Institute at Brown for Environment and SocietyIBES

Brown University’s Climate and Development Lab Engages at the UN Climate Negotiations

Over two weeks in November, 15 students from the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society’s Climate and Development Lab have been embedded in key organizations at talks in Bonn, Germany of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Since the Paris Agreement was struck two years ago, the task has been to implement the Paris Rulebook. With an approaching 2018 deadline for the implementation of the Paris Agreement, one of the priorities of COP23 was for Parties to establish streamlined draft texts that capture convergence around common ideas. The Rulebook is comprised of the set of decisions that will make the Paris Agreement operational and includes the design of the transparency framework, the global stocktake, the mitigation component of Nationally Determined Contributions, and adaptation communications.

The CDL functions as a think tank, pumping out timely, accessible and impactful research to informs a more just and effective climate change policy. With this year’s cohort, over 70 Brown students from fields across the university have had the opportunity to attend the United Nations climate change negotiations.


Students were “embedded” with a series of key groups here. Frishta Qaderi, Logan Dreher, and Lauren Maunus have supported the Least Developed Countries Group Chair, Mr. Gebru Jember Endalew of Ethiopia and the LDC Group’s finance and gender expert teams. Lauren worked on briefings for Ministers of the LDC Group to outline LDC platforms on key negotiating issues such as climate finance, loss and damage, and the gender action plan. Logan provided the LDC Group with input from the Women and Gender Constituency on the draft text of the Gender Action Plan. Frishta supported the LDC finance team by reporting on key negotiations. 

Back row: Anna Messer, Lauren Maunus, Timmons Roberts, Julianna Bradley, Emma Bouton // Front row: Mara Dolan, Stacy-Ann Robinson, Danielle Falzon, Angelica ArellanoBack row: Anna Messer, Lauren Maunus, Timmons Roberts, Julianna Bradley, Emma Bouton // Front row: Mara Dolan, Stacy-Ann Robinson, Danielle Falzon, Angelica Arellano

Postdoctoral Research Associate Dr Stacy-ann Robinson along with Danielle Falzon, Emma Bouton, and Anna Messer supported the Seychelles Delegation and the Global Island Partnership (GLISPA). Over the course of the two weeks, the team provided direct support to H.E. Ambassador Ronny Jumeau, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Seychelles to the United Nations in New York, tracked adaptation finance and loss and damage issues in the negotiations, helped coordinate, attended and served as rapporteurs for over 15 GLISPA Member meetings, high level and side events, and ensured a strong GLISPA presence on social media (Twitter, Facebook and Instagram). Lauren Maunus also provided on-the-ground support at the GLISPA high level dinner on Wednesday, November 15. Stacy-ann wrote a speech on the securitisation of climate change from a small island perspective for Ambassador Jumeau, which he delivered at a German Federal Foreign Office side event titled “Climate diplomacy: How to prevent climate security risks” on Friday, November 17. Danielle Falzon, Emma Bouton, and Anna Messer provided social media support to advertise key messages from GLISPA side events highlighting issues of island resilience.

Alex Barba attended a high level side event on data innovation to launch the Sustainable Innovation Forum and the Sustainable Development Agenda on behalf of the United Nations Development Programme. Her coverage on effective partnerships for solving climate challenges contributed to a web story linking the concept of data to the work of the UNDP. Mara Dolan worked to support the UNDP Head of Climate Change Adaptation, Pradeep Kurukulasuriya. in his speaking commitments, meetings with delegations, and events. Post-COP, she will be co-authoring an article on transformational change in adaptation projects, and assisting with a new initiative to increase resiliency of those with disabilities in locations very vulnerable to climate change.

Aaron Zeimer and Ian Lefond assisted the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD), located in Bangladesh, by doing taking notes and providing logistical support. During the second week, Ian  Lefond worked with ICCCAD to assist in the implementation of the CDL co-sponsored, which brought advocates and practitioners of capacity building together to present on and discuss current efforts to improve capacity building, with a particular focus on innovations to improve capacity building in the future.

Julianna Bradley and Allison Meakem worked providing notes for Oxfam International’s Jesse Young.  Additionally, Allison Meakem attended an off-the-record roundtable with George David Banks and Francis Brooke, special assistants on energy and environment to Donald Trump and Mike Pence, respectively. She pressed them on the Trump Administration’s ambiguous and controversial climate policies as well as their pro-coal and anti-renewables stances.

Angelica Arellano worked with specialized news outlet Climate Home to report on events and conduct interviews with leading figures at COP23. CDL Director Timmons Roberts also conducted video interviews for Climate Home, for a project on sustainability for the UN Environment Programme. A team of four CDL members wrote a piece for Climate Home on the elections in Virginia and New Jersey and what they meant for the UN Process.

The CDL Was Everywhere

The Bonn COP23 turned out to be quite rich in opportunities for CDL members to lead, participate, and support events around the negotiations, both onsite in official side events and offsite at important thematic seminars.

Back row: Emma Illick-Frank, Anna Messer, Stacy-Ann Robinson, Timmons Roberts, Ian Lefond, Gregory Hitch // Front row: Alex Barba, Allison Meakem, Lauren MaunusBack row: Emma Illick-Frank, Anna Messer, Stacy-Ann Robinson, Timmons Roberts, Ian Lefond, Gregory Hitch // Front row: Alex Barba, Allison Meakem, Lauren Maunus

Postdoctoral Research Associate Dr Stacy-ann Robinson was invited by the UNDP to present the findings of her new research on transformational adaptation at a UNDP Side Event titled “Catalysing Innovative Solutions and Transformational Adaptation to Climate Change” on Thursday, November 9. Her talk provided evidence to support the claim that the Green Climate Fund’s call for transformational adaptation projects is not well understood by climate adaptation actors in Caribbean small island developing states. Also on the panel were Dr Saleemul Huq, Director of the International Center for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) in Bangladesh, and Mr Sebastian Lema from the Government of Colombia.

The CDL co-hosted two events to launch its collaborative report “Toward Implementation” conducted with its partner organizations in AdaptationWatch consortium (the report is available at One was an event at the German Development Institute Interconnections Zone entitled “Transparency, Governance, and Accountability and Governance in Climate Adaptation – Perspectives from the Developing World”. The event was co-hosting this event with AdaptationWatch, the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) from India, and Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI). A second overlapping event will be held that afternoon in the WWF Pavillion, also featuring CDL work through the AdaptationWatch consortium.

Director Timmons Roberts was invited by the German delegation to participate in the Daily Talanoa (discussion) in the colorful Talanoa Square center on Tuesday the 14th of November. He also was invited to present at a session on Nordic climate finance transparency on the 13th, and a session on finance for Loss and Damage at the German Development Institute on the 7th. He was invited to speak on universities and climate action at the US “We Are Still In” pavillion, in which he described the CDL’s approach to engagement in the UN climate talks. Roberts was on the panel titled, “LUCCC, A LDCs initiative to build long-term climate capacity and implement Article 11 of the Paris?” on Thursday, November 16th from 11:30 to 13:00. The panel discussed the context, vision, and function and the role of universities outlined in LDCs University Consortium on Climate Capacity (LUCCC) under article 11 of the Paris Agreement.

Finally, the lab co-sponsored and participated in Capacity Building Day, 16 November, at the German Development Agency GIZ GmbH, with the UN Development Programme, International Centre for Climate Change and Development (Bangladesh), University of Colorado-Boulder, Oregon State University, and the United Nations University. Timmons Roberts moderated a session and was a panelist in the final plenary.

Individual Research

Aaron Ziemer focused on understanding differing perspectives on sustainable development and was specifically interested in the possible tensions between and co-benefits of mitigation and development. He interviewed Balgis Osman Elasha, Climate Change and Green Growth Specialist at the African Development Bank; Jan Steckel from the Climate and Development Research Group; Shradha Shreejaya from the Asian Pacific Forum on Women Law and Development; and Gilberto Arias, a former AILAC negotiator and consultant. Aaron found consistent support for the idea for the idea of green growth, but with the caveat that it would only be possible with significant funding and other forms of support from the North. He will use this research in an internal CDL presentation.

While at the COP, Lauren Maunus was focused on understanding LDC priorities and progress since Paris, specifically with regards to issues including loss and damage, climate finance, transparency, and capacity building. She interviewed Tshewang Dorji, Negotiator for Bhutan, and Dr. Saleemul Huq, Director of the International Center for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh to prepare issue briefings for Ministers of the LDC Group member countries.  Through each of her interviews, Lauren found that there is consensus among negotiators that transparency is the most important issue to address.

Emma Bouton, Anna Messer, Ian Lefond, Mara Dolan and Allison Meakem researched climate adaptation institutions and policies in small island developing states in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans and the South China Sea. They interviewed delegates from Seychelles, Singapore, Guinea-Bissau and Sao Tome and Principe, Maldives, and Comoros, respectively. Over the coming weeks, they will analyse the interview data for a research paper they are working on with Postdoctoral Research Associate Dr Stacy-ann Robinson, which they hope to publish in an academic journal by the middle of 2018.

At COP23, Logan Dreher focused on understanding what gender experts saw as the most effective mechanisms for influencing the UNFCCC process, as well as for disseminating information back to grassroots communities. She interviewed Shradha Shreejaya from the Asian Pacific Forum on Women Law and Development; Lean Deleon from the Women’s Major Group for Sustainable Development; Jessica Olsen from the Sierra Club, as well as several other members of the Women and Gender Constituency. Logan found that most civil society actors were more interested in forming transnational advocacy networks at COP23 than in influencing the negotiation process.

Emma Bouton investigated how Indigenous communities are working to advance discussions and protections of food sovereignty within the framework of the UN climate negotiations. She interviewed Dallas Goldtooth, the Keep it in the Ground Organizer for the Indigenous Environmental Network, Johnson Cerda, the Director of the Global Executing Agency of the Dedicated Grant Mechanism for Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (DGM), and Beth Roberts, an attorney and land specialist with the organization Landesa, and attended side-events related to the topic. Emma found that many actors working within or with Indigenous communities saw the UN process as an opportunity to connect with decision-makers and other activists, while understanding the local and national levels as more effective places to engender change. Goldtooth aptly summarized this finding in the following comment: “we already know from the get-go that the structure and framework of the UN runs counter to what we are trying to bring to the table with Indigenous sovereignty. A lot of us are struggling with our own countries to achieve our rights. But that does not mean we give up.”

Danielle Falzon interviewed negotiators from a wide range of delegations as part of a continuing project to understand inequalities in the process of UNFCCC climate negotiations. She found that several structural barriers limit some countries’ abilities to get their priority issues on the table, will enhancing the abilities of others to promote their interests - a division that likely contributes to Global North and South divides. Alongside these interviews Danielle observed several issue tracks, in particular the negotiations on the Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage, to better understand how contentious issues are raised and resolved. This work will contribute to a Master’s thesis in Sociology, as well as a publishable paper on the same topic.

Using documentary film methods, Angelica Arellano investigated attitudes towards REDD+ at COP23. She attended several panels and side events about REDD+ and conducted interviews with forestry scientists and indigenous leaders, including Amy Duchelle of the Center for International Forestry Research, Kandi Mossett, a lead organizer for the Indigenous Environmental Network, and Hindu Oumarou Ibrahim of the Association for Indigenous Women and Peoples of Chad. Through the side events and interviews, Angelica found that while some actors are pushing for REDD+ as a carbon offset mechanism, many people are concerned about this propelling “false solutions” to the climate crisis while also continuing to undermine indigenous and local rights. Angelica’s goal is to make a short documentary film out of these findings. 

Greg Hitch conducted exploratory research on how Indigenous peoples are using the COP23 platform to assert their sovereignty and demand climate justice. He most closely followed the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) negotiations, and side events related to REDD+ and carbon offsets. In the SBSTA negotiations, Greg observed the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform secure a leadership role for the first time, which not only provides Indigenous communities better access to dialogue at the national level, but also provides more leverage to pressure the national governments of their territories to take more climate-change action. Drawing upon this experience, Greg plans to write a blog post about Indigenous peoples’ stakes in the COP negotiations as well as their growing recognition by UNFCCC Parties.

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