A team of Griffith delegates including climate, business and social scientists recently presented their findings and liaised with world leaders and organisations at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Convention of Parties 25th meeting (COP25) in Madrid, Spain. The contingent included Dr Johanna Nalau, ARC DECRA Fellow from theCities Research Institute; Dr Rob Hales (Griffith Business SchoolandGriffith Centre for Sustainable Enterprise); Dr SamidSuliman (School of Humanities, Language and Social ScienceandGriffith Centre for Social and Cultural Research); Dr Tim Cadman (Institute for Ethics, Governance and Law); and Virginie Young (who is assisting Griffith research projects). This is their joint report on the conference outcomes.

Right Here, Right Now?

Greta Thunberg’s plenary address at COP25 and the 350 youth activists who stormed the COP25 negotiations, as well as the hundreds of thousands of people protesting on the streets of Madrid, all quite rightly pointed out what scientists have been saying for some time: now is the time for bold action on climate change.

If the status quo were to prevail and governments failed to ramp up ambition in order to limit global heating to less than 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, then the world would be on track for a world that is 3.2 degrees warmer. At the outset of COP25, the mood was one of hope for a positive conclusion to the contentious negotiations over the elements of the Paris Agreement Rule Book that were held over from COP24 in Katowice, Poland. If countries could agree on the rules of the agreement, then ambitious targets were more likely.

But what transpired was not what Greta, the scientists or concerned citizens wanted. Several countries — including Australia — failed to heed the call for greater ambition and action, casting doubt on the potential of multilateral cooperation on this pressing global issue.

Market failure?

As reported in mainstream media, a global carbon market was not established as negotiations failed to produce agreement on the details of Article 6 in the Paris Rule Book. The role of earth systems (and biodiversity) in sequestering carbon from the atmosphere were not included in the rules around Article 6. It was important that the role of existing earth biodiverse systems be considered in Article 6. Not including existing biodiverse earth systems puts these systems at high risk as population grows, economies try to keep growing, and climate change devastates the very earth systems that help reduce global heating. Few people at COP25 understood the gravity of not including biodiversity in Article 6.


There was also no agreement on Loss and Damage mechanisms, and the negotiations dragged on so late that most of the vulnerable country representatives had to leave for home while some of the rich countries held behind-the-door discussions between themselves on Article 6. This speaks volumes about the absence of procedural justice in the process, a fact that most developing countries are very vocal about given that the UNFCCC is supposed to be based on consensus and equal participation.

Griffith contribution

During the COP25, Griffith academics actively contributed to the process by providing advice to Parties (governments) and non-Parties (such as non-governmental organisations) on what to include in the negotiating text. Dr Tim Cadman held briefings with both Developing Country Parties and civil society groups on the governance arrangements necessary to ensure the social and ecological integrity of the mechanisms proposed under Article 6.

Dr Johanna Nalau participated in the Nairobi Work Program (NWP) Focal Point Forum on 6th December as an expert and rapporteur on the role that innovation, technology and capacity building play in closing the knowledge gaps on climate adaptation. This year’s NWP focused on oceans and coasts, and gave the opportunity for in-depth discussions between scientists, NGOs, government negotiators and the private sector in how to advance a more robust evidence-base for climate adaptation. The outcomes of the NWP Forum will be distributed via an expert report and will be a focus of further discussions in Bonn, June 2020, at the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA). Griffith University is a partner to NWP, and this partnership enables our scientists to directly engage with the UNFCCC processes on climate adaptation.

Dr Nalau also facilitated and led sessions at the Resilience Lab, which is a new UNFCCC inter-agency initiative in fostering discussions around foresight and the role of frontier technologies in driving and scaling up innovation that can enable faster change and contribute to both climate adaptation and development outcomes on the ground. The sessions focused on eight pathways (www.resiliencefrontiers.org) and also included speakers from diverse geographical and professional backgrounds.

Amid this line-up, Dr Rob Hales shared his insights on the role that transformative finance can contribute positively in how we scale up climate action. Dr Samid Suliman was also an active participant also in many discussions at the Resilience Lab, specifically in the pathway on transboundary management. Going forward, Dr Nalau will continue to facilitate this engagement with the UNFCCC Secretariat as part of her on-going DECRA project that looks at the range of global climate adaptation principles and their usefulness for climate adaptation policy and decision-making.

Dr Nalau also moderated an event on Women in Science and Leadership at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Pavilion where the panel of IPCC Scientists gathered to discuss some of the challenges and opportunities that women often face in developing careers in science and participating in global assessments.

Dr Rob Hales also participated in the panel and discussed the unconscious biases that often prevent women from succeeding in organisations. The panelists engaged in a vibrant discussion on personal experiences of forging a career in this space, and the event provided an opportunity for frank and honest discussions around career development and leadership journeys.

Success amid failure

While the negotiators failed to reach agreement on key issues, good news from other parts of the COP reminds us that there is a lot of important work being done outside the negotiation sessions. A major announcement at COP25 was the EU’s Green Deal which is an ambitious plan to reach net zero emissions by 2050 with the 5% of GDP being invested into industry, agriculture and innovation each year. An important lesson for Australia is that no new taxes will be made to fund the investments. Also, carbon taxes on high emissions imported goods and services is part of the plan. This is a great example of what is possible, and all countries should take heed. The Green Deal has the support of Jeffery Sachs, a UN economic advisor and harsh critic of countries that lack ambition to tackle climate change. The Green Deal and China’s plan to implement an emission trading scheme in 2020 means that carbon markets are expanding despite the failure of Article 6 at COP25.

More good news included the numerous side events and in-depth discussions outside the negotiation rooms in how to advance a climate change aware world through initiatives such as those of nature-based solutions, engagement of private sector in increasing resilience, indigenous peoples’ engagement and rights, and numerous discussions on Loss and Damage and climate adaptation. A new UN inter-agency initiative, Resilience Frontiers, also engaged numerous non-Party and Party members in discussions about what a successful future could look like that catalyses action through using foresight and frontier technologies. All these efforts support the view that we have solutions, technologies and aspirations that can make the Paris Agreement a reality.


Greta Thunberg – Right Here, Right Now

Earlier this year, pop culture and the global youth climate movement collided when legendary DJ Fat Boy Slim mixed Greta Thunberg’s speech at the 2019 UN Climate Summit into his classic dance track Right Here, Right Now during a live gig. Greta’s remixed refrain summed up the mood at COP25: the world must act right here and right now to listen to the science, to mobilise extant strategies to reduce emissions, and bring about systemic change to reduce climate risks and harms for the most vulnerable. While COP25 failed to deliver decisive global collective action to limit global heating to under 1.5 degrees, it is clear that COP26 in Glasgow will be critical. If ambitious national targets and strategies are not set then it will be nigh impossible to achieve the 1.5 degree goal set out in the Paris Agreement.

There is an important role for academic researchers leading up to next year’s negotiations. This role is to develop and disseminate new knowledge to inform new strategies to inform and inspire climate action by all countries (including Australia).

Building on their work in Madrid, Griffith researchers are ready to play their part in this effort leading up to COP26 in Glasgow and beyond.