dr. Rajendra Kumar Pachauri, Chairman of the IPCC and Director of the Yale Climate and Energy Institute:

“A technological society has two choices. First it can wait until catastrophic failures expose systemic deficiencies, distortion and self-deceptions… Secondly, a culture can provide social checks and balances to correct for systemic distortion prior to catastrophic failures.”
– Mahatma Gandhi…

Source: KTGAL Project,

I have long been a fan of the Kyoto: Think Global, Act Local (KTGAL) project. This fantastic research project trained local community members in eight developing countries to collect basic forestry data needed to perform accurate carbon accounting for REDD+. The project has taught us one key lesson: Local communities CAN collect accurate data at relatively low cost, with minimal training.
This means that community monitoring holds powerful potential to solve some of the insurmountable challenges facing REDD+.

Rita Effah, Angela Yeh, and I have been working with the World Resources Institute this past semester to learn what other efforts besides the KTGAL Project have demonstrated that communities are reliable carbon monitors. This week, we’re following along with the REDD+ contact group under the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA), which has been tasked with providing methodological guidance on REDD+ (Come on #SBSTA, let’s see some life from all the tech savvy tweeters in Durban. We can’t live on IISD briefings alone!)

One of the little things that’s surprised me about the negotiations is the use of technology – you might imagine that we have fancy resources. But that is not the case, at least for the G77+China (the group of “developing” countries). We use googlegroups to coordinate efforts, and gmail and hotmail email addresses are standard. It’s incredibly hard to find power outlets here at the conference center, which definitely poses a challenge to those of us without iPads or extra batteries. Many people (from all countries) still work with pen and paper…

Some interesting remarks coming out of delegates in this afternoon’s working group meetings on the Ad-Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP) negotiating track:

Democratic Republic of Congo: “Africa Group will not allow the African soil to be the graveyard of the Kyoto Protocol”

New Zealand (echoing the DRC): “New Zealand agrees Durban should not be the tomb of the KP”

Australia:  A provisional application of the Kyoto Protocol “will not provide the certainty parties are looking for and may also face constitutional impediments” in many of the member states.

EU (driving the point home): “A second commitment period without enough parties participating is clearly insufficient to solve problem of climate change.”

China: “We are not clear…

7:00a Breakfast
Breakfast 7:00a Breakfast in Ballito

8:15a The walk

From our hotel, we walk to catch the COP’s official shuttle service from the suburb of Ballito into Durban.

Scene 8:45a The View

Although the shuttle commute takes about an hour, it gives us a chance to see the lovely scenery of KwaZulu-Natal.

Line 9:20a The Line

We make our way through the security line…