Sunday, December 11, 2011

As COP17 concludes....

Well, I have skimmed some of the documents that came out of the final marathon negotiations sessions and while there is still a lot of kicking the can down the road, there are some encouraging provisions.
  1. A legally binding agreement for emission reductions to be finalized by 2015 and go into effect no later than 2020.  (The U.S. timeframe was accepted here, but the U.S. didn't want the legally binding part.)  Such is the give-and-take world of negotiations.
  2. The commitments will include 194 countries - developed and developing.  So unlike the Kyoto Protocol, the provisions won't apply only to the Annex I countries.  This is a recognition of the major development that has occurred in countries like China, India, and Brazil since the original development of the Kyoto Protocol and is a pretty significant change.
  3. The Green Climate Fund (a concept that came from Cancun/COP16) was formally launched.  The agreement sets up the bodies that will collect, govern and distribute tens of billions of dollars a year for poor countries.  It will be an operating entity of the Financial Mechanism of the Convention (the UNFCCC) -- not the World Bank, so this is a "win" for the developing nations that opposed the World Bank involvement.
  4. The Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention will be extended for one year in order for it to continue its work and reach the agreed outcome pursuant to decision 1/CP.13 (Bali Action Plan).
  5. An agreement was made to launch a new process to develop a protocol, "...another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change applicable to all Parties, through a subsidiary body under the Convention hereby established and to be known as the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action to complete its work no later thatn 2015. This group will plan its work in the first half of 2012, including, inter alia, on mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology development and transfer, transparency of action, and support and capacity-building, drawing upon submissions from Parties and relevant technical, social and economic information and expertise."  It is expected to deal with the emissions (gigaton) gap of greenhouse gases to try to limit global warming to 2 or 1.5 degrees C.  [Good luck to this group!]
  6. Countries are to develop national adaptation plans.  "...Enhanced action on adaptation should be undertaken in accordance with the Convention, should follow a country-driven, gender-sensitive, participatory and fully transparent approach, taking into consideration vulnerable groups, communities and ecosystems, and should be based on and guided by the best available science and, as appropriate, traditional and indigenous knowledge, and by gender-sensitive approaches, with a view to integrating adaptation into relevant social, economic and environmental policies and actions, where appropriate."  Assistance to developing countries in creating such plans will be needed.  Members of the constituency group RINGOs (Research and Independent NGOs) should take an active role here in helping to develop this capacity in developing countries.
  7. It appears that REDD+ is to be continued, but with a greater transparency in the processes and a greater respect for local and national policies and practices.  In other words, I believe this is an attempt to address the fear from many, especially indigenous groups, of a new form of colonialism by the global north.
There are many documents posted on the UNFCCC page that I won't have a chance to review in more detail until finals and grading are done (see:

The agreement is being criticized by environmental groups and developing countries as it really delays the tough task of significantly reducing emissions *now* to prevent continuing warming and extreme weather events.

Reactions from others?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A cost issue?

A major focus of the U.S. at COP17 has been the economic interests of our country (and more specifically, on the interests of large corporations).  As if often the case, the environment vs. economy dichotomy arises.  But what is the cost of inaction?

See this article from CNN about the extreme weather events of 2011:

$50 billion for this year for the U.S. alone.  And just during the 2 weeks of COP17 in Durban, there were 8 extreme weather events:

The dollar estimates, of course, totally neglect the plight of millions who are currently suffering from extreme droughts and floods.  Delaying any real action on greenhouse mitigation and climate change adaptation until at least 2020 will likely be a death sentence for millions more -- most of whom will initially be from impoverished parts of the world.

Do we call this fiscal responsibility?  How about genocide? Or crimes against humanity?

Friday, December 9, 2011

COP17 Week 2 from afar

It is a bit difficult to follow the events at COP17 from across the Atlantic, especially while grading and writing finals and still feeling the effects of jet lag.   I feel a bit like a junkie, having to get my fix of the latest updates, which frankly were not too impressive most days.

The protests and frustration seemed to magnify this week.  On Wednesday, Canadian youth were permanently ejected from COP 17 due to a silent protest in which they turned their backs to their Minister of the Environment (Mr. Kent) in return for his turning his back on the youth of that country.

On Thursday, as U.S. climate negotiator Todd Stern was about to speak at the summit, an American youth (Ms. Abigail Borah from Middlebury College) interrupted him to express her views that the U.S. delegation doesn't represent the youth of America.  She was promptly removed and stripped of her credentials. There are official guidelines from the U.N. as to what is and isn't allowed at the COP meetings, but how do we get the delegations from supposedly democratic nations to listen to *all* people that they represent?

"I am scared for my future," Borah told Stern. "2020 is too late to wait. We need an urgent path to a fair, ambitious, and legally binding treaty. You must take responsibility to act now."


Today, Inside Higher Ed posted this on Facebook and asked the question “What do you think about what Borah did?

My response:  I would be fascinated to know how many campuses are discussing the nitty gritty details of the UNFCCC processes, agreements and proposals and what the implications are for our students. I have attended the last 3 COP meetings, and there are a number of U.S. colleges and universities represented, but by far, the youth (meaning college-aged students) from other countries are more deeply engaged and have a fuller understanding of the issues. I salute this student for representing the voice that hasn't been heard enough by the U.S. delegation. Delegations (parties) from other nations, many of which are not democracies by our definition, function in a much more collaborative and interactive (dare I say democratic fashion) than ours in terms of their composition and interaction with civil society.

Hours later, there were no other comments.  Sigh.

If anyone reading this has followed our postings on this blog over the past few years, you will know that I greatly admire the late Wangari Maathai.  Yesterday, Amy Goodman interviewed her daughter Wanjira (who sounds a lot like her mother).  Her message to the U.S.:  “Shape up or get out!”

Yesterday, I posted this on Facebook: One day left to get an agreement in Durban that will have real impact. The U.S. should be leaders in addressing this challenge, not a nation that appears to deny the science and seems reckless to many in the world.

It appeared that the UN climate talks and perhaps the entire UNFCCC process was once again in serious trouble.  This had been the chatter during week 1—something the media back here in the states would love to jump on.  The proposal of the United States negotiating team to delay global climate action until 2020 has resulted in our country further alienating itself since many believe that this is likely to be a “death sentence for the people at the front lines of the climate crisis.”

The Fossil-of-the-Day awards for Thursday, December 8th  pretty much summed up the status of things: 


From afar, it appeared that tensions rose further today.

Protests outside the venue grew louder on Friday, and according to several reports, delegates from the worlds most vulnerable countries joined Kumi Naidoo of Greenpeace International, a high level official from the Maldives (reports are conflicting as to whether this was the Environmental Minister or the President), and more than 150 youth climate activists in occupying the main plenary.  For twelve days, security had been tight and any “actions” were limited to less than 15 people, so I don’t know how they pulled this off!  Of course, U.N. security forces quickly moved in and the protesters were removed from the premises.  I wonder what happened to the Party from the Maldives?!

On the last morning, it is tradition to allow 2 minute comments from a various of constituencies that normally don’t get a chance to address the Parties.  Anjali Appadurai, a student at the College of the Atlantic in Maine, addressed the United Nations Climate Change Conference on behalf of youth delegates. Her message was simple:  "Deep cuts now. Get it done”  She went on to say “What's radical is to completely alter the planet's climate, to betray the future of my generation, and to condemn millions to death by climate change."

The talks went into extra time Friday with yet another Indaba being held at midnight South African time!  According to the UNFCCC website, a document will be posted on Saturday morning and the meeting will resume sometime after the Parties have had an opportunity to review this.  This extension into Saturday occurred in Copenhagen as well. I remember being in the airport trying to catch tidbits of the news reports even though they were in Danish.

So now we wait again…

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

December 6th - Week 2 at COP17

Well, I am back in the U.S. and having not only jet lag, but a bit of withdrawal from the COP meeting. Given the relative lack of coverage of the conference in U.S. media, one has to dig a bit deeper to find out what is happening.
First, some stories surrounding the issues being discussed:

  • A photo essay posted by of the floods in Durban from a week ago (you have to be on Facebook to see this)!/media/set/?set=a.331938783487661.96201.119748644706677&type=3
  • After the report last week that there had been record greenhouse gas emissions in 2010, a report today indicates that we are heading toward a 3.5 degree Celsius increase in temperature, far surpassing the stated goal of 2 degrees -- a target that already likely dooms millions.
If you have never seen them, I recommend the series of videos from National Geographic that depict likely scenarios on the planet if the temperature increased 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6 degrees C.  (You can do a Google search to find these.)
A short but telling video from the march in Durban this past Saturday:
On Monday, people wearing "I 'heart' K.P." (Kyoto Protocol) T-shirts were denied access by U.N. security to the convention center where COP17 is being held.  This led to a meeting between the U.N. Security Chief Officer and the UNFCCC Observer Organisations Liaison Office regarding NGO participation and a series of provisions were agreed to.  For example:
  1. As long as a formal negotiation meeting is on, the entire conference venue is deemed open. NGOs can stay inside the venue either in ICC or DEC (convention center and exhibition hall). However, once the negotiation meeting is over, they will be requested to vacate the venue.
  2. T-shirts are fine, either in a group or as an individual, even to a plenary hall, provided that the message does not contravene the code of conduct.
  3. UN Security Officers should use an appropriate tone and language when communicating. Gesture is totally unacceptable. They can be firm but should be polite.
  4. UN Security Officers will call in a UNFCCC Observer Organisation Liaison Officer (OOLO) when they need judgement as to whether it is unauthorized distribution of material or chat with known delegates.
  5. As long as it does not contravene the code of conduct (interfering with the movement of participants), people should be allowed to wait and approach negotiators they know in corridors.

There were also provisions regarding the heightened security during week 2 given that high ranking delegates have now arrived.  My son Corey was not granted access during the second week since he was under the age of 18 (we had to submit a special request to the secretariat for him to attend at all).  Not sure I understand why someone of this age constitutes a threat, but I wasn't going to argue with the security officials headquartered in Bonn a few weeks back given that they were hesitant to grant him credentials even for week 1.

A short but telling video from the march in Durban this past Saturday:
Any forms of protests (referred to as "actions") within the COP site were strongly regulated this year with rules that no more than 15 people could be involved at any one time.  At one point last week, members of WAGG (World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts) were doing a rather harmless chant about sustainability and the ability of girls to save the planet.  They were surrounded by armed security forces.  Interesting juxtaposition.  A far cry from the angry protests that were prevalent in Copenhagen two years ago.
The extremely threatening WAGG protesters!
An "action" by members of the Sierra Club
Putting coal to rest for good
Now to the COP meeting.

According to reports, 12 heads of state (compared to 120 in Copenhagen) and 130 ministers are in Durban to attend the high level segment of the conference.

A series of draft documents have been posted at the UNFCCC webpage (  I haven't had a chance to browse through these but these are the documents being reviewed and debated by the official negotiators.

On Monday, China reportedly indicated that it would (could?) commit to a legally binding agreement.  On Monday, China's chief negotiator, Xie Zhenhua, speaking through a translator, said: "It's time for us to see who is acting in a responsible way to deal with the common challenge of human beings."  (From  This could be a significant change of position.

When the Kyoto Protocol was agreed to, China was not included in the Annex I nations that would have legally binding commitments for GHGcapita.  China still has a high percentage of extreme poverty, but its rate of growth in terms of industrialization and its economy (along with India and Brazil) put these countries in a category not clearly delineated in previous agreements.  Perhaps this move could lead to the U.S. budging on its position a bit.
From a December 5th press briefing with Todd Stern, Special U.S. Envoy for Climate Change

You can follow some of the civil society perspectives on the COP17 process through Climate Action Network International (CAN): and their daily newsletters available at This is the same organization that does the daily Fossil-of-the-Day Awards.  It appears that Canada is in the "lead" as of today but the U.S. continues to find itself on the podium fairly often as well.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A few notes from Day 4

At a briefing given by the Executive Secretariat, Christiana Figueres, someone representing Greenpeace International noted that in talking to people around the world, they have lost faith in the UNFCCC process.  Her response?  What then would you replace it with?  The G20, the G8?  Would they speak for those who are currently most impacted?  She indicated that only a U.N. process would be so inclusive even if the progress is (too) slow, but she would refuse to participate in a process when the majority of the voices of the world are not at the table.

From Yahoo News (;_ylc=X3oDMTNsdWtmczQyBF9TAzk3NDkwNzkyBGFjdANtYWlsX2NiBGN0A2EEaW50bAN1cwRsYW5nA2VuLVVTBHBrZwNlYzFmYWYyMC1lMjRhLTNlMTctODc0ZS05YTVkYTYwNDNmYzYEc2VjA21pdF9zaGFyZQRzbGsDbWFpbAR0ZXN0Aw--;_ylv=3)

"More than half of all carbon pollution released into the atmosphere comes from five countries, according to a national ranking of greenhouse gas emissions released Thursday....China, the United States, India, Russia and Japan top the ranking, with Brazil, Germany, Canada, Mexico and Iran just behind....
Three of the top six nations are energy-hungry emerging giants developing their economies at breakneck speed."

On a brighter, more hopeful note, I invite you to check out Corey's blog post on Youth and Future Generations Day below or at:

Young and Future Generations Day at COP17

Today, December 1, was Young and Future Generations Day (YoFuGe Day) at COP17, which is a day to create awareness for the youth involvement in the fight against climate change. Throughout the day, youth were involved in several side events, high-level briefings, and actions that focused on the importance of youth constituencies at UNFCCC as well as youth participation in climate action around the globe. Below are a few examples of youth activities at the conference today.

As with every day at COP, the Youth Non-Governmental Organizations (YOUNGO) started off with a meeting to discuss the upcoming events, make decisions, and work on other youth-related activities.

Some of the youth at the morning YOUNGO meeting
The meeting consisted of a lot of discussions and decisions including the addition of three new working groups to the constituency: adaptation, biodiversity, and Rio+20. Adaptation refers to changes people will have to make if climate change does occur and causes alterations in the environment. In terms of climate change and related issues, biodiversity refers to how organisms and ecosystems will respond to ecological changes that occur as a result of climate change. Rio+20 is a meeting that will occur in June 2012 to mark the twenty year anniversary of the Earth Summit in Brazil. This summit developed three conventions, one of which is the UNFCCC. As a result of the major climate change aspect, YOUNGO will be working towards attending and becoming involved with the Rio+20 convention.

Biodiversity is important to solving climate change
Soon after the morning meeting, several young people "actions" took place. At a COP meeting, observer organizations can organize actions that often are designed to highlight a specific topic or idea. Often times, if an important decision is being made in the plenary sessions of the COP, concerned organizations will perform actions to show which side they are on and which decision they support. Other times, actions can simply be intended to reinforce an idea that is important for the organization or the conference as a whole. Many youth organizations (and YOUNGO as a whole) had actions today for YoFuGe Day. The World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts performed the "cha-cha slide" to express support for taking "one step at a time" towards a maximum temperature increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius. YOUNGO also supported an action involving 1.5 degrees, where youth handed free neck ties to negotiators in an attempt to bring awareness to the 1.5 degree campaign. The ties, which state "I <3 1,5" (for you Americans, the comma is commonly used for the decimal separator in other countries), were a big success. Many negotiators were interested, including the delegates from small-island states that will be the nations most heavily affected by a temperature rise of over 1.5 degrees.

"I <3 1.5" Ties

YOUNGO member with a tie

Later in the day, the chairs of the Subsidiary Body for Implementation and the Subsidiary Body for Science and Technological Advice held a briefing specifically for youth. Each chair gave an overview of key issues being discussed and then opened the floor to questions about the current negotiations.

Right afterwards, the executive secretary of the UNFCCC held an "Intergenerational Inquiry," where youth and negotiators discussed the role of the youth constituency at the COP. Christiana Figueres, the UNFCCC Executive Secretary, spoke about the importance of youth becoming involved now, so that in the future, when the "hot potato," as she put it, is entirely in the hands of today's youth, it will not come as an unexpected and unfamiliar burden.

Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary UNFCCC

 The next speaker was a teenage girl from South Africa. She shared a story of how she traveled to the city with her father when she was younger, and loved to see the farm animals along the way. It became her dream to one day show her own kids these animals and see the expressions on their faces when the witnessed the beauty of these creatures. Unfortunately, the stream that provided drinking water to these animals dried up as a result of anthropogenic environmental changes. Her dream was destroyed. She then turned to the negotiators and begged that they develop steps forward that do not crush the dreams and hopes of today's younger generation. This inspiring message finished the day of youth celebration with a feeling of hope for the youth, who are not only the leaders of tomorrow, but the leaders of today.

Reading a poem to start the Intergenerational Inquiry

The girl on the left gave a tremendous speech that moved everyone in the room

This photo highlights the importance of using social media to spread messages from the youth. Within minutes, the video of the side event was online and shared with the world.

An Indaba

Over the last two days, the COP17 President convened an Indaba – an isiZulu word that refers to a gathering of people, infused with wisdom and Ubuntu. I have heard the term Ubuntu several times while in South Africa and vaguely understand it as a philosophy that focuses on community rather than the individual. Desmond Tutu has said that you can't exist as a human being in isolation. Others, perhaps most notably Tim Jackson, former Economics Commissioner on the Sustainable Development Commission of the U.K. and author of Prosperity without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet have used this concept as a means that will enable economic and environmental sustainability.

Apparently, Indabas are an important part of South African participatory democracy. It reminds me of the mingas that were held in Ecuador when I was there – community gatherings to make collective decisions based on discussion and consensus and aimed at problem solving or how to move forward in new directions. Given the complex challenges faced by negotiators at COP17, this is an interesting concept to try. A description of the Indaba process and goals here in Durban can be found at .

The questions asked of the participants included:

  1. In working towards the strengthening of the multi-lateral rules-based response to climate change that builds on the existing regime and with the view to keeping the average rise in global temperature below 2° C, what immediate actions should Parties agree to in Durban under the AWG-KP track and the AWG-LCA track?
  2. What are Parties prepared to commit to now on the elements of future climate action? In particular, are Parties prepared to consider:
  • Objectives of a future multilateral rules-based regime; and
  • A process and timelines?

I did not attend the event yesterday, but today heard responses from Switzerland, Indonesia, Kenya, Columbia, Bangladesh, the Bahamas, Cape Verde (an African island country), Botswana, Ecuador, Norway, New Zealand, Jamaica, Tuvalu, Pakistan, India, the U.S., and Zambia. Aside from the U.S. (which was late to the venue and not ready when called upon), there was strong support expressed for a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol and retaining the legally-binding framework of this agreement. The U.S. indicated that it would not speak to the Kyoto Protocol. In the spirit of caring for others of our global community (namely, the countries experiencing the impact of climate change now), much was said about the need to align goals of agreements in terms of GHG emission reductions with the science, not the politics. The need for solidarity, the need for having a successful outcome from Durban that finishes the work from the Bali Roadmap and from Cancun (previous COP meetings), and appreciation for this format and space for open and honest dialog were expressed by many of the delegates. In contrast, the U.S. statement seemed to be vague and full of conditions that must be met before this country would “play”. Nelson Mandela has stated that “Ubuntu does not mean that people should not enrich themselves. The question therefore is: Are you going to do so in order to enable the community around you to be able to improve?” If there is a scale for how much an individual (or country) abides by this philosophy, the U.S. would be on the very low end. 

My favorite testimony was from the delegate of Cape Verde. As typical in many cultures, elders or chiefs gather to tell stories so that the younger generations learn. He told of a story that is used in Cape Verde to explain what is happening with climate change and the politics to younger generations. He told of the trip of the Titanic sailing from Europe to the United States that came upon a small boat with many people calling for help. The captain of the Titanic said that the engines were working too hard to stop. Of course, the small boat and its passengers disappeared. But alas, not much later, we all know that the Titanic struck and iceberg; the boat sank and most passengers perished. I will leave you to think about this parable.

Day 4 of COP17

So, besides the educational side events, COP session days are filled with meetings of contact groups and informal consultations of the Convention and Protocol Bodies.  Each day, delegates and observers can check the Daily Program (hard copy) or online to find out what is happening, where, and who is permitted to attend.

During the day 2 and 3, observers attended a number of such sessions and reports were given at today's morning RINGOs meeting: 

- Some groups rejected text that was developed over the past year or at the interim meeting in Panama City; thus, some countries are currently working on new text to bring forward. I know that this sounds vague, but without any text to review, I can't tell you all what the issues are!

- As for mitigation (largely reducing GHG emissions), the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol is being discussed in terms of should it be a 5 year or an 8 year period.

- In the technology session, it was reported that there was strong support for research, including from academic institutions, there were several calls for the need for more regional data and downscale models (more refined in terms of resolution), and requests for capacity building at universities within developing countries.

- Under adaptation, there is talk of how the Nairobi Work Program which has been in existence for several years will link to the UNFCCC adaptation program and much discussion of funding for adaptation.  The SBI is beginning to discuss loss and damage (risk assessment, risk transfer and sharing), and what the actual role of the Convention is in this.  Should risk and coverage of loss and damage instead be in the private sector. The LCA Adaptation is trying to determine the composition of its committee.  For example, should there be dedicated representation for groups that are in urgent need of adaptation such as the small island nations?  Should there be non-party representatives who are experts?

- Text is being developed for National Adaptation Planning.  Given that I set on one of the Adaptation Working Groups for Pennsylvania (natural resources), I can't even begin to imagine how this task can be accomplished on a national basis, especially for very large countries.

- Carbon capture and geological storage is being discussed under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) in terms of the state of the technology, how this can be monitored, and what risks would be associated with carbon capture and storage.  Parties expressed a number of concerns that illustrated that there is difficulty in getting the current research data to be understood by the Parties.  (Think Congress trying to debate issues that are highly scientific when very, very few have any scientific training.)

- Under REDD, there are concerns that have been raised in terms of how this will be in conflict with the new Forestry Code of Brazil and some indigenous groups have spoken out against REDD through reports and official statements.

There are many other issues being discussed.  For example, today CMP has 4 contact groups meeting.  SBSTA has 7 informal consultations and 1 contact group meeting.  SBI has 8 informal consultations.  SBSTA/SBI has a joint contact group and joint forum.  AWG-KP has a spin-off group meeting and AWG-LCA has a contact group and 4 informal group meetings.  Unfortunately, many of these sessions are now being closed to civil society observers.  There are also a series of observer organization meetings and press and NGO briefings.

Are you confused yet?!  There are so many acronyms used in the UNFCCC process (there is a glossary online).  And I have been coming to COP meetings for three years now and still don't have it all figured out!  It is always a good idea to have different members of a delegation follow a specific theme during the time here to become a mini-expert on one or two topics rather than to try to "do it all".  Unfortunately, Moravian College's delegation consists of two of us this year, so I am trying to get a general sense of as much as possible and share it with folks back in the States. 

Off to another session!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

So what is RINGOs?

Moravian College first attended the U.N. climate conferences in 2009 at COP15 in Copenhagen. We were very green (in the sense of not knowing much about the complexities of how the UNFCCC functions or how crazy COP meetings could be). We quickly learned that tickets to special events were distributed through focal points or constituency groups. Subsequently, we requested to join RINGOs – the Research and Independent Non-governmental Organizations constituency group.

According to their website (, RINGOs is comprised of “organizations engaged in independent research and analysis aimed at developing sound strategies to address both the causes and consequences of global climate change. They form a constituency in their own right to contribute to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), in a parallel way to ENGOs (Environment), BINGOs (Business and Industry), LGMAs (Local governments and municipal authorities) and the IPOs (Indigenous peoples organizations).” The newest constituency group, YOUNGOs, is the focal point for youth groups; my son Corey has been actively participating with this group over the past two years both as an individual from the Moravian College delegation and representing Inconvenient Youth (

During meetings of the UNFCCC the RINGOs gather every other day to discuss the developments of the negotiations. We had the first meeting at COP17 on Day 2. Individuals in the group represented a wide range of countries, organizations, and fields of expertise. The latter range from geologists interested in carbon capture and sequestration, economists who consider things such as finance issues associated with negotiations (such as the Green Climate Fund) and carbon markets, missionaries, experts in peaceful dispute resolution or climate justice, and environmental lawyers. In this meeting, I was surprised to learn that I was the only one who does anything related to ecology and climate change or works in conservation.

In just two days, I have already noted a much stronger emphasis on climate justice by most in attendance -- a focus sharpened by the severe storms that hit Durban the night before the opening of the conference. Climate/gender issues seems to be a new theme this year. But I am quite surprised that conservation and biodiversity are themes that have now been marginalized. There is talk of water (but for people and agriculture) and there is talk of energy ranging from (cough) clean coal to carbon sequestration to biofuels to some renewable energy alternatives. But habitat and non-human species are certainly not front and center.

In the RINGOs meeting, the following were identified as key things to follow over the two weeks in Durban:

- Adaptation (not in the ecological sense)

- Carbon capture and sequestration initiatives

- Carbon markets

- REDD (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation)

- Technology transfer (from those who have to those who don’t)

- The fate of the Kyoto Protocol and any future legally binding agreements as opposed to a deregulatory “pledge” (and trust) system with less accountability and no penalties for noncompliance. There have been comments by both Canada and the U.S. to the effect that it is “time to put Kyoto behind us”, largely due both to the extent to which China has developed since that international agreement (it is now the largest emitter of GHGs; but not per capita – that honor belongs to us) and the loss of political will in North America to commit to legally-binding GHG emission reductions and financial assistance to those countries experiencing the impacts of climate change.

- Clean Development Mechanisms (CDM) and the associated funding

- The formulation of the Green Climate Fund – a concept first conceived in Cancun

- The possible creation of an Annex C – that moves the Kyoto Protocol out of the U.N. framework – as a move to save it.

These are complex issues, so if you have questions, let me know!

An agreement out of Durban!

Well - not the type we all hope for in terms of mitigation or adaption.
COP18 will be held in Qatar.

From the Guardian:  "...Qatar is a huge energy exporter and, as an oil-rich state, has one of the world's highest per capita emissions."  Hmmm.

Fossil of the Day Award - Day 2

On day 2, my son Corey accepted the Fossil of the Day 2nd place award on behalf of the United States  Canada has been the 1st place winner two days running.

The Mitigation Gap

At COP16 in Copenhagen two years ago, negotiators had proposals on the table that essentially found a 2° C increase in temperature acceptable. To put this into perspective, for January through October, 2011, the global combined sea and land surface air temperature was 0.4 °C ± 0.1°C above the 1961-1990 annual average according to the World Meteorological Organization. The 1961-1990 range is the current international standard period for the calculation of climate averages even though that average is higher than a century ago. When a 2° C increase in temperature is put into various models, it becomes apparent that the predicted associated sea level rise from this amount of global warming could lead to the demise of several small island nations. Thus, the slogan at COP16 quickly became 1.5 to stay alive.

The United Nations Advisory Group on Greenhouse Gases in 1986 reported that warming “beyond 1°C may elicit rapid, unpredictable and non-linear responses that could lead to extensive ecosystem damage.” Yes, the U.N. had groups working on climate change 25 years ago. (And those of us in academe think change comes slowly!) But then again, the Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius predicted that warming (albeit without the other complex aspects of climate change) would occur back in 1896. The cause? The release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from the burning of coal. Arrhenius' greenhouse law, not surprisingly, was met with criticism. Some things never change. Like contemporary atmospheric scientists (most notably Stephen Schneider and James Hansen), Arrhenius published a book aimed at the general population on the topic of climate change. Translated to English, the title was Worlds in the Making. Arrhenius predicted that the extent of warming would be sufficient to prevent future ice ages, that weather in many parts of the world would be more pleasant (remember, he was from Sweden), and that warmer climates were needed to grow sufficient food to feed the rapidly increasing population! The world population at the time was about 1.7 billion.

But I digress. Because of the growing calls for climate justice for all people including the poor and marginalized, discussions in Cancun at COP16 both recognized the need for deep cuts in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in order to limit global average temperature increases to 2° C, but the Parties also agreed to consider targets that would keep warming to 1.5° or lower. This would require developed countries (those with the largest carbon footprints) to adopt targets with at least 25 to 40% below 1990 levels by 2020. The Parties agreed to consider a more ambitious target of greater than 40% reductions at COP18. The 2020 timeline is important given the U.S. latest position that any significant agreement to mandate GHG emissions is not likely until 2020. Ironically, many poorer countries have goals of being carbon neutral by 2020-2021! (For example see and

For the first time at this meeting, I heard reference to how much “carbon space” is left in the atmosphere (about 1000 gigatons or Gt). According to Martin Khor of the South Centre, at current rates of emissions, it is predicted that we will exhaust this space within 15 to 20 years. I should also point out that all of the models with “business as usual” (current GHG emission levels and rates of increase of emissions) predict that we are headed for much higher global average temperature increases (4 to 9° C). According to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), climate pollution must be about 12 Gt lower per year by 2020 to have a reasonable chance of keeping warming below 2° C and about 14 Gt lower to keep temperature rise below 1.5° C. At COP15, developing countries pledged more than 5 Gt worth of reductions – with finance, technology, and capacity building support from developed nations. Developed countries have offered less than 4 Gt of reductions and there are many loopholes in the accounting measures. (A short article on this topic can be found at It is this difference between what is on the negotiation table (at least prior Durban) and what the science says that is referred to as the “mitigation gap” or the “Gigaton gap”.

But with a population that continues to grow and has higher demands for resources including energy and meat (i.e. livestock and, therefore, methane), with Canada announcing that it will pull out of the Kyoto Protocol, and with the United States indicating that they won’t or can’t agree to significant cuts at this point (and prefer 2005 as a base year and expect China to make major concessions), I suspect that this mitigation gap will widen rather than shrink.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

What is at stake in Durban?

By the afternoon of the first day at COP17, two mantras for the conference seemed to have already emerged: 

  1. “It always seems impossible until it is down.”
  2. Durban must not be the burial ground for the Kyoto Protocol.”
I attended a side event (panel) sponsored by the Third World Network (TWN) that focused on the question of what Durban must deliver.  I picked up a handout entitled: “At stake in Durban: A climate deal for the 1% or the 99%?”  Sound familiar? 

Earlier in the day, José María Figueres, former President of Costa Rica and brother of Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretariat of the UNFCCC had this to say:

“…the now growing global Occupy Wall Street movement is a sign of frustration felt by many given we are not addressing their economic needs; so with respect to climate, maybe we need an Occupy Durban, a sit-in, by the delegations of those countries that are most affected.”

Many of the speakers during the panel spoke about various provisions needed to achieve a low carbon economy – details of which I will elaborate on in subsequent posts.  What struck me, however, was how many times the United States was referred to as a “special case” and sometimes with the work “basket” in between special and case.  On almost every provision, the U.S. is seen as an entity that has not shown leadership, has reneged on its responsibilities, and perhaps worse, as a bully hell-bent on delaying or hijacking the multilateral negotiations.  Our country is accused of trying to dismantle the current agreements, even though we are the only developed nation that did not sign and ratify the Kyoto Protocol.  
The analogy between the disastrous deregulation of the banking industry and the subsequent need for a bail-out was made to our trying to deregulate “the climate regime” (the existing framework).  Only for climate change, no one is quite sure what the bail out would need to be except that some will suffer more and suffer earlier than others.  Throughout the semester, I have told my students that from the perspective of many other countries, everyone in the U.S. is part of the “1%”.  This is certainly the sentiment here in Durban.  (Actually the U.S. population is a little over 4% of the world’s 7 billion people and about 14% of us live below the poverty level according to

The panelists questioned our democracy given the dysfunctional nature of Congress and the power of corporations (“the polluters” as they were frequently referred to) on the decision making process.  I heard today from the head of Greenpeace International that every Congressman in Washington has 3 lobbyists paid for by the fossil fuel industry.  I don’t know if this is true or not, but think of the subsidies for fossil fuels (listen to a recent story on this issue from NPR at, the power of the oil, coal, and natural gas industries in our country, and all the influence of the Koch brothers and it doesn’t seem like an exaggeration.

There is discussion of moving the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (post 2012) out of the UNFCCC framework – solely to keep the U.S. from stalling the process any longer and blocking an agreement that will finally start to have true impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and provided funds to developing countries for climate change adaptation.

Today, on Day 2 of COP17, the U.S. received 2nd place in the “Fossil of the Day Award” given by the Climate Action Network International.  From the press release:

“It is one thing for certain governments in Durban to be complacent about the urgency of global climate disruption.  It is another issue to be complacent when their respective countries are the main culprits, such as the United States who is the worst historical climate polluter.  But yesterday, the United States position degraded well beyond complacent by rationalizing the collective mitigation targets as in keeping with what climate scientists say is needed to avoid global disaster.

Referring to the fact that he himself was an IPCC contributor, Jonathan Pershing, the U.S. Deputy Special Envoy, said yesterday that ‘there are an infinite number of pathways to staying below 2 degrees.’  And yet, the U.S. has managed to avoid all of them.  Pershing nonetheless argued that the current targets are sufficient enough through 2020.

There is scientific consensus about anthropogenic climate disruption, the urgency to have an emissions peak to avoid runaway global warming, as well as the gross inadequacy of pollution targets.  The United States is either in denial about the science, or is trying to thwart justified pressure to improve its own ambition.”

How’s that for a scathing commentary?  This comes on the day that scientific reports show that 2011 is the warmest La Nina year on record and the 10th highest on record.  The 13 warmest years on record have occurred in the 15 years between 1997 and 2011 (See  This year, we also had record lows for sea ice volume, numerous extreme weather events around the planet including a record number in our country – by June (before the hurricanes and tropical storms wreaked havoc on the northeast).  Part of a natural cycle or are we reaching a tipping point? 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Day 1 Pictures

If you are interested in pictures from COP 17, they can be found here:

COP17 Day 1

The 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP17) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) began today in Durban, South Africa. These conferences typically begin with a high level plenary of the Parties (official delegates for each party nation who signed onto the original treaty), the press, NGOs (non-governmental organizations), and IGOs (intergovernmental organizations).  In other words, there is some procedural business such as formally electing the COP president to preside over the meetings, and a welcoming ceremony with some local entertainment and lots of speeches by the dignitaries on the stage.  More on that in a minute, but for now, suffice it to say that this event falls short of the opening ceremony for the Olympics in terms of entertainment value. (IMHO)

Anyway, I somehow managed to secure one of the limited admit tickets for NGOs through the constituency group or focal point that Moravian College is part of -- RINGOs (Research and Independent Non-Governmental Organizations).  These surprisingly coveted tickets don’t necessarily guarantee access as the U.N. and South African security forces can sometimes decide that a section is full (even if it is not) or that your credentials are not sufficient.  This is not unique to this venue; I first experienced this at COP15 in Copenhagen in a major way.  But today I made it through along with other RINGO representatives from Amsterdam and South Africa.  (There were a few others, but these are the two that I sat with – both of whom worked with universities and had an economic focus in their work vs. my ecological/climate adaptation/climate justice/educational interests.)

As I settled into my NGO seat which, of course, had an obstructed view, I was wishing that I had my binoculars along so that I could actually see the front stage instead of watching things on one of the large screens.  But I had the feeling that binoculars would have gotten me singled out as suspicious and promptly removed from the venue.

The emcee of sorts was the Daughter of the Province. (I learned from my South African peer means daughter of the king of the province; Durban is in Kwa-Zulu Natal Province.)  I didn’t catch her name so looked up her father Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu on good old Wikipedia thinking I would find her name.  It turns out that this Zulu king has 27 children and several wives!  After entertainment by African drummers, the talks were supposed to start, but South African President Jacob Zuma was delayed.  At least part of this delay was due to photo-op sessions; the ceremony resumed about an hour later.  An awkward situation for any emcee.  And from my perspective, rather rude to all the delegates convened in the room.

The session began with a memorial statement read by a delegate from Mali for Mr. Mama Konaté, Chair of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) and the National Focal Point of Mali who died unexpectedly.  The transmitter that allows me to hear an English translation (I don’t know French) turned out to have a dead battery, so I can’t share any details.  Outgoing COP16 President Patricia Espinosa Contellano reflected on the outcomes of the sessions in Cancun last year and what has been worked on since. She spoke in Spanish so I caught the gist of what she was saying, but decided I had better get a new transmitter, even if it meant facing security again. 

Ms. Espinosa called for the election of Ms. Maite Nkoana-Mashabane from South Africa as the COP17 president.  Of course, after risking the wrath of security, her comments (available at, and the subsequent ones by Ms. Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC (, were in English.  Both of these statements were essentially optimistic about the upcoming negotiations that will occur over the next two weeks (you can read the details if interested). 
The majority of the morning speakers talked about a transparent and inclusive process, balanced and fair outcomes based on science, multilateralism, environmentally-sound decisions, equity, and honoring international commitments.  Ms. Nkoana-Mashabane also spoke of the pre-COP17 conference on the Impact of Climate Change on Women held in honor of all the females in leadership roles in the UNFCCC process.  Judging from a review of the side event topics, climate change and gender promises to be an important theme this year.  (Last year, I wrote about the emerging voice of the indigenous peoples calling for climate justice and their right to have seat at the negotiations table.)  She expressed the need to operationalize the Cancun agreement, including the Adaptation funds, and to do “what we need to do now and determine what needs to be done in the nearest future.”  I was pleased when she noted that this needed to be done to honor the work not only of the aforementioned late Mr. Mama Konaté, Chair of the SBSTA, but also that of Wangari Maathai, who also recently (and unfortunately) died too early from cancer.

Ms. Figueres (a Costa Rican native and a wonderful “product” of Swarthmore College by the way) invoked Nelson Mandela and South Africa’s struggle for freedom including in her comments repeated references to a quote from Mandela “It always seems impossible until it is done.”  Appropriate comments for the difficult, if not impossible, task at hand.  In her typical classy form, Ms. Figueres started and ended her comments with Zulu phrases, and included some aspects of the click language of the Bushmen.

The next speaker was the Vice President of Angola whose comments were focused on a common African platform, efforts that Angola has taken since ratifying the Kyoto Protocol in 2007, and the need for COP17 to develop an agreement that would lead to a low carbon economy that was based on scientific data and not just economic models.  He ended with a call to save humanity, protect the planet, and maintain a commitment to sustainability.  Just a few notes about Angola from UNICEF (  54% of the population lives below the poverty line of US$1.25 per day; the average life expectancy is 48 years; only 38% of the population has phones, and the female literacy rate (ages 15 to 24 years) is 65%.

The President of Chad and acting head of the Economic Community of Central African States spoke next.  I was expecting more of the same, but instead of speaking positively about the outcomes of Cancun (COP16), he said that there had been no solutions coming from Cancun, “but only a story of saving face.”  Ouch!  He went on to refer to the G20 countries as “big polluters of the planet” and the critical need to protect Chad Lake, the last bulwark for the basin of Congo which is the second largest green lung of the planet.  This lake apparently has less than 10% of its former surface area and should be a concern for all countries.  As the speaker noted, if the lake is lost, it would be a threat to the ecological balance of the world, not just the countries that share a border with the lake and the millions of people who depend on it.  The accusations were indeed a deviation from the normal celebratory tone of the opening session, but, in a way, I appreciated the raw honesty.  As I was to learn later, this frustration with developed nations, especially the United States and Canada, and to a lesser extent, the European Union, would be voiced again in much stronger terms (the subject of a future post).  For now, you can get a sense of this in this report from the Huffington Post (

After this, I had a hard time concentrating on the remarks of His Excellency, President Jacob Zuma of South Africa. You can read them at

Several speakers noted the vulnerability of Africa.  This point was underscored by the storms that ravaged the province last night, leaving in their wake 800 destroyed homes, flooding, and at least 8 deaths.  I know that this represents an extreme weather event, but it was a dramatic force of nature reminding each of us of our personal vulnerability.  Those of us from the U.S. are well aware of the large number of extreme weather events that hit our nation this year resulting in billions of dollars of damage and the loss of many, many lives.  So the challenges are immediate and immense and the week promises to be interesting. 

You can follow the negotiation and meeting details at, or if you prefer, listen to the snippets on NPR or read biased perspectives from your favorite media source.  One suggested piece is found at ).  I am always checking to see how much (or how little) coverage is given the the COP meetings in the U.S. You can also get a sense of how important this meeting is to South Africa from Ms. Nkoana-Mashabane’s address on the occasion of the launch of “50 Days to COP17/CMP” at a sports stadium back in October (

Signing off for now,