Saturday, November 26, 2016

On Leaving COP22

Civil Society Event for Outgoing U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon
(Photo by Gillian Bowser)
As I was leaving the Moroccan venue on the last day of the United Nations climate conference (COP22), participants were gathering for a photo with a banner avowing “We will move ahead!” The message was similar to one on a banner used at a civil society ceremony for outgoing U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon: “Climate action is unstoppable.” Given the mood at the conference after the outcome of the U.S. elections, I couldn’t help but wonder if these declarations were aimed at our country and president-elect Trump.

With the media fully focused on the campaign and post-election analysis, there was little coverage of COP22 back in this country. But in Marrakech, there was a palpable sense of urgency to hammer out the implementation details of the Paris Agreement which entered into force on November 4th. Although 112 of 197 countries, including the U.S., have already ratified the agreement, the current pledged national reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are inadequate to achieve the goal of holding global temperature increase to no more than 2°C. For the first four months of 2016, the average global surface temperature was hovering around 1.2°C warmer than the 1951 to 1980 mean, and 2016 is on track to be the warmest year on record. The previous warmest year, 2015, was 0.8°C warmer than the long temp average.

While in Marrakech, I attended an event entitled “Earth Info.” Some of the latest climate science was presented about the extent of extreme weather events, sea ice loss, and ocean indicators of change. I wasn’t surprised by the data or the faster-than-expected pace of change. I was, however, shocked by the comments of a presenter from who argued that in order to meet the temperature goals of the Paris Agreement, the world will have to reach peak emissions within four years, be at net-zero emissions within forty years, and develop a new carbon sink on the scale of the planet’s oceans within eighty years. In other words, our global decarbonization challenge will require not only tremendous advances in clean energy technology but also geo-engineered solutions. For those who believe that technology has created a number of environmental and social disasters throughout history, this was terrifying news. For those who believe that technological solutions are what will get us out of the climate change mess and spur a new low-carbon, clean energy economy, the uncertain future role of the U.S. in leading the new research and tech development is unsettling.

It didn’t take long after the election for China’s Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin to remind the world of the important role that the U.S. had played in the history of climate change negotiations under Republican leadership in the late 1980s (as opposed to global warming being “created by and for the Chinese”). China, however, sees this new political environment as an opportunity to take the lead in global climate change action. Over the past five years, they have become the top investor in renewable energy, outspending the EU by a factor of 2.5 in 2015.

John Kerry, in his last speech to a COP audience as Secretary of State, noted that emerging economies like China, India and Brazil invested more in renewable technologies last year than the developed world. He went on to say that “clean energy is expected to be a multitrillion dollar market – the largest market the world has ever known,” and added “…no nation will do well if it sits on the sidelines, handicapping its new businesses from reaping the benefits of the clean-tech explosion.”[1]

Despite its shortcomings, the Paris Agreement sent a strong message to the private sector. Consistent with this, a letter signed by several hundred members of the U.S. business and investment community was addressed to President-elect Trump, urging him to keep our nation engaged in the Paris process and support the goals of the Agreement.[2]

The results of the U.S. elections cast a long shadow over the international negotiations. I reflected on how different things felt from the last time there was a change in the U.S. leadership – my first COP – in 2009. At that time, Obama was new in office and there was optimism that we would provide the much needed leadership on tackling climate change. Since then, the rest of the world has become much more unified on a way forward on this global challenge, and developing countries are now assuming the leadership in finding solutions to both a low carbon future and adapting to the impacts of climate change. It remains to be seen whether our country will stand alone on the outside of this unified movement, or if the momentum is strong enough among local governments, businesses, colleges and universities, and civil society to convince our new leaders to stay the course.

[1] The text of John Kerry’s speech at COP22 can be found at
[2] The “Business Backs Low-Carbon USA” letter to President-elect Trump:

Monday, November 21, 2016

Moravian College on NPR!

 Interview with Susan Phillips (photo by Hilde Binford)

The only NPR correspondent in Morocco was from State Impact PA. I contacted her to thank her for her coverage of COP22, and she ended up interviewing a group of us from eastern PA. The piece aired today on WHYY. We invite you to listen:

The COP for the Parties has become the COP for the Stakeholders

Ségolène Royal, the COP 21 president in Paris and Minister of the Environment and Energy in France, spoke at the French pavilion outlining the many achievements initiated in the past year, including a new African Renewable Energy Initiative. Other initiatives include an International Solar Alliance, Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition, Coalition for Clean Transport, Global Geothermal Allianc, and Central African Forest Initiative.  She also was grateful that the Paris Agreement was ratified ahead of schedule and is now “irreversible.”  No one country will be able to stop the momentum. She also declared that we are past the days when the COP was for the parties, but now it is for the stakeholders:  individuals, cities, states, NGOs, etc. 

This sentiment was echoed by the two “Global Climate Action Champions” appointed by the UNFCCC: Ambassador Laurence Tubiana and Minister Hakima El Haite.  They have been charged to:
"1. Build on existing initiatives, and supporting new and more geographically diverse initiatives;
2. Connect initiatives and coalitions with national action plans such as nationally determined contributions (NDCs);
3. Bring more transparency, tracking results and demonstrating credibility." 
In their report of the past year’s activities, it was clear that they, like Minister Royal, have been working with stakeholders all over the world.  And they emphasize that this is about real results, and not simply more meetings.

For us in the United States, the White House has published a road-map forward, the Mid-Century Strategy Report, which they hope will also provide a model for other countries. However, with the new president, it will now likely be the stakeholders -- NGOs, cities and states -- that will need to take ownership and leadership in terms of moving forward under the Paris Agreement and the UNFCCC.  Leading the way, the governors of Oregon, Washington, California and the Premier of British Columbia, have reaffirmed their commitment to climate action.

Friday, November 18, 2016

In Solidarity with Standing Rock

As always, there are many indigenous peoples from around the world represented here at the COP.  The Indigenous Environmental Network calls on world leaders and global movement allies to “Stand with Standing Rock” and made this one of the top priorities for COP  22.  
The Indigenous Environmental Network noted that energy and climate issues are “intertwined with a global threat to human rights and the rights of Indigenous Peoples.”  In the preamble of the Paris Agreement, there is language to protect these fundamental rights.   In a panel on human rights, the panelists noted several examples where governments built dams and other projects without consulting the native peoples.  Another concern is the “land grabs” as some countries turn to ethanol as a source of fuel. In addition to the loss of land, there are concerns about food scarcity as a result. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

And the young people will show us the way …

Today, a young German woman asked where I was from, and when I mentioned the United States, she immediately, in a consoling but hopeful tone, reminded me that when one can’t count on leadership coming from the top down, it simply means it will need to come from the bottom up.  And what I am seeing is a myriad of examples of these acts of leadership coming from the world’s young people, my son included.

In China, young people are working actively to provide low-carbon solutions involving bikes.  One college student created a program where she takes old bikes and creates stations where the bicycles are refitted with batteries and generators, providing electricity for lighting and recharging cell phones.
With over 30 million (!) college students in China riding bicycles on campus, another venture started by 25-year olds has really taken off – the Ofo bike-sharing program which is now on 20 campus in China and several cities.  It’s different from other bike sharing programs – for students it’s free and the bikes can be left anywhere.  It is one of the many programs that relies on mobile phone apps.  The presenters ended with saying that while we tend to be attracted to the new technology, there are many low-tech solutions we shouldn’t overlook.

Of course, young people are also leading the way with the high tech solutions!  Check out this new electric vehicle below created by a young Moroccan engineer, Imad Morchid, age 25!  Tesla will need to watch out J

Equally high tech, my colleague and I donned a Virtual Reality headset and tested out the new interactive “games” that help teach about the effects of climate change.  One of the applications was placed in the Arctic, where the user can input estimates of global warming and rising temperatures and predict when there would be no Arctic ice.  Sure enough, the designer of this game was another young person, working with the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre. They have also used virtual reality to model what can happen in disasters in order to promote the use of forecast based financing.  

Just this week, 21 American children (age 8-19) won a victory when Judge Aiken denied the federal government’s and fossil fuel industry’s motions to dismiss the youth’s case against the federal government regarding climate change in the U. S. District Court for the District of Oregon.  Check out their case here.  

Children are even helping with communicating science – check out this video from the UK -- “The Other CO2 Problem” -- where the animation and film were created by kids to explain the problem of ocean acidification. 

Combining activism with art, Alex Binford-Walsh (yes, my son) spent eight days photographing the 30 miles of new corridor proposed for SunZia power lines through the Lower San Pedro River Valley, giving a close-up view of this important ecological habitat. Check out his video! This is Arizona’s last remaining natural desert river watershed, and there is concern about the devastating environmental effects of the massive powerline, which has also led to a lawsuit in the federal courts.

These are just a few of the examples we are seeing every day around the globe.  In all spheres – from politics and activism to arts and communication – the youth are taking a lead.  May the force be with them.