The German Delegation at COP, through the eyes of the USA

In one of the SustainUS domestic working groups, we have honed our focus on creating the political space for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to push forward with aggressive carbon and power plant regulations. One of the ways the EPA can design meaningful, impacting regulations is through learning from those nations already transitioning to a low-carbon economy. We are sure the EPA is already familiar with the policies of these sustainably-minded countries, but for our purposes, it is still interesting to learn about successes and failures in places like Germany (whose Energiewende seems to be the leading model for transitioning to a renewable economy), and how these delegations approach COP.

Earlier this week I was lucky enough to sit in on a meeting with a German delegate, Ilka Wagner of the Federal Ministry for Environment,Nature Conservation, and Nuclear Safety (BMU). Ms. Wagner shared the German outlook on many of the major topics at this year’s COP.

At a high level, Wagner expressed serious hope for an outcome with adaptation. Low-lying countries and those particularly susceptible to the short-term effects of climate change have seen great media attention so far, thanks in part to a dramatic “Fast for the Climate” campaign, Yeb Saño launched, pleading for major steps forward on these issues in Warsaw (support his petition). The chief delegate of the Philippines pointed to the turmoil in his home country caused in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan, in effect mobilizing massive support from civil society and observer organizations at COP (including SustainUS) rapidly.

The European Union has a goal for binding targets and international accountability on domestic climate goals. Wagner mentioned that the EU will push hard to encourage nations to make emissions pledges, if they haven’t done so already, and to follow through on implementing their commitments up to 2020. Formalizing an emissions reporting framework for both developed and developing countries under the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) is also extremely important.

Wagner noted that the Polish government has an interest in delivering success, and the German government especially doesn’t want a process, “where the outcome is the same every year, but we just change the name of the city.”

If you are curious for more, a European Commission memo released before COP19 echoes many of Wagner’s sentiments. SustainUS will closely follow how the EU plays a role in the development of the Durban Platform through the end of next week.

Flat Earth Society Storms the COP

When President Obama was elected in 2008, he promised America that he would take strong action on climate, and move our nation in a direction of ambitious regulation. He reaffirmed that promise in 2012. Youth, a demographic that was vital in getting President Obama elected, have yet to see this promise delivered.

At the UNFCCC Conference today, SustainUS reminded President Obama that he will be judged based on his climate legacy. Six SustainUSers made a demonstration that gained media attention in Reuters, highlighting the action the President needs to take on an executive level. Young Activists portrayed a “meeting of the Flat Earth Society”, which was comprised of climate change deniers. President Obama stormed the meeting! He announced tough EPA regulations on carbon emissions, specifically: aggressive emissions limits, timely implementation, and holding industry responsible for their harm.

Credit: Ashley Wineland/The Sierra Student Coalition

There will be serious international repercussions based on the strength of EPA regulations. The White House is responsible for setting the ambition of carbon reduction for the United States. Tough regulations can bring the US on board a 2015 treaty and send a strong signal internationally.

The UN Climate Negotiations are in their 19th year, but have yet produce an international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to levels that will prevent a 2°C rise in global temperatures -- the threshold considered by many climate scientists to be the brink of disaster globally. The Warsaw negotiations are expected to pave the road for a binding international treaty in 2015, but critics say that without strong domestic action on climate first from the US, they may not be able to join in a meaningful climate treaty in 2015. Many fear this would cause a repeat of 1997 when the US did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol, which ultimately failed to reduce emissions by the necessary amount to limit climate change.

It has been four and a half months since President Obama’s unveiling of his Administration’s Climate Action Plan. Central to the the Climate Action Plan, President Obama announced he would be “directing the Environmental Protection Agency to put an end to the limitless dumping of carbon pollution from our power plants, and complete new pollution standards for both new and existing power plants”.

Prominent US politicians such as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Secretary of State John Kerry, and President Obama himself have called for increased ambition on action on climate change. A large study by George Mason University, states that 70 percent of the U.S. population say the U.S. should reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, regardless of what other nations do.

Youth are tired of inaction on climate change, and tired of the Flat Earth Society derailing the conversation. United States youth do not want to see climate change, we want to see change we can believe in.

The 9th Conference of Youth

Before the 19th Conference of the Parties began in Warsaw this month, climate activists from around the world organized a conference of the youth to discuss pressing climate issues and to prepare participants from civil society for the forthcoming negotiations. Having just become a part of the international climate movement, I had absolutely no idea of what to really expect. The weeks leading up to the conference were full of excitement but also anxiousness as I was unsure how I would fit into the picture. As I walked in the first day, I was immediately impressed by the organization of the conference, the individuals in attendance, and the overarching sense of solidarity permeating the conference halls. Never before had I been in the presence of such a diverse group of people that were committed to the same ideals as mine. Getting insight into youth movements across countries was an inspiring reminder of how beautiful this movement is. The scale of this problem is enormous and seemingly impossible to tackle, but that hasn't stopped the momentum of the youth involved in this fight whose future is most at risk by the decisions made in the next few decades. Workshops were held, demonstrations were made, speeches were given; all done in the name of a larger narrative that all in attendance are a part of. At the end of it all, I was more assured of my ability to contribute to the incredible work that has been carried on by youth climate activists over the past several years. It was an attestament to how much passion, dedication, and work is required to sustain movements like this. The continual work of everyone involved is a humbling reminder of the capacity of the human spirit and its ability to persevere in the face of impossible odds. I am proud to say that I attended an event as moving as this. My experience here will always stay with me and affect how I think about the work I do in the future, whatever that may be.