1. One of the most prominent visuals I witnessed at the COP were the stunning photographs of Poland’s Bialowieza Primeval Forest. Wolves, bison, fungi, shrews, badgers, birds, and trees plastered the corridors of the National Stadium where the conference took place. The exhibit “Abores Vitae,” by Jan Walencik and his wife Bozena, celebrates the unique biodiversity of Europe’s last primeval forest. These larger-than-life photographs lined corridors outside the main Plenary Halls and meeting rooms.  If you attended COP 19, you could not have missed this exhibit. From my perspective, the message shared by these photos fits into a common narrative about a sublime or untouched nature.  The subjects of these photos were celebrated for being separate from humanity, while their captions identified the different ways human actions and climate change threaten this wilderness.

    See the photos and learn more about the exhibition here:


    But what if this high-profiled exhibit told a different story—visuals with a more visceral connection to the decisions made in Warsaw and the impacts on our planet.  What if the photography exhibit included humans in the picture in order for decision makers to see more clearly the connections between human decisions and climate change. Those walls could have been lined with anything, and I think it is notable that it was the “Abores Vitae” exhibit and not others.  Imagine instead, if these halls were lined with photos of the recent aftermath of Typhoon Hiayan in the Phillipines, or the industrial landscapes of artists like Edward Burtynsky. How about portraits of farmers from across the globe, who can no longer plan for their seasons. Or perhaps the thousands of slums that line our coastlines, the communities most at risk if climate action is further delayed.  Would a different exhibit have changed the outcomes of these negotiations?

    Photographs I would have rather seen on the walls of COP 19:

    Edward Burtynsky: http://www.edwardburtynsky.com/ 

    BBC Media: Typhoon Haiyan :http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-25056976


  2. Warsaw’s beautiful Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Shelled out during WWII, but not completely destroyed, the area was rebuilt in the latter half of the 20th century to resemble its original historical state. This part of town was first established as early as the 1300s, though was inhabited long before then. A great place to meander the streets of an ancient European city should you ever get the opportunity. We’ll miss you Warsaw!

    Go well



  3. Wrapping up Warsaw

    Hi readers!

    Apologies for the delayed entry - a long day of travel finds Steph, Mara, and myself back in Missoula. With a long but fruitful 2 weeks now behind us, we are back at the UM and ready to share our thoughts and experiences with all interested parties!

    COP19 continued long after we boarded our plane, convening until early morning Saturday, and than reconvening for the day until 9PM on Saturday Nov 23rd, a full 27 hours after the intended closing ceremony.

    The outcomes of the conference were quite varied. As discussed in a previous posts, some progress was made on financing and reviewing national programs addressing deforesting and land degradation. Otherwise, much of what was accomplished simply sets the stage for future negotiations. No further commitment or timeline was agreed upon to come up with the $100bn dollars needed to finance the GCF with the drafted text now only vaguely  mentioning “increasing commitments”. The draft text concerning the CDM removed any mention of setting price floors for the carbon market and only encourages countries with nonbinding reduction targets to consider the use of carbon credits. It was agreed a new international body and/or mechanism (The “Warsaw Mechanism”) would be created to address loss and damage, and countries agreed to leave and “do their homework” to address these issues by early 2015, pre-ratification in Paris.

    Thus, scanning through the actual draft texts for the CMP, the COP, or the ADP, or any of the subsidiary bodies (SBI, SBSTA, CDM, etc) will not yield any international gems in setting norms or global ambition. However, progress was made in developing land use strategies with some level of financing backing the initiative. Discussions on further market based mechanisms were largely halted due to ideological divides on resource valuation. Ultimately, what can be taken out of Warsaw has more to do with conference politics than substantive conference outcomes.

    Poland blundered its way through public relations, with COP President Korolec being removed from office while simultaneously not addressing the massive in congruencies in Polish energy policy relative to his lofty commitments at the COP. His very body language during press conferences - dismissive, monotone, hunched over, and no eye contact with the crowd - certainly may have hindered media relations. Throw in a simultaneous coal conference, and the signals from the host country were clear: environmental objectives are not a national priority, On top of PR issues with the host, a massive conference walkout of G77 counties and environmental NGOs received more attention than the small successes in REDD+. Add the politicized typhoon and hunger strike by delegates, and you have a COP which drew more attention for its theatrics than its successes, albeit limited in their scope and intention.

    In spite of the above, I believe a substantial amount of material was at least introduced on the global agenda, and bounced around in dialogue amongst parties. Legislative nuts and bolts are not  sexy and exciting for the media or for environmental NGOs seeking hard and fast GHG reductions (some of which called for an immediate stop in production of all carbon intensive power plants - not only an unviable goal politically, but a strategy that offers no meaningful alternatives in terms of how complicated procedures of divestment and transition to alternate energy sources should take place). Warsaw was very much a conference in order to set the stage on what major issues need to be incorporated into a new agreement, if they should be incorporated into existing structures or new ones, and what countries need to commit what resources in order to do so. While financial, technical, and technological commitments remain vague outside of the deforestation sector, the draft proposals up on the UNFCCC website suggest a flexible platform for which individual nations may now return to their respective legislators and continue building robust nationally appropriate strategies to be considered under the future framework, and return to the future conferences with specific commitments and ambitions in the following 2 years,

    As one youth delegation commented to the COP during a small staged protest, “You’ve been negotiating my whole life.” While I echoed her sentiment morally, I also saw firsthand the massive difficulties in creating comprehensive international treaties. All of the difficult questions we address in academia actually need to be addressed under the UNFCCC for successful adoption and, ultimately and most importantly, implementation. In a discussion with a colleague from the Research and Independent Nongovernmental Organizations (the RINGOs), I pondered on whether a Framework Convention on Climate Change is the most appropriate forum to craft international treaties. Attempting to tackle climate change as a whole under umbrella concepts like adaptation, mitigation, or sustainable development is inherently cross cutting, complicated, and increasingly difficult due to the complex language and definitions associated with such a wicked problem. Perhaps a Framework Convention broken down by “neutral” sectors would produce more tangible results. Perhaps through breaking the conference down into a sectoral approach, ie focusing specifically on water, energy, transportation, etc, rather than generally on adaptation, mitigation, technology, etc, parties could achieve more concrete results . No one is inherently anti-energy, or anti-water; such a framework may allow for integration of more focused scientific data that offers more tangible options to policy makers.

    Thanks to all who have been reading, and do not hesitate to contact us with questions, comments, and the like!

    Go well



  4. "This is a Great Day"

    The further we have been diving into COP, the less clear the final outcomes of the negotiations are.  There is a lot of talk, and very little action.  Though, as a speaker from the United Nation Environment Programme (UNEP) stated, and what the title of this post declares, “This is great day!”  Why is today a great day?  Today the Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN) has been opened for business!

    The CTCN, led by UNEP and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), is a tool that is mandated to facilitate the effective implementation of the Technology Mechanism, under the guidance of the COP.  It provides information, resources, and funds towards technology development and transfer, especially to developing countries.  Countries in need of these technological resources for environmentally sound mitigation and adaptation projects can now send in requests to the CTCN, who will respond to the requests based on priority and urgency.  

    The CTCN states that will be effective because they are about hands on projects, not paragraphs.  The money will be spent on technological efforts to develop communities in an environmentally sound manner. There will be assessments to make sure that the projects stay on task, and the CTCN will support the projects from start to finish.  The panelists all agreed that there will be glitches and problems along they way, but they will be ready to solve whatever comes their way.

    The entire room was full of hope today, and the CTCN is ready to start reading requests!  


  5. Warsaw, protests, and cabinet replacements, oh my!

    Quite a bit going on here in Warsaw!

    News from the frontlines includes a staged walkout by G77 nations during high level ministerial dialogues in protest of the lack of commitment or backing off of commitments by developed nations (read about it here: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/21/world/rich-and-poor-nations-spar-over-climate-damages.html?ref=world). While the G77 continues to participate in dialogues, the symbolic gesture was getting quite a bit of attention in the hallways of COP19. The gap between the expectations of developing countries and the ambition of the developed world seems to only be widening.

    Furthermore, the conservative Polish Prime Minister currently faces quite a bit opposition from both environmentalists, for hosting a simultaneous coal summit to COP19, and the general public, due to lagging economic growth in Poland. Shocking news came in a press conference yesterday afternoon. In an effort to shake up his administration, the PM  replaced quite a few cabinet members in sectors from finance to sport to education to science…. including COP19 President and Minister of the Environment Korolec. While Korolec will remain in his position through COP, the cabinet mix-up halfway through high-stake negotiations casts questions on the expectations for the conference (read about the replacement here: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/21/world/europe/poland-cabinet-reshuffle.html?ref=world). The incoming environment minister has already announced Polish frakking and shale programs, largely drawing on the success of the natural gas boom in the United States.

    In spite of dubious political predictability in the host country, and continued divide between the global north and south, progress has been made in other sectors. The EU will continue with their commitment to fulfill their ‘fast track financing’ (30% has already been fulfilled), Norway pledged to continue financing  REDD+ at their current levels through 2020, and the World bank unveiled a new fund in the range of several hundreds of millions - the Initiative for Sustainable Forest Landscapes. Pledges from Germany and Norway, and a smaller pledge from the US, will help leverage public financing in this WB mechanism that will encourage holistic carbon reduction projects at the landscape level. Instead of traditional subsidizing of agriculture, or forest management, these landscape model projects use scientific and policy models that consider multiple land uses. I look forward to following the flow of these funds into their pilot stages!

    Go well



  6. Seeing the Data

    Infographics are an eye-catching platform for advocacy groups and I have been impressed by the way NGO’s are using the medium here at the UN climate negotiations. For those unfamiliar with this creative medium, infographics are a rising form of visual communication.  Combining words, graphs, diagrams and illustrations through graphic design, infographics help convey messages visually. Living in a word hyper-saturated with information, we no longer have the time or patience as a society to process all of this material.  Scientists agree that humans rely on sight more than any other sense. Recognizing that humans are a visual species can help us to craft better ways of communicating information.  Infographics rely on our brain’s capacity to quickly compress information into recognizable ideograms and symbols.  The medium has become immensely popular in recent year and is now used extensively by major media outlets such as the New York Times.

    Side Events and Exhibitions, hosted by civil society groups and governments, are an essential opportunity for civil society groups to voice their perspective on climate change issues. With over 200 NGO’s vying for the attention of negotiators and delegates, it becomes difficult to choose which meetings to attend, who to listen to and which booths to visit. Many of them are turning to visual communication, the infographic being just one of the many forms I have witnessed here at the COP.

    NGO advocacy campaigns usually look like a stack of long reports on the table. Sam, Steph and I have certainly been interested in these reports and all of us will be toting a hefty load in our suitcases.  Infographics however, can convey the same information in a more manageable way.  From their guide, “Visualizing Information for Advocacy,” the Tactical Technology Collective reminds us that effective infographics are not, “just a matter of making text pretty or entertaining, but shaping understanding and clarifying meaning.” 

    Stay tuned for my own infographic I will be creating for a class project when I return home next week. In the mean time, scroll through my favorites I have found at the conference (a few of which are wadded up in my pocket to help me navigate the complexities here at the U.N.!)

    Happy viewing!


  7. The UN Youth Booth drew me into their exhibit with this helpful visual explaining all those darn acronyms! After examining this infographic on an 8ft tall sign, I printed my own and stashed it in my pocket were it has been all week, helping me navigate the conference! View a larger version here:


    Even the US. Government is using infographics. Representatives from Obama’s Climate Action Plan shared this infographic with the audience in the USA paviion, during a briefing on US climate action last week. View the large version here: 


    I was delighted to see one of my favorite infographics hanging in at the International Energy Agency. View this European clean energy group’s other data visualizations here: 


  8. Confused about the history of international climate policy? Check out this infographic created by The Climate Group.

    (Source: Flickr / theclimategroup)


  9. Emphasizing Humor and Positivity in the Health Sector

    When people first hear the word climate change, thoughts of melting ice caps, rising sea levels, and thick air pollution full of greenhouse gases are some of the first things that pop in their heads.  But what about how climate change affects health?  Shouldn’t health and medical organizations be actively involved in establishing effective climate change solutions at the COP?  I assumed so, but it turns out that health issues resulting from climate change were not even a part of the UNFCCC COP until 2011, when a group of health professionals from over 30 countries signed the Durban Declaration on Climate and Health. This alliance of health professionals and NGO workers, the Global Climate and Health Alliance, now meets at every summit to educate and present their calls to action to the national delegations to the COP.

    I am very interested in learning about environmental public health issues, and was extremely surprised to find little information about climate change and health around the COP.  By chance, I did discover a climate and health summit as a side event outside the COP, and found it to be one of the most hopeful and inspiring events I’ve attended so far (and I’ve attended my fair share side events over the last week and a half).  

    The message from the summit that really stayed in my brain was the necessity for humor, thoughtful visuals, and plausible positive changes. The health effects of climate change are a really depressing conversation topic, as are environmental degradations, but the speakers at this summit emphasized that hope, positivity, and the ability to make someone smile can be the most effective ways to point out the facts and advocate the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, clean up our environment, and make a healthy living space for future generations.  Opportunities are more enticing than threats. As one speaker put it, “hell doesn’t sell.” 

    This video has been floating around facebook, but was also shown at the health summit as a humorous way to spark talks about climate change:


    Though Nike may be an International Corporation, they put out some effective advertisement that get people to think about current health issues:


    Preaching about how depressing climate change has not brought about positive change.  We need to address the issues to communities in a way that will make them want to learn more, in simple, engaging language and methods.  The more creative and hopeful we are, the more people will listen and want to learn more.


  10. The Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative was highlighted during a talk for “Gender Day” at the COP 19.  Today, the UN hosted several side events to discuss gender equality and its relationship to climate change.  Learn about the inspiring ways in which this project empowers women while providing sustainable transportation here:


    This project was one of the winners of the UN’s “Momentum for Change for Women Results” featured at today’s conference. Women grassroots leaders presented small-scale projects that invest in the powerful female communities to address both gender and environmental issues. Yet another inspiring example of the ways in which individuals can make tangible steps towards a low carbon future.