Under a health lense – COY13 and COP23

Storm washed away entire classrooms in hurricane Winston.
Storm washed away entire classrooms in hurricane Winston.

The 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP23) is this year presided over by Fiji, but hosted in Bonn, Germany for logistical and financial reasons.
This is a historic moment. The first time a Small Island Developing State (SIDS) has had the helm. And it couldn’t have come at a better time! 
Mr Frank Bainimarama himself is the president of the COP and has stated that Fiji is focused on completing the Paris work program, the newly renamed ‘Talanoa Dialogue’ (instead of facilitative, much nicer as this is about inclusive, thoughtful discussions), the Climate Action Agenda, Oceans, Disaster Risk Insurance, the Indigenous Peoples Platform and the Gender Action Plan.
Fiji seem to be really taking the lead and providing strong leadership already in these areas. I am cautiously hopeful of some movement with them already so strongly affected by climate disasters, ocean and agricultural changes and rising sea levels. I was in remote Fijian island groups last year with Sea Mercy, on a mission post the record-breaking Cyclone Winston and am personally moved by having people in control that are so affected, in so many ways.

Children stand in front of destroyed houses 6 months after Fiji’s hurricane Winston.


A recent analysis of the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) and Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) of countries, the path they have committed to meet their own goals of the Paris Agreement, found only 65% had included any mention of health. Only 90 countries mentioning it in the context of mitigation. So we still have a long way to go in terms of awareness and policy lobbying.

Much media attention has also been given to where health and climate meet due to the recent release of ‘Tracking progress on health and climate change’,  by The Lancet Countdown. Just in time for COP, they estimated that 9 million premature deaths in 2015 were from pollution, ’three times more deaths than from AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined, 15 times more than from all wars and other forms of violence.’
They unpack the true costs of air, water and soil pollution that has been ignored for so long, often in the name of ‘economic ‘progress’. They also recommended cost-effective measures to tackle the problems, including implementing monitoring systems and having timely accountability associated, working with business and local councils and being willing to confront vested interests.
There was also a special mention of the responsibilities of health professionals – that we need to control the pollution and emissions of the health sector that make up a large footprint in society. Lead by example by reducing in our own lives, support climate planning at all levels, develop climate focused health curriculum and ‘support research in exposure science, environmental science, health policy research and health economics.’

Partnerships between government, civil society, and the health professions have proven powerfully effective in past struggles to control pollution. For example, in the ultimately successful effort to remove lead from gasoline, which was fiercely resisted for many years by the lead industry, partnerships were built between government agencies, health professionals, and civil society organisations.

The study has been widely picked up by the media and will be very useful for reference in the negotiations.

I arrived in Bonn early, to attend the 13th Conference of Youth. With 1300 participants from 114 countries. It was an incredible conference, organised and ran completely by volunteer youths. It really was a model to follow in terms of sustainability. For example all catering was vegan or ‘recovered’, from bakeries and such who couldn’t sell the products the day before. It was extremely inspiring, productive and uplifting conference. They also made it a free conference with meals only 5Euro and securing a very low transport ticket for the participants as well, really ensuring the lowest barriers to participation that were possible.
Health featured a lot more than I thought it would – with five education sessions held on various aspects of health and climate, very necessary as many people still don’t see the relevance immediately as it is not clear in the text and discussions currently.

Emily teaches a Care About Climate session with Sarah Voska at COY13

I co-ran two sessions on the psychology of engaging people, making sure we make our efforts as effective as possible, knowing what approaches turn people off and what gets people to be open to new ideas and change. For a quick rundown of some of these very useful concepts, you can watch these short videos – Psychology for a Better World by Niki Harre and Science Of Persuasion based on Dr. Cialdini’s book, Influence.

I was also alerted to a relatively new health organisation, The European Environment and Health Youth Coalition (EEHYC), that is specifically targeting policies in the EU where health is impacted by environmental issues.
The first platform was created with the support of the WHO in Lithuania, but also now they have platforms in Hungary, Slovenia, Ukraine, Croatia, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom.
They are the first youth health alliance I know of with the focus purely on environmental issues and they are very excited at the support they are receiving to engage in the space.
Outside of youth, the EU do have the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) and Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) that operates in the EU.

EEHYC ran an action challenge, giving out 200 pedometers to encourage and remind people of the importance of active transport and during the climate march held on the 4th, a large group of local young health professionals turned up in coats and masks, asking for the end of coal mining.

Climate Sign
COY13 Stands in Solidarity for Climate Action with Fiji PM & COP23 President Frank Bainamamara, Exec. Secretary Patricia Espinosa, and UNFCCC Focal Point on Education & Youth, Adriana Valenzuela.


In general, I am feeling very hopeful. I was quite emotional seeing how many developing countries and women were being empowered to speaking positions and were even just able to attend. Partly due to a huge effort by the volunteer coordinators to facilitate and find funding for global south scholarships this year. Of course not enough, but a huge difference to what I have seen in the past.
A 19 year old samoan girl, who studies at Auckland University, brought me to tears at the closing ceremony. I was so proud of her poise, power and mana she brought. One beautiful thing she said was regarding a saying they have in Samoa, that the fastest canoe is one with an elder steering but with the youth providing the momentum.
I left feeling supported, enlightened, connected and empowered. Ready for COP23, where we have 1 year to get all of the Paris Agreement details finalised and that momentum is needed in many other areas of negotiations if we want a realistic chance of staying below 2 degrees C.

If you want to follow, comment, support or be involved with my progress at this COP, feel free to follow me on twitter @emilyjoyrushton or through Care About Climate’s facebook page.
I will endeavour to find time to report back after each week. 🙂
Bula vinaka!

Emily at COP22 in 2016

 Emily Rushton is a New Zealand nurse, currently living in France and doing a Masters in Health, Sustainability and Wellbeing. She has been an active participant in the United Nations Climate negotiations for 1.5 years, focusing mainly on agriculture’s intersection with health and empowering youth. In 2016 she was runner-up for the NZ young Nurse of the year for her climate education outreach through OraTaiao: New Zealand’s Health and Climate Council. She also directs Care About Climate’s mentorship program, Climate Ambassador’s, as well as being part of the coordinating team of the youth constituency of the UNFCCC.

We’re Still In?

Tagalano Roa United Nations Climate change conference 2017 Bonn GermanyOn June 1st, President Donald Trump announced that the US would be pulling out of the Paris Agreement. But next week, he’ll be sending the Rex Tillerson’s third-ranking state department official and undersecretary for political affairs, Tom Shannon, to lead the US delegation at a United Nations conference in Germany to work with world leaders on the details of the Paris Agreement’s implementation.

Shannon will be on his way next week to join UN delegates, and representatives from industry, non-profits, universities, Indigenous groups and local governments to hash out the rules for implementing the Paris Agreement. Written in 2015, it was signed by 196 countries and so far has been ratified by 169. The only county in the UN that has not signed the agreement is Syria.

It’s difficult to understand the US’s position on climate change. President Trump, during his campaign and while in office has called for our removal from the Paris Agreement. The United States cannot officially withdraw from the treaty until 2020, so the US delegation will be there to negotiate the rules for measuring & tracking emissions. Their delegation will be Huffington Post John Kerry UNFCCC Climate Change Conference Marrakechmuch smaller than last year’s 90 person delegation, led by John Kerry, and they will not host an official US pavilion, which traditionally has been a space to engage with civilians, share relevant NASA or EPA data, and host presentation on how US public and private sector are engaging to combat climate change.  The delegation will mostly be there to protect US interests by ensuring that other countries are being transparent in their reporting methods and actually meeting their commitments.

Many environmental leaders are stepping up to fill the void of a smaller US presence in the conference. We’re Still In is a collaboration of state governors, mayors, CEOs, university presidents and tribal leaders representing about 120 million people (more than a third of the US population) who are committing their governors, mayors, businesses investors and universities global leaders reducing carbon footpringstates, cities, businesses, schools and nations to the Paris Agreement.  They are hosting an unofficial US pavilion, and sponsoring educational seminars and workshops to show the world that at the local level, US citizens are doing something to combat climate change.

Because the Constitution reserves the power of signing international treaties for the Federal government, this commitment is unofficial, and symbolic. But leaders of these groups firmly believe that action on climate change is absolutely necessary from a public health, economic and social justice standpoint. If we don’t act now to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, we’ll face rising sea levels, more ferocious extreme weather events- among the likes of Maria and Irma, droughts and heat waves that destroy cropland- and increased migration & conflict around the world.

Caroad2paris USA climate change UNFCCC COP23

Former Mayer Michael Bloomberg (NYC), Gov. Jerry Brown (CA) and other prominent leaders from local governments will be leading the charge at this year’s conference. Both have mobilized private funds to support projects to reduce emissions worldwide. The Paris Agreement calls for $100 billion USD to be raised each year for 5 years, in order to help developing countries pay for the costs of sustainable development investments and rebuild after climate change related flooding or other disasters. Their presence at the conference will be part of a larger conversation going on there, a conversation to better engage those who don’t work in the government: to hear their concerns and use them as a resource to better enforce the Paris Agreement. Through this Facilitative Dialogue, countries will be able discuss what progress has been made since Paris, and ramp up efforts to meet their commitments to the Paris Agreement.

What makes the Paris Agreement unique from past UN climate change treaties is that each country is only hold to what they commit to contributing. So the US isn’t being told they have to pay anyone, our negotiators determined what would be a realistic amount that would fit our budget. The US has also committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 28% below 2005 levels. This sense of personal responsibility is part of what has inspired cities across the nation to prioritize renewable energy, promote LEED certification or green roofs, and take an audit of their energy consumption and emissions to see where they can become more efficient. Companies are seeing the returns of engaging in corporate social responsibility, not to mention the economic benefits of corporate sustainability policies. It has become clear to open minded leaders in government and industry that movement towards sustainability is not just economically and socially viable, but absolutely necessary for the United States. So let’s stand together and let the rest of the world know that We’re Still In.

By Sarah Voska

 

Sarah Voska is a delegate to the UN climate change conference, COP23, representing Care About Climate. Care About Climate is a 501-C non-profit that works in climate change education and communication. She studies Sustainable Management at University of Wisconsin-Parkside. Use the #ClimateSign to join the fight against climate change. Contact us at careaboutclimate@gmail.com with any questions!