I met Aram Gabrielyan in 1996 at a UNEP conference in Riga, Latvia, when he represented Armenia at a meeting on the Montreal Protocol.  

Perspectives from a Veteran COP Delegate

December 4, 2015


I met Aram Gabrielyan in 1996 at a UNEP conference in Riga, Latvia, when he represented Armenia at a meeting on the Montreal Protocol. A physicist by training, Dr. Gabrielyan (pictured at left above) has worked at the Armenian Ministry of Nature Protection since 1986.

Allison ChatrchyanChatrchyan is a member of Cornell's COP21 delegation (watch her COP21 video)

Dr. Gabrielyan has been an Armenian Delegate to the COP since COP2 in Geneva in 1996. He is one of only a handful of veterans who have been at almost every COP for the past twenty years, and can therefore provide an important long-term perspective on the process.


AC: How have the COPs changed since the early meetings in the 1990s?

AG: In the 1990s, the UNFCCC process was just getting started, as the Convention had just been adopted in 1992, and the first COP took place in 1995. The COPs were much smaller events so it was possible for small delegations to be integrally involved in the negotiation process. Even though we had no formal diplomatic training, we had our strong background in the sciences that we could bring to the table. When I attended my first COP in 1996, I recall that delegates were much more enthusiastic and dedicated to establishing an international agreement to address climate change. The approach was to try to find the best solution available at that time.

AC: How is climate change affecting Armenia now and in the future?

AG: Armenia is very vulnerable to climate change, especially because it is a mountainous, land-locked country. We found that there is a much higher rate of increased temperature in the country as compared to global average trends, by 20-30%. Most of the water resources are from mountainous runoff. There has been a decrease in snowfall, that is melting about 1 month earlier, which is causing decreased river flows. Climate change impacts also include decreased precipitation, leading to increased aridity, which could lead to water shortages in the future. There is also an increase in more extreme events, including drought, hail, and late spring frost. Since 20% of Armenia’s GDP comes from agriculture, and 10% from processing of agricultural products, our country is very vulnerable to climate impacts.

AC: As a scientist, are you frustrated by the slow pace of international action?

AG: In the early days of COP, I was frustrated that the very clear science of climate change did not lead to strong enough international action. But I now understand that the entire global economy is built in a manner where the real environmental costs of doing business are not built into the economic system – our global economic system is heavily resource intensive, based on using resources and creating products as quickly as possible. The solution to climate change will not only come from international agreements, but from changing our global economic system to be less resource intensive. Saving resources has to be built into the international climate change agreement.

AC: How does Armenia participate at COP 21, and what are you hoping to accomplish?

AG: Since the 1990s, the COPs have become huge events. There are roughly 20,000 country delegates and 10,000 observers at COP 21. There are 15 contact groups for each one of the negotiating agenda items at the COP, and most of the time, the work in these technical groups is occurring simultaneously. The challenge for Armenia is that we have only three negotiators at COP 21, while the largest countries like the EU or US have hundreds of negotiators and delegates. The UNFCC is only funding two delegates to COPs, and one delegate to the subsidiary body planning meetings that lead up to COPs. Often, development agencies or foundations will fund other delegates to participate from a country, so larger African countries for example will have dozens of negotiators and delegates at COP 21, but not so for the smaller developing countries. This means that in reality the smaller countries like Armenia can really only follow one or two agenda items, and have very little capacity for meaningful participation. The decisions are really being made by a handful of the largest or most powerful countries or negotiating groups like the EU or G77.

Practically, we are trying to defend our positions on some aspects, so that Armenia will be included with developing countries in the decisions that will affect funding for adaptation programs, losses and damages, or technology transfer programs. In reality, our positions are close to the G77 countries, but sometimes were are trying to use our position as a country outside of the G77 to raise points that are important to Armenia.

AC: What do you hope will come out of COP 21?

AG: My highest hope is that the international community will not step back from its country commitments to strong GHG emissions reductions. But I am also realistic. The greatest thing we could achieve from COP21 would be if we could attain a framework structure where countries are submitting their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), but which will also allow for the international community to regularly review these INDCs and strengthen them to further lower emissions. For countries like Armenia that are very dependent on natural ecosystems, we also have to make sure that there is an ecosystem-based approach to both adaptation and GHG mitigation.