Washington University Students for International Collaboration on the Environment

Blog series 1—MOU submission at Cancun COP16

Summer Jiakun Zhao
Hello guys! Again! These series of blogs record the things I experienced, the people I met and the thoughts I had in Cancun. I apologize for putting these up this late as I was too overwhelmed while I was there and was flooded with finals after I came back. But here they are! I tried to be as detailed as possible so even if I cannot talk to you in person, you might have an idea of what was going on in Cancun. I will continue to post on our blogs.

Firstly let me talk about the submission of MOU.

At COP16, I was totally overwhelmed with so many things going on at the same time. Every one thinks what they do is unique, and one’s voice is always diluted by all kinds of NGO events, side events and the huge plenary sessions. I have thought for a thousand times how to deliver the students’ voices, and the best scenario of presenting this MOU slipped past my head—it would be so awesome if I could bring these two chief delegations together to accept this MOU. But it was entirely impossible since I might not even have a chance to meet either of them at all.

However, it is always good to believe. It was interesting how everything happened before the two chief negotiators from U.S. and China signed on the Memorandum of Understanding created by the student delegates at the WUSICE U.S.-China Undergraduate Conference on Climate Change and Sustainability held at Washington University in St. Louis.

The night before I set up a quick appointment with Mr. Su Wei, the chief climate negotiator for China. With the help from a Chinese officer, we were able to meet outside Maya, the COP negotiation room. (The whole process was very complicated so I will leave this part out) John Delurey, our Wash U delegate came to Cancun and joined me in presenting the MOU to Su Wei. When Su Wei came out, I explained to him in Chinese the U.S.-China conference WUSICE put up together and how the Chinese and American student delegates produced the MOU during the final Mock Cop-16 event. Then John talked to him in English, saying that only after the conference did he realize there are so many difficulties and barriers in the climate change negotiations, especially because he was representing China during the conference; however, there were still ways to find solutions and compromises. Su Wei was very happy listening to what he said, and he talked in English, saying that there ARE real difficulties existing between these two countries, and he was very delighted to see that students had begun such dialogs and mutual communications.
Then he signed on the MOU with the comments “You guys are really doing great things. Keep doing.”

Then the dramatical thing happened. While we were taking pictures, Jonathan Pershing passed by. While Pershing was laughing and making fun of Su Wei meeting with two students, Su Wei began to shout at Pershing: “Jonathan! Jonathan come!” Pershing did not take it seriously and kept walking by. I met with Pershing at one of his briefings the other night and already submitted the MOU to him, so I kind of know him. Instinctively, I jumped out and chased after Pershing, crying: “Jonathan, Jonathan!” Then he turned back and walked to us.

Then it is how this picture was taken. Su Wei passed the MOU and a pen to Pershing, saying “I signed it. You should sign it too!” Jonathan was a little bit hesitant and joked with him: “Are you sure? Is it the legally binding agreement?” Every one was laughing while Pershing wrote on the MOU: “Only through dialogues can we find solutions.” Then we took a picture together, which marked the moment when the two national negotiators accepted the document created by the students from U.S. and China, agreeing to combat climate change.

Back to the night at Pershing’s briefing: I got a chance to raise a question for him. “There are many U.S. and China youth collaborations going on both at COP16 and back at our school. Back in St. Louis, WUSICE held a U.S.-China Conference….where U.S. and Chinese students came together and produced the MOU, which summarizes their agreements on topics like MRVs and Financing. I would love to submit it to you after the briefing. We know that mutual understandings and trust are very important for international negotiations. So my question is that as China has already made compromises on promoting transparency, would America also remove the barriers to aspire to reach at a binding agreement?”

He responded that he would love to take the MOU and read it and give some feedbacks. He also mentioned that his daughter is attending school in Chicago and was also interested in environmental policy issues. Then he answered the question that actually he and Su Wei met a lot outside the conference centers. They had teas and meetings frequently and they talked about a broad realm of issues. They have sought cooperation in different areas and things are very complicated between these two countries. “But it is not like if you solve this part, then the entire problem is fixed.” Well……Although he did not hit directly on the question I was asking, I am satisfied already by the fact that he would be willing to accept the students’ voice and really READ it.

Now that they both signed on the document, I bet they would READ this masterpiece between our awesome delegates from Fudan and Wash U! More importantly, we let them know that we students had begun such dialogs and collaborations; we warned them that if they do not take actions, we would replace them and do the right things!

Feng Gao(the gentleman who stands on my left) has been the UNFCCC secretariat of Legal Affairs for five years. His opinions are very insightful for how things work inside the UN regime, so it was very lucky I got to talk to him and submit the MOU to him.(His signature also appears on the cover of our MOU.) I would like to share some of his insights with you here.

While we were talking, he expressed his frustrations for the progress of the international negotiations. The U.N. negotiations had not been very effective or successful, so in the future maybe more and more countries would drop off from the negotiations. He said that the process is too slow and America is the biggest obstacle for current international climate negotiation. Other developing countries would not support the agreement unless developed countries take the lead, but America is too reluctant in pushing for a legally binding agreement. It is not something that Jonathan Pershing could change by himself; if the American government, the people in the Congress and the President himself do not support any forms of Kyoto Protocol, then there is little Pershing could do. He is the executive but not the ultimate decision maker. The main problem lies in America, America itself. Over fifty percent of Republicans do not believe in climate change; then what change will the current congress make? However, the congress reacts to public perception; if the public shows enough pressure to combat climate change, the congress will take actions because it does not want to lose public support. So mobilizing civilian movements internally towards the government is very important. BUT HOW? How to get people to care about the environment? How can people believe there IS climate change? How to get the public as passionate as we do to improve our environment?
Climate change is hard to visualize, feel or relate to, and if I don’t keep educating myself about it or exposing myself to climate knowledge or news, sometimes I lose momentum of keeping on my work to influence others…well I am a little bit distracted here…but please comment if you have any ideas.
At the end of the semester WUSICE comes up with some new ideas, one of which is to connect with student from all over the world and ask them to provide some personal stories. Maybe making climate change more personal is one way to solve the problem.
But anyways, back to COP16. The result of COP16 was kind of inspiring. Except for Bolivia, all other countries agreed on the KP (Kyoto Protocol) text and LCA (Long-term Collaboration) text.
• China made big compromises on MRVs and transparency
• Developing and developed countries improve reporting with reports every 2 years
• Developed countries provide details on the financial, technical and capacity-building support to developing counties
• create a “Green Climate Fund” and so on.
But there are definitely problems
• What is the amount of the Fund?
• What is the limit target for CO2 emissions?
• Who will monitor the Climate Fund? World Bank?—developing countries won’t agree.
• Controversy for REDD?
These are the questions unsettled, and there are way more problems.

However, these two texts at least saved UNFCCC. It did give people hope that international agreement can happen and U.N. has not come to a complete deadlock. But we also know, clearly, that this outcome cannot save the planet.

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