Field Dispatch from COP23

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A few days ago, I joined the 23rd Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Bonn. This was the shortest trip among my three COP participations, but on 9 November I had the opportunity to moderate a great side-event co-hosted by SDSN Youth on how public and private actors can invest more effectively in youth-led innovation on climate and energy. It was incredibly interesting to join many young innovators and high-level experts from the Green Climate Fund, the Climate Markets and Investments Association, the SDG Action Campaign and the Government of Canada to explore the gaps in innovation systems that prevent brilliant projects from reaching their optimal scale. Huge thanks to all involved, and vinaka vakalevu to Fiji for bringing their call for global climate action to Germany! You can read the summary of the side-event on SDSN Youth’s website (here).

On a side note, I also had the fortuitous privilege of sitting next to Dënesųłiné Chief François Paulette on my flight to Bonn. To discuss the struggle of the First Nation peoples of Canada against tar sands with him was nothing short of incredible. As it usually happens during COPs, it’s the encounters you have, often with stories so radically diverse from yours, that leave a mark.

In particular, meeting Chief Paulette made me appreciate once again the UNFCCC process and its ability to create an inclusive forum for all voices to be heard and respected. It might not be ideal when negotiations stall (and this year there is indeed much to be unhappy about), but the ever-increasing role played at COPs by non-state and civil society actors is encouraging. It confirms that the climate change regime constitutes the first successful attempt at creating a truly universal movement to protect our global public goods.

  • For an analysis of the key outcomes of COP23, read this report from Carbon Brief.

P.S. I am happy to announce that this blog was recently identified by Feedspot, a popular content reader, as one of the Top 100 Environmental Law blogs on the internet. You can find the full list here.

 

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New CTEI Working Paper on trade and climate change

A study I recently co-authored (with Rana Elkahwagy and Vandana Gyanchandani) for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development is now out as a Working Paper of the Centre for Trade and Economic Integration (CTEI) of the Graduate Institute of Geneva. It was prepared under the supervision of Prof. Joost Pauwelyn and Prof. Anne Saab as part of TradeLab, an independent NGO which brings together students, academics and practitioners to provide pro bono legal advice on international trade and investment matters to developing countries and other smaller stakeholders.

The study, entitled ‘UNFCCC Nationally Determined Contributions: Climate Change and Trade‘, assesses the legal interactions between the Paris Agreement and international trade in the light of country commitments under their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). More specifically, the study seeks to achieve a better understanding of the impacts of the ‘response measures’ contained in the NDCs on economic diversification, including their interplay with existing trade rules, in order to build mutual supportiveness between the climate and trade regimes while also contributing to broader sustainable development objectives.

You can read the working paper here.

Statement on COP21 participation

Conférence des Nations Unies sur les changements climatiques - COP21 (Paris, Le Bourget)
Conférence des Nations Unies sur les changements climatiques – COP21 (Paris, Le Bourget)

The Paris Agreement is a done deal. Despite its foreseeable shortcomings, it is a global climate agreement that will shape transformational pathways of change for our economies and societies in the next decades and beyond. Every young individual around the world should read this text, or learn more about it from the excellent reviews that are already available online (one of my favorites here).

Personally, I am glad and honored to have spoken in a few side events at COP21 this past week to highlight issue of biodiversity conservation within the new climate change regime and to promote the active involvement of youth in the implementation of the climate agenda. I was also extremely pleased to attend the Global Landscapes Forum on December 5-6, which highlighted the many linkages that exist between ecosystems and climate change and showed the importance of building broad coalitions of governments, business, and civil society to address the challenges that landscapes are facing everywhere on our planet.

As the Project Leader for Solutions Initiatives at the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network – Youth, I have come in contact with many young people from around the world whose brilliant and tireless work on climate change only awaits to be recognized and supported by institutions, experts, and investors at all relevant levels. In 2016, we will continue to streamline such work in every forum and to help them implement and scale their transformative ideas and solutions.

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The Social Dimension of Environmental Sustainability (document)

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Poster of the seminar “Health, Social Inclusion, Sustainable Development” (Siena, 20 May 2014)

On May 20, 2014 I had the pleasure of featuring as a speaker along with Tommaso Diegoli (Project Manager of MED Solutions) and Gianluca Breghi (Managing Director of Fondazione Sclavo) during the seminar “Health, Social Inclusion and Sustainable Development. Global and Regional Challenges“, co-hosted by Greening USiena and Fondazione Sclavo in partnership with MED Solutions and the University of Siena. As the title of the event suggests, covered topics included the progress on the MDGs, the transition to the SDGs, the push to achieve health for all, social sustainability as a pillar of sustainable development, perspectives for the Mediterranean region and so on.

My talk (“The Social Dimension of Environmental Sustainability”), in particular, focused on the mutual relationship that exists between social and environmental sustainability, analyzing the importance of a healthy bio-physical environment for livelihoods and societies and presenting examples of such an interaction throughout areas ranging from climate change to the plight of natural resources during armed conflicts.

Below you can find slides from my presentation (in pdf format), the content of which mainly relied on data and reports from UNSDSN, UNDP, UNEP, IPCC, FAO, TEEB. It was divided in the following sections:

a) Section 1: What exactly is social sustainability?
b) Section 2: Why “the social dimension of environmental sustainability”?
c) Section 3: Interactions: the Millennium Development Goals
d) Section 4: Interactions: the impact of climate change
e) Section 5: Interactions: armed conflicts and violence
f) Section 6: Conclusions

Download the document here:

Europe’s woes? Look in the mirror

by Dario Piselli, Greening USiena coordinator

As we anticipated a few days ago, I (acting as the coordinator of Greening USiena) participated to a public meeting with European Commissioner for the Environment Janez Potočnik last friday. The initiative, which took place at Stazione Leopolda in Pisa, focused on the challenge of achieving a sustainable use of resources within the European Union, and was aimed (like other similar events that occurred in Naples, Rome and Turin) at encouraging a mutual conversation between EU institutions, citizens, students and associations of the member states on different issues which are seen as key ones for the future of Europe.

Several topics were touched during the 2-hour debate, such as the need to abandon our current model of development if we are to meet the challenge of a sustainable society, the shortcomings of the industrial production of goods (including the urgency for longer life-cycles, better waste disposal and so on), the relationship between EU environmental policies and global sustainable development, green chemistry, rural areas’ role in globalization and, obviously, the short circuit that exists between the ongoing economic crisis, green investments and the protection of ecosystems. There was, however, a far-reaching (yet underrated) hurdle which kept recurring through all the talks, as it did not consist in a conceptual issue, but rather in a methodological one: the negative impact of member states’ positions on Europe’s environmental legislation.

Indeed, while on one hand the meeting was falsely reassuring (in the way that all such initiatives are, provided that their goal is to 546022_238983459580236_1944687831_ninject public opinion with some sort of confidence towards european institutions’ pursuit of common good, despite the fact that they usually involve simple Q&A sessions), on the other it looked extremely helpful and effective in stressing how sometimes (thanks in part to the ongoing economic crisis) we end up misrepresenting the sources of Europe’s recent (and endemic) woes. In other words, as Mr. Potočnik put it (and as we often seem to forget), the European Commission’s role merely consists of proposing legislation, not adopting it, the latter being a power that pertains to the Council of the Ministers and, sometimes, to the Parliament. So, if we are to find a guilty, maybe we should start cleaning up our own houses by thinking to how member states (i.e. our native countries!) have long mismanaged the opportunities that the EU membership gave them and to how they are now blocking crucial progress on several environmental issues in the name of parochial interests.

Examples of this behavior, some of which surfaced during the meeting, are countless: from Italy’s chronic delay in the implementation European directives (such as in the case of common waste treatment’s rules) to UK’s veto on a recent proposal which aimed at banning the agricultural use of neonicotinoid pesticides, which have been proven lethal to bees population, going through the ferocious battle that continues to surround the debate on Common Agricultural Policy and Common Fisheries Policy‘s reforms, Europe’s fading influence on international climate change talks (not to mention its failing Emission Trading Scheme)  and, last but not the least, a general lack of willingness to encompass sustainability policies into economic development as a way of changing a seemingly rock-solid paradigm of growth.

I am not going to comment in deep on those matters, since it will probably take more than an op-ed to do so, but nevertheless I believe that the given picture portrays the nature of the problem quite well: the Commission, which here and there has tried to do its best on4537287107_6d29c904a7_b many pressing issues (historically, it even was one the first institutions to be vocal about the shortcoming of Western model of development), has basically no power if member states decide to dodge reasoned arguments and embrace domestic interests instead. This is why very good reform proposals are constantly watered down when they reach the Council, and this is also why -in Mr. Potočnik’s words- Commissioners must usually avoid adopting bold commitments when they know that such measures will surely be rejected by a sufficient number of countries: considering that every state has its multitude of lobbies (most of which are enterprises that receive EU subsidies but don’t want to invest in sustainable practices in return), domestic interests, political gains to make, it is easy to see that environmental regulations come at a heavy cost most of the times.

In the end, if we want to address Europe’s woes (not only in the environmental field) we must realize that the Union is strong as long as its member states are credible, implement environmentally-sound national policies and then brandish them in order to lead on the international level. That is, we must look in the mirror and ask ourselves why ‘green’ governments which do so are nowhere to be found.

Forests are about more than survival

by Dario Piselli, Greening USiena coordinator

I am sorry for the late timing, but I thought some words were needed to address the firstInternational Day of Forests and the IDF_poster_ENTree, which was held yesterday after a UN December resolution declared that 21 March of every year was to observed as an occasion to “celebrate and raise awareness of the importance of all types of forests and trees outside forests“. Apart from the consideration that international occurrences may or may not be pivotal in achieving the goals they are concerned with, depending on countries’ willingness to commit to tackling the issues that have been raised, it should not be unfair to say that the recognition of the value of forest ecosystems and the services that they provide brings up one the biggest and most evocative challenges the human race and the planet are facing today. Forests are not only the core of the earth’s biosphere and the cornerstone of life, functioning as soil conservers, climate change regulators, primary producers, hydrologic flow modulators, habitats for wild species and holders of about 90% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity; in fact, their history is inextricably linked to mankind’s one, and mankind’s biological (but also anthropological) evolution has developed in strong connection with them. On one hand, forests still host roughly 2,000 indigenous cultures which deserve respect and the right to be held keepers of their environment (not to mention the need for us to leave them alone, recognizing their will for an autonomous model of development, that be really their own); on the other, they have accompanied human progress throughout time, providing man with a (seemingly) never ending source of food, building materials, heating sources, shelter and a (truly) never ending source of thought and mysterious fascination.

This is what strikes me the most about forests. Nearly everything that could have been said on the ecological, social and economical crisis that we may expect if we keep on destroying these ecosystems for livestock breeding, indiscriminate agriculture, paper, timber and so on is contained in the brilliant message that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has delivered yesterday (and that can be read here). But there is much more than that. There is, at least in me (and I hope in many), a deep sense of belonging, even though I never lived within close range of a ‘forest’; there is a sense of moral connection, of our shared place ‘in the family of things’, as Mary Oliver once put it; there is, finally, a sense of mutual relationship which has helped (and continues to) shape the world and our very same spirit, in the meantime.

This is especially evident in those indigenous cultures, to which I pointed earlier, that have retained and nurtured their likeness to the nature that surrounds them: without trees and forests, they simply wouldn’t exist, and not just because they would-Yasuni-National-Park-in--001 have developed another type of civilization, but especially because they would have lost their identity. However, it is not exclusive of them. Through the centuries, there have been men who have worshipped forests and protected them, by words or by action, from destruction; and they have done so for more than their beauty, and surely for more than that (sometimes) emotionless adhesion people express for a cause which is being put forward by an NGO they donate to. What these men (think of John Muir, for instance) pursued was not the somehow egoistic goal of defending their primary mean of survival and existence (and that especially because in the nineteenth century no one could even imagine mankind facing the global challenges we need to address today); what they pursued was the recognition of us and the forests being part of the common tissue of life, a tissue which encompasses a ‘give and take’ mentality (and not a ‘Giving Tree’ mentality) but which also goes beyond physical interactions to penetrate the very heart of human history on this planet earth, and they did so because they understood that “in wildness is the preservation of the world”.

(from The Maine Woods, Chesuncook – by Henry David Thoreau)

john_muir_washington_column“Strange that so few ever come to the woods to see how the pine lives and grows and spires, lifting its evergreen arms to the light, — to see its perfect success; but most are content to behold it in the shape of many broad boards brought to market, and deem that its true success! But the pine is no more lumber than man is, and to be made into boards and houses is no more its true and highest use than the truest use of a man is to be cut down and made into manure. There is a higher law affecting our relation to pines as well as to men. A pine cut down, a dead pine, is no more a pine than a dead human carcass is a man. Can he who has discovered only some of the values of whalebone and whale oil be said to have discovered the true use of the whale? Can he who slays the elephant for his ivory be said to have “seen the elephant”? These are petty and accidental uses; just as if a stronger race were to kill us in order to make buttons and flageolets of our bones; for everything may serve a lower as well as a higher use. Every creature is better alive than dead, men and moose and pine-trees, and he who understands it aright will rather preserve its life than destroy it.’