Monday, December 13, 2010

Blue Carbon- Protecting Coastal Environments

The concept of Blue Carbon is gaining interest as an innovative solution to protect and improve coastal areas. These valuable coastal areas are mainly covered by sea grasses, salt marshes and mangrove forests. Scientists and economists are working together to develop ways in which these areas can be put on the market for their ability to capture carbon naturally and also to prevent them from being cleared for other opportunities. Many mangrove forests are being cleared to be used for shrimp farming. Blue Carbon would help to store carbon in these high carbon areas as well as preventing further emissions from deforestation. These areas would be a great investment because of their high importance for local communities as well as their carbon value.

For more information on Blue Carbon visit

Saturday, December 11, 2010

We have a deal!!!

In an overnight session, the COP president brought a proposed text to the plenary.  With a bit of tweaking to accommodate different parties, it is a balanced deal with progress on all fronts. Check out the UNFCCC page for a list of the Cancun Agreements:  Main texts include: AWG-LCA text and AWG-KP text.   The press release from the UN can be found here: UN Press Release.

Transparency and openness were the watchwords for the president, and symbolically, the doors were all open for the final session and the talks were on streaming video. After a short negative statement by Bolivia, the rest of the parties unanimously praised the president and process, and then all agreed to the text as proposed. The Indian delegate mentioned that in India, there are many gods and goddesses: he believes that the COP President may be one of the goddesses. If you just want to feel good about the UN and the world, watch the final session at

Friday, December 10, 2010

Welcome to Team KP

Team KP: The Chair, Dr. Ashe, is third from right

The chairs of both the KP (Kyoto Protocol) and LCA (Long-term Cooperative Action) working groups have met on a few occasions with the observers to answer questions about the negotiating texts.  The KP chair, Dr. John Ashe, represents Antigua and Barbuda.  He completed his PhD in bioengineering from the University of Pennsylvania, and has a great sense of humor, evident with his opening remarks: "Welcome to Team KP. You know the line-up."

Both chairs were willing to answer questions about the recent draft reports.  The reports are available online at and   Of course, the negotiators are still working furiously to see if more agreement can be reached before the conference ends.  The hope is that agreement can be made on some of the text, while leaving other parts to be decided at the COP 17 in Durban, South Africa.

Of course, the audience of NGO observers wanted to know what the potential was for a post-2012 agreement, which was impossible for the chairs to answer.  The chairs reiterated the need for balance across the tracks and within the tracks, and they are hoping for some progress.  They acknowledged the need for political input for a second commitment period and issues on the mechanism side.  Some observers were concerned that there is no "gap" acknowledged in the texts (referring to the "emissions gap" set forth in the UNEP report) -- but the response from the KP team was that they were trying to avoid a "gap" altogether.  For the LCA text, the concerns were that "just transition" (necessary for workers) remain in the shared vision text. There was a general sense that the observers wanted a 1.5 degree option, but a compromise may be 2 degrees with future review.  The chair of the LCA is hopeful that at least some funding could be established and set into motion. The chair of the LCA noted that the Gt emissions gap relates to the "level of ambition" in the LCA text. The idea is that we need to establish a process with a view to increasing the "level of ambition" in the future.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Ban Ki-moon and Felipe de Jesús Calderón urge nations to reach modest deal

The United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, yesterday urged to consent to a modest deal to rein in climate change without holding out for perfection. After the US president, Barack Obama, and other leaders were not able to work out a new climate treaty at last year's summit in Copenhagen, Ban stressed that Cancún has more modest ambitions: “We don't need final agreement on all the issues, but we do need progress on all the fronts. We cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” Ban said in his address to the opening ceremony of the high-level segment of the COP 16 talks. “Business as usual cannot be tolerated for it would condemn millions – no, billions – of children, women and men around the world to shrinking horizons and smaller futures. Cancún must represent a breakthrough,” he added. The Mexican president, Felipe de Jesús Calderón, warned that time was running out and called on nations to act now. “I urge you, all parties, to make concrete here a balanced packet of agreements that will allow is to advance. A balanced packet of agreements that will allow us to already to take the first actions and steps because we can't wait any longer and time is running out,” claims Calderón.

YOUNGOs Creatively Advocate 1.5 degrees

Around 1:30 today, some of the YOUNGOs (the youth at the conference), attracted a lot of attention with a creative idea and few supplies. They had a map of Asia, Europe and the Yucantan (part of Mexico where the conference is located). The maps showed only the landmass that would remain in each area if carbon emissions are not reduced, because sea level rise will wipe out significant parts of each area. To support a 1.5 degrees temperature rise maximum, they were asking people to dip their thumbs in green paint and leave a thumbprint where a dotted line represented land that would be lost. Once enough people had shown their support, thumbprints would fill the whole area that would be lost, effectively recreating the land to look like it does today, without any loss from sea level rise. The youth said that this was symbolic of people taking back what might be lost and not letting policy makers forget what is at stake. To further support their cause, some people are leaving the dried green paint on their thumb to show others at the conference where they stand on environmental matters.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Launch of U.S. Strategy for REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation)

Special Assistant to President Obama, Joe Aldy, began the conference today by speaking about the U.S. commitment to “fast start” financing in the Copenhagen Accord. Over the fiscal year 2010-2012 we will be dedicating a billion dollars to REDD+ activities that help developing countries mitigate climate change impacts by reducing deforestation and preserving forests for their carbon sink capabilities. Other landscapes with significant mitigation potential such as peatlands and wetlands are also being addressed. This is a significant increase as compared to last year when the total budget for all adaptation measures including combating deforestation was as much as the governments current investment in deforestation. Even though this is an increase, compared to previous years, it certainly does not meet the true financial needs to prevent the loss of the crucial services that forests provide.

The benefits that REDD+ activities provide not only work to reduce emissions but also to encourage sustainable development, improvement of quality of life, and economic growth. The US strategy for REDD+ bases itself on three main objectives. The first of these objectives is architecture, which supports policies and programs that advance the coordination and precision of REDD+ efforts. The second objective is readiness, implementing programs that act on scale that can significantly reduce emissions and meet ambitious mitigation commitments. Investments pertaining to the third objective, demonstration, identify and implement the best practices for achieving a decrease in deforestation emissions.

Joe Aldy addressed the need for the U.S. to partner with governments and organizations in smarter, more efficient ways as well as shift from higher to lower carbon economic strategies. We must also scale up forest carbon monitoring and ensure that this process remains as transparent as possible.

Patrick Smith from USAID, outlined REDD+ projects that are being pursued in Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Guyana, Mexico, Indonesia, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Cambodia, Uganda, Zambia, and Gabon. USAID’s regional development mission in Asian countries has had considerable success in the past few years bolstering sustainable forest management and readying it for REDD+ actions.

There is much that still needs to be done, such as strengthening efforts in working with protecting the forest and native lands of indigenous people in the U.S. as well as in developing countries, and gaining more funding to begin making substantial strides for combating deforestation and mitigating impacts of climate change. It is hopeful however, that our country is beginning to address the importance of these issues by helping other countries take action.

Another Joint Post by Garth and Nelson

A German Call for Action

In his speech at the High-Level Segment of COP 16 which was opened yesterday by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the German Federal Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, Dr. Norbert Röttgen, urged the parties to find solutions to fight Climate Change. In his speech the minister reminded the attending party delegates that “immediate action is needed now” and that there is no time for delay. It is questionable though if the parties will listen to the minister and produce results in the last three days of the conference.

Opening Ceremonies and Sacred Dances

The opening ceremonies for the high-level segment included an opening ritual as seen in the photos. Just over 100 tickets were distributed to the civil society observers, so we, like most, watched the event on the screens. Now, however, all of the high-level ministerial statements are in an open plenary and it is possible to go in and watch each country's spokesperson make his or her statement in person. These statements are all online at:

A Report Card for the Reef

Rene at a side event on the reefs
Last night, over 100 people gathered off-site to learn of the health of the Mesoamerica reef. There were other draws as well -- the promise of food and drinks and remarks from Daryl Hannah. Unfortunately, the reef is not doing well.  The complete report can be found at 2010 Report Card for the Mesoamerica Reef In 2005/6, 6% of the sites studied were in critical condition. That percentage has increased to 30% in the most recent report.
Daryl Hannah, activist
Daryl Hannah speaks about reefs

Adapting to the impacts of climate change in mountain regions

Ministers of Environment from Chile, Peru, and Nepal spoke beside a distinguished panel discussing primarily adaptation measures, along with mitigation efforts for climate change in the mountain areas. The Andean region in the nations of Chile and Peru are already seeing the harmful effects of climate change. Dramatic changes in precipitation patterns, water and food shortages, soil degradation, and biodiversity (in general, entire mountain ecosystems) are facing the impacts of climate change, and will require swift action regarding implementing adaptation measures. In the effort to adapt and mitigate these impacts, scientific support is essential for identifying the effects and vulnerabilities climate change imposes on the mountain regions. Mountains provide water through their glaciers and snowmelt, protect water basins (water used for energy supply, irrigation, and human consumption), soil quality, biodiversity, and promote economic activity in the tourism sector, all of which are being threatened by impacts of climate change. The Climate Change Adaptation Program (PPAC from its Spanish acronym) is a “bilateral initiative” of the Peruvian Ministry of the Environment and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation working with innovative approaches for adaptation at local and national levels. In Peru, the implementation phase of PPAC consists of a three year timeframe (Feb 2009-Jan 2012), in which it will build up the capacity of regional and local stakeholders in the mountain regions of Peru to tackle the impacts of climate change. So far, PPAC has identified the following observations adaptation measures need to address regarding water resources in the Huacrahuacho region (near Cuzco); 42% of the population lack access to water services, the Huacrahuacho watershed is diminishing at a rate of 12mm each year, increased precipitation intensity (correlating with erosive potential of the soils), and inequitable water access for irrigation purposes within the surrounding communities. These scientific observations help determine the unsustainability of economic activities and help redefine development and adaptation strategies. The PPAC is targeting the reduction of vulnerabilities in the context of communities and families, and therefore “pose a transformative dimension”. This method is the only way to help adaptation measures contribute to increasing quality of life and the development of local populations. More to come soon!

“My life is real, and so am I.”

Walter P., Coralin, Mary Robinson and Yvo de Boer

Flooding in Belize

Walter P., a young boy from Belize was one of several children who spoke at a meeting focused on children in changing climate.  Introduced by Mary Robinson (a human rights activist) and Yvo de Boer (past Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC), the children spoke of how climate change has directly affected them. Maya, from Indonesia, spoke of how a flash flood took the life of her friend. Coralin is only 14 years old, but she has lived through 14 hurricanes and one earthquake in her Haitian home. Gwendolyn, from Mexico, reminded the audience that “We have suffered,” and asked, “We are willing to work with you , are you willing to work with us?”  Most directly, Walter recalled the flood in his village from two years ago when there was water surrounding his house and there was no dry ground. He ended his story by reminding us, “My life is real, and so am I.”

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

EPA's Steps to Combat Climate Change

Once again, I sorted through the many events that were going on today to find one that I thought would be good to attend. I am always interested in policy regarding the United States, so I wasn't surprised to find myself attending a session run by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) about policy in the federal government since Copenhagen and their plans for the future.
The official title of this side event was "Domestic Climate Change Activities." It was run mostly through a videoconference with Gina McCarthy, the EPA's Assistant Administrator of Air and Radiation. The purpose of this talk was to discuss what was going on at a federal level regarding GHG emissions. There had been policy changes regarding cars and trucks, clean air, and a GHG Reporting Program. In regards to cars, there is a 2012-2016 model year policy that raises fuel efficiency by 5% each year. There is something like that that will be implemented for trucks too, but one of the battles is to keep this in effect after 2016. Emissions will be cut by about 20% and gas will be saved. They also have in the works a new label system to explain to consumers how eco-friendly a car is. They showed us two of the examples of labels that they were thinking of using.

Under a new policy of GHG Reporting, all major emitters of GHG gases must report how much they emit, and this information will be made public. They ran through the new technology that companies would have to use to report their emissions. It is estimated that, this way, 85-90% of emissions will be accounted for. This is directly reported to the EPA who will then verify the information.

They also discussed voluntary initiatives that people have taken on a personal level, such as buying energy star products. There are a number of other programs that offer environmentally friendly products and services that were approved by the EPA. Another project that they spoke about was "clean" cookstoves. They wanted to spread these "clean energy" cookstoves internationally so that everyone could cook without hurting the environment. I'm not quite sure of how they work, but I plan on checking that out.

Lastly, there were a lot of good questions that were asked, in particular, my favorite: "How do the programs and policies set by the EPA help reduce emissions in relation to the U.S.'s pledge in the Copenhagen Accords?" (something like that) I was expecting the EPA representatives to say something like: our auto industry changes account for saving about ___% of the emissions that we said we were going to cut. I also wanted to know who else was responsible for these cuts if the EPA was not the ones behind most of it. They didn't really answer it though, they just reiterated the programs that they did have, so that was dissapointing. However, I'm glad to hear that America has taken some steps towards reducing emissions and hope the EPA can continue to make even stronger policies and even more appealing voluntary programs.

Voices of the Indigenous Peoples at COP16

Last year, at COP16, there was a lot of discussion about climate justice, REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), carbon credits to help invest in developing nations, and a green fund. I was particularly struck this year by how much more vocal various groups (whose voices have traditionally been minimized) – demanding justice and speaking out about the problems with “solutions” that have been designed by industrialized nations (the global north).  In fact, they view this as a human rights issue.

Indigenous people from around the globe note they have sustainably managed their land for hundreds or thousands of years. Yet, the “agents of the north” typically aren’t coming to talk to them to see first-hand how climate change is impacting their livelihoods or to learn about their ideas for climate change adaptation. “So why do we need REDD?” they ask. There is much concern that the poor will be coerced into signing contracts with the lure of money, but then have restrictions placed on how they use their land. For example, if a country wants to protect a forest under REDD, they may set up conditions which would eliminate opportunities for the local people to obtain food or medicines from the forests they had managed sustainably for centuries or longer. Many of these indigenous people don’t read, haven’t had formal education, and don’t really know about climate change; thus, they won’t necessarily understand the political or legal complexities of the agreements they are being asked to enter into.  Throughout history, they have been exploited and are afraid that this is happening again.

They have a clear sense of the challenges of adapting to climate change ranging from the impact on their traditional lifestyles to increasing pressures for land privatization (many indigenous people manage land communally). But they also see challenges with programs like REDD such as having security over land tenure, the need to map resources that include things that they value (despite the lack of a global market for such resources) and guaranteeing the role of women who are often the ones who gather products from the forest. They don’t want to be exploited by carbon markets and demand guarantees that they will share in future benefits arising from these markets and clean development mechanisms (CDMs).

In one side event, Joseph Ole Simel, a pastoralist from Kenya who works with MPIDO – the Mainyoito Pastoralist Integrated Development Organization, showed photographs of the Loita forest in the southwest part of the country near the border with Tanzania. This forest is one of the last remaining tropical forests in the country and has long been managed and controlled by the Maasai. The images showed a diverse and healthy forest. In contrast, the images of the Mau forest – under government control – showed smoke from the fires where trees are being cut to produce charcoal and fragmentation.

Joseph, along with indigenous representatives from Nicaragua and Indonesia, spoke of efforts to educate people and to garner a political voice for indigenous peoples in their countries – changing political rhetoric and even constitutional language.

In another side event focused on enhancing the leadership of women in climate change, Ms. Constance OKollet a peasant farmer from Uganda spoke about the profound and devastating effect that a series of flooding and drought has caused in the area that she is from since 2007. Homes, farm fields, lives and livelihoods were destroyed and people wanted to know why god was punishing them. Oxfam reached out to Constance to attend an educational meeting where she learned about climate change for the first time. Since then, she has become active in organizing her community and educating people about climate change, its impact and how they can adapt. She is a founding member of Climate Wise Women

I doubt that there were many dry eyes as Constance told powerful stories of having to use moonlight to cook supper (if food could be found) and told the crowd that “people are dying down there”.

Constance is in the middle of the panel (photo by Corey Husic)

The Moravian College delegation was honored to have Samwel Naikada as a breakfast guest. I met Samwel last year giving a presentation in a panel that also included Wangari Maathai talking about how climate change was impacting his Maasai community in Kenya. He contacted me in Cancun to see if I was there and we got together. He asked if he could meet with the students to talk about the Maasai people and their culture, and how their lives are changing.

Samwel with the Moravian College delegation at the Beachscape Hotel
The Maasai are nomadic pastoralists and livestock are essential to many parts of their life including their food source, their rituals and social status. Indeed their very identity (especially for the males) is linked to cattle. As severe droughts have hit Kenya, the lack of water holes has caused the Maasai to travel farther distances in search of water often leading to conflict as they come on lands of others.

Samwel noted that the nutritional value of the grasses is poorer due to the altered growing conditions and seasons, and this is reflected in the health of their animals. Between malnutrition and the drought, animals have died by the thousands. In some cases, this has led to herders committing suicide because of the sorrow and dishonor.

Samwel talked about the forest conservation efforts of the Maasai (confirming what Joseph had said in the side event), but noted that many of the trees no longer produce fruit like they used to. This affects both the Maasai who gathered food from the forests and the wildlife. Baboons that normally eat fruit are now attacking young livestock and entering homes of the indigenous people to steal food. The bees of the forest that provided important honey for the people are disappearing.

The poor nutritional quality of the savannah grasses is also impacting the native wildlife. Samwel noted how zebras and impala are animals which never before entered the forest now are routinely found amongst the trees scavenging for food. Hungry elephants are no longer afraid of humans and can become quite dangerous.

As if these problems weren’t enough, other tribes are now coming to cut wood in forest to prepare charcoal (a fuel) to sell or to hunt game.

Samwel said that there is pressure to have the Maasai change their ancient traditions and begin agriculture. He noted that this is very difficult as it changes all aspects of the culture of non-sedentary people and questioned whether it is fair that because of climate change that his people need to give up their age-old customs. A different perspective on this issue is presented in this video new report from April 2010:

Samwel noted that unpredictable growing conditions of late, especially with the severe droughts, make it very difficult to rely on agriculture for the primary food source. He noted examples where people had tried to grow maize, but the water shortages and decrease in soil fertility caused crops to fail after only a few years. These people don’t have knowledge of or money for fertilizers, which, of course, are not good for the environment anyway.

The stories we heard from this special guest were incredibly informative and we finished our visit by discussing ways that we might continue to learn from and help each other. Samwel would love for a team from the U.S. to come to camp in their forest and collect stories about how climate change is impacting the Maasai.


I am so grateful for the unique opportunity to spend time learning from Samwel and for the international friendship that has been forged through our attending the COP events. 

Samwel shows us images of the forest near his village in Kenya

If you are interested in these topics, you can learn more about livestock management in Kenya from Danielle Nierenberg, co-project director of the year-long Nourishing the Planet program of the WorldWatch Institute who presented at the Agriculture and Rural Development Day in Cancun.

She comments on traditional livestock raising practices and the knowledge of indigenous peoples to do this in a sustainable way –- assuming that climate change doesn’t make this impossible.

The link below is from a visit to Kenya by Danielle in November 2009.

And finally, last year in Copenhagen at COP15, Amy Goodman, of Democracy Now, did a segment on Voices from Africa. At time 29:22, there is a short segment from Samwel.

Proposals on climate change policy outside of the UNFCCC process

On Monday morning, after Garth finally arrived in Cancun and registered for the conference, he and I attended the following side event.
Global Proposals on Climate Change outside the UNFCCC Process- EU Pavilion
Mr. Owen Ryan – Environment Ministry, Ireland
Description: Ireland, in collaboration with UNEP has initiated a project to examine international policy frameworks to address climate change, including a number of global proposals that have been developed outside the UNFCCC process. The project will be conducted by the World Research Institute.
We then worked in conjunction to analyze the vast amount of information that was presented to us to interpret what we had learned about the most effective way to combat climate change. We worked together to complete the following comments:
One of the primary subjects covered by the panel was how to incorporate a review mechanism into a legally binding agreement regarding climate policy. Crucial to the success of any agreement/treaty established, review mechanisms essentially are programs that see the terms (negotiated within an agreement) are met for each participating country, and have mobilized from the national to regional/local level. The panel presented concise criteria for which an ideal review mechanism should base itself on including: equity, ambition, effective implementation, inclusiveness to help foster participation, and financial viability (cost implications). Equity must be recognized as an essential criterion, as any effective proposal for a legally binding agreement must take into account the fact that some terms will have to differentiate for individual countries. Incorporating distinctions between the smaller countries from the larger ones, we must also recognize that we need equitable distribution of carbon space. Carbon space might not be a term everyone knows about, but essentially it is the space in the atmosphere that GHG’s are taking up. Precedent emissions of CO2 and other GHG’s from developed countries have taken up much of that space. Currently, developing countries are fighting for their right to that space as well, understandably. Regarding developing countries, proposals for legally binding agreements must also incorporate numerous variables such as economic growth and potential. Member of the panel, Jake Werksman, international lawyer specializing in international environmental and economic law, compared the effectiveness of an agreement using the Kyoto and Montreal Protocol’s as an example. He mentioned that what helped the Montreal Protocol to have greater success than that of Kyoto was the “graduation mechanism” it created. Targets for reducing CFC”s were established clearly, cohesively, and produced an effective incentive for developing countries; those who met the targets acquired a more “developed” status. This example is easily arguable, however, as CO2 emissions reductions are nowhere near as practical or “do-able” as those of CFC’s. So, why exactly do we want a legally binding agreement, and does the legal form of the agreement really matter? As seen evident by the Kyoto Protocol, which lacks any review mechanism whatsoever, it matters a whole lot; we want legal status on an agreement regarding climate change policy as assurance that the countries will do what they say they will. Unfortunately, any form of a legal agreement won’t be procured any time soon, at least not at COP 16. Until major forces like the U.S., the EU, and China set the example for the rest of the world and set forth ambitious plans for reducing emissions, there is little that can be done in the meantime.

UNEP's Emissions Gap Report

There is quite a buzz about the new UNEP report released this week.  The Copenhagen Accord of 2009 included pledges from over 100 countries to reduce their emissions, with a stated goal of limiting the global temperature rise to 2 degrees centigrade. (See Copenhagen Accord) This report identifies what gaps remain between the "scientific reality and the current level of ambition of nations." Taking the most ambitious of the pledges from the countries associated with the Copenhagen Accord, the annual emissions of GHG (greenhouse gases) could be cut by about 7 Gt (gigatons) of CO2 equivalent.  Unfortunately, that would leave a "gap of around 5 Gt compared with where we need to be." With the less ambitious targets, the gap increases to 9 Gt. The full report can be downloaded at

"The air makes no distinction between political ideologies."

Ms. Patricia Espinosa, President of COP 16

President Felipe Calderón
The president of COP16, Ms. Espinosa, is from Mexico, the host country. Yesterday, she introduced President Calderón, who addressed the observers. Mexico has taken its responsibility with the COP very seriously, and they are very interested in making changes. A first step has been to insist on more transparency, citing the “sour memories” of Copenhagen. At the same time, he recognized that Copenhagen was important for demonstrating the importance of climate change at the highest levels of governments.  Here in Cancun, Mexico sponsored the first “Climate Change Communication Forum” concurrent with the COP.  Working with the Pew Center on Global Climate, this new initiative is interested in engaging public opinion and participation. They hope that this forum and discussion will continue when the COP presidency transfers to South Africa in 2011.  Here in Cancun, Mexico wants to “hear all voices and perspectives – employers, workers, indigenous, and civil society.”

Mexico has been making steps forward in terms of combating climate change. Calderón said that “Mexico is determined, although a developing country and with poverty,” and has a program to combat climate change. They have “embarked on ambitious projects with wind energy,” and pay the indigenous to protect forests. They have reduced emissions by 42% of the target set for 2012, and by 2014 will replace all incandescent light bulbs.  They will provide subsidies for the 11 million poorest households to make this possible.

Calderón emphasized the importance of the COP process and the necessity to come to agreements. “The atmosphere belongs to everyone. The air makes no distinction between political ideologies, political borders or personal interests. We are all passing visitors on this planet. It is a common threat, and we have to take shared responsibilities.” 

Monday, December 6, 2010

Steven Chu -- Working for Clean Energy Solutions and Jobs

Steven Chu, the Secretary of Energy, spoke today at the US Center.  Chu began with two predictions: 1) the price of oil will be higher in the future, and 2) we will live in a carbon constrained world.  Regarding the price of oil, he looked at the estimates of oil production by the IEA and noted that as current oil fields are depleted, the world will need to rely on new discoveries and more unconventional sources.  He then explained the basics of climate change and the deepening risks. Interestingly, he also clearly explained how we know that much of the climate change is man-made, focusing on the evidence provided by the percentage of 14C vs. 12C in the atmosphere over the past century.  For his explanation of the science, see his full comments at (They should be uploaded soon.)

Chu likened climate change to someone who grows older and has a decreasing metabolism. If the caloric intake doesn’t also decrease for the person with a declining metabolism, there is a predictable resulting change in weight.  Likewise, he points out that the energy input has been constant for our planet in recent decades, and yet our greenhouse gases have increased by 40%, allowing less energy out. Simply put, more energy comes in than goes out.  He knows of no credible theory that suggests that the world would not heat up until there is a balance. Furthermore, it will take a full 100 years to see the full impact of the additional warming because of the time it takes for deep ocean mixing.  He is concerned that in the meantime we will see fertile land become desert, more floods, and reduced glacier water supplies. He believes that clean energy is about our security, economy, and planet.

Perhaps the most interesting comments Chu made was with regard the current programs in the USA.  Currently, $90 billion has been dedicated to clean energy.  In the United States, we are improving automobile, appliance and building energy standards. There are currently ten major demonstration projects for carbon capture and storage. Perhaps most hopeful, there are three programs that are focusing on developing and exploring innovative technological and scientific projects: Energy Frontier Research Centers; Energy Innovation Hubs; and the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E). He described some of the proposed projects, from having plants grow with a DNA blueprint which would cause the plant produce the enzymes necessary to break down its own cell wall for biofuels to artificially replicating photosynthesis and creating fuels directly from sunlight. These programs have a limited time frame, and the emphasis is on getting successful products and processes to market. Many of these projects will not work, but Chu’s hope is that one out of ten will, which will more than make up for the investment.

193 pens required for a legal binding agreement

TckTckTck ( has adopted a theme that the seeds planted in Cancun will bear fruit in future COP sessions.  Today, I watched them give a pepper plant to Christina Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC.  The moment didn't pass without a plea from tcktcktck for real action on a legally binding agreement, to which Ms. Figueres responded: "My heart is with you. But it will not be written with my pen, but rather 193 countries' pens."

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Ghost of Copenhagen

In an unusual move, the president of the COP,  Ms. Espinosa, called a special meeting on Sunday afternoon for an "informal stocktaking."  Her main agenda was to outline the procedures going forward as the ministers arrive and the high-level segment begins on Tuesday.   She emphasized that we will continue with a two-track process, maintaining balance, transparency, and inclusiveness.  She categorically stated that the the ministers would contribute to the work underway, but they would not be expected to draft compromise language, nor have informal sessions.  She reiterated that there would be no separate process. From her formal statement:
  • "Ministers will not be expected to draft compromise language, but to help identify where balance is to be found. 
  • Ministers will not convene informal sessions of any sort, but will instead approach every delegation they
    believe ought to be consulted at each specific moment and remain accessible to all. 
  • Ministers will not limit their contacts to other ministers, but will be open to dialogue with all and they will reach out to the representatives that each party has decided to appoint. 
  • Ministers will not relief the Chairs of their responsibilities in any way, but will support their efforts to resolve matters that have so far not advanced in a more formal setting."
The entire document can be found at

From the comments of parties that followed, it is clear that many in the room were very unhappy with the process at Copenhagen, which began with "leaked" documents and ended with the Copenhagen Accord forged by only the leaders of a handful of countries.  In almost all of the statements, the need for transparency and inclusiveness was reiterated.  The Yemen representative (G77+China) specifically said there should be no "shadowy ministerial process;" a view that was endorsed by most others.

There were two particularly poignant and moving statements. The first was by the Venezuela diplomat, who noted that currently much of her country is currently in a state of emergency from flooding. She pleaded for the COP process to move quickly and to come to some binding agreements.  (For more on the flooding there, go to  The Colombian diplomat also spoke of her country's recent flooding, with over 70% of its river banks overflowing. (For more, go to ) She noted that in several negotiation sessions, there is talk of "elephants in the room."  She believes that the "elephant in the room" is the "ghost of Copenhagen."  She believes that if trust is not rebuilt and progress made, then the COP will lose its legitimacy. Both of these statements received significant applause -- Ms. Espinosa is hopeful that the acknowledgement signifies a new attitude that will lend towards getting the work done quickly.

Roving billboards

On the hotel strip, this was one of a series of billboards sponsored by Siemens highlighting the benefits of green energy.  I managed to snap this picture as the boards were changing their location!

All about education -- the Climate Village

Poster competition
Sculptures made of plastic bottles
An "eco-home"
An  explanation of the sculptures

 The latest in solar

Energy use for the cave men and early pastoralists
Energy use in the19th and 20th centuries
Water usage

"Green" companies

Cancun Embraces Wind Power

In honor of COP16, Cancun's electric company installed a 1.5MW windmill, capable of supplying over 2,000 homes with electricity.  Most participants see the windmill as they approach the Cancunmesse. Not a common sight in Mexico, a local resident, Carlos, noted that for weeks it wasn't actually running. The joke was that perhaps it had to be "plugged in." 

Saturday, December 4, 2010

More Youth Involvement at COP16

This morning started off with another early meeting of the youth organizations. The meeting got off to a quicker start than the day before, as the issue of language had been solved and the translators were ready in the back of the room. The meeting began with announcements and went into discussions about presenting a report to the Secretariat of the UNFCCC. Announcements about the upcoming YOUNGO focal point elections were also given at the meeting. The meeting was going to be long (for the second day in a row), but students were began heading to the meeting for the contact group on Article 6 of the Convention. This article focuses on public awareness and youth involvement in the UNFCCC process which made it an important event for YOUNGO members to attend.
Contact Group on Article 6 of the Convention with party members and observers

There was a very good turnout at the contact meeting. Many of the non-negotiating attendees were members of youth organizations that showed up to remind those making the decisions why these negotiations were being held in the first place. To me, it felt as though little came out of this contact group meeting. Much of the time was spent discussing the wording of the document rather than content. However, the committee got through the document and included several pieces that were written by youth.

Young people are now included in the treaty document

Red Cross/Red Crescent panel

I added this photo to highlight some the technology being used at the COP16 meeting. This display is an eight-screen interactive Google Earth exhibit.

Moravian College students, professors, and alumni in Cancun