There is a certain sameness about the first days of each Conference of the Parties (COP) – the opening plenaries for the various working groups begin with the Parties (countries) stating their positions, the activists stage actions, and the scientific community present their latest findings.
This year, the opening statements have been statements of position (which haven’t changed much). In the past, there have been the exceptional moments in opening plenaries (like Yeb Sano’s statement in COP 19, following the devastation to his country from Typhoon Haiyan), but this year Yeb is noticeably absent. Last year, he started a Climate Fast, which has marked the beginning of this year’s COP, with over 10,000 people participating worldwide. Yeb is identified with this action, and he is participating with an online video. At the COP 20, several delegates and observers are fasting in solidarity.
On the science front, the IPCC has presented their Assessment Report 5 Synthesis Report to the Parties in a joint presentation with Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA). The main take-home points are that:
“1) Human influence on the climate system is clear; 2) the more we disrupt our climate, the more we risk severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts; 3) and we have the means to limit climate change and build a more prosperous, sustainable future.”
Based on the work of over 830 scientists, this is perhaps the most important scientific report to read carefully. The report documents the persistent global warming trends, and while it seems like it’s been particularly cold recently in the Northeast, the most current records show that 2014 is on track to be the warmest year on record.
While the potential impacts of climate change are very grim, including food and water shortages, increased poverty, flooding, and droughts, there are significant opportunities with both mitigation and adaptation, especially as we move towards more efficiency and clean energy.