Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Just a typical day at a COP meeting

On Day 2 of COP18, I caught the bus at 6:50 a.m. for a somewhat harrowing drive to the QNCC (Qatar National Convention Center).  Traffic is quite congested here, and drivers don’t seem to pay much attention to the typical road etiquette that I am familiar with.  (I keep wondering why there are so many large SUVs with only one person in them on the roads in a flat desert city.)  Arriving at the center, there is the routine of going through security – comparable to most airports – and then long treks through the cavernous facility.
Inside the QNCC
First stop, the bank of computers which work fairly well in the morning before there are too many users trying to tap into the wireless system.  A check of the Daily Programme (online this year to save paper) allows me to plan the events that I will attend throughout the day.  Then off to the RINGOs meeting.

RINGOs stands for the Research and Independent NGOs which is one of nine formally recognized constituency or focal groups within the UNFCCC observers or civil society.  This group is comprised of organizations “engaged in independent research and analysis that help to develop strategies to address the causes and consequences of climate change.”[1]  All of the member organizations are not-for-profit and play a bridging role between science and policy, advocating only for the use of the best science in the policy-making process.  The constituency has an 8-member steering committee of which I am a new member.

After introductions and some announcements, individuals volunteered to monitor various issues throughout the week to report back on to the group at the next meeting.  It is at this point that you remember what an alphabet soup is involved in the UNFCCC process; KP, REDD+, CDM, AWG-LCA, IIED, SBI, CAN, ITSD, and UNESCO were just a few of the acronyms thrown around this morning.  And there is plenty of other jargon:  shared vision, carbon capture, frameworks, capacity building, adaptation, and so on.  At this point in a COP meeting, the high level negotiations have yet to commence; mostly there are work sessions and consultations for the various ad hoc working groups (committees).

After attending a few COP meetings, you start to recognize familiar faces from around the world, and there is always a chance to meet new people involved in a broad range of interesting activities.  For example, today I met the following:
  • Suzi Anstine (from Florida) and Gregg Walker (from Oregon) who work with Mediators Without Borders, and who both have connections to Pennsylvania.  Suzi told me about her pre-COP trip to Oman to stay with the Bedouins in the desert.  Perhaps less exotic, but interesting, Gregg told me about his work in the Allegheny Forest in Pennsylvania before fracking for natural gas became feasible and about the history of the purchase of the mineral, coal, and gas rights on this tract of land. 
  • I had a conversation with Simon Molesworth who is the Executive Chairman of International National Trusts Organisation (INTO) of the UK – an organization that is working to preserve traditional cultures around the world.  He also has a faculty appointment at La Trobe University (Institute for Social and Environmental Sustainability) in Australia, and he told me about how sustainability efforts have been infused into the culture of that institution.  Their campus theme is “Creating Futures” which I really like.  (It's "brilliant" as the UK youth would say!)
  • I met Niclas Hällström, editor of an excellent publication entitled “What Next: Climate, Development and Equity ”.[2]  He was interested in what I thought of the book and how I might use it in a course on climate change issues.  We also had a long discussion on carbon trading – something neither of us believes to be an effective long-term mitigation strategy.
  • As I started to leave the exhibition hall, a large brilliant poster filled with colorful images obviously drawn by children caught my attention.  They were winning postcards from 17,000 entries from schools in Bangladesh – all with a theme of climate change.  I met Sareka Jahan who works for the British Council on such projects in Bangladesh who also told me about their “climate4classrooms” and the “From the Himalayan to the Bay of Bengal” projects.[3] I told her about a colleague, Sonia Aziz, who works on issues of arsenic in drinking water in Bangladesh, a country considered to be extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. 
  • I also met Claire McNulty, who also works at the British Council, and we talked about ways that the RINGOS vast network of expertise might be best leveraged.
All this before 11:00 a.m.! 
Networking at COP meetings is critical
After lunch and a check of email, I decided to spend my afternoon attending the events of the first Gender Day at a COP meeting (more on that in a separate blog post).  For now, suffice it to say that I had the opportunity to meet the COP17 president, Maiti Nkoana-Mashabane, and Mary Robertson, former president of Ireland and UN Human Rights… and attended a lovely reception to celebrate the launch of the book “Thuto ya Batho (Teachings from the People): Women Adapt to Climate Change”. 


COP17 President Ms, Maiti Nkoana-Mashabane
Maiti Nkoane-Mashabane and UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres with the new publication

After attending two panel sessions of experts on gender and climate issues ranging from adaptation in subsistence farming to developing female leadership on climate change financing on the international level, I headed to the U.S. Center and attended a presentation by NASA scientists on modeling and visualization of satellite data on a Hyperwall (a synchronized series of large plasma screens).  The images showed changes in the flow rates of ice pack melts in Greenland and Antarctica, the change in sea ice coverage in the Arctic, the increase of seasonal fires around the world, shifting (diminishing) water aquifers, global temperature changes, and global flow patterns of pollutants ranging from dust and salt spray to coal plant emissions (sulfur aerosols) and smoke from rainforest clearing.  None of this science was new to me, but the computerized images were stunningly beautiful, despite the terrifying story they were telling.  (See Hilde’s post on the “State of the Planet.”)

The Hyperwall at the U.S. Center in Doha
Another long bus ride back to the hotel, twelve hours after I left this morning.  And then..time to consider what to write in a blog post for the day.

[2] Co-published by the Dag Jammerskjöld Foundation and the What Next Forum, September 2012, available at: .

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