Friday, November 10, 2017

WEARESTILLIN Whether We want to or not

To many of us we knew that Trump was not
sending any type of delegation to Bonn, Germany for this year UN’s Climate Conference. That does not mean there is a presence here in Bonn from US. Many people have come through different means of organizations. Many colleges and universities have come to attend the conference, Moravian College being one of these intuitions. However, others have come to watch and listen to the negations of the Parties. Some these include non-governmental organizations like Sierra Club and local government officials from the United States like cities’ officials. Even under the current political climate back home in the States, the people of the US are still participating at COP23 whether the current administration refuses to.

With this year’s COP is under way and week one is drawing to a close. One group has just arrived the other day on Thursday Nov. 9th. The US Climate Action Center was set up to represent those that are still committed to the Paris Agreement (PA) that was done at COP21 back in 2015. This is the #WEARESTILLIN campaign that started when President Trump “pulled” us out of the PA. These delegations of people that represent many of the organizations those are still committed to the PA from corporate players to grass roots organizations.

I was able to attend two presentations in the US Climate Action Center, which is its own separate entity from the other areas of the Conference. The first presentation I was able to attend was a panel of experts with their talk Transforming the Carbon Markets and Accelerating Reduction through Technology.  The people on the panel included: Paul Bodnar (Rocky Mountain Institute), Gavin McCormick (WattTime), Conor Kelly (Mircosoft), and Herald von Heyden (Agder Energi). This panel discussed the possibility of way for people to reduce the emissions and consumption of fossil fuel energy.  It would be through Automated Emission Reduction (AER). In simple terms through smart technology like phones, they could choose the best time to start charging. These times would be when there is the most amount of renewables energy being producing to the grid.  All this takes a lot of information to tell you when to plug in and charge your devices. Microsoft and the Rocky Mountain Institute have partnered up to make this vision a reality.  With this partnership they have reached out and pulled in WattTime (, which has been making it possible to communicate all this data of the status of the grid in real time through their software.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Just a typical day at the COP

COP meetings can be overwhelming, even for those of us who have been coming for many years. There are many negotiating tracks that one can follow, a lot of jargon, and way too many acronyms. And just when you begin to learn the proverbial ropes, a new agreement or workstream comes along with another set of vocabularies to learn!

There are daily constituency meetings; my mornings typically start with the Research and Independent NGOs meeting since I serve on the RINGOs steering committee. It is a chance for participants to review what is going on in the various tracks that they are following; a "Cliffs Notes" version of what is progressing (or not). This is helpful for those who cannot be everywhere at once or who aren't inclined to sit through too many lengthy negotiations sessions that often move at a snail’s pace. At the end of these meetings, it is often a good time to check in with students from Moravian’s delegation. Today, the researchers from the U.S. – many of them representing the next generation of scientists and lawyers who will work in the environmental field – gathered to discuss an upcoming meeting with the U.S. delegation (i.e. from the State Department of the only country that is now publicly pulling away from the Paris Agreement). Oh, what an interesting conversation that will be!

Three women in STEM and from the Rocky Mountain Science and Sustainability Network
For those of us who are not policy wonks, there is much more than negotiations to follow. The side-events are a lot like going to a professional conference with panels and presentations on a wide range of topics. For instance, today happens to be “Business and Industry Day” at COP23. Yesterday was “Young and Future Generations Day.” Since we will be discussing corporate responses to climate change in our course soon, I ventured into a session entitled Transforming the Industry: The Case for Transparency and Ambition in Markets and NDCs. (See what I mean about jargon and acronyms?) The session was billed as a time to  
"Discuss the chances and challenges energy intensive industry is facing on the way to GHG-neutrality; Identify how the framework and instruments of the Paris Agreement can support industry on its way to become GHG-neutral by 2050; showcasing (inter)national initiatives that contribute thereto."
I listened to information about carbon pricing, the company Bosch’s story (or propaganda, depending on your perspective), the ability to purchase certificates (carbon offsets), and ways to become more energy efficiency. Yawn. The business world, like many scientists, needs to learn to be a bit less dull.

A typical session audience

Next, I was going to go to a session titled Hacking climate change: The digital future of climate leadership, innovation and impact sponsored by Microsoft and interestingly the South Pole Group! The room was standing room only, so I moved to another session entitled Achieving Socially and Ecologically Beneficial Renewable Energy Systems through Community Engagement in part because one of the sponsors was the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation (Planet Pledge initiative). The content is worthy of a separate blog post, but in short, the session was about how the demand for rare metals to support renewable energy technology and the computerized energy efficiency systems is creating new ecological destruction and having negative social consequences for many in the developing world (think conflict minerals). The problem of climate change is complex, but so are potential solutions.

Besides the negotiations and side events, many countries have pavilions where they offer their own programming along with some cultural flare, and there are countless exhibitions from NGOs, universities, think tanks, and other organizations. Having come to these events for many years, I enjoy wandering around reconnecting with interesting friends from around the world, including people I met at the community-based adaptation conference in Uganda last summer from Bangladesh and Zanzibar, representatives from Mediators Beyond Borders International, faculty from other campuses, etc. I had two back-to-back conversations with people who had been in Svalbard this past summer! It is, ironically, a network of friends with a high carbon footprint from travel. Tonight, I will have dinner with a French glaciologist who studies in Scotland and does research in polar regions. And that is a typical day at a COP meeting: exhausting, but never dull.

Some scenes from around the COP:

Yes, those are lights made from hollowed out fish!

The last 4 images are from the Fiji Pavilion - the official host of COP23 even if we are in Bonn

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Science Should Inform Policy - But Politics Can Get in the Way

I noted in my first post for COP23 that I would reflect on what has changed since Moravian first attended a U.N. climate conference in 2009. One thing that has changed is the increase in climate science and in certainty ascribed to the implications of what the data are telling us (i.e., the confidence that scientists have in the data and models). At the time of COP15, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or IPCC had released its 4th Assessment Report (AR4) and one of the summary findings was: 
Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic GHG concentrations.
Now, at COP23, the 5th Assessment Report (AR5) has now been out for 3 years and in this report, the language was a bit stronger:
Human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history. Recent climate changes have had widespread impacts on human and natural systems. Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia.

Anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions have increased since the pre-industrial era, driven largely by economic and population growth, and are now higher than ever. This has led to atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide that are unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years. Their effects, together with those of other anthropogenic drivers, have been detected throughout the climate system and are extremely likely to have been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.
Last Friday (03 November 2017), despite the climate change denial of the current administration in the White House and much uncertainty about whether the release would occur, 13 federal agencies unveiled the findings of the U.S. Global Change Research Program in Climate Science – the 4th National Climate Assessment Report (NCA4) The format of this report has many analogies to the IPCC report, but is focused on U.S. science and impacts. Here is their statement about what is happening:
Since NCA3, stronger evidence has emerged for continuing, rapid, human-caused warming of the global atmosphere and ocean. This report concludes that “it is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. For the warming over the last century, there is no convincing alternative explanation supported by the extent of the observational evidence.”
And in more detail:
The frequency and intensity of extreme heat and heavy precipitation events are increasing in most continental regions of the world (very high confidence). These trends are consistent with expected physical responses to a warming climate. Climate model studies are also consistent with these trends, although models tend to underestimate the observed trends, especially for the increase in extreme precipitation events (very high confidence for temperature, high confidence for extreme precipitation). The frequency and intensity of extreme high temperature events are virtually certain to increase in the future as global temperature increases (high confidence). Extreme precipitation events will very likely continue to increase in frequency and intensity throughout most of the world (high confidence).
  • Annual average temperature over the contiguous United States has increased by 1.2°F (0.7°C) for the period 1986–2016 relative to 1901–1960 and by 1.8°F (1.0°C) based on a linear regression for the period 1895–2016 (very high confidence).
  • Increases of about 2.5°F (1.4°C) are projected for the period 2021–2050 relative to 1976–2005 in all RCP scenarios, implying recent record-setting years may be “common” in the next few decades (high confidence).
This report was covered by USA Today and the New York Times. One particular piece of data from the NY Times piece caught my attention: 
A report from 13 federal agencies says extreme weather events have cost the United States $1.1 trillion since 1980.
It wasn't clear as to whether the economic impact of this year's three hurricanes were factored into that price tag. But what is clear, is that each year and with each additional COP, the costs of loss and damage associated with the impacts of climate change are rising.

Science in reports such as those from the IPCC has driven action and policy development at the international level. In fact, the first report of the IPCC directly led to the creation of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change and the reason we have COP meetings each year. As the evidence builds, words such as "urgency" and "ambition" are routinely heard around the halls here in Bonn, although negotiations are still slow in resulting in implementation of specific actions that would actually make a difference in this global challenge. The science was beginning to inform policy in the U.S. under the Obama Administration, but alas, exactly one year ago, at COP22, we watched the election results come in and new that things would change.

Again, from the NY Times article:

"This report has some very powerful, hard-hitting statements that are totally at odds with senior administration folks and at odds with their policies,” said Philip B. Duffy, president of the Woods Hole Research Center. “It begs the question, where are members of the administration getting their information from? They’re obviously not getting it from their own scientists.”
Relatively little reaction came out of the White House last Friday except for one statement:
“The climate has changed and is always changing,” Raj Shah, a White House spokesman, said in the statement. “As the Climate Science Special Report states, the magnitude of future climate change depends significantly on ‘remaining uncertainty in the sensitivity of Earth’s climate’” to greenhouse gas emissions, he added.
Note the careful insertion of the word "uncertainty" in this statement. So as scientists grow increasingly confident in terms of the impacts and causes of climate change, we have an administration in the U.S. that prefers to cast doubt; attempt to break international agreements; silence, and in some cases, replace scientists; and scrub websites (e.g. of the EPA) of references to climate change.

In stark contrast, here in Bonn, scientists, activists, and other non-state actors, were invited to an open dialog today with the Parties who are negotiating the details of how to implement the Paris Agreement. From country after country, we heard about examples of national climate teams and consultations where scientists and politicians come together with indigenous peoples, representatives from the business community, and other stakeholders to discuss climate policy and action. Such dialogs alone won't immediately "solve" climate change but having everyone in the same room having productive discussions about the way forward is a much better approach than silencing the scientists and ignoring the data.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The "Mood Change" Caused by the United States' Decision About the Paris Agreement

Day one of COP23 has concluded, and already so much taken place. Upon arrival, I was surely not alone in being curious about how other countries will respond to the recent decision made by the Trump Administration about withdrawing from the Paris Agreement. We all know that President Trump is a huge advocate for coal and oil industries, but taking the United States out of the Paris Agreement has proved to be a bit rash. The Paris Agreement is an initiative that allows countries to come to a consensus about what action each individual country needs to take in order to reduce global emissions. In the words of the COP22 president pertaining to this agreement, "Look into the future, we need to act need for show of force, we only need to show commitment for future action." This statement was made during the opening ceremony at COP23, and set the tone for the rest of the conference.

The Paris Agreement offers a joint vision for all those involved. However, for this vision to be effective, all countries that are a part of the agreement must show their support and focus toward the goal. During a press conference that my colleagues and I attended -- Diffused Leadership and The Paris Agreement: The India Story -- we heard the insight from members of the CEEW (Council on Energy, Environment and Water) about their thoughts about the U.S and the action taken concerning the Paris Agreement. This was the "India Story" because as one of the larger contributors to carbon emissions, along with China and America, the withdraw made by the U.S. is quite concerning. Even if India and China dramatically released their carbon emissions to practically nothing, if the U.S. doesn't take any action to reduce emissions, the goal of keeping global temperatures below 2 degrees will be next to impossible. Thus, the lack of action that might be taken by America is troubling to other large powers such as India and China. The CEO of CEEW, Arunabha Ghosh stated, "after the U.S. withdraw from the Paris Agreement, there has been a mood change in Bonn." After which, I asked the question, what is this 'mood change' that you are referring to exactly? (refer to 9:35 in video link) Ghosh responded by explaining how since the United States is such a large power, the choice to withdraw has created a lack of trust. The Paris Agreement must be an enforceable agreement with no loose ends, this means that each country has confidence in the other cosigners in regards to holding true to the pledge of taking action towards mitigating climate change. On a lighter note, although the U.S. has withdrawn, individual states and cities in America have held true to their pledge and still honor the agreement. This gives hope that even though the federal government may have made a poor decision, there is still a chance that small local governments can honor the pledge that the United States originally made when signing the Paris Agreement at COP21.

Monday, November 6, 2017

A tale of two leaders

Before heading to Bonn, I had a lot of people ask me about the status of the Paris Agreement and wonder what the attitudes towards the U.S. would be at the climate conference this year. As I was walking into the venue this morning - Day 1 of COP23 - I was handed a copy of the ECO - NGO daily newsletter which contained an article on this topic. The opening lines tell it all:
As COP23 begins, there is a large (orange) elephant in the room. The Trump Administration has made the US the only country that has fully rebuffed the spirit of Paris -- not only with threats of withdrawal but also renewed pledges to ramp up extraction of fossil fuels and that's not all. While the Administration is abandoning all sense of reason to eliminate climate policy....  
You get the idea. And this was one of the "nicer" comments I read/heard.
So in response I will focus on another leader. Fiji is technically the host of COP23, but for logistical reasons, couldn't bring all the delegates to their tiny country. Their presidency (for COP for the year) and the cultural influences of the island nation are obvious throughout the venue with many references to islands, the extreme weather events resulting, in part, from warmer oceans, music, and photos and quotes from people of the country speaking about how climate change is impacting them. Fiji Prime Minister Bainimarama noted that when it comes to climate change we are all in the same canoe.
This vessel greats delegates as they enter the Bula Zone of COP23

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Destination: COP 23

I am at the airport awaiting my flight to Bonn, Germany to attend the annual U.N. climate conference – COP23. This will be my 9th such trip having first attended COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009, and I find myself reflecting upon what has changed over that time span.

As a refresher, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was one of three treaties to come out of the Rio Earth Summit held in 1992. The framework was enacted in 1994, and the first Conference of the Parties or COP1 was held in 1995. Parties are the signatories to the agreement -- the nations working to find ways to mitigate the problem (largely by working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions) and to adapt to the impacts of a changing climate.

When Moravian College delegates attended COP15, the sense of optimism was unmistakable; with a new administration in the White House, many felt that the shift in priorities and perspectives would finally result in progress towards developing a new significant international agreement on climate change. Despite that optimism, it would take until 2015 in Paris for that agreement to finally happen. And then, one year later, the results of the U.S. election came in while we were attending COP22 in Marrakech. The mood immediately shifted from excitement about working on implementation of the Paris Agreement to a gloomy sense of a new uncertainty. Despite decades of scientific data telling policymakers what should be done, it was immediately obvious that politics of just one country – mine – can quickly overshadow all the will and hard work to address such a global challenge.

If my experience at the Community-based Adaptation Conference in Uganda this summer is any indication, any delegate from the U.S. attending COP23 will face difficult questions, frustration, criticism, and even anger about the anti-climate change rhetoric and lack of cooperation on implementing the provisions of the Paris Agreement coming from the U.S.

The news is not all discouraging. The #WeAreStillIn initiative of U.S. cities, corporations and institutions of higher education (including Moravian College), the dramatic global progress being made in switching to renewable, non-carbon based energy sources, and the innovations occurring in technology, companies, and other countries – rich and poor alike – are all signs of hope.

Here in the terminal, as I chat with the students who are part of our delegation this year, I can’t help but notice their enthusiasm. Of course, they are excited to be traveling to a new country, but they are also eager to participate in COP23 and share stories through our blog to those back home. For four years, they have been studying environmental issues – the science and policy – and now, they will get to participate in the nexus between the two at the international level. They understand the severity and urgency associated with the challenge of climate change. They are frustrated by the climate denial and inaction in the U.S. Yet, they, like my own sons who are about the same age, are not without hope that we can still make a difference at the local and global level to address this challenge.

The UNFCCC process has its flaws. It is complex and slow. But 197 nations agreed to the provisions of the Paris Agreement. Think about that: 197 countries in agreement about something. As of this week, 86% of those countries have ratified that agreement through their own internal processes. The Paris Agreement opened the door to the private sector, cities and sub-national governments across the world to participate and innovate; over the past two years, we are seeing what the U.N. refers to as “game-changing actions.” The agreement sent strong signals to markets -- where to invest and where not to. Faith-based communities across the globe believe that, as stewards of all creation, we have a moral obligation to address climate change. And developing countries are beginning to leapfrog dirty, outdated technologies as they work to raise their standard of living.

This week, I will be sharing my reflections on what has changed during the past nine years since my first COP -- in terms of the scientific understanding, the technology, the policy and politics, the public attitudes and the role that I have played. As we attend COP23, we will all be reporting on the issues and our perceptions on the progress being made toward implementing the Paris Agreement provisions. Hopefully, we will provide some glimmers of optimism along the way.

Nature decrees that we do not exceed the speed of light. All other impossibilities are optional. 
Robert Brault

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Thoughts before COP23--Is Denying Climate Change Worth It?

 Climate change has been impacting the planet for quite a while now. In fact, Arrhenius published the first calculation of global warming from human CO2 emissions in 1896. For many people, it is easy to confirm that climate change is a real problem and escalating fast. However, there is a staggering division amongst opinions, especially in the United States. As of 2016, roughly 31% of Americans denied that climate change is due to humans, and 20% deny climate change altogether. So what’s with this gap in popular opinion?

How can people be so skeptical of the changes happening right in front of them?

To some, it’s hard to understand how our peers can be so skeptical of something that is happening right in front of them. The way we view information depends on how we interpret it as well as whether or not we want to take ALL the information into account. Interpreting climate change data can be difficult to anyone who is not familiar with scientific jargon. Some people are intimidated by graphs and charts. This can lead to ignoring information that is clearly displayed, all on the basis of disliking the format or way it was presented. Another issue, when interpreting facts, is how those facts directly impact the person looking at them. Obviously, someone who owns or manages a company which produces high levels of waste and emissions daily does not want to hear about how they are contributing to a “crisis.” In some cases, this is deliberate. Corporations with vested interests have funded a media campaign to cast doubt and nonprofits that have a slick anti-science propaganda. This is well documented in books like Erik Conway's "Merchants of Doubt", or Michael Mann's "Climate Wars." Not only are people misinterpreting, but the general public listens to these misinterpretations, especially when someone who holds a high profile position (ex: legislators, congressmen, actors, etc.) gives an opinion. However, it’s natural for people to interpret or selectively cherry-pick evidence and facts so that their own beliefs are confirmed. This is referred to as a ‘confirmation bias.’ Unfortunately, for many skeptics, climate change data is interpreted in order satisfy their confirmation bias.

 “People are always clinging to what they want to hear, discarding the evidence that doesn’t fit with their beliefs, giving greater weight to evidence that does.” 

Media and Politics only amplify denials

Media and politics play a large part in how people view climate change, and can also fuel their skepticism. Everyone knows that the media can twist words and choose what part of the story they want to tell in order to satisfy the public. Climate change is usually not the “juicy” story that people want to watch or read about because the media can over sensationalize the information or event. Major news networks choose to ignore mentioning climate change when extreme weather events take place. For instance, hurricane Irma and Maria devastated the Caribbean, and while scientific data showed a correlation between climate change and extreme weather, many news networks neglected to present that information to the public. Also, media tends to cover politics and the views of different politicians more than it covers the views of scientists; and this can influence skeptic views. Scientists aren’t always inclined to engage with the media at times, but it is easier to listen to the opinion of a high profile politician than it is to researching the data that was collected and confirmed on the matter. When a popular politician makes a statement saying that “global warming is a hoax,” the public fails to remember that this is opinion-based only. It’s very unlikely that every politician who has denied climate change actually did their research in order to confirm this denial; and yet these opinions are exposed through the media over scientific findings.

 “People put a lot less effort into picking apart evidence that confirms what they already believe.” 

So how are we supposed to view climate change?

One thing that is not opinion based, or influenced by outside sources is the scientific data pertaining to climate change; over 97% of scientists and researchers are able to come to a consensus that climate change is a very real threat. So what have we learned so far about the changes occurring globally? Last year, we saw average global temperatures break records, and 2016 was the third record breaking year in a row. Along with these temperature rises, CO2 levels are twice as high as normal, threatening the pH balance in the oceans and contributing the diminishing coral reef. We are also seeing sea levels rise faster than ever before-3.4mm a year-threatening many coastal populations over time. This is only some of the information that we are certain about and that raises concern for our future. It’s not solely about “who” you should listen to; it is also about how you should act to help reduce the effects of climate change. We have moved beyond the argument of “right and wrong” because we already have the information to show that our climate is changing, and now it is time to tackle the threat at hand.

"Yet all is not lost. Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start." –Pope Francis