The journey of Kermit the Growling Grass Frog from Craigieburn to COP23 UN climate conference

Kermit introduces the Black throated finches threatened by Adani

Kermit, the Growling Grass Frog couldn’t resist the opportunity of hitching a ride in my bag to Bonn, Germany and COP23. What frog doesn’t want to see the world beyond their own wetlands? Especially when their species is declining and climate change may be an important factor determining future species survival?

Kermit was centre stage at the Fossil of the Day awards on Day 2 of the conference, when Australia received it’s first Fossil of the Day award for the Adani coal mine.

The 23rd meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 23) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – to give it it’s full title – was held from 6 to 17 November in Bonn, Germany, under the presidency of the government of Fiji, the first time that a small island nation has served in this role.

I was attending the conference along with Andrea Bunting as members of Climate Action Moreland, part of the Climate Action Network Australia, a node of the global Climate Action Network, an environmental NGO (also called an ENGO).

The Growling Grass frog (Litoria raniformis) is categorised as endangered by the IUCN redlist, listed as vulnerable under the Federal EPBC Act, listed as threatened under Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 (Victoria) as of June 2017, and listed as Endangered (Advisory List of Threatened Vertebrate Fauna in Victoria: 2013 list).

Unfortunately, Growling Grass frogs have disappeared from most of their former range across Victoria. The species persists in isolated populations in the greater Melbourne area, including along Merri Creek, in the south-west of Victoria and a few sites in central Victoria and Gippsland.

Habitat loss and degradation from land changes and introduced predators associated with European colonisation are probably the main factors associated with the species reduction in range. Spread of fungal diseases and Climate Change will add to pressure on this frog species. Management of micro habitats along watercourses such as Merri Creek may prove vital for this species survival.

Sit back and enjoy our travel highlights to Cologne and Bonn in Germany and the COP23 conference, and our return home.

Kermit was not very happy to read before the journey about the insectageddon reported in recent research that there has been a 75 percent decline in flying insect biomass over the last quarter century from nature reserves in Germany. Read George Monbiot’s take on Insectageddon.

On route to Bonn and COP23

Visiting the Kate Kollwitz museum in Cologne

After visiting the Kollwitz museum, we had to stop to view these Kollwitz sculptures (and a chance for a Kermit selfie)

visiting the Praetorium Roman archaeological site in Cologne

The Roman German museum has some spectacular artifacts including this amazing tiled floor found when excavating in 1941 to build an air raid shelter

Kermit is going on the Klima demo

A visit to the Fijian canoe after accreditation

At the first Klima Demo in Bonn, with 25,000m people, largest climate action protest so far in Germany. See Nofibs report of the march. Kermit loved this Sesame street themed banner (Flickr photo album)

Kermit meets a polar bear at Klima Demo (loves the work of the Center for Biological Diversity in saving threatened species) Kermit also likes them because they have a frog on their logo, a positive sign of concern for amphibian species.

Attending Climate Action Network (CAN) Strategy meeting

Time to hop along after so much strategy

Seated at the 1st APA plenary in New York plenary hall before being told to hop along…

Kermit eating a pretzel

Kermit became a star at Day 2 of the Fossil of the Day awards featuring in the ceremony (Australia won this award due to the Adani mine)
The agreement is full of coal....2nd placed Fossil of the Day goes to Poland - IMG_1894

Australia beat Poland to the prime Fossil of the Day award with an implementation Fossil for the Adani mine (November 8)

According to Wikipedia on the Carmichael coal mine:

“The mine site area is home to a number of threatened species, including the yakka skink, ornamental snake, and the waxy cabbage palm. Moray Downs, which is covered by the mine site, is home to the largest known community of black throated finches. The finches’ population is in decline, and the southern subspecies is threatened.” The mine site will impact “most of the Bygana West Nature Refuge, which includes two endangered regional woodland ecosystems and habitat suitable for a variety of animals including koalas”.

The citation for this Fossil of the Day award reads:

Today’s first Fossil goes to Australia for approving and funding fossil fuels!

Crikey, Australia, you’re stinking up the Pacific! What are you doing potentially giving billions to fund a mine that would increase the country’s emissions, endanger the already fragile Great Barrier Reef, and impact the vulnerable Pacific Islands?!

Both the Australian Queensland state and federal government have given approval for the Adani mine in the Galilee Basin. The only part of this devious plan that is missing, is funding. Not to worry, Adani has applied for nearly $1 billion in handouts from the government-backed Northern Australian Infrastructure Fund and are also seeking funding from China!

Not only would funding this mine be catastrophic for at least four threatened species, several vulnerable habitats, and the Great Barrier Reef, it would release heaps of emissions. The annual emissions from the Adani coal mine would be greater than the annual emissions of all 14 independent Pacific island countries (and also represents twice the emissions of New Zealand).

As bad neighbors go, Australia is the worst! Providing funding and approval for these mines (Adani isn’t the only one!) would put its already vulnerable neighbors at further risk. You should be striving to protect the Pacific Islands, Australia, not destroy them.

Kermit on centre stage at COP23
Kermit, the Growling Grass Frog at Fossil of the Day COP23 IMG_1883

A moment between meetings or press conferences

Working at a Cafeteria table at Bula zone 3
Kermit and John Englart working at COP23 - IMG_1881

Staples for those attending a UN Climate change Conference

The USA only had a small offical delegation office at the COP venue, but Australia had no delegation office. I found out that the Australian Party delegation had booked a whole hotel room to use as their office during the conference. This would have needed to be done at least several months in advance when accommodation for staff was booked. It was not an off the cuff decision because of lack of space at the COP venue.

On day 6 (a Saturday) Australia received it’s second fossil award as part of the group of developed countries blocking progress on loss and damage finance. Here is an excerpt from the award citation:

The US, Australia, Canada and the EU receive the Fossil of the Day for refusing to get serious about loss and damage finance.

For all the policy geeks out there, while decision 2/CP19 provides the WIM with a mandate to ‘enhance’, ‘facilitate’, ‘mobilize’ and ‘secure’ finance for loss and damage, in the negotiating room they consistently refer to the SCF or even higher levels, where it is also absent from the discussion.

Basically, they were seeking to twist, water down, and delete references to finance from the loss and damage decision text.

We would have thought that the US – with its own territory of Puerto Rico still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Maria – would, perhaps, have rediscovered at least one empathic bone in its body. But apparently, this was waaaaay too much to ask for – it aggressively led the charge to delete references to finance in the loss and damage text. Some might think this level of intervention was a bit rich coming from a country that has talked about pulling out of the Paris Agreement, but it looks like they plan on taking others down with them.

Australia has long lacked many things – sympathy, support, and solidarity among them – with its Pacific Island neighbors (flashback to Day 2 anyone?), but these bullying tactics are over the line, even for them.

USA, Australia, Canada, European Union take Fossil of the Day over Loss and Damage - IMG_2305

Adam Bandt, the Federal Greens MP for Melbourne, and also the Greens spokesperson on climate change, was on hand to collect the award for Australia.

Kermit working late at a computer centre in the Bonn world conference centre

Taking time off at the Arithmeum museum on Sunday

Press Conference on Global Carbon Budget – November 13

Josh Frydenberg makes a $6 million commitment on Blue Carbon, while we hear of massive deforestation in Great Barrier Reef catchments. Climate Analytics later warned about the dangers of Blue Carbon offsets: from hot air to hot water? in a briefing note.

Attending the Australian reception for Australians at COP23 organised by DFAT and the Carbon Market Institute. While I was assured by DFAT it was open to everyone with accreditation to attend, unfortunately many weren’t invited, and when some requested an invite, the CMI said they would be added to a ‘waiting list’.

Memorial event for Tony de Brum at COP23 – November 14
Tony was the Marshall Islands Foreign Minister who put together the Coalition of High Ambition. Marshallese poet Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner recited a poem for Tony De Brum at his memorial tribute event at COP23. I was only in the presence of Tony de Brum once, a side event at COP21 in Paris, but his leadership and determination were present then. He gave us the ambitous 1.5C target in the Paris Agreement. He motivated the Coalition of High Ambition which Julie Bishop tried to claim Australia had joined. At COP23 a meeting room has been named in his honour. The memorial was held with Dr Heine, President of the Marshall Islands, Barbara Hendricks, Federal Environment minister for Germany, and Fiji’s environment ambassador representing the COP presidency.

On Day 8 Australia received it’s third Fossil of the Day award. Oh dear, one implementation Fossil award, and two negotiation awards. Australia really is a bit of a bad boy. here is the award citation excerpt:

Australia steps forward. 3rd award of COP #COP23 Day 8 #FossiloftheDay IMG_2438

Australia Continues to Play Dirty

Another day, another Fossil for Australia – someone seems to be keen on earning the colossal Fossil!

In a continuing show of being the biggest bully on the playground, yesterday, at a joint session on Loss and Damage, negotiators were debating about increasing the resources of the WIM (Warsaw International Mechanism) and exploring new and innovative sources for support, which would give a stronger voice to the most vulnerable countries on earth. However, Australia proposed to eliminate the two most important outcomes that the G77 was pushing for.

Rather than being constructive and proposing solutions to allow a clear process on loss and damage, Australia proposed to delete two essential paragraphs: paragraph 8, which included the creation of a permanent item for discussion about issues related to Loss and Damage under the SBI and paragraph 18 which was an opportunity to explore sources of finance. What’s more is Australia made the proposal, while the G77 coordinator was struggling to find consensus and agreement from superiors.

Australia’s attitude shows a sense of disregard for the important discussion on loss and damage. But hey, were we expecting a better attitude from you?

Watching a COP plenary late at night with Heads of state and ministers making their High Level Segment Statements of COP23/CMP13/CMA1.2 – Statements by Heads of State and Government

Climate Action Tracker Press Conference: Question on Australia – November 16

Presenting Australia’s Fossil of the Day Award to Minister for the Environment, Climate and Energy Josh Frydenberg

Josh Frydenberg as Australia’s Minister for the Environment, Climate and Energy delivered astatement to the COP Plenary for us all:

You can read Josh Frydenberg’s full statement (PDF) to the COP Plenary

Watching the live observer notes of the final negotiations on sticking points on article 9.5 of the Paris Agreement. This is about developed countries reporting every two years on “projected levels of public financial resources to be provided to developing country Parties.” Sounds fairly simple: developing countries want to know what money is coming down the financial pipeline so they can make some plans for mitigation and adaptation. Developed countries want to keep this non-transparent, it seems.

At Frauen Museum inspecting a work on ocean pollution and sustainability

Feeling homesick while crossing the Rhine river on a ferry… and not enough insects in Germany

AT Koln HBF station

Enjoying the warmer weather in Doha with a view of the Islamic Museum of art

The long flight home

After COP23 Kermit decided to join the Galilee Blockade outside the Downer Group corporate Headquarters in Melbourne: 4 endangered species are directly threatened by the Adani mine

So what actually happened at the conference?

This is my quick summary: Some technical Progress was made, but there remains much work to do to meet the targets for next year’s conference in Katowice – COP24.

Substantial progress was made in areas such as the Gender action plan, Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform, and on Agriculture (a substantial breakthrough after 5 years of deadlock).

The design of a facilitative dialog process was necessary at this conference and was developed with a large degree of input by the Fijian presidency. This was widely seen as a success. This will be called the Talanoa Dialog after an inclusive political process used in Pacific island cultures including Fiji.

The process is designed to foster non-judgemental discussion and debate on country climate action plans (Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs) to foster greater ambition. The Talanoa Dialog will go into effect in the coming year leading in to the next UN Climate conference – COP24 – at Katowice in Poland. It is in part a practice round for the Global Stocktake (GST) provision of the Paris Agreement due to occurr in 2023 and every five years after that.

Around planning long term finance, pre-2020 implementation and ambition, and innovative ways to do Loss and Damage Finance there was much disagreement and little progress made. These were issues pushed strongly by small island nations, least developed nations, and the G77 group of developing nations. Little progress was made due to blocking behaviour by developed countries, including Australia. Australia received Fossil awards during the negotiations both for blocking pre-2020 action and for blocking discussion on finance for Loss and Damage.

Much of the work of the two week conference was concerned with formulating the rulebook for the Paris Agreement. Some areas made more progress than others. The work will continue over the next year at least in part through the work of the two permanent subsidiary bodies of the UNFCCC: the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI), and the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA), and at meetings scheduled through the year (called intersessionals) The aim is for the Paris Agreement Rulebook to be ready for adoption at Katowice COP24 in December 2018.

While the official US delegation tried to sponsor a side event for promoting coal and nuclear as climate action, protests by civil society delegates largely made this event irrelevant and it was largely treated with the irrelevancy and scorn it deserved. The US did play a role in blocking some of the negotiations along with Australia and other developed nations, but the negotiators did not go out on a limb in terms of obstruction.

There was a large presence from non state USA actors (state governments, cities, businesses) who set up a Climate Action Centre with prominent speakers giving an going commitment to meeting the US climate targets despite the Trump Federal administration actions.

On the second last day of the conference nineteen countries announced that they intended to end their reliance on coal as an energy source as announced in the Powering Past Coal Alliance which hopes to have 50 members by the time of next year’s COP.

The President of the Marshall Islands, Dr Hilda Heine, called for the Australian government to be replaced over its policy of expanding coal production.

The signs were clearly made at the conference that coal and other fossil fuels need to be constrained and reduced, and that Australia is an outlier in still expanding production, such as with approving the Adani Carmichael mine in the Galilee Basin of Queensland.

You can read an in depth analysis of the COP23 process and outcomes by civil society participants Don Lehr, Lili Fuhr, and Liane Schalatek called “We will not drown, we are here to fight”.

References:

Heard, Robertson and Scroggie (2004) The ecology and conservation status of the Growling Grass Frog (Litoria raniformis) within the Merri Creek Corridor (PDF)

Andrew Hamer and Aaron Organ (2008) Aspects of the ecology and conservation of the Growling Grass Frog Litoria raniformis in an urban-fringe environment, southern Victoria. Australian Zoologist: 2008, Vol. 34, No. 3, pp. 393-407. (abstract)

Nick Clemann and Graeme R. Gillespie (2012), National Recovery Plan for the
Southern Bell Frog Litoria raniformis (PDF)

Hallmann CA, Sorg M, Jongejans E, Siepel H, Hofland N, Schwan H, et al. (2017) More than 75 percent decline over 27 years in total flying insect biomass in protected areas. PLoS ONE12(10): e0185809. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0185809

Don Lehr, Lili Fuhr, Liane Schalatek, (November 22, 2017) “We will not drown, we are here to fight” An assessment of the Fiji Climate Change Conference COP 23 in Bonn.

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