COP20: Day 10, 11 & 12

So here we go, COP20 is supposed to be over by now, but some sessions are still running, as negotiators are in what seems to be a deadlock. I am writing from Miami airport, on my way back home after more than two incredible – very intense – weeks in Lima. I never thought so much could be achieved, yet so little. I believe we have experienced all the possible range emotions, from extreme happiness and motivation, to feeling completely exhausted and hopeless. But I will keep those general thoughts for a next entry. As of now, it is important to report on what was done during the last three official days of COP20 by the IFMSA delegation!

To clear all of your questions: no, Leonardo Di Caprio, didn’t show up at the COP20, to the disappointment of many, but his side-kick, Al Gore, did come for three days, and we got to attend a private observers briefing with him on the Thursday. Al Gore was the vice-president of the United States under Bill Clinton, has produced the movie “An Inconvenient Truth” and now is leading the Climate Reality Project, aiming to train individuals around the world to put pressure on the governments to shift toward low-carbon systems and renewable energies. Al Gore is genuinely optimistic, and do believe we will succeed because there is a much higher level of awareness today. He however senses the emergency to act today as the window of opportunities for mitigation and adaptation is closing quickly.

education side event - 600X400On December 10th, I facilitated a side-event organized by the UN Alliance for climate change education, training and public awareness, “Education and Communication as Cornerstones for Effective Climate Action”. The side-event itself was quite a success I believe, and even for me as a moderator, I was impressed to see that change was indeed happening around the world. We had opening remarks by the COP19 President and Secretary of State of Poland, Marcin Korolec; by Miss Sonia Gonzalez, Director-General for Environmental Research and Information at Peru’s Ministry of Environment; and by Paul Watkinson, head of the French delegation at COP20 and member of the COP21 Presidential Team. Quite high-level and impressive people. Their opening speeches were followed by five presentations from different UN Agencies (FAO, UNESCO, WMO) – all of them showing the importance of the Article 6 of the UNFCCC Convention. As I said during my opening words, I would have never imagined when I started medical school three years ago, that I would attend COP on representing medical students of 116 countries, let alone facilitating a discussion next to very distinguished speakers and professionals.

I have to blame IFMSA for this, and the importance the Federation has given to non formal and informal education. For more than 60 years now, IFMSA has used peer-education methods to educate and train medical students in fields and subjects that are not being touched upon in the medical curricula, climate change and health being one of them. Students are giving back to their peers what they have learnt and above all, they share their motivation, ambitions, ideas so that other students can grow as leaders and become agents of change. So it is not surprising that IFMSA, with numerous other organizations representing youth, has been a strong supporter of Article 6 since its beginnings.

This year again, we have worked to make sure the concepts outlined in Article 6 would be integrated into the Paris agreement in 2015. With other youth delegates, we have analyzed a ministerial declaration proposed by Poland, and have suggested some changes to include notably the recognition of the different models of education (formal, non formal and informal). We have also asked for a greater recognition of the role of youth, and of the opportunities and co-benefits of climate change actions. And yes – we were successful!!! You can find the final version of the declaration here.

On December 11th, we have met with Mary Robinson, an amazing and inspirational woman. She is the UN Special Envoy for Climate Change, but also a human rights champion and the first female President of Ireland. We got to ask her about the place of the right to health within the UNFCCC talks, and she agreed that it was not getting the place it deserves. She said health was a good way to bring at home the several impacts of climate change, such as the right to food and the right to water. She deplored the weak language used in the current texts in regards to human rights, and said it was much stronger back in Cancun in 2010. I appreciated how she seriously took my questions regarding the right to health and how easy it was to engage in a conversation with her.

I have also got the chance to sit with other members of YOUNGO to draft the statement to be read during the High-level segment. Jonathan, from Belgium, was chosen to speak on our behalf, but all were invited to contribute in the writing. And boy, we did good. You can watch the intervention on Youtube. I especially find the ending quite powerful:

We are running out of ink and this is the last chapter. But the story does not have to end here. We urge you to grab your pens and start writing us a positive future.

On Friday morning, I was invited to participate in a mini-side event on green jobs organized by the Belgium Youth Representatives and a French students network on sustainable development. I talked about the role medical professionals should play in making sure the healthcare systems were not causing any harm to the environment, and linked that to the work of one very interesting NGO, Health Care Without Harm (HCWH). I mentioned the importance for the hospitals to lower their enegy consumption – in some countries, like the UK, the health systems account for up to 25% of the public sector energy consumption. This is enormous! I also believe that we should always try to lead by example, and walk the talk. I discussed with a political adviser of a Regional Minister of Belgium, and she also showed a lot of interest in IFMSA works and priorities at COP20.

Our delegation has also loads of fun on Friday morning as we walked around the venue wearing scrubs. Normally, to do such an “action”, one shall fill a request to the UNFCCC secretariat, and that has to be approved before the action is conducted. However, things didn’t exactly go as planed, and we had to change plans. We were asking ourselves the very philosophical question: what makes an action, an action? Well we got our answer after we walked for about 20 minutes around the COP venue with our very blue scrubs on with some “climate = health” message written on them. But a very good thing came out of this: not only did we not get debadged for conducting an unplanned action, but we did manage to get a quick chat (and a picture) with COP20 President, Manual Pulgar-Vidal, who remembered us! IMG_6865[1]

But – let’s get to the real thing: Where is the action in Lima?
Many are angry about the slow pace of negotiations. The COP is already running over time, and parties are still not happy about the outcomes document, especially in regards to finances and the ADP. Everybody seems to agree there is a need to act now, and before Paris. The will is there, but all countries have their own vision, their own priorities (for some, it is loss and damage, for others it is the differentiated capabilities), and everything goes very slow. We have to thank Mexico for some powerful interventions on youth and gender; and Brazil for its strong stance on health. As we left COP on Friday night, the discussions were still going on, with some now and then remarks by the COP20 President calling for consensus and an acceleration of the process so that Lima could conclude on a positive note, a powerful call to action and a strong sense of commitments by countries.

The ADP Draft document was reduced by the co-chairs from 50 pages and hundreds of options for Parties to choose from – to less than 7 pages on Friday night, to 4 pages on Saturday early morning. Good news: Health co-benefits are still in the text (see paragraph 18), which means that IFMSA can definitely celebrate its success on this. Of course, the fight is not over and we will have to make sure health and health co-benefits make their way into the Paris agreement, but we have a year to make that happen. We are still extremely proud to have manage to include a brand new concept (health) to the draft text that was originally not referenced to at all!

As I am ending this (long) entry, I have just received the news that the negotiations were most likely on for a 2nd extra night. Let’s just hope they will be able to conclude, and that Lima will have served its purpose.

So all in all, it has been three last busy days at COP20. We will come back with another entry with more personal reflections on our experience in Lima, from our hopes to our delusions, to our perspectives on the road that is yet to be built. On this note, this is where our COP20 adventure ends. It has been quite a ride, and we hope you have enjoyed reading our updates every 2-3 days.

Claudel, on behalf of the Delegation

Overhead @ COP: “I was supposed to fly to Cusco at 6am this morning. Instead I found myself inside Cusco plenary room.” – Malaysian negotiator on Saturday afternoon, as the negotiations were still going on.

COP20: Day 8 & 9

The second segment of COP20 has officially started on Monday! We very much enjoyed our peaceful day of rest of Sunday, as we got to eat absolutely delicious ceviche in the center of Lima and relax by the Ocean under the warm sun. We are attacking the second week with strength and energy!

We have participated in a public solidarity event for the Philippines, who have recently been hit by another devastating typhoon (Hagupit). One must remember that last year, during COP, the same country was being deadly and violently hit by super-typhoon Haiyan. The country star negotiator, Yeb Sano, asked the world to “Stop the madness”. This week, we have send our thoughts and strength from Lima to the Philippines, and we have asked for solidarity, not just sympathy. Soon after that I also had a conversation with a woman leader from the Philippines who was telling me how much the impacts on the mental health and well-being of such catastrophes were largely underestimated by the global community. She was working to rehabilitate the survivors through art therapy and dialogue, but she was arguing it was far from being enough. Having the chance to hear such heart-breaking testimonials from people with experience are really enriching, and I can only hope I will never loose that sense of hard realism in the midst of some high-level meetings.

Early morning on Monday, the next draft text of the ADP was released by the co-chairs, and we spend bits of the day reading it through and looking at the modifications made. The famous article 30a we were talking about is now 28a, and yes, health co-benefits are mentioned! However, we didn’t get exactly what we lobbied for in 31d (now 29d), but that is because the whole paragraph was totally reworded. So, the global health community definitely has something to celebrate, but we still to demand more from parties if we want to ensure that the links between climate and health are fully integrated and considered into the new global agreement of 2015.

DSC_0019We sat with the World Health Organization (WHO) delegation in the morning a well, to go through the day and to discuss a bit the road ahead for the week, as Maria Neira, the director of the Department of Public Health, Environment and Social Determinants of Health has just arrived in Lima. We actively participated in their side-event on Monday afternoon titled “Protecting Health, Fighting Climate Change”, and we were extremely proud to present briefly the work of the Federation and the video made by the participants of the Climate Change & Health workshop in Taiwan: “Medical Students Take A Stand on Climate Change“. Let me tell you that it has received high praise from the participants and it has triggered the attention of many external partners!

Soon after, we have met up with one country particularly keen to work on the health aspects of climate change, and we got to review the ADP text once more, with some more insight. We came up with a few possible additional suggestions, but most importantly that has lead up to a early meeting on Tuesday with several more countries’ delegates to discuss even more in depth the place of health in the texts, and what could still be done here in Lima, and after on the road to Paris. We sat down afterwards, and read through over 30 pages of the element text (according to Mark – very boring law stuff), but this text is particularly crucial to read and understand, as it will serve as the principal draft for the Paris new agreement. We came up with several suggestions and opportunities for health, which have been proposed to the interested countries. We will closely follow-up on that in the remaining days of COP, and obviously in the upcoming sessions paving the way to Paris in December 2015.

DSC_0099Today was also the opening of the high-level segment – which means that we get to sit in the same room as Ban-Ki Moon and hear him speak -even if he was about a hundred meters away. He recalled the urgency to act, but said he remained hopeful that the world can adopt the right policies today to mitigate and adapt to climate change. We have also heard from Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia, who gave an (extremely) long speech asking for a total shift of paradigm and blame capitalism for many of the wrongs of the world. The presidents of Nauru and Tuvalu, two small islands of the Pacific that are already facing the direct consequences of climate change. I am still amazed when I get out of those plenary sessions that I get to hear in live some of the people have read or heard about on the news and in papers for several years now…

The rest of the days are filled with helping YOUNGO drafting the statements for the plenary – which is not the easiest task this week as each statement must represent the views and priorities of at least two other UNFCCC constituencies. That is because the UNFCCC has decided that in those segments of the COP, civil society (composed here of 9 constituencies) would only get three time-speaking in total per sessions. Therefore, we have create subgroups with other constituencies, such as the environmental NGOs and the women and gender group, to be fully representative and to make sure that the voices of the youth were still heard. One must understand that as we are heading toward the end of the conferences, priorities are giving to parties to actually agree on something (hopefully meaningful) so that Lima actually deliver and gives the legacy the president is hoping for – one of action.

One of the thing I am most proud of at this year’s COP is how we have been able to reach out and to make ourselves visible, even though we were a very small delegation of only four people. We therefore invite you to read and share those two publications:

Both have a important reach-out capacity and this is what we were looking for. We have to ensure the health sector doesn’t work in silos, but works toward being fully integrated into other “fields” discussions, such as economy, governance, strategies for adaptation and mitigation. The links between climate change and health, and more broadly health itself, deserve more attention from delegates, because the stakes are extremely high.

There are only three more days at COP- the time is passing by so far, and I still have the impression that there is still so much more to do! We have yes quite a lot to celebrate and to be proud of, but it is extremely hard to gauge how much of an influence we have been able to have. Probably we will never know.. As Mark nicely said today, we sometime feel like we understand what is going on, and then, we just don’t. But we are committed to keep working until Paris and beyond, and this is what that spirit that we will work during those three last crucial days.

We still have one side-event tomorrow with the UN Alliance for Education on  Climate Change Education, Training and Public Awareness – that I will have the chance to facilitate (and we are expecting some very important people!); and a mini-side event of Thursday about green opportunities for young people careers, and in which I want to bring the topic of greener healthcare systems. Oh, and also, we have heard the exciting news that Leonardo Di Caprio might be coming to COP tomorrow, as the UN Messenger of Peace with a special focus on climate change. Let’s hope that is not only a rumor…

That will be it for today – Hope you are enjoying those entries!

Claudel, on behalf of the Delegation

Bonus of the Day
Overhead @ COP: all of this is simply the most amazing thing that has appeared on social media in the past two weeks.

COP20: Day 5 & 6 (or how Health won COP)

This is probably the most exciting blog entry I have ever written. Ever I have rarely felt so accomplished, so proud of IFMSA, so convinced that youth actually can make a change in this hyper politically complex world.

On Day 5 & 6 of COP20, IFMSA and health won. 

For a week now, IFMSA delegation to COP20 have been advocating extremely hard to include two specific mentions of health co-benefits in the draft of the Ad-hoc Working Group on Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, the famous ADP we have been referring two in our past blog entries. And today, well all of this happened:

I was coming to COP20 with little expectations for what we would actually be able to achieve. I have been told several times that COPs were too complex, too political, a lost cause to start with. That even with the biggest ambitions and the most determined minds, it was near impossible to change the course of negotiations, and to influence a country’s view. Well, we have proven all of that to be wrong. Not only did Brazil, Australia, and Canada officially submitted our suggested amendments to the co-chairs, but Saudi Arabia and the United States also outspokenly asked for them. And we all know how Canada, Australia, the United States and Saudi Arabia aren’t actually what we call champions in the world of climate change governance.

You should have seen Mark’s face and mine yesterday night when we discovered while having dinner, that Australia and Canada were the first countries to officially submit words for words our proposal to the UNFCCC. We simply couldn’t believe it. We had the most twisted countries who have won international shame for their poor climate policies on our side. We were like kids who have eaten way too many chocolate cookies on their first Christmas’ eve. (Ps. To view all countries’ submissions, visit:

The summarized version of the text will be released by the two ADP co-chairs late on Sunday night or early on Monday morning, and we are excited to see if our healthy suggestions will made the cuts. We are quite optimistic. We have many people to thanks for their support, but that will be done properly in due time.

Today, during the 3rd Climate and Health Summit organized by the Global Climate and Health Alliance, Dr Anibal Velasquez, Peru Health Minister, stated that it was medical students who made him realized how of an health emergency climate change was. He also added that his Ministry would act accordingly. Well you remember about Joel and Majo meeting him on Wednesday? Talk about the impact one meeting can have.

When I questioned Christiana Figueres about the place of health in the UNFCCC framework earlier this week, she told us that we shouldn’t put everything on the boat otherwise it would sink. These past two days have proven her wrong. Negotiating parties are realizing how intrinsically linked to climate change health is; and that with considerations to health co-benefits, commitments are indeed massive opportunities for all countries.

As medical students and future health professionals, it is our moral obligation to speak up, our duty to act and our responsibility to reach out to policy-makers. This is what we have been doing this week – and I am proud to add – quite successfully.

Tomorrow is our only day off at COP, and we will take the opportunity to rest a bit, so to start the second week of COP with even more motivation. Many exciting projects are still in the pipelines, such as a WHO Side-Event on Climate & Health on Monday (where IFMSA will be given a space to intervene), a UN Side-Event on the importance of education and public awareness on Wednesday (that IFMSA will facilitate), a Ministerial Declaration on Article 6 (to which I have suggested many changes together with other members of YOUNGO) and a few meetings lining up.

But for now, we are up for a good night in Lima, together with the other representatives of the NGOs. Hasta luego!

Claudel, on behalf of the delegation

Overhead @ COP: “Dance rock n roll, really… And some salsa too” – Panelist last words at today’s Climate & Health Summit