COP21 in Paris is one of the Climate Change events of the Century. AMSA Code Green’s Alice McGushin is there in the thick of it. Here are her reflections from the first week.
If you haven’t heard of COP21 in Paris I evidently haven’t done my job properly. Since August last year, the Code Green team has been working tirelessly to raise awareness of the health effects of climate change and draw attention to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 21st Conference of Parties (COP21).
Every year the UNFCCC hosts a COP, which brings together member states, Civil Society Groups and Intergovernmental Agencies from all over the world to talk about international collaboration on Climate Change. COP21 in Paris is the biggest climate change conference the world has ever seen, with more than 40,000 participants including 25,000 official delegates from government, intergovernmental organisations, UN agencies, NGOs and civil society. The aim of COP21 is to achieve a new global agreement that provides a clear long-term pathway to prevent catastrophic climate change.
In the lead up to Paris, we ran a campaign to engage medical students and health professionals to advocate to the Australian government the importance of Australia participating productively in negotiations for a new agreement for global action on climate change. We have had around twenty meetings between medical students and doctors and federal politicians to call on Australia to announce an Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC – individual countries’ contributions to global emissions reductions) that is consistent with minimising the health impacts of climate change. We have run webinars, created videos, written dozens of blog posts and ran an ‘Amazing Race to COP21’. And amazing teams of global health groups, medsocs and Doctors for the Environment Australia members have run Code Green activities in medical schools all around the country.
I think my path has been leading me towards Paris for many years. I am here as one of six observer delegates for the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations. The rest of our team are from Tunisia, Canada, Denmark, Panama and Italy. We came here with the naïve ambition of influencing the negotiations to ensure that the health impacts of climate change are adequately addressed through specific recognition of health and strong commitments in the Paris Agreement at the end of the two weeks.
After six years of being involved with DEA, AMSA, IFMSA and 350.org, I thought my experience and knowledge in climate change and health was pretty good. But nothing could have prepared me for the organised chaos that is COP21. Let me describe an ‘average’ day. Our routine usually starts at around 6pm, where we discuss each of our schedules for the following day; spreading the six of us across meetings for YOUNGO, the Global Climate and Health Alliance, meetings for our country delegations, tracking negotiations, organising bilaterals with parties from different countries and attending and presenting at some of the thousands of side events at the COP21 venue and around Paris. We head home to our Airbnb to eat (usually around 9 or 10 pm), read the thousands of emails we receive each day and complete different tasks we haven’t had time to do during the day. We head to bed around 1 or 2 am and then get up at 6 am to make it to our first meetings of the day. On top of all this, I am still a WHO intern and running errands for the WHO delegation.
So what is actually happening at COP21? The first week was opened by an unprecedented 151 heads of state. Then negotiations began, with the main focus on the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) which is working on the draft agreement. They have been meeting all year in Bonn to prepare for Paris and have produced draft texts that have started at 100 pages, gone down to 20 something, gone back up to fifty and so on. Over the first week several new versions of the draft text were released, containing multiple options for many paragraphs. There have been many aspects of the draft agreement that have drawn fierce debate and delayed agreements. These include the long-term goal, 1.5 degrees or 2 degree limit to global warming, reaching the agreed annual $100 billion climate finance target, recognising human rights, gender and indigenous rights (and of course health!) in the operating text and whether or not we have a section dedicated to loss and damage.
Friday was a very hectic day for us. Two of us were at one health event and two at another in different places in Paris. At 10 am a new version of the draft agreement was released, along with ‘bridging’ proposals by the ADP co-chairs. All mention of health had been removed had been removed from the text, apart from the preamble, which has attempted to lump every issue associated with climate change together into one paragraph. We raced to action. Line and Betta, who were the only ones at the venue, ran from country to country, telling them of the importance of health in the text. I jumped on a metro to race to attend the Australian DFAT briefing to raise an intervention pointing out the lack of health recognition. We spent the rest of the day running around trying to talk to as many countries as possible. In the excitement, I lost my phone. I called it and fortunately the Netherlands answered.
Work on the draft text closed on Friday. Currently health still only remains in the preamble and it looks like it is going to that way. But what is more important to protect health is a clear and comprehensive commitment to achieving a limit of 1.5 degrees warming by the end of the century. Will we get there? The target is gaining traction, but we’ll see what we get at the end of the week. Stay tuned!
How is Australia going in Paris? After winning Fossil of the Year at COP20 in Lima, I had fairly low expectations for what Australia would contribute to the negotiations. However, I have been pleasantly surprised. Malcolm Turnbull announced Australia would ratify the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol and double investment in clean energy research and development. On Saturday Australia announced we would support 1.5 degrees in the text and then on Monday Julie Bishop stated Australia would give $625,000 to support women to be involved in climate decision processes. But we still have a long way to go. Our current INDC target is far from sufficient to limit warming to 1.5 degrees and we are still not giving our fair share of climate financing.
But there is time to change – over the next week and over the next few years. What we need by the end of the week is a treaty that provides a pathway to allow us to achieve the change that is necessary. Keep an eye on developments over the next week and the final outcome on Friday!
LAST MINUTE HIGHLIGHTS hot off the press:
- I tweeted Arnold Schwarzernegger speaking and UN Russia retweeted me in Russian
- We did an action and John Kerry walked past (obviously with lots of security) and gave us the thumbs up.
- I smashed my phone running around the COP venue trying to convince the security that Richard Horton had a UN pass to speak at our WHO event
- Tim Flannery bought me lunch yesterday