Thursday, November 13, 2014

Preparing for COP20

On December 1st, the 20th Conference of the Parties (COP20) will meet in Lima, Peru to continue the long-running attempts to draft an international treaty on climate change. A successful agreement would have aggressive commitments to mitigate the causes of climate change (reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and a dramatically decreased rate of rainforest destruction) and would include a comprehensive global blueprint (and funding) for adapting to the changes resulting from planetary warming and climate disruption.

COP20 marks the 20th anniversary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – an agreement that emerged from the Rio Earth Summit. It has been 25 years since the international community called for action on greenhouse gases, 26 since James Hansen testified to U.S. congressional committees about global warming. When the UNFCCC was drafted in 1992, negotiators borrowed language from the Montreal Protocol (an agreement to address the destruction of the ozone layer): that member states would “act in the interests of human safety even in the face of scientific uncertainty”. In the time since that draft, the scientific uncertainty about climate change and its causes has been greatly reduced as evidenced in the thousands of peer-reviewed papers published each year and the high confidence level (over 95%) expressed by experts in the most recent report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that climate change is indeed human-caused.

This will be the 6th COP that Moravian College has sent a delegation to after being accredited as an official observer in 2009. We use this blog to report on the issues that we learn about at these international gatherings in an effort to increase awareness of this complex 21st century challenge and to hopefully generate discourse about how to address climate change.

There are a number of factors that make this COP particularly important, including some of the memorable events over the past year in terms of climate change history.
  • COP21 in Paris in 2015 has been identified as the target year for adopting an ambitious, multilateral, legally-binding treaty that will significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and make major progress on a myriad of issues related to building resilient communities, managing risks of extreme weather events and disasters, and assisting developing countries in adapting to the impacts of climate change already being experienced. That means that the main negotiations on targets and language will have to be developed at this conference. In order to “galvanize and catalyze climate action” in advance of COP20 and 21, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon invited world leaders to a Climate Summit in September of this year; over 100 world leaders gathered at the United Nations for this event. Perhaps even more importantly, two days before the summit, the largest climate march in history took place with 2646 events in 162 countries. More than 300,000 people marched in the streets of New York City alone.
  • Preceding this summit, over the past year, the United Nations hosted 13 Open Working Group sessions as part of the effort to develop the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Global climate change was at the forefront of these discussions, and combating climate change emerged this summer as one of the 17 proposed SDGs. Debate was not over whether climate change should or shouldn’t be a goal, but whether it should be a stand-alone goal or a component of all SDGs.
  • According to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the globally averaged temperatures over land and ocean surfaces for both June and September 2014 were the highest since record keeping began in 1880. September marked the 355th consecutive month (29.6 years) with a global temperature above the 20th century average. The last below-average global temperature for June was in 1976 and the last below-average global temperature for any month was in February 1985. In the U.S., the October national average temperature was 3.0°F above average and 2014 is on track to be the warmest year on record globally. Welcome to the new normal.
  • Slower to the warming party due to the physical and chemical properties of water, our oceans are now demonstrating the anticipated changes. The September 2014 global sea surface temperature was the highest on record for any month. Did these warming waters have any impact on Typhoon Nuri – the recent storm that hit Alaska? We can’t know for sure. Not only was this the strongest storm to hit this region, meteorologists believe that it may have been one of the deepest extra-tropical low pressure systems on record in the North Pacific.
  • This spring, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels surpassed the 400 ppm mark. Unlike the stock market, rising values is not what the public should be hoping for. According to an October 2009 paper in the highly respected journal Science, you have to go back 15 million years to find atmospheric conditions like that in our atmosphere – long before Homo sapiens were around. According to UCLA professor Aradhna Tripati, the lead author on that paper, "The last time carbon dioxide levels were apparently as high as they are today — and were sustained at those levels — global temperatures were 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit higher than they are today, the sea level was approximately 75 to 120 feet higher than today, there was no permanent sea ice cap in the Arctic and very little ice on Antarctica and Greenland." The atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide today represent a 44% increase since the historical pre-industrial levels of 278 ppm which were relatively constant for about 800,000 years.
  • The November election results in the U.S. will bring to Washington a Republican-controlled House and Senate. Party leaders have already vowed to revoke regulations aimed at tackling carbon pollution in this country and are trying to push through approval of the controversial Keystone pipeline project in this lame-duck session. Given these developments and the fact that the U.S. has long been viewed as a major obstacle in the international climate negotiations, I was assuming that COP20 would be another fruitless endeavor. And then, out of the blue this week, came the announcement of a historic climate-related agreement between the U.S. and China. These are the two nations with the largest carbon footprints and the two most recalcitrant parties at the COP meetings. The proposed targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions of these two countries are not sufficient to “fix” the problem of global climate change, but the agreement is a crucial first step for both countries. No doubt this will lead to a showdown in Washington, but the agreement could really provide the spark needed to ignite progress at the international negotiation table.
Stay tuned! 2014 still has several more weeks to add even more chapters into the climate history book.


Saturday, September 20, 2014

The best argument can’t always win the fight.

But does arguing at least get us somewhere? To test this a group of students at Lehigh University staged an information stake-out in the center of the campus on Friday night with an objective: invite their peers to the Largest Climate March in History: The Peoples Climate March.  Via a couple of projectors, a sound system and two huge walls at the University Center, they were able to make people pause for a moment and think about the Climate March and the Climate Summit.  

Finding yourself in need to catch-up on the debate?  You can learn more about the summit itself and why it matters by checking out this special brief The People’s Climate March: Everything you need to know to change everything.

But ask yourself why you aren’t aware of the Call to Action for the Climate March? Light projections using the viral Disruption video and the People’s Climate March Graphics attempted to encourage a response from students on Lehigh’s Campus. But the argument in support of Climate Change moved no one. The real question had been inadvertently raised: How are students at Lehigh living the spirit of the Climate March?  Are they invested?

The answer is, the students at Lehigh University aren’t aware of it at all.  Everyone stopped because they were attracted to the Light from the videos.  Yet, no one knew what the videos were about. Instead of an information exchange and debate the organizers expected, they received confused expressions and low-interest in an event that will shape everyone’s future. 

What became obvious in the outreach session was the disconnect plaguing climate change action.  When buses will be traveling to the Climate Summit this Sunday in droves from all places across America, what could possibly be missing from student opinion in a small town that is only 2 hours outside of NYC? What are Lehigh Students missing?

Emotional response.   

“This non-reaction from students is a larger warning to Universities that they aren’t doing enough to engage youth on Climate Change.”  --

Gerardo Calderon, a Lehigh Student and community organizer.

The evening was a harsh reality-check of what their peers knew about the Climate Summit this week at the UN. It was clear that engagement on the campus about climate change was staggeringly low.  And that individual connection to climate change was even lower.  What gives? Can factual Statistics prove and help us understand apathy?

A poll conducted by Gallup this year found that while 69 percent of Americans believe climate change is caused by human activity, only half are personally worried about it. “We’ve won the argument but we haven’t done anything on it,” Bill McKibben of is noted for saying. “We haven’t been able to overcome the power of the status quo enough to make real change, so that we’re losing the fight.”  McKibben is completely on-point.

Its not a fight of factual evidence, its an emotional one.

Those words are echoed by a study from Yale University which supports the idea that emotions act as drivers to connect people to Climate Change Action. "The Role of Emotion in Global Warming Policy Support and Opposition" speaks to what we already know. Looking at how research points to the “affect (feelings of good or bad) and affective imagery (associations) strongly influence public support for global warming.”  What happens to the style of argument when we voice the issue of climate change as if specific emotions, like fear, anger, worry, guilt that are programmed into our discourse and communication?

Through this graphic the paper further shows how specific emotions were stronger predictors of global warming policy than supported cultural world-views. 

Egalitarianism, individualism, negative affects, top of mind associations, or socio-demographic variables, including political party and ideology DIDN’T MATTER. The findings go further to say that,

“50% of the variance in public support for global warming policies was explained by the emotion measures alone. In particular, worry, interest, and hope were strongly associated with increased policy support.”

What does that mean for people communicating climate change? The results contribute to how human beings process information and suggest that emotions play a significant role in public support for climate change policy.  So what are the implications for climate change communication then if we are only hardwired to act when we feel guilty or worried?

Enter a local climate change advocate in the Lehigh Valley, Dan Poresky, has spoken about the role of human emotion in the efforts to reach a larger audience to discuss engagement with Climate Change.  His proposal for Climate Action provides a step-by-step action guide for organizers to place more emphasis on people than the planet. Put simply, it’s his call, a local citizen’s call, to action.

By emphasizing, “How is climate change going to affect me?” Poresky argues that only when people feel secure in the vision of their future will they push governments to act.  That security needs to be based in emotional response like entitlement, fear, anger, and a sense of loss of what you cannot regain. This type of proposal is what is needed from citizen groups.  At the junction of climate change communication efforts from Light Shows to step-by-step guides is the answer to the lack of emotional engagement.

“People will more readily accept the adaptations necessitated by climate change when they can envision living comfortably in a society with reduced carbon emissions is the norm. Its all about public attitude” said Poresky.

One thing is for certain the People’s Climate March will be an emotional tour through Manhattan on September 21. Over 400,000 are expected to show up and walk together. This preempts the week leaders are coming to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s Climate Summit to discuss ambitious goals to reduce global warming pollution. That bit is incredibly important.

The People’s Climate March will take place BEFORE a UN meeting on climate change attended by delegates from 168 countries from all over the world on the path to COP20 in Lima, Peru this year. The message is clear: the pressure is on.  
Who could argue with that?

If this People’s Climate March doesn’t make people feel something?  What will?

Hope to see you all there in a few hours, physically and emotionally invested.


--Sarabeth Brockley @sara_brockley

Monday, September 1, 2014

Post-15 Agenda and UNFCCC Draft Agreements: Can They Be Friends?

After a marathon session at the UN in New York last week for the 65th Annual United Nations Department of Public Information (DPI) Session, the world is now one step closer to a to-do list to end poverty that includes one of its main drivers: climate change. 
In the case of the Post-15 Agenda and the UNFCCC, the chances for their goals to compliment the other could easily dismantle and confuse global negotiations for the issues surrounding climate change, sustainable water, energy, and food scarcity.  Can these two Draft Agreements work together to integrate and not desaturate the necessary components each brings to the table?

The Post-15 Agenda is an answer to the Millennium Development Goals...and should guide the UNFCCC roadmap to Paris 2015.  

From August 27th to the 29th at the #UNNGO2014 65th DPI NGO conference invited over 920 NGOS to comment on the final version of the Post-15 Agenda. In 2015, the UNFCCC COP 21 in Paris and the launch of the Post-2015 Agenda will culminate within months of each other. This Roundtable discussed the interlinkages between both processes and the benefits as well as the of drawbacks of having two separate tracks in the medium and long terms. Terms like Low-carbon development, adaptation, disaster risk reduction and finance were thrown around. 

The Post-2015 process is to create a transformative agenda that is meant to usher us into a new era of sustainable development and in harmony with nature, that is rights based and ensures no-one is left behind. 
Cross-synthesis was a theme hammered by the panelists, but the articulation of that word failed to show the audience examples of how the policies could co-exist and not cancel the other out. 
Moderating the panel, Lina Dabbagh, Post-2015 Officer, CAN International immediately stated that climate change affects every sector from sustainable water, energy.  This is an important step. Citing Climate Change for the first time after the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) failed to include it as the driver of social poverty, the Final Draft of the Post-15 Agenda gave Climate Change a number: Goal 13  The panel suggested that its inclusion is the key issue to ensuring sustainability in the future. While there could have been a fierce debate about one developmental agenda against the other, overall the panelists stayed on the fence about the conflicting status of the declarations.  

H.E. Gustavo Meza-Cuadra Velásquez, Permanent Representative of Peru to the United Nations, kicked off the panel discussion citing how Peru has already accomplished their MDG's for targeting poverty levels and other targets in his own country.  Stating that the "Issue of inequality is important, we want to address social exclusion and inequalities" he set the tone of the discussion. Peru is the next host country for the final UNFCCC meetings before Paris in 2015.  Velásquez believes that the efforts need to be more aggressive and drafting resolutions that use technology transfers first and financing second will be the successful components of each plan. He emphasized building social capital before financial capital. 
No one argued. 
It seems that reversing individualistic approaches to resource security by identifying opportunities for integration and identifying existing trade-offs will result in better policy recommendations for both draft agreements. 

Velásquez made the link between poverty and climate change.  What are these linkages exactly?

Dork Sahagian, an IPCC Nobel Prize winner and professor of Earth Sciences at Lehigh University suggested we think alongside the fabled words of John F. Kennedy "Ask not what climate change will do to the poorer populations but ask what the economic development will do to 7 billion people. Moving away from fossil fuel development in the post-15 agenda is not a current development goal and is necessary, said Dr. Sahagian,
"otherwise the sustainability goals are in direct conflict with our Climate Change goals."
Additionally, Nicholas Nuttall, Creative writer for UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, and Director of Communications & Outreach, UNFCCC suggested that much of the development targets and discussion that are central to Sustainable Development Goals in the Post-15 Agenda and the UNFCCC should be to act as opportunity multipliers.  The division between the private and civil society sector is a huge obstacle. He articulated the issue between the policies well. Consider what the RIO+20 was asking for: a new indicator for process for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) that was not just limited to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) valuation. He asked the only worthwhile question in a panel circulating in a maelstrom around the possibilities for collaboration How can the SDG's support a legally binding process?  

Which process will be codified 
into international law first,
if any?  

Elenita “Neth” Dano, Asia Director of the Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration (ETC Group) remarked, that we must first raise awareness about the issues we wish to combat, this is key to a more sustainable global development agenda. SDGs should act as enablers. Post-2015 draft agreements should be a development agenda. UNFCCC is the driver. Dano argued that we have to look beyond SDGs 2013, because they talk only about food, water and health. However, the success of solving those conflicts builds upon the capacity on countries to adapt/mitigate to climate change in relation to those SDGs.

François Gave, Counsellor for Development and Sustainable Development, Permanent Mission of France to the United Nations debated that Climate Change is still politically charged and polarized. It tends to be a left-winged and right-winged debate.  He called for a broad-based world consensus on climate change and action. He outlined those ideas below:
  1. Incentives (Carbon pricing) Is on the road map to Lima and Paris.  The September 21st, Climate Summit will offer a global schematic that will be addressed in Peru this December at COP 20.
  2. Building confidence and addressing the free-rider problem through rules, transparency and monitoring at the private and civilian level.
  3. Perceptions. The language barrier between science and public information is not being addressed.
If we are to illustrate how awareness is the key to driving dialogue, development draft agreements like the Post-15 Agenda and the UNFCCC as well as others across the globe are mirroring much of the dialogue from this roundtable, and we are slowly learning that integration is a must.
The main takeaways from this roundtable is that only through collaboration, adaptation, and dissemination will sustainability be ensured in our development goals.  It is only a matter of time before further integrated dialogue on each sectors’ development needs eliminates the separation of climate change from sustainability goals and unites them as dependent on the success of the other.

I know what you are all thinking... we know this already?

There can be no Social Justice without Environmental Justice.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

What we aren't hearing about from Bolivia

"So now I can only ask for your prayers for our indigenous fellows in order to bring some hope to this people who have lost the few things they had, their crops, their land, their animals and their homes."

We all get the emails that come from foreign countries, asking us for something. They are scams, of course. But today, I received this email from Carmen who I met at the U.N. in early January while attending on session (OWG7) on developing the next round of sustainable development (see previous post). Today, she is asking for our prayers.

What struck me about Carmen was how passionate she was about dealing with climate change. She was a prominent voice at the session arguing that sustainable development could never be achieved without dealing with climate change.

Her story below is real (I delved into the international press), but not covered in the U.S. media. While we can't say that these current conditions are linked to climate change with any certainty, people in the global south do make this link, right or wrong, and typically believe that the problems have been caused by the industrialized nations.

I share Carmen's accounting (verbatim) to give you a sense of what we hear when we attend the international meetings.  Take a look at the images from Reuters.  This has been haunting me all day as I ask myself, what can I do besides send prayers?  

Dear women,

I’m writing to share a little of the grief that we have being suffering here in Bolivia in the last month. Bolivia has suffer the worst wet season in years and we have take into account that is not a NIÑO or NIÑA year, already 50.000 families have being affected, and around 30 casualties due to the rains, almost 80% indigenous people of lowlands in the Amazonian forest.

The causes are basically three: - Climate change - The dams in Brazil - Deforestation With the increase of co2 of 400ppm the increase of global average temperature of 0.8 C has cause an increase of only 4% of humidity that has being translated in almost three times more rain in the wet season, that has also impacted another countries of the world develop and developing.

That is why I urge to stop talking about a 2C limit event 1.5 will be catastrophic, we have estimated that by the time we reach and a increase of 1C we may have lost the ways of life of 50% of the indigenous people here in Bolivia, unless something is done, the tragedy that today we are facing may have impacted some communities even for ever, including a great number of species that we have already seen how they are migrating; a few weeks ago a wildcat was hunted in a city where this animal has not being seen before, and we have lots of other examples.

Although studies about the dams have being going on since the 90 and despite the opposition of grassroots movement in brazil, I remember talking about this with Norma already in 2007 and the effects of mega dams in the Amazonians as well as other parts of America, most of the calculations for them have being done with typical precipitation rates and did not took into account the possibility of increasing rains, now water is stuck in Bolivian territory, dams in brazil especially Jiarou and San Antonio have already over passed their limit of 75 m of water, and even the infrastructure itself can be impacted.

Bolivia has a deforestation rate of 300.000 ha a year’s 20 times more than the global average, that is why we have to abolish the slash and burned based agriculture which is a practice that came with colonization, people here used to live in harmony with the forest and the jungle but slash and burned based agriculture makes it easy to just burn the forest and open land to new crops in many cases monocrops. Also we have strongly recommended not to deforest the higher parts of the basin especially the area or TIPNIS where average precipitation reaches over 5000 mm this forest work as sponges for the extra water and keep the climatic system "healthy" but with the efforts to have the highway and new coca fields, people are already feeling the impacts.

Therefore the Bolivian tragedy cannot be blame only in climate change but in the fatal combination of causes al related the thirst for energy of the occidental way of life.

That is why my labor is focus right now with the bases, I have being organizing a solidarity campaign for the Mosetenes Indigenous people in their territory 6000 people have being affected by the floods, they have lost almost everything children cannot go to school, and they are living with water under their feet and two babies have pass away. I being advise not to ask any kind of international help in order not to have problems with the gob, at least for now. (Bolivia is not accepting international aid) the gob will only help people that will vote for them in the elections that is why they have not declare emergency yet.

So now I can only ask for your prayers for our indigenous fellows in order to bring some hope to this people who have lost the few things they had, their crops, their land, their animals and their homes. My commitment to fight climate change is stronger than ever and in that sense we will continue to help the people affected.

Please see some images in:

Facebook campaign:

If anyone needs more specific information please write me. Thank you and keep on with the global efforts.

Regards, Carmen Carmen Capriles Cel: +59178877955 La Paz - Bolivia

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Revisiting the United Nations

On this chilly day in January, I find myself sitting in the Trusteeship Council Chambers of the United Nations. A very long time ago, back when I was still in high school, I had a chance to tour the U.N. with my family. A trip to New York was certainly an adventure for someone from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and the chance to see the institution that represented the world was exciting. I didn’t know anyone who had been to the U.N. I still remember looking at all the flags of the world in awe and being thrilled to see stamps from so many countries, my being a semi-serious stamp collector and all. I don’t remember much else about what we saw on the tour, but at the time, I doubt that I had a good sense of the wide array of roles that the U.N. plays in the world.

I am no longer new to U.N. processes, having attended the international climate conferences for the past five years, as readers of this blog know. Contacts that I have made through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meetings, especially Dr. Gillian Bowser of Colorado State University, led to my becoming involved with the National Science Foundation-funded Global Women Scholars Network. That group signed on as a member of the Women’s Major Group (WMG) that is working on the post-2015 goals for sustainable development. The WMG goes back to the 1992 Rio Earth Summit during which women were recognized as one of the nine major groups of civil society. These groups are analogous to the constituency groups of NGOs in the UNFCCC process. (I have previously written about my role in the Research and Independent NGOs or RINGOs. See, for instance: And if you haven’t noticed, all U.N. functions use a lot of acronyms!)

Although I am new to the SDG process and meetings, I am not new to the themes. I teach a course on sustainability and redefining prosperity, and last year, I served as the co-chair for our year-long In Focus theme on sustainability. One of the main topics being considered at the U.N. this week is how climate change should factor into the next round of SDGs – yet another reason why there is some logic to my being here. But also, long story short, due to it still being our break between semesters and my relative proximity to New York City, I was invited to represent the Global Women Scholars Network at this event.

Over the past several weeks, the WMG members have been circulating drafts of several documents for both OWG7 and the upcoming OWG8 at which ecosystems and biodiversity are key themes. This group’s documents for OWG7 can be found at  As these documents circulated back and forth via emails and “the cloud” (just how did people collaborate before the internet), it became clear to Gillian and I that there is need for the inclusion of more sound science to strengthen arguments and to formulate sound recommendations.

So here I am – almost 4 decades later – at the U.N. sitting in the Seventh Session of the General Assembly Open Working Group (OWG7) on Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). The theme today is Sustainable Consumption and Production including chemicals and waste. Chemicals, natural resources, conservation, natural resources, environmental and human health, toxicity, biodiversity, climate change, poverty eradication, gender equality and women’s rights – a career’s worth of scholarly interests plus many more – all converging at once. This is a far cry from an early interest in seeing the world vicariously through stamp collecting.

My day started with attending a Women’s caucus at the U.N. Foundation (well, after catching the 4:45 a.m. bus into NYC). The conference room was filled with women from around the world, each representing a different NGO. We only gave brief introductions, but I may have been the only “academic” in the room. The time was used to review presentations that would be made on behalf of the WMG during the day and to plot strategies for documenting the events and for outreach to policymakers. I felt very welcomed, and was impressed with the wide range of knowledge, the humor, and the passion that was clearly evident in the room. But I also felt uncomfortable with the strong anti-chemical, anti-technology vibes I was picking up.

It is here that the worlds of my scholarly interests collide. I was trained as a biochemist, coming up through chemistry-based academic departments. I was also a graduate student in plant sciences at the time many of the new genetic-based technologies were first being applied. I follow advances in fields such as genetic engineering, synthetic biology, green chemistry quite closely. At the same time, I work in circle of conservationists and environmental activists, many who are quite chemophobic and typically anti-GMOs, so things feel a bit schizophrenic for me at times. I wasn’t surprised to hear concerns about nuclear energy, genetic engineering, environmental estrogens, and large-scale biofuel production from this group, but wasn’t expecting a debate over how synthetic biology is defined. Many concluded that it is far worse that genetic engineering. Sigh. I teach that topic with some enthusiasm.

Because the Global Women’s Scholar Network does not yet have official credentials for the SDG process, I am actually here under the auspices of the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO). During the online drafting of the position papers, I learned that my comment noting that "in order to move forward and to sound credible, we can’t be against everything" was a minority opinion. So when the WMG presentation for today included a statement about a goal of zero hazardous chemicals by 2030, I cringed inside, but remained silent. Because I was new at the caucus, I played the role of observer-learner.

As I was getting my security clearance at the U.N., there was another person new to the process. Somewhat ironically, it turns out that he was representing the International and American Chemical Councils. He asked what group I was representing, and when I said the “Women’s Major Group”, there was a heavy sigh. I quickly added that I was trained as a chemist, but the conversation was over.

The official morning sessions began with the co-chairs for OWG7 hearing presentations and interventions from representatives of the Major Groups and other stakeholders. There are nine Major Groups in all, but not all were represented today. Speakers represented the interests of the World Society for the Protection of Animals, the Children and Youth Major Group, Indigenous Peoples, and the WMG. The Business and Industry Major Group representative (yes, the guy I met at security) spoke on behalf of the Chemical Councils – the only voice not speaking about the evil impacts of chemicals on people and the environment. In a way, I felt sorry for him. Fortunately, one of the co-chairs of the session said what I had wanted to say at the caucus, that essentially all chemicals can be hazardous at the right dose or under the right condition, so total elimination of them is essentially impossible.

I still believe that technological innovations are key in helping us to attain food security, develop clean, renewable energy sources, find cures for diseases, address climate change, clean up toxic environments, and address at least some of the social and economic inequities on our planet. Somehow, we have to find ways to balance the emotional responses and fears of chemicals and technology with evidence-based decision-making. The passion of civil society is essential for pushing governments to act, but the policy decisions have to be practical, and hopefully, based on science. As one plenary speaker said later in the morning, we need system innovations, not system optimizations.

I have to find ways to convey this message such that my invitation to participate with the WMG isn’t revoked. I care about the same issues that they do, as I fully understand the disparate impacts that unsustainable practices, poverty, lack of access to education, climate change, water shortages, and environmental toxins have on women. But I also know that we can’t solve these problems by going back in time in terms of technology. Neither these conversations, nor finding the path to a truly sustainable future given all of our global challenges, will be easy. Yet, as I listened to the dialog amongst representatives from nations around the world – nations that used to be bitter enemies in war that are now trying to work collaboratively to tackle these challenges – I felt a sense of hope.

Leaving the building, I saw images of U.N. peace-keeping forces helping villagers build a community well, of the Holocaust, of melted and fused metal items found at Hiroshima, children’s posters on Human Rights, and an automatic rifle converted into a musical instrument. These were all powerful and conflicting reminders of how complex the world is, and how far I have come since that first trip to the U.N. so many years ago.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

For what it is worth

The early feedback on the framework coming out of Warsaw:

2015 marks the deadline for a multilateral agreement under the UNFCCC that will be a) replace the Kyoto Protocol and b) be implemented no later than 2020.  It was decided back in Durban (COP17) that a new legal agreement was needed in which all countries play a role in reducing greenhouse gases and adapting to a new climate.

From the UNFCCC:

This includes work to make existing national emission reduction or emission limitation plans more transparent. It also encompasses the launch and long-term implementation of the comprehensive global support network that will deliver funding and technology to help developing countries build their own clean energy futures and construct societies and economies which are resilient to climate change. (emphasis added) 

As one of the largest national greenhouse gas emitters, the U.S. needs to both significantly and deliberately reduce its emissions (not just show up at the international negotiations table) and Congress will need to ratify any final treaty that comes out of the UNFCCC process by 2015.  Given the current "climate" in Washington D.C., that seems more difficult than reaching compromise and agreement on the international stage.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Show me the money

Since returning from Warsaw, it has been characteristically quiet in terms of media coverage about the international negotiations related to climate change. My students were on the lookout while I was away and also reported little coverage. But finally, some news about the UNFCCC proceedings has begun to appear in the U.S. media. From the New York Times on Friday (November 22nd): U.N. Talks on Climate Near End:

The United Nations climate conference ambled toward a conclusion on Friday, with delegates saying that the meeting would produce no more than a modest set of measures toward a new international agreement two years from now. As usual, the biggest dispute was over money.  

Finance is a word commonly heard in the halls and negotiating rooms of COP meetings: Long-term Finance, Fast-start Finance, Green Climate Fund, Adaptation Fund, Loss and Damage, the economic costs of mitigation. As with much of the UNFCCC process, there is lots of jargon around the topic of finance, and it can be difficult to keep all the different funding streams straight. (If you are interested in that type of stuff, details can be found here.) For those less inclined to delve into the policy and finance mechanism details, the short version is that negotiators debate the following:
  • How to transfer low-carbon technology to developing nations so they don’t further exacerbate the greenhouse gas problem and who pays for this technology transfer, adoption, and training (not to mention the loss of intellectual property income if technology is just given away);
  • How to help countries adapt to the impacts of climate change (ranging from adaptations in agriculture to reducing risk from extreme weather events). Something as simple as early warning systems such as the alerts on cell phones that may have saved countless lives in the Midwest this week can reduce risk, but such technology is not available in many parts of the world.
  • Whether countries should be compensated for the loss and damage they experience from climate change related events. Who should pay for all of this, and are some countries responsible for historical emissions dating back to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution?
  • Carbon markets such as emissions trading or sustainable development projects which help other countries avoid carbon-emitting processes or help remove carbon from the atmosphere for instance by protecting rainforests.
There are also costs of inaction that don’t directly enter the discussions at the COP meetings, but provide an underlying incentive for the talks to continue, despite little progress over the past several years. (See my post from December last year). Take for example the economic toll from weather-related disasters on Earth so far in 2013. The following is from Dr. Jeff Master’s blog from November 22nd on

Three billion-dollar weather-related disasters hit the Earth during October 2013, bringing the world-wide tally of these disasters through October 2013 to 35, according to the October 2013 Catastrophe Report from insurance broker Aon Benfield. If we add November's Super Typhoon Haiyan, the total reaches 36. This is the second highest yearly total of billion-dollar weather disasters for the globe since accurate disaster records began in 2000, though the total cost of weather-related disasters so far in 2013 is below the average for the past ten years, according to Senior Scientist Steve Bowen of Aon Benfield. The record highest number of billion-dollar weather disasters was 40, set in 2010. For comparison, during all of 2012, there were 27 billion-dollar weather disasters; the tally in 2011 was 35 (adjusted for inflation.) The U.S. total through October 2013 is seven.

In the table within Dr. Master's post, the annual loss and damage total through October 2013 comes to almost $102 billion. These numbers do not take into account the cost of damages from Typhoon Haiyan or the tornados that ripped through the Midwest of this country just this past week, so this number will rise dramatically. And the figure doesn’t take into account the loss of life.

A concept that came out of the COP meeting in 2009 – in Copenhagen (the first attended by Moravian College) was to create a fund to help cover some of these financial issues. This was put forth by wealthy nations that indicated at the time that this money would not come directly out of their treasuries.  Rather, there would be a mix of public and private financing and novel funding sources such as taxes such as on aviation and shipping fuel. A few COP meetings later, a figure of $100 billion of contributions per year by 2020 was thrown on the table.

One has to question how the figure of $100 billion was determined.  It clearly wouldn’t cover all of the annual damages based on extreme weather events over the past few years (which are predicted to become even more frequent). Hurricane Sandy and the major drought in the U.S. in 2012 alone had a price tag of $100 billion, according to the global reinsurance firm Aon Benfield, based in London. And that is for just for a single country and doesn’t take into consideration the lost revenue from tourism and recreation at the New Jersey shore during the 2013 year or the costs of the major 6-block fire in Seaside Park that destroyed 50 businesses – due to electrical damage from Sandy that went undetected.

Such reported figures are typically underestimates of the actual impact of an extreme weather event. In the U.S. in 2011, it was estimated that extreme weather events (tornados such as hit Joplin, MO, Hurricanes Irene and Lee, etc.) caused $50 billion in damages. That year, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, there were 3,251 monthly weather records broken by extreme events that struck communities in the U.S.  Many of the losses were uninsured (perhaps as high as 60 to 80%) and thus, may not be calculated in the official numbers. Further, there are many indirect costs that are unaccounted for.  It is estimated that weather events cause significant losses (14%) to the mining economy each year due to price fluctuations for oil, gas and coal that change with the weather, threats to the security of mine water supply, and damage to mines and associated transport infrastructure.  Torrential rain and unreliable temperatures negatively impact crop yields, and thus there are agricultural losses -- perhaps as high as 12%. The manufacturing, finance, insurance, retail and utilities sectors are also sensitive (think weather-induced power outages which are a huge blow to electric-utility operations). Sometimes there are winners and losers that further complicate the economic picture. For example, in a snowstorm: air travel is disrupted and heating costs skyrocket, but ski resorts hit the jackpot. During dry spell, crop supplies dwindle, but construction projects are able to stay on schedule. According to Kinetic Analysis Corporation’s figures, the real damage costs in 2011 were probably closer to $485 billion.

From a colleague who was in attendance during week 2 of COP19:

Other news was that the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) walked out on Wednesday in protest of the developed nations to fully fund commitments and Environmental groups on Thursday to protest the sluggish funding of the Green Climate Fund.

I guess I missed the interesting stuff by coming back early! (See the story.)

On the day that the LDCs walked out of the COP meeting in protest, NPR carried a story entitled “Poor Countries Push Rich Nations to do More on Climate Change”. Commitments for finance have been slow in coming causing the developing nations to question whether the industrialized nations take the negotiations process seriously. But the funding proposal mentioned above did come with strings; it was contingent on meaningful action towards mitigation (pledges to reduce greenhouse gases) by all countries – not just the Annex I (developed, rich nations) countries.  In a second NPR story from this past Wednesday on the tensions between rich and poor nations at the climate meeting reported Richard Harris stated:

And I might add that about half of all carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has come from the developing world. That includes coal burning in China and deforestation in Indonesia and Brazil.

The spin coming out of Warsaw yesterday:

The Adaptation Fund Surpasses $100 Million Fundraising Target at COP19!
New commitments from Austria, Belgium & Regions, Finland, France, Germany, Norway, Switzerland (Warsaw, Poland, 22 November 2013): The Adaptation Fund has received strong support from the international community at the COP19 in Warsaw, Poland, with commitments for $ 72.5 million in funding from seven European governments, bringing its total raised in a major fundraising push to US$ 104.3 million. The governments of Sweden and the Brussels Capital Region earlier contributed US$ 31.8 million toward the goal.

Strong support?  Really?  That is $100 million (with an "m" not a "b").  For comparison purposes, JP Morgan, a single banking entity, agreed this week to pay $13 billion (that's with a "b") in a settlement over faulty mortgage assets it sold in the years leading up to the financial crisis as a big victory for the judicial system. (See the story here.)

The constant threat of financial crises and economic recession in developed nations is frequently held up as reasons why countries cannot make greater commitments to the various funds and finance mechanisms discussed at COP meetings. Yet what about the countries that have never climbed high enough out of poverty to know what a recession is?

This week (November 20th) Melissa Block of NPR interviewed Munjurul Hannan Khan, a Bangladeshi negotiator and spokesman for what's called the Least Developed Countries group at the talks.

[Melissa Block]: What is the argument by which rich countries should have to compensate developing countries, such as your own, for the losses that you've described due to climate change?

[Khan]: First, they [developed, industrialized nations] have to accept the reality. Realities on the ground that people are suffering, and the realities on the ground that we cannot do anything by - only by adaptation or only by mitigations. So there are some things called residual impacts. These residuals impacts need special attention that we are seeing called loss and damage.

A premise that has long been part of the UNFCCC deliberations is the “Polluter pays principle”, but a long-running debate is whether developed nations should be responsible for historical emissions. Another problem is that you cannot necessarily link specific weather events like Typhoon Haiyan to climate change. So how and when would allocations from a “loss and damage” fund be distributed? And who gets to decide? 

In some cases, the link between an observed impact and climate change are clearer -- such as warming global temperatures leading to sea level rise (due to melting of glaciers and polar ice caps, ice loss from Greenland and West Antarctica, and expansion of water as it warms).

[Mr Khan]: The whole coastal area is - salinity intrusion is so high, they couldn't do their agricultural practice. They couldn't actually get their livelihood support from that area.

Some like to question models and scientific predictions.   I am not sure why.  The weather patterns and other impacts (loss of sea ice, rising sea levels, etc.) are behaving as predicted by the Global Climate Models.  And the warming trend continues:  October 2013 was 344th consecutive month of above average global temperatures.

If you go to the website for the Green Climate Fund (GCF) you will find this at the top of the homepage:

The urgency and seriousness of climate change call for ambition in financing adaptation and mitigation.

Ambition has been a common (and hopeful) word at the past few COP meetings.  Continuing from the website:

The purpose of the Green Climate Fund is to make a significant and ambitious contribution to the global efforts towards attaining the goals set by the international community to combat climate change.

Say what?

The Fund will contribute to the achievement of the ultimate objective of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). In the context of sustainable development, the Fund will promote the paradigm shift towards low-emission and climate-resilient development pathways by providing support to developing countries to limit or reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to the impacts of climate change, taking into account the needs of those developing countries particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change.

A GCF press release from earlier this week:

(Warsaw, Poland, 19 November 2013) – The Green Climate Fund announced today that is on track towards completing the final steps that will enable it to mobilize funding and start its operations.

Hmmm.  On track?  More spin?

And a final thought from the interview between NPR's Melissa Block and the negotiator, Mr. Khan, from Bangladesh (Todd Stern is the U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change):

[BLOCK]: Todd Stern is also saying here, the fiscal reality, as he put it, of the United States and the other developed countries is not going to allow this. The money simply isn't there.

[KHAN]: If you would like to compare Bangladesh with the U.S.A., we are so poor. Our poor people is really trying hard to get the next meal. But in case of the developed country, it's the question of compromising the lifestyle. In our case, it's a question of survival. (emphasis added) 

Lately, I have been once again pondering the work of British scientist and novelist C.P. Snow, especially The Two Cultures - from an influential and controversial 1959 Rede Lecture delivered in the Senate House, Cambridge.  Essentially, his thesis was that "the intellectual life of the whole western society" was split into two cultures -- the sciences and humanities -- and he lamented that this was a major hindrance to solving the world's problems.

Fifty years later in 2009, Peter Dizikes was reflecting on this work in the New York Times:

So why did Snow think the supposed gulf between the two cultures was such a problem? Because, he argues in the latter half of his essay, it leads many capable minds to ignore science as a vocation, which prevents us from solving the world’s “main issue,” the wealth gap caused by industrialization, which threatens global stability. “This disparity between the rich and the poor has been noticed . . . most acutely and not unnaturally, by the poor.”

I think Mr. Khan and many others from the LDCs would agree.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

What leadership looks like

There is typically more controversy and conflict than progress at the annual U.N. climate conferences.  Sometimes, the controversy can surround the choice of host country; for example, last year, COP18 was held in the oil-rich country of Qatar.  The 19th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 19) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Warsaw has been no exception in terms of controversy. 

As noted in an earlier post ("Oil and Gas-loving Qatar and now Coal-Dependent Poland Hosts of COP"), Poland relies heavily on coal as an energy source and the Polish prime minister has stated that “hard coal and lignite -- and soon shale gas -- will remain our principal energy sources. That's where the future of the energy sector lies.” Several sponsorships of COP19 had links to the fossil fuel industry.  Warsaw even chose to co-host the International Coal and Climate Summit (ICCS), at a time that coincided with COP19.

Many were upset by this odd juxtaposition of events, both of which appeared to be equally welcomed in the city.  For many, even more perplexing was that UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres had agreed to speak at this Coal Summit.  Perhaps the greatest frustration was expressed by the UNFCCC’s youth constituent, YOUNGO, which decided to send Ms. Figueres an open letter forcing a choice of attending either their Global Climate Youth Meeting or the Coal Summit.  The Executive Secretary chose to attend the latter.  The frustration of the youth is clearly evident in some of the social media updates from last week (for example, see references 1-3 below).

The ultimatum send by the youth and the fact that some of them walked out on Ms. Figueres when she attended the Inter-generational Inquiry held later in the first week of COP19 were, to me, both understandable and disappointing.  I admire the passion and activism of the international youth that I have witnessed at COP meetings over the past five years -- far more engagement than I see from most of my students on environmental or social issues.  Many of these youth will likely be future leaders in climate policy development and activism.  However, I don't approve of the youth that rudely walked out of the inter-generational event when the Executive Secretary was speaking, especially if you have ever heard the heart-felt comments and support that Ms. Figueres has previously provided to the youth -- the generation that will likely feel the full brunt of climate change.  I think that this was recognized by some (see here).

I would hope that the YOUNGO members can understand why it might be important for the Executive Secretariat to speak to the coal industry.  Indeed, Ms. Figueres argued that it was important to confront the enemy, if you will, rather than to ignore their existence.  I agree with her, but realize that it isn't always easy to stand up to those who have a different world view.

Christiana Figueres did speak at the Coal Summit this week, and the text of her speech was widely distributed.  It is worth reading, so I have copied the text verbatim below.  Her comments confirm my observations over the past five years that Ms. Figueres is an extremely intelligent, brave, articulate, and diplomatic leader.  And added plus (from my perspective) is her understanding of science, and willingness to use it as ammunition in her efforts to address the global climate change issue.  I am not certain that I could have stood up to the coal industry in this manner, but I applaud the Executive Secretary for doing so.

And maybe, just maybe, having these international summits coincide in time and location is having an unexpected result.  Just this morning in Warsaw, the UK climate secretary Ed Davey announced that the UK would join other countries and large financial institutions in ending international financing for coal projects (4).


Full speech by UN climate chief Christiana Figueres to World Climate and Coal summit in Warsaw

Your Excellency, Mr. Deputy Prime Minister, Honourable Member of the European Parliament, Distinguished Chair of the World Coal Association, Ladies and Gentlemen, I appreciate the opportunity to address the International Coal and Climate Summit in a frank and honest exchange on the transition to a low-emission economy.

Let me be clear from the outset that my joining you today is neither a tacit approval of coal use, nor a call for the immediate disappearance of coal. But I am here to say that coal must change rapidly and dramatically for everyone’s sake.

There are some who, deeply concerned about the devastating effects of climate change already felt by vulnerable populations around the world, are calling for the immediate shut down of all coal plants. There are others who think that coal does not have to change at all, that we can continue to extract and burn as we have done in the past.

The first view does not take into account the immediate needs of nations looking to provide reliable energy to rapidly growing populations in pursuit of economic development and poverty eradication. The second view does not take into account the immediate need for climate stability on this planet, necessary for the wellbeing of present and future generations.

Today I want to set out an alternative path that is admittedly not easy, but is undoubtedly necessary. That path must acknowledge the past, consider the present and chart a path towards an acceptable future for all. I join you today to discuss this path for two reasons. First, the energy sector is an intrinsic component of a sustainable future. And second, the coal industry must change and you are decision makers who have the knowledge and power to change the way the world uses coal.

The path forward begins in the past, recognizing that coal played a key role in the history of our economic development. From heating to transportation to the provision of electricity, coal has undoubtedly enabled much of our progress over the last 200 years. Coal was at the heart of the developed world’s Industrial Revolution and brought affordable energy to the developing world.

However, while society has benefitted from coal-fuelled development, we now know there is an unacceptably high cost to human and environmental health. The science is clear. The IPCC Fifth Assessment Report outlines our predicament. We are at unprecedented GHG concentrations in the atmosphere; our carbon budget is half spent. If we continue to meet energy needs as we have in the past, we will overshoot the internationally agreed goal to limit warming to less than two degree Celsius.

AR5 is not science fiction, it is science fact. AR5 is the overwhelming consensus of 200 lead authors synthesizing the work of 600 scientists who analysed 9000 peer-reviewed publications. AR5 is arguably the most rigorous scientific report ever written. And, the findings of the AR5 have been endorsed by 195 governments, including all of those in which you operate.

There is no doubt that the science is a clarion call for the rapid transformation of the coal industry. Just this morning, more than 25 leading climate and energy scientists from around the world released a clear statement about the need to radically rethink coal’s place in our energy mix.

Considering that coal energy loads the atmosphere with greenhouse gasses, competes for water and impacts public health, the call of science has already been answered by a wide gamut of stakeholders: Students, faith-based organizations and citizens are asking their investment managers to divest from coal and other fossil fuels. Cities choked by air pollution are limiting the burning of coal. Development banks have stopped funding unabated coal.

Commercial financial institutions are analysing the implications of unburnable carbon for their investment strategies. Pricing of GHG emissions is on the rise, evidenced by trading markets coming online around the globe. And, international policy is moving us toward a global low-emission economy. All of this tells me that the coal industry faces a business continuation risk that you can no longer afford to ignore.

Like any other industry, you have a fiduciary responsibility to your workforce and your shareholders. Like any other industry, you are subject to the major political, economic and social shifts of our time. And by now it should be abundantly clear that further capital expenditures on coal can go ahead only if they are compatible with the two degree Celsius limit.

Ladies and gentlemen, the coal industry has the opportunity to be part of the worldwide climate solution by responding proactively to the current paradigm shift. It would be presumptuous of me to put forward a transition plan for coal as you are the repositories of knowledge and experience, and the assets you manage are at stake.

But there are some fundamental parameters of this transition:

  • Close all existing subcritical plants;
  • Implement safe CCUS on all new plants, even the most efficient;
  • Leave most existing reserves in the ground.

These are not marginal or trivial changes, these are transformations that go to the core of the coal industry, and many will say it simply cannot be done. But the phrase “where there’s a will, there’s a way” is tantamount to human history because will precedes innovation, and innovation precedes transformation. John F. Kennedy called for putting man on the moon in ten years at a point when no one knew how that would be done.

We must transform coal with the same determination, the same perseverance, the same will. We must be confident that if we set an ambitious course to low-emissions, science and technology will rapidly transform systems. Above all, you must invest in this potential, because the coal industry has the most to gain by leveraging the existing capital, knowledge and capacity to transform itself. The world is rising to meet the climate challenge as risks of inaction mount, and it is in your best interest to make coal part of the solution. These radical changes have the transformative power to bring coal in line with the direction in which society is moving.

I urge every coal company to honestly assess the financial risks of business as usual; anticipate increasing regulation, growing finance restrictions and diminishing public acceptance; and leverage technology to reduce emissions across the entire coal value chain. You are here today as coal industry leaders, but you can also understand yourselves as long-term energy supply leaders. Some major oil, gas and energy technology companies are already investing in renewables, and I urge those of you who have not yet started to join them.

By diversifying your portfolio beyond coal, you too can produce clean energy that reduces pollution, enhances public health, increases energy security and creates new jobs. By diversifying beyond coal, you reduce the risk of stranded assets and make yourselves ready to reap the rewards of a green economy. By diversifying beyond coal, you can deploy your disciplined, courageous and technically skilled workforce into new renewable energy jobs, transforming your companies from within.

The Warsaw Communique is a first step for change because it shows:
  • That the Association accepts climate change as a development risk; and
  • That lower coal emissions is an aspirational and realizable goal.
The communique is a first step, but it cannot be the last. I invite you to use this Climate and Coal Summit to decide how you are going to step up to the challenge of contributing to real climate change solutions. We must urgently take the steps that put us on an ambitious path to global peaking by the end of this decade, and zero-net emissions by the second half of the century.

Steps that look past next quarter’s bottom line and see next generation’s bottom line, and steps to figure health, security and sustainability into the bottom line. For it will be your children and my children, our grandchildren and their grandchildren who will look back at today and judge our collective commitment to them.

They must be able to look back and recognize this summit as a historic turning point for the coal industry.