IPCC Synthesis Report – Why Should We Care?

By breakfast tomorrow morning (NZ time), the IPCC will have released the final Synthesis Report of their Fifth Assessment on climate change. It will tie together the findings of three reports released over the last 13 months, covering the physical science of climate change (Working Group 1), vulnerability to climate impacts and adaptation (Working Group 2), and mitigation strategies to tackle climate change (Working Group 3). Having had time to mull over these earlier reports, we have a good idea of what the Synthesis Report might contain, so what makes this important?


Firstly we must acknowledge the scientific feat that this report represents: it pulls together five years of work by 830 authors, 1200 other contributors, draws on more than 30,000 pieces of research, and 3700 expert reviewers. That’s pretty damn epic.


Another unique feature of this report is the level of expectation surrounding it. In a month’s time, ministers from around the world will come together in Lima to agree to a draft text for the next global climate change agreement (to be settled in 2015 in Paris). The Fifth IPCC Synthesis Report will be the go-to text for policy makers seeking the science to inform and justify their policy positions going into these talks.


What makes the synthesis report even more interesting though is that it is released at the end of a week-long IPCC meeting in Copenhagen where government delegates have their last say on the contents of the report. While delegates cannot amend earlier findings and conclusions, they can ask for certain conclusions to be inserted into or eliminated from the draft Synthesis Report, shaping the way the findings will be communicated to the world.


So what will it tell us? Based on the previous three reports, and a leaked copy of the draft, here’s what we’re expecting…

  • unequivocal evidence of climate change in every part of the world (each of the last three decades has been successively warmer than any preceding decade since 1850)
  • greater than 95% likelihood that human agency is the dominant cause
  • if greenhouse gas emissions continue rising at current rates, average projected global temperature increase of 2.6-4.8C by the end of the century, and at least half a metre sea level rise
  • progressively greater risk of damaging and irreversible impacts as emissions continue
  • projected impacts on crop yields, water availability, coastal flooding, disease, extreme weather, species extinctions…
  • capacity for us to adapt will get progressively more difficult
  • costs of combatting climate change will continue rising with ongoing delay.

What are the contentious bits?

Developing countries have a bone to pick around how these impacts should be addressed, given a disparity in historical contribution to the problem and uneven distribution of the impacts. “We are not all facing the same situation,” according to Sanjay Vashist of the  Climate Action Network. “The IPCC has already predicted above 2 degrees C for South Asia, that means the disasters will be more threatening compared to other regions.”

Another sticking point may be the concept of a “carbon budget” included in this year’s reports. The IPCC worked out the amount of greenhouse gases that the world could emit stay within the 2 degrees target, finding that two-thirds of that budget had been used up by 2011, and that at current rates we’ll use the rest up in about 25 years. The inclusion of the carbon budget in the Synthesis Report has faced considerable opposition from political representatives from a number of countries, including India and the USA. India sees coal consumption as a key element of development and is in opposition to any potential restriction to this.

The inclusion or omission of the carbon budget in the Synthesis Report speaks to a broader question about how the IPCC will address the underlying truth that we simply need to stop extracting and burning fossil fuels. Essentially, unless our emissions peak within a decade or so and begin swiftly declining towards zero, staying within 2C is very unlikely, with pretty scary implications for the future.

Given the track record of UN meetings, where hours are devoted to negotiating market mechanisms such as carbon trading and carbon off-setting schemes, the need to bring an end to fossil fuel use (full stop) is a blunt reality, but one that I believe it is crucial for the IPCC to convey.

Whether the report speaks to this urgent and unavoidable need, or tip toes about the issue, could fundamentally impact the way the UN meetings unfold over the next twelve months. I hope they have the courage to stand by their conclusions and convey the urgency in no uncertain terms. Let’s see what the morning will bring us.


Written by Tarsh Turner


The good and bad of the Bonn proposal

Parties met this week in Bonn, Germany ahead of the Lima
conference, where a proposal put forward by New Zealand has been in
the spotlight.

What’s the proposal?

New Zealand proposes that countries each table a nationally determined
mitigation contribution, formalised in a national schedule. The
mitigation commitments will not be legally binding. The idea is that
ambition of mitigation commitments will be increased over time from
the beginning of the agreement until its purpose is achieved, subject
to force majeure.

Countries will have to provide information on measures that will
assist in the implementation of nationally determined mitigation
commitments, and report on progress towards achievement of the
commitment according to transparency arrangements agreed among the
Parties. There will be a common transparency framework applicable to
all parties.

The main argument for non-legally binding targets is that without the
fear of being held to international law, governments are more likely
to shoot for an ambitious emissions target. In addition, it is more
likely that countries such as the US will be able to ratify the
agreement if the targets are non binding.


The proposal is not immune from criticism, however. Equity is a
sticking point in the talks, and groups such as the LDC insist that
developed countries must do more than developing nations, due to
historic responsibility. In particular, the notion of common but
differentiated responsibility, perhaps the most debated phrase in the
entire UNFCCC, can be interpreted to suggest that developed countries
and developing countries should be held to differing standards.
However, New Zealand argues that fairness is built into the structure
of the proposal because wealthy countries will necessarily take on
greater ambition than emerging and developing nations, even though all
will be held to the same standards.

Non-binding targets also raise concerns about lack of
accountability.The lack of any legal recourse could lead to a weak
agreement that will not deliver the required levels of emissions cuts.

This plan is backed by the US, but many developing countries are
advocating for an agreement in which only developed nations are
legally obligated to cut emissions. It remains to be seen how well it
will hold up to the level of scrutiny it is likely to receive in Bonn,
and, most likely, Lima.

New York, Bonn and on to Lima

On Tuesday 23rd September an emergency UN climate summit was held in New York, called by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon. 125 world leaders attended – more than have ever assembled before. The hope was that if leaders could come together in the spirit of cooperation outside of the high pressure environment of the COP meetings, we may finally see some progress towards achieving a global agreement in Paris next year. There were glimpses of progress at the summit, such as China signalling it’s intention to peak emissions as soon as possible, but the danger is that much of it may prove to be hot air and empty rhetoric.

Meanwhile people around the world are taking to the streets. On Sunday 21st September a People’s Climate March united hundreds of thousands of people in 188 countries, with over 300, 000 marching in NYC alone. On Tuesday thousands more flooded Wall Street. The scale and global coordination of this movement was unprecedented. Their message was clear: it is time to stop talking and start taking action. We have watched governments negotiate for over twenty years, while emissions have continued to rise. We no longer have the luxury of time on our side; our window for action is closing. Several speeches at the UN summit, including that of Barack Obama, mentionedSunday’s climate march. “Our citizens keep marching. We cannot pretend we do not hear them,” the president said.

Yet there were still few commitments  seen at the summit, despite the congratulatory tone of the meeting. It seemed as if the representatives were happy enough with the turnout, rather than what was actually achieved as an outcome of the gathering. Real action on climate appeard to be left to business, cities and campaign groups

One person present who noticed the lack of commitment was the widow of Nelson Mandela,  saying world leaders had failed to rise to the challenge of climate change. “There is a huge mismatch between the magnitude of the challenge and the response we heard here today,” Graça Machel told the closing moments of the summit. “The scale is much more than we have achieved.” Although it is good to see someone with a clear hear head, this won’t make much of a difference if leaders don’t react to  Machel’s criticisms.

A six-day forum in Germany is currently underway. It must lay the foundations for the annual round of ministerial-level UN talks to be held in Lima [Peru] in December, Christiana Figueres told delegates as the meeting opened. “Today, dear delegates, the world’s eyes turn to you. It is up to you to chart the path of that solution.”

Negotiators face a difficult challenge of settling long-standing differences of opinion over how to share responsibility for curbing Earth-warming greenhouse gas emissions. The aim is to limit global warming to 2C above pre-Industrial Revolution levels, and save the planet from potentially catastrophic climate damage. The major question is whether the new agreement be an all inclusive international treaty, a loose voluntary pact or something in between. This question gets to the thorny issue of fairness, which has been a common theme at negotiations between rich and poor nations for decades.

As Figueres stressed, the new climate pact, due to enter into force in 2020, “must irreversibly bend the curb of emissions”, which have continued to rise. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that based on current trends, the planet could be up to 4.8C warmer by 2100 and sea levels up to 82 centimetres (32 inches) higher.

So where does New Zealand fit in to all of this?

“A representative from New Zealand did not speak summit in September due to issues arising from the recent election”, according to a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson. However Minister of Foreign Affairs Hon. Murray McCully did participate in the summit and New Zealand’s Climate Change Ambassador Jo Tyndall gave an address on behalf of the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases, highlighting the work of the Alliance.

In the recent past New Zealand has started to lean towards the thinking of the U.S.A, believing that developing countries such as China and India would have to agree to be held to the same legal standards in the next agreement. This suggests we would be looking to an international agreement, rather than a legally binding one solely for developed countries, much like the Kyoto Protocol.

A recent proposal issued by the New Zealand Government – “Submission to the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action Work Stream” – calls for countries to set domestic emissions targets of their choosing, then face legal obligations to give the United Nations a schedule for when those cuts will happen and to submit to binding review measures. The big numbers, though, the tonnes of climate pollution each nation will slash, would not be internationally legally binding. It seems to be another of those ‘get out of jail free’ cards for NZ. As Michael Dorsey, interim director of the energy and environment programme at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington, D. C. says, “when countries are given a pass — and a pass is voluntarism — without being forced to sign on the dotted line on a legally binding agreement, more often than not, countries don’t deliver on those commitments.”

For a delegate travelling to the negotiations this year, I hope to see something stronger from New Zealand, as this proposal would not achieve the 2 degree target. We need greater pressure from the New Zealand public, especially youth, on the government to put our futures first. Our own climate march drew 300 protesters to Queen Street in Auckland, a good number, but I think our voice could be much stronger.

If you’re keen to learn more about the Bonn conference, click here: http://youthdelegation.org.nz/2014/10/28/2508/








Next three years crucial window for climate action

“Three more years” was the cry of National supporters in the lead up to this election, and what a three years they promise to be. This will be a crucial period for action on climate change, with reports coming out almost weekly outlining the growing urgency to act. It is imperative that our government step up to address this, the challenge of our time. For in the words of Naomi Klein, “climate change isn’t an ‘issue’ to add to the list of things to worry about, next to health care and taxes. It’s a civilisational wake-up call… spoken in the language of fires, floods, droughts and extinctions.”


As a member of the New Zealand Youth Delegation to this years’ round of UNFCCC negotiations in Lima, my dream is to stand proudly alongside our government’s delegation, knowing that we are doing all we can to transition to a low/zero carbon economy. The success of the Lima conference will depend upon countries bringing strong commitments to the table, and New Zealand is currently lagging behind. Our government has set a target of a five percent reduction by 2020, but lacks a clear plan to get us there. New Zealand will need to make much greater commitments, backed by a clear plan to achieve them, if we are to be a part of tackling this shared problem.


New Zealand’s five percent target is woefully inadequate. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has found that developed countries need to reduce emissions between 25 and 40 percent by 2020 to keep below the 2° threshold.¹  Data released this week from the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) and Friends of the Earth indicates that developed nations such as New Zealand will need to make even more ambitious cuts in order to have a globally fair pattern of decarbonisation which recognises historical emissions.²


What’s more, we must act now; according to the International Energy Agency’s chief economist Fatih Birol, we must make major changes by 2017. If not, our existing energy infrastructure will use up our entire carbon budget for keeping global average warming to 2°C, the ‘safe’ limit which governments have agreed upon.³ Essentially, if we don’t act now we may end up “locked in” to dangerous levels of climate change.


It is far past time for the Right to step up to confronting the enormity of climate change: this is not a left wing  ‘issue’, but a global threat to our ability to thrive on this planet, and our leaders must grant it the importance and urgency that it deserves. There are many here in New Zealand who understand this. In the lead up to this election, 62, 000 kiwis signed on as ‘Climate Voters’, pledging to use their vote to support action on climate change, and over 13, 000  tuned in to the live streaming of the Greenpeace-hosted Climate Voter Debate. Working on this campaign gave me a unique insight into just how many New Zealanders are concerned about climate change, and what a diverse group we are. We understand the complexity of addressing climate change, and we are hungry for climate change policy to transcend party politics. As John Key enters another term in government, we are his mandate for introducing bold targets and strong policies. It is time for Key to act upon our mandate and deliver credible action on climate. The people, and the science, demand it.




1. http://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/

2. http://www.climatefairshares.org/

3. http://www.iea.org/publications/worldenergyoutlook/publications/weo-2011/


Preaching to the converted: why the climate change sermon needs to be rewritten for the general public.

Going to COP19, it was easy to get swept away with the rhetoric. You meet with hundreds of people who already share the same views as you do. You bond instantly with someone because you know you will at least have something in common, an interest in climate change so great that you were willing to travel half way around the world to talk about it.  The conference almost felt like a comic book convention, with everybody bonding over our shared ecological nerdiness. We loved, or disliked, specific characters, which at any one time seemed to be part of both a heroic and villainous plotline. Christiana Figueres, in her pint-sized mightiness, was also known as C-Fig, a pseudonym that could be seen equally as a term of endearment and disdain. And then there was Marcin Korolek, who throughout the deliberations remained stern, muttering clear and short sentences with very little emotion, only breaking a smile at the final meeting when decisions were made. He reminded me of Gru from Despicable Me, the bad guy at the beginning who you eventually learn has a heart of gold…or perhaps still coal, I have not made my mind up about him just yet.

These two figures were only one of many powerful people who have helped in creating a specific image and message about the climate change. Ban-Ki Moon attended the conference for a few days, his Yoda-like messaging about what was needed to be done by all parties was well-respected, but again seemed to only add to the thousands of voices all saying the same thing, but following through with very little action.

Civil society appears to have had too much and not enough information about climate change from these types of high-level discussions. It is easy to forget that what I and others attending the event know about global warming has taken months and even years, cultivating a specific mindset and developing our own ideas about what should be done to reduce emissions and adapt to the effects of global warming. Most of the world’s population does not have this luxury. Yet we continue to talk within these secret circles, these alienating covens, which make most of civil society feeling uninvited, or disinterested, in gathering knowledge or adding their own views.

Climate change negotiations appear to many as a type of church where the same sermon is being repeated over again, with the following asleep on the bleachers (or bean bags). Those who have sinned, the major global emitters, can simply pay their way out of hellfire, through carbon trading schemes or funding for developing countries, without actual good. Those who have not yet been converted are chastised as being ignorant or even evil. Many at COP19 were surprised to find during the second week a stall by a group of climate skeptics. This followed the actions of the organisers, who had originally had the introduction of the smartphone app describing climate change as a natural phenomenon that has occurred for millennia. The disregard for an agreement on what global warming is and how it can be dealt is complicated, but it cannot be easily ignored by advocating one particular view. We should instead seek to build stronger relationships that we currently vilify.

I intend to reach out to parenting and cultural groups as a way of expanding public knowledge about what is it at stake, and my team mates will be working tirelessly at home connecting with businesses, local environmental agencies. They will also make climate science more easily accessible. By doing so, we hope to help civil society feel empowered to making changes that go beyond recycling or using less fuel. These tasks remain important, but if we are serious about the scale of climate change, we need to properly address who is in power, placing increasing pressure on governments and corporations to make the necessary changes that are crucial to us all.

Climate change should not be seen as a cult, and it should not be dealt with by only the select few.  Laws can be changed, people’s buying habits can be altered, and society’s attitudes can shift. But in order for these important advances to be made, we must reach out to everybody.

By Meghan Stuthridge

Operation Now: can the results of COP19 revitalize faith in the fate of our climate?

We have teetered over the edge of the climate talks now. The once bustling hallways of the stadium are now eerily empty, and the memories of the enthusiasm we had at the start of COP19 have faded. It is the final hour, metaphorically rather than literally speaking. As per usual for these negotiations, the talks have continued for almost twenty six hours. Earlier today, the Fijian delegate stated during the closing plenary of the ADP agreement,”it’s been a long week, it’s been a long night, and now, it is becoming a long day.” And it was.

Tensions have been simmering under the surface rather than bubbling over here in Warsaw. The mundane nature of COP19 has been seen as both an advantage and a hindrance. There are many reasons why the negotiations should have intensified.  As the most corporate COP, the emotional speech by Yeb Sano following Typhoon Haiyan, the walk-out of the G77 and China during the loss and damage debacle have elevated the stakes, this has not necessarily led to additional pressure to put greater ambition on the table by negotiators. A sense of apathy has permeated the plenary walls, with the repetitive statements and a focus on the smaller processes rather than the bigger picture displeasing many. Breaking away from this stagnancy was the mass walk-out of the negotiations a day early by major NGOs and civil society members. Hundreds descended the stairs, adamant that they would return empowered in Lima, Peru next year, having done their own “homework” in their countries, a task they see their negotiators having so far failed. The need to have a solid draft of the ADP, a text that will need to have a legally binding agreement by all parties, cannot be understated.

The faith in the UNFCCC and the capabilities of a global pledge to tackling what is undoubtedly the greatest threat to all mankind comes under scrutiny at every COP. Having attended the conference for twelve days now, including spending the last twenty-four hours sleeping, eating and waiting inside the stadium’s walls, I remain unsure about the validity of this process. The first week seemed far more arbitrary then the last two days, sitting in the plenary, listening as leaders finalize the details of COP19. The three goals that were set for Warsaw have been achieved, including the establishment of a clear pathway for Paris, a financial constitution, and an institutional arrangement on loss and damage. All these successes are noteworthy, but they come at a cost for other mechanisms and the concerns of several parties.   New Zealand is not exempt from this criticism. In comparison to Doha last year, we have managed to avoid any controversy, not because we haven’t done anything negative, but because we really haven’t done anything. Having already abandoned the Kyoto Protocol Commitment Period Two, but maintaining the principles of this treaty, our work in Warsaw has been largely unobtrusive. Work is clearly being done, but only by increments, an approach reflective of the tentative and tactical dynamics of the COP as a whole. The ADP co-chair, following several repeated points by different parties stated that these were “constructive suggestions”, but they were not “constructive surgery.” The negotiations feel like a patient waiting on a table, anesthetized, but not yet receiving a lifesaving operation.

For example, mitigation, an issue that remain absolutely paramount to our ability to limiting a temperature increase to .5 degrees, has been overwhelmed by a focus on financial mechanisms in relation to adaptation and loss and damage.  This appears to be a convenient distraction from the reality that such measures, while undeniably crucial, will not be sufficient without a considered effort to raise ambition. Major carbon players continue to place their hands up higher and walk away faster from their original emission targets. Japan and Australia were the major perpetrators this year, both lowering their ambition that will mean an increase in emissions. Japan  has a new target of 3.8% pre-2005 levels by 2020, and Australia has altogether abandoned efforts to reduce emission between 5 to 25% of 2000 levels by 2020.  If we keep changing the rules, how are we supposed to win the game?

Tony Abbott’s philosophy is a childish one, believing that Australia should not reduce emissions by at least 5% until he sees commitments from other nations, a stance New Zealand took at Doha. This whole “I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours” mentally is not only problematic, but is also gravely unfair. The Emissions Trading Scheme has largely failed, carbon credits have become cheap tokens in the gamble with our climate, and developed countries continue to question the needs of developing countries for funding in order to mitigate and adapt to the challenges they face. The adoption of the loss and damage mechanism was held back because of the phrasing that it would under adaptation and remains under provision. The stress has been placed on developing countries to follow terms set by the players of the umbrella group, especially the pushy United States. As Yeb also said on behalf of his G77 comrades: “yet again, we are the ones who have to bend backwards.”  If we allow major political and business powers to determine climate action, it seems that actual change will be an unattainable goal that even the light at the top of Eiffel Tower in 2015 cannot save.

I leave COP19 still hopeful that parties will have a greater realization that they must do more. I have seen unwavering dedication from negotiators, but I have also seen the important rolet civil society play at these deliberations. Last night, I participated in an action where we chanted phrases outside the plenary from the stadium stands.  Our echoes shattered any illusions that may have been shielded the truth of how these negotiations were really going. While some leaders seemed annoyed, others smiled. I have faith that we can continue to support them and impact our own futures. I, for one, will not give up. See you in Peru.

By Meghan Stuthridge.

R.I.P badge

I voluntarily handed in my badge today, along with at least 800 others in a civil society walk-out from the climate change negotiations. Just so people don’t think I was silly or being a bit of a douche-bag (I know how hard it was for people to get badges this year) I wanted to make clear why I thought it was important to be part of this action.

I knew right from the outset that expectations were not high for this conference. This conference was just supposed to be one stepping stone on the way the 2015 agreement, and the predictions were that there would not be many headline outcomes. That said – it was an important stepping stone. A draft agreement was scheduled to be put on the table in 2014 and, for that to happen, quite a lot of progress needed to be made in 2013.

Everybody knows that the negotiations are slow and go in circles a lot – but this year was particularly bad in a number of ways and I’m glad some sort of whistle was blown.

All countries’ pledges so far in terms of reducing their emissions have been too low to keep global warming below 2 degrees, and there has been a big push for countries to starts raising their targets in the lead-up to 2015. I had thought that with climate change impacts becoming clearer and clearer (loss and damage looks like it might become a third pillar of the talks, and typhoon Haiyan was only 2 weeks ago) ambition would increase at least a little – but to actually see countries revising their current targets downwards makes me feel panicky. I don’t even know if we’ll get a roadmap to 2015 out of these talks, and former head of the UNFCCC Yvo de Boer stated this week that he doesn’t even think that a 2015 agreement that will keep us below 2 degrees is still possible.

I don’t even actually feel angry. I just feel scared. I think everybody here feels this way. If we already see phenomena like typhoon Haiyan at just 0.8 degrees warming, what does 2 degrees (let alone the 4 degrees we’re on track for) look like?

But I don’t want to keep talking on this note, there’s already enough doom and gloom on the climate change front – so I’ll talk about the action instead. As we were walking away from the de-briefing on the action today, a girl said that this was the first time in the entire COP she had actually seen people smiling. It had been a really successful, really beautiful action. Apparently that many major NGOs all joining together in a single action was unprecedented at a COP.

I have now seen angry protests, and celebratory protests, this was my first sad protest – but I mean that in the best possible way. I think the song that was being sung sums up the mood best – I still believe deep in my heart that we will overcome someday. It also seemed to me to be a mature protest. We weren’t abandoning the UNFCCC process – we recognise that what happens here is just a reflection of the political will back at our respective homes. If countries aren’t setting up the right infrastructure and policies at home, there’s not much they can bring to the negotiation tables in terms of pledges.

So we’re all going to work hard to mobilise even more people back at home, and Peru and Paris are going to see a whole different story. #volveremos – we will be back.


I Have Walked Out

Today I officially walked out of the climate negotiations. I handed in my badge with 8 hundred others in an act of solidarity. We are in disbelief at the lack of ambition that has been bought to these negotiations.

I have walked out to send a message to Governments – we cannot afford to delay these talks anymore! We came to COP19 to see ambitious pledges and a clear path forged for the agreement to be made in 2015. Instead we have seen backwards steps taken by some countries namely Japan, Canada and Australia. We have seen other countries delay progress. We have seen no significant financial pledges made to scale up long term finance. Our scientists tell us we need to peak emissions by 2017 – we are not even close to that with the current ambition.

I have walked out because this is the most powerful message I can send to countries to get serious. Go back home and consult your people, tell them how significant the challenge we face is. Go to Lima (COP20) with ambitious targets and a willingness to create an agreement that reflects what is needed. I have walked out because I can no longer add anything to these negotiations. All I can do now is go home and teach people what I have learnt and encourage my country to stand up for what is right.

By Matt Gibbons

Click here to see the WWF report on the walk out.