Winning Warsaw: Poland’s Paternalism Hosts UNFCCC Negotiations


At the opening ceremony of the 19th Conference of the Parties (COP19) as part of the United Nations Framework Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC) in November, Hanna Gronkeiwicz-Waltz, Mayor of Warsaw, introduced a short video produced for the Polish Ministry of the Environment to rally UN delegates to “win the Warsaw opportunity” by making considerable progress on international climate negotiations during the two-week climate summit. The video began with Polish school children asking their teacher for a story about their “other Poland” pen pals. The other Poland is later revealed as thevillage of Poland on Kiritimati Island.

Kiritimati Island is part of The Republic of Kiribati (pronounced KIRR-i-bas), an island nation in thecentral Pacific Ocean, near the Marshall Islands, Fiji and Western Samoa. Made up of 32 low-lying coral atolls and one solitary island, Kiribati is one of the first nations in the world expected to be lost to climate change-induced sea level rise, and it is estimated that Kiribati may be uninhabitable by the 2050s due to salinization. The warming ocean has caused severe coral bleaching, which has reduced the availability of fish, the main source of protein for the Kiribati people. Kiribati, considered a least developed country (LDC), is one of the poorest countries in the world, and it faces a potential loss of up to a third of its GDP by 2050 and forced migration of its population if serious climate change adaptation does not occur. Despite contributing the second fewest emissions of any nation to climate change, Kiribati has been pioneering against the effects of a changing climate without supportive action from large international powers. In an effort to unite the voices of Small Island Developing States on climate change, Kiribati is a member of the Alliance of Small Island States (“AOSIS”), an intergovernmental organization of low-lying coastal and small island countries.

Unfortunately, none of these facts are explained in the video. Instead, Western Poland paternalistically presents the Republic of Kiribati as a “child victim” in the video, thereby normalizing and validating the developed countries’ use of an oppressive savior-complex as a strategy to evade proactive, binding climate change negotiation, reinforcing international climate negotiation dichotomies.

… read the rest of the article on

Week in Review


As I walked through the final border control stop, after asking the purpose of my trip and if I had any fruit or livestock, the U.S. customs officer asked me, “well, what did you learn this week?” Despite spending a week thinking about just that, this was difficult to answer. I don’t think I can say I learned anything concrete and positive for the future of climate change. Poland fired its environmental minister during the conference and the civil society comprised of environmental NGOs walked out of the conference. Most importantly few new commitments were affirmed by the party nations. In this sea of negative signals, it was tough to remain hopeful for the future. As a researcher, I had to step back and remember that even a lack of positive action is still a perfectly valid research result. This was especially true for my group’s topic of the Clean Development Mechanism. Just because current market and political trends do not indicate strong demand for CDM projects, there are still plenty of lessons to be learned. In fact, we will be sharing these lessons and results at the Undergraduate Research Symposium this spring!

Although we missed the last day of the conference I can still share some of the final results as interpreted by the UNFCCC and various commentators. The most discussed result related to the future action required to reduce emissions on a national basis. Going in to COP 19, the goal was to make a commitment on emissions targets by 2015 at COP 21 in Paris. Unfortunately this was watered down to reflect the interests of developing nations concerned about equity in emissions reductions. So, expectations for a promise in 2015 have been lowered and we will have to wait and see. On a more positive note, the “Warsaw international mechanism for loss and damage associated with climate change impacts” was created to formally begin to address the effects of climate change and sea level rise on vulnerable nations. REDD+, an initiative addressing forests and climate change, was enhanced this year to include a preservation payment mechanism. However both the REDD+ and loss and damage mechanisms fell short of what NGOs and the affected regions had hoped for.

Tourist Notes:
It was interesting seeing some of the different ways Europeans approached recycling and sustainability compared to here:


Frappuccino were €6.40 at the Starbucks in the Brussels airport. Wow!

Last Day at COP!

Interesting developments occurred yesterday within the Polish government. The Polish Environment Minister, Marcin Korolec, is currently serving as COP 19 President because Poland is hosting the conference. However, Korolec was one of seven cabinet members of the Prime Minister who was replaced during a “government reshuffle.” Today at COP, I’ve heard people everywhere talking about this.  While Korolec will continue to serve as COP 19 President for the remaining days of the conference, some argue that a change of leadership in the middle of climate negotiations shows a lack of commitment to climate action on behalf of the Polish government (particularly, Prime Minister Donald Tusk). Furthermore, Korolec has been replaced with Maciej Grabowski, a large proponent of fracking, which inspired criticism and protests outside the conference today. Grabowski does not officially take over until November 27, but he said his priority was to exploit natural gas, a fossil fuel that has proved to be contentious in environmental discussions. This event has added to the negative attention surrounding Poland during the conference, considering it won Climate Action Network’s Fossil of the Day award twice during its tenure as host of COP 19.


Because many negotiations are closed to NGO observers (and many side events are not entirely relevant to the CDM), we have spent most of our time visiting national pavilions.  . This allowed us to have a more active role during our time at the conference, and we have been privileged to hear such a wide range of perspectives. However, we’re choosing to end our final day by attending an informal contact group negotiation on the CDM. This certainly has helped wrap-up all the differing ideas we’ve heard during our time here. There is notable tension as negotiations come to a close and delegates rush to fulfill their goals. The informal contact group discussing the CDM must reach a conclusion by the end of Thursday, and there is still disagreement regarding possible amendments to the text. Unfortunately, because we are leaving early Friday morning, we may not be here to see the full results of the conference. Regardless, both attending COP 19 and having the opportunity to see Warsaw have been an incredibly rewarding experience.


Tourist Notes:  Last night, Maggie, Ben, and I got out of COP quite late so we were searching for a restaurant that was still open. Luckily, we stumbled upon Nowy Świat Street, which is one of the main historic thoroughfares in Warsaw. Even for a late Wednesday night, the street was filled with people and restaurants. We ate at an eclectic restaurant called Frida, which provided an interesting Polish take on Mexican food.


Halfway Through Week 2

When the meetings for the day finally began, Danica, Ben, and I first attended the “High-Level Ministerial Dialogue on Climate Finance.” We first heard from the president of COP 19, Marcin Korolec, as he opened the session to welcome everyone attending and explain the importance of making progress at this conference rather than just wait until COP 20 in Rio or another date. The keynote address was then presented by Ban Ki-moon (pictured below), the United Nations Secretary General. It was really interesting to hear him speak in person about the urgency of the climate situation. Many other nations spoke during this dialogue as well, and a recurring theme was the urgency of the climate change situation. However, there were few suggestions presented about the how to solve this urgent problem. Most of the attention was placed upon financial mechanisms, which was what we expected.


After we left the dialogue, we decided to visit the pavilions of China and Norway. Over the past several days, we have had a significant amount of success learning about varying perspectives on the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and Programme of Activities (PoAs) by stopping by various exhibit booths for different nations and organizations as well as the national pavilions. It was also inspiring to be surrounded people who make such important decisions regarding the future of environmental policy. I now have a greater respect for the process of environmental policy implementation because I am realizing how difficult and confusing the process can be at times.

Danica, Ben, and I then ate lunch and then headed to the Media Center to learn more about Bangladesh and the CDM. We ended up learning about Bangladesh over a second lunch, but it was fascinating how the perspective of a least-developed country (LDC) on CDM varies significantly from that of a developed country.

It is a very interesting dynamic having the high-level officials present at the conference. On Monday, the high-level segment of the conference had not yet started, so everyone seemed relatively relaxed, and there was not a sense of urgency. However, yesterday and today, the tension significantly increased. There are now many meetings not open to observers, and the security and protesting has increased. It seems that people feel that they need to accomplish something in the next two days, but minimal progress has been made so far.  Hopefully the final days of the conference will produce some results!

Tourist Note:  Last night, we all went to dinner at Bierhalle Browar Restauracja, a restaurant recommended as one of the places a traveler to Warsaw should visit. It was a strange meal. Nothing was necessarily wrong, but our food seemed obscure to our American palates. Some of the food was unseasoned, and there was a failed attempt at Mexican food because of the addition of large quantities of barbeque sauce. We all left confused why this restaurant was so highly recommended.

Bree, Brendan, Ben, and Danica also were able to go to the Warsaw Uprising Museum before the conference started one day. This museum explains the Polish uprisings that took place during the German occupation of the country.

Tuesday, November 19

Yesterday Brendan and I tried to get into an LDC (Least Developed Countries) coordination meeting, but the meeting location had been changed and we were unable to figure out the new location, which we have found to be a fairly recurring theme at COP. So instead of attending the meeting, we spent a while catching up on emails and preparing ourselves for the next day before going out to dinner. By recommendation from our hostel, we went to a restaurant called U Szwejka and ordered the minimum two-person meat platter, which consisted of 10 different meats, potato, and coleslaw. Four of us struggled to eat half the meat served to us (and felt disgusted with ourselves afterwards, but when in Poland…)


We started off today by going to the Indigenous People’s caucus. We were hoping to make some contacts with IPs to further our research on REDD+. The meeting itself was a time for IPs from a variety of countries to take joint action on issues that will affect them all. As an often underrepresented and side-lined group, we appreciate the importance of these groups to band together to strengthen their voice. In the meeting, they largely discussed letters to various high-level officials, asking for consideration of the rights of the indigenous populations when making decisions. It was awesome to sit in a room full of such diversity and watch these people work together to accomplish their goals.

We then sidled into an LDC coordination meeting. Because no one stopped us, we did not realize that it was actually a closed meeting (for parties only—we are NGO observers) and we were asked to leave halfway through the meeting. Nonetheless, we were happy to have been able to watch the talks about mitigation and adaptation relating to deforestation and loss and damage. Afterwards, we watched the COP/CMP high-level plenary where Ban Ki Moon, Secretary-General of the UN, and Donald Tusk, Polish Prime Minister, among others spoke on the urgency of climate change and the need for action at this COP. Before the speakers, Poland presented a short artistic video with music where an artist drew a sustainable history of the Earth only with sand. It was a unique performance that I really enjoyed.

IMG_4258[1] IMG_4263[1]

So far, it’s been an interesting experience and I’m excited to delve deeper into our project for the next two days and finally attend some side events focusing on REDD+. It’s inspiring to see people from all around the world gathering to discuss climate change, but disheartening to see the lack of progress despite the number of people attending who seemingly care about this issue.

Do widzenia and dziękuję for reading!

Monday 11/18: The Second Week of COP19 Begins

Old Town WarsawGuards at Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Saxon GardenView of National StadiumBen, Danica, & MaggieApple: COP19 EditionBree, Danica and I arrived in Warsaw early on Saturday morning and spent the day exploring the city and the Museum of Modern Art. Ben and Maggie arrived on Saturday evening and joined Beth and us for a wonderful dinner of pierogies, sausages, and potato pancakes. Beth shared useful information from the first week of negotiations and helped us prepare for the second week of COP before leaving early on Sunday morning. On Sunday, we prepared for Monday’s sessions at a cafe, and spent the rest of the day exploring Old Town and the former site of the Warsaw ghetto. Our favorite locations included the Saxon Garden, the Museum of the History of Polish Jews (recently opened in April 2013), and the last remaining fragment of the Warsaw ghetto wall.

After becoming acclimated to the city over the weekend, we arrived at the National Stadium early Monday morning to continue WUSICE research on REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) and the CDM (Clean Development Mechanism)! After registration, we headed to the daily RINGOs (Research and Independent Non-Governmental Organizations) meeting for a brief overview of helpful tips for navigating COP and a Q & A session. We were joined by a number of student researchers and professors from both the United States and abroad. After the meeting, we explored the National Stadium to gain a better understanding of the layout, and stopped by the US and EU pavilions. Shortly after, Bree and I split up to attend different sessions focused on REDD+. Bree attended “REDD+ Standards in a Fragmented Market: What Opportunities Exist for REDD+ Financing?” The panel consisted of individuals from the Global Canopy Programme, Climate Focus, Corporate Partnerships for Code REDD+, Terra Global Capital, LLC, and Verified Carbon Standard (VCS). They discussed the demand gap for REDD+ credits, global understanding of biodiversity standards, and how REDD+ at its best not only addresses deforestation, but also community engagement, the empowerment of women, watershed protection, and biodiversity enhancement. I attended a session at the US pavilion jointly hosted by USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) and the Colombian delegation entitled “Enhanced Conservation and Improved Livelihoods.” The panelists addressed the BIOREDD+ Program, the flagship program of USAID in Colombia, which is a $29.7M program “designed to strengthen Colombian capacity to mitigate and adapt to climate change, protect biodiversity, and support the development of remote, impoverished communities.” The program operates in areas of Western Colombia that are largely occupied and owned by Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities that have clear title to their lands under the 1991 Constitution and Law 70 of 1993. The program strives to unite community knowledge and local partnerships to create economic linkages that will improve the livelihoods of the communities that depend on the forests for their well-being. Later in the day, Bree and I attended the “High Level Panel Event on the Land Sector and Forests,” in which high-level delegates gathered and shared their countries’ stances on mitigation, adaptation, and market-based mechanisms aimed at reducing emissions from deforestation, agriculture, and ranching. At the end of today’s negotiations, we plan on attending the Least Developed Countries’ Coordination Meeting to gain a better perspective on how developing countries are addressing deforestation.

It has been an exhausting day, but we are looking forward to conducting some of our research interviews tomorrow morning!


Live Update

Human Rights: How lessons learnt from the CDM can inform the design of new market mechanisms

Live Update: Both of our research projects (analyzing the Programme of Activities component of the Clean Development Mechanism & the integrated support of forest governance in REDD+)  discussed in relation to each other in the side event Human Rights: How lessons learnt from the CDM can inform the design of new market mechanisms. 

Thursday, November 14th

Today was my final day at COP19, which I cannot believe. The past four days have been SO BUSY, but I think I speak for all the students here in saying that we have learned an incredible amount and are very excited to bring our new knowledge back to campus. As Caitlin (Lee) and I have continued to navigate the conference, we have been able to narrow our research project down, and are now specifically studying the integration of REDD+ programs into indigenous communities, and the conflicts that arise as a result.

I started the day with the Indigenous Peoples Organization meeting at 9 am. The president of the Peru delegation spoke about the plans for COP 20 in Lima, Peru that will occur next year, and how he plans to incorporate the indigenous people in the negotiations. The members of IPO concentrated on having a similar situation that occurred in Mexico in 2010, in which IPO was able to meet with country allies prior to the conference in order to talk strategy and create a shared message. They believed that this tactic greatly helped their voices be heard at the 2010 conference. The Peruvian leader acknowledged this desire, as well as proposing an IP pavilion at COP 20 in which the IP leaders could set up an exhibit to spread their ideas. The delegate also spoke to the logistics of the conference, and explained the process of getting indigenous people certified to come to the conference– he explained that he wanted to make the Visa process “fluid and efficient”.

After the Peruvian leader, a Venezuelan delegate spoke to the Pre-COP meeting of the ministers that will occur in October 14, in which leaders from 40-50 countries come together to discuss the COP. Instead of having a traditional meeting, called the Ministers Meeting, he proposed that the coming year would have two sections:  the traditional meeting, and a new proposal of a forum of movements and social organizations. This new meeting would incorporate all sorts of groups, from NGOs to trade unions to the IPO and beyond. The purpose is to stress the need of all groups who are “taking part in the future of our world” to work together, not just under the theme of climate change but also under social, political, and economic justice and equality.

The first side event I attended of the day was “Linking Adaptation and Mitigation to Address Multiple Risks: New Research Findings and Field Examples”, sponsored by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). CIFOR recently concluded research on how to combine mitigation and adaptation projects, and found that often times it is very beneficial to add adaptation measures to mitigation projects, but it is much less beneficial the other way around. This, researcher Bruno Locateli said, is because adaptation has a larger potential for integration into a variety of systems and has its own fund (The Adaptation Fund) to help with projects. Then, the panelists were able to speak of their various experiences, from planting mangroves along rivers in Vietnam to construct dikes to building energy saving stoves in Uganda and Zimbabwe.

Today was Intergenerational Day at COP19, so there was a panel specifically catering to the youth where the UNFCCC Executive Secretary, Ms. Christiana Figueres, spoke. She emphasized that she also feels frustration at the slow process of the negotiations, but it “is a marathon, not a sprint—you can’t let your frustration get in the way. We have to train every single day”. Although the intent was to encourage youth to keep a positive attitude and keep up their participation in the conference, in my opinion the speech did come off as slightly condescending and paternalistic (more on that later—this is just an update, I will discuss this specific event in a coming post).

This afternoon, the delegation was fortunate enough to have lunch with Scott Stone, a Washington University School of Law alum and practicing attorney who consults with the Dutch delegation.  Scott was generous with his time and shared his experiences and thoughts working in the international environmental negotiation arena.

After lunch, I headed for my second side event of the day, titled “REDD+ for Green Economy Development”, directed by the organization Conservation International. The panel highlighted the need for programs like REDD+ to work on a level beyond simple forest protection. The problem, panelist Richard McNally (from the Netherlands Development Organization) explained, encompasses social, economic, and institutional practices—therefore, “we need social, economic, and institutional solutions”. Peru has been working on implementing REDD+ programs in this way—they start at the community level, and work with the community to figure out what the people there need and want the most, and then slowly work up to the regional and national levels of the programs. And so far, these programs have been a huge success.

To wrap up the night, we had a great evening sharing our knowledge and stories with other university delegations from around the country. Vermont Law School hosted a small get-together in their apartment that included students from Brown, Duke, University of Montana, University of Waterloo, Swarthmore, and, of course, Wash U. It was a great chance to see what other people were doing here at the conference, as well as make connections with like-minded people. We hope to expand our connections into an actual network, which will allow students interested in research and policy based work to work together both at our respective homes and at the conference. Of course, this is looking far into the future, but I think we can make it happen!

WOW—what a crazy week, and I can’t believe it’s already over! More synthesis of information presented here will follow…. After I spend 18 hours sleeping on the planes tomorrow!

My Wednesday, Nov. 13th at COP 19

After I finished getting ready on the morning of Wednesday, November 13th I spent some time looking over the UNFCCC’s Wednesday Daily Programme. The Daily Programme is a PDF document posted online by UNFCCC conference organizers each evening that contains information about the following day’s sessions, side events, and special activities.

Unlike Tuesday’s agenda, Wednesday’s schedule contained few events related to the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) (the focus area of my and Caitlin M.’s group’s research), which was a tad disappointing. However, I was glad to see that a host of events would be taking place regarding REDD+ (the focus area of Caitlin L. and Rachel’s group’s research). Moreover, being successful in our research endeavors while at COP 19 will require me and Caitlin M. to develop and pursue connections with individuals and organizations that can offer critical perspectives on how the CDM’s Programme of Activities (PoA) could be made more just and more effective. So, a less rigid schedule would permit us to pursue the development of such connections.

First on my and Caitlin M’s agenda, however, was a YounGo morning organizing meeting (for a description of YounGo and its activities, please refer to previous posts). YounGo, which operates using a consensus-minus-one decision making process, spent the majority of its meeting time discussing whether to send a representative to a meeting being hosted by the World Bank regarding climate finance, to which they had been invited by the World Bank itself. I’ll offer a more personal reflection about this YounGo discussion and its result (three people vote against sending a youth representative, meaning that YounGo declined the World Bank’s invitation for YounGo representation at the meeting), but suffice to say that I found it fairly ironic that this youth organization, which has bemoaned the lack of youth participation in COP 19 negotiating processes, would reject a high-profile extraordinary opportunity to voice its concerns about a host of complicated, serious issues. More on this later.

Afterwards, Caitlin M. and I planned out the rest of our day’s agenda. Our second tasks consisted of following up with some connections that we’d made earlier in the week; for example, on Tuesday we met a former employee of the Belgian government agency tasked with buying Certified Emissions Reductions (CERs) associated with CDM and PoA projects, so we sent him an email asking if he could connect us to individuals within the Belgian delegation that are knowledgeable about the CDM. Next, we spent a large amount of time navigating the COP 19 exhibit booths, which were established by countries and NGOs in order to provide a space for conference attendees to converse about countries’ and NGOs’ climate commitments and initiatives. We met some very passionate people at the exhibits.

In between the aforementioned endeavors Caitlin M. and I found ourselves exploring the U.S. delegation’s outreach center (more on this later, too), consuming an inappropriate amount of coffee (our sleep schedules have been pretty whack this week), and touching base with Beth, Caitlin L., and Rachel (all of whom seemed to be keeping very busy, too). We also had the opportunity to learn about the historical context of the COP 19 negotiations.  This conversation was one of my favorite parts of today because after hearing what was said I felt much more grounded in the happenings of this conference.   We ended our time at the stadium attending a fairly corporation-centric panel discussion about future opportunities for carbon markets.

I enjoyed Wednesday’s dinner; Beth had scoped out an excellent traditional Polish restaurant, at which we enjoyed pierogis, mead, and other superb food. We stayed there for more than two hours, during which we took the time to decompress from our whirlwind of conference activities from the past three days. Back at the hostel, getting ready for bed was permeated by some thoughtful dialogue regarding consensus-based decision-making and climate activism at Wash U.

The week is now more than halfway over; I’m in the midst of processing what I’ve learned and how I will take those lessons back to WUSTL and St. Louis.

I’ll have another post soon. Until then, y’all.

Fossil of the Day & Ray of the Day


Each day of the conference, Climate Action Network (CAN) presents two awards, “Fossil of the Day” and “Ray of the Day.” The “Fossil of the Day” award is presented to a country judged to have done their best to block progress in the negotiations during that day. The “Ray of the Day” is given to countries that are a ray of hope of the past day of negotiations.

So far, here are the countries that have earned each award at COP19:

Fossil of the Day

Day 1: Austraila

Day 2: Poland

Day 3: 1st place: Australia, 2nd place: Turkey & “Fossil of Disbelief”: Canada

Ray of the Day

Day 1: “Ray of Solidarity”: the Phillipines

Day 2: Renewable Energy Loving Polish People

Day 3: Not announced yet

To read why each country was named either Fossil or Ray of the Day and why special awards have been created, check out CAN’s Fossil of the Day page.