We are still in

wearestillinWith President Trump announcing the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement in June 2017, it’s no surprise that the administration refused to fund a country pavilion at COP 23. However, that didn’t stop the U.S. Climate Action Center from establishing its presence in Bonn and on social media (#wearestillin).

The Climate Action Center goes to show that, despite Trump’s announcement, the American people are still committed to taking action against climate change. For example, the crowd gathered at the Center booed on cue this morning when Former Mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg critically pointed out that the U.S. delegation to COP touts coal as an example of sustainability.

Given the current administration’s stance, non-state actors will play a pivotal role in tackling climate change in the United States. One of the biggest tools at their disposal is the fact that investors can no longer ignore the effects of climate change. According to Carroll Muffett, President and CEO for the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), climate change poses at least four risks to most investments, particularly those steeped in fossil fuel.

First, investors have to take physical impact risks into account. After all, even the fossil fuel industry isn’t impervious to the destruction caused by hurricanes or other inclement weather.

Second, investors must assess the carbon asset risk of certain investments. As the world recognizes the urgent need to reduce emissions (with or without the U.S.), massive quantities of oil and other fossil fuels will eventually be “unburnable,” and thus left in the ground. This could leave millions of dollars on the books of major fossil fuel companies. One need only look to the widespread bankruptcy of the coal industry this past decade to imagine a realistic example.

The third risk is transition risk. Companies that fail to adapt to the increasing use of clean energy run a substantial risk of being left behind in the market.

Fourth, companies can no longer ignore the risk of expensive climate change litigation–particularly since federal district courts are becoming more willing to recognize injury resulting from climate change. These courts don’t just recognize the claims of present victims: they are starting to acknowledge the claims of those exposed to the future risk of climate change, as well.

While most litigation names major oil companies as defendants, the United States government is another potential target for litigation. For example, an Oregon district court recently faced a landmark case where a group of children sued the American government, alleging its failure to take aggressive action against climate change violates their constitutional rights. Last Monday, two children from Philadelphia sued the government for the Trump administration’s inadequacies in addressing climate change.

When it comes to climate, it’s in no one’s interest to be left behind. As the COP 23 President Frank Bainimarama articulated at the COP 23 opening plenary, “we are all in the same canoe.” And despite what President Trump would have the world think, Americans are still in that canoe, trying to row along.

Money doesn’t grow on trees

moneytreeWalking into the COP, observer and party delegations alike are given a bar of chocolate. And while the candy bar does not give its holder a Golden Ticket, it does draw chocolate-lovers’ attention to an important message for the Trillion Tree Campaign. That campaign is spearheaded by Plant-for-the-Planet, an NGO launched in 2007 by a nine-year-old boy to plant a trillion trees on the world’s degraded forest land. Such efforts are priceless when it comes to climate change: trees are the only “machines” on earth that can store carbon. Plus, they provide invaluable resources (like cacao for the COP’s beloved chocolate).

The Paris Agreement highlights the importance of forests, as well. Article 5 of the Agreement calls for parties to take action in reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and to conserve and enhance sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases. Programs like REDD+ aim to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. Working under the UNFCCC, REDD+ provides technical and financial support for developing countries to reduce emissions and enhance the removal of greenhouse gases.

The biggest challenge for REDD+ is now moving to implementation. At the COP, parties are discussing–and will soon decide–what implementation should look like in terms of governance: should the UNFCCC create a new body or structure to govern REDD+ implementation, or do the existing structures suffice? Should parties continue to meet in voluntary meetings that support implementation of activities that contribute to mitigation actions in the forest sector, or have these meetings already served their purpose?

One argument put forth by many developed countries–who are against future voluntary meetings–is the Green Climate Fund’s (GCF) recent decision to allocate $500 million to results-based financing for REDD+ activities. This decision, as the argument goes, shows that the financial landscape for REDD+ implementation is now in place, and that parties and entities have taken the Paris Agreement (particularly Article 5) quite seriously.

Under the program, the GCF pays at most $5 per ton of CO2eq of emissions reduced. The pilot program applies to projects showing results between 2013-2018, and thus is still open for developing countries.

The decision is a result of multilateral negotiations, which were not–and are never–perfect or easy. But the decision took into account a large spectrum of national interests. Many countries do not want to compromise this decision by reaching alternative conclusions in future voluntary meetings for REDD+.

With a scorecard indicating the highest standard for REDD+ activities, developing countries now have a gold standard for the program that sets the bar high for financing. For the sake of REDD+ and the Paris Agreement, it is important that results-based financing has become a part of GCF’s portfolio: this provides GCF with the opportunity to test the waters of this approach while also inspiring a race to the top in implementing REDD+.

Green is the new black

cotton_largeWe all know that “the fabric of our lives“ is cotton. But new, innovative approaches to the fashion industry might give cotton a run for its money (at least in terms of attention). After all, wouldn’t you want to have a scarf or dress made out of the cellulose extracted from orange peels, instead?

Although the approach to using orange juice byproducts by the startup Orange Fiber is resourceful, the fashion industry’s carbon footprint has a long way to go in dropping a size. The rise of fast fashion drives up consumption and increases the amount of clothing thrown away, thus threatening sustainable practices. According to a study by Boston Consulting Group presented at a COP side event this Wednesday, the fashion industry scores a 32/100 in terms of sustainability. Even simple fabrics have an enormous impact: producing one kilogram of cotton fabric takes 3,000 liters of water and 1 kilogram of chemicals, and emits 16 kilograms of CO2 (not to mention energy for raw materials, production, and transport).

The fashion industry needs to address sustainability at all levels, from the shopping cart to the washing machine and ending in the recycling bin. Consumers, too, need to think twice about what it means to be fashionable if they don’t want to commit a climate change faux-pas. But with a transformation to a Green Carpet, maybe consumers–and fashion skeptics–can be convinced that glamor and eco-manufacturing go together like a hand and a glove.


Unlocking the secrets of the past

thulo-sailungIn adapting to climate change, the decision makers of today can find great wisdom in the traditional knowledge of indigenous people. Traditional farming practices can offer a huge potential for resilience and adaptation to climate change. In Kenya, for example, traditional varieties of plants are more genetically diverse than modern varieties, and are better able to withstand more environmental stress.

Yet climate change has resulted in a double threat to these varieties: first, communities have suffered loss of the plants themselves; second, they have suffered the loss of traditional knowledge associated with the success of those plants. Given the large potential for traditional knowledge in building resilience, organizations like Caritas are working to resurrect local and traditional knowledge that can spread the seeds for climate resilience.

Another example can be found in the rain shadow of the Himalayas. The Lo people of Nepal–equipped with traditional knowledge on how to manage local irrigation–have transformed their arid, dry village into green agriculture fields they use during the summer. The village of the Lo people is 3,000 to 4,200 meters above sea level, with temperatures that drop to as low as -20 degrees Celsius in the winter. Transforming these harsh environments to lush, green fields is certainly a talent worth learning.

Traditional knowledge relevant to adaptation can also help individuals better predict weather patterns. Further, using traditional knowledge gives a voice to the people on the ground when searching for solutions to climate change. Women in particular have a major role when it comes to this traditional knowledge.

At COP 21, the parties recognized the need to strengthen knowledge, technologies, practices, and efforts of local communities and indigenous peoples when it comes to climate change. The COP thus established a platform for the exchange of experiences and the sharing of best practices on mitigation and adaptation in a holistic and integrated manner.

But the COP could go much further in operationalizing this language. And that’s exactly what  the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) and others have called for the COP to do. The COP thus needs to continue to think globally, but start “doing” locally. Relying on traditional knowledge is one way to bridge that wide gap.



Agriculture’s Great Rising


Photo credit: “Food Sovereignty: Sustainable Urban Agriculture in Cuba”, at https://www.globalresearch.ca/food-sovereignty-sustainable-urban-agriculture-in-cuba/5332167.

Photo credit: “Food Sovereignty: Sustainable Urban Agriculture in Cuba”, at

La Via Campesina, an NGO devoted to peasants’ rights and food sovereignty, hosted an event dedicated to agroecology at the opening of the COP 23. La Via Campesina takes an alternative approach to agriculture, denouncing any industrial and capitalist attitude toward food production. Under an industrial and capitalist approach, food is exported to countries continents away, and not used to feed the population of countries where it’s grown. Under the approach of La Via Campesina, peasants–a pre-industrial term that the group revives to distinguish itself from giant agriculture companies–produce food to feed people locally, and can designate where they want their produce to go. In the panel, La Via Campesina argued that the industrial food system–including not just agriculture, but transportation, packaging, and deforestation–is responsible for around 50% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The silver lining of this number means that agriculture is an area with great potential for improvement in terms of cutting emissions. But emissions aren’t the only problem: in the eyes of one member, giant agrochemical companies like Monsanto are “experimenting“ on the best land of more vulnerable states like Puerto Rico. Instead, to pave the way to food security and environmental justice, La Via Campesina–Spanish for “the peasant way”–urges everyone to take the road less travelled toward food sovereignty and agroecology.


Fake it ‘til you make it: faux meat and climate change

no-meat-pictureIf it tastes like a burger, and bleeds like a burger, it must be . . . plant-based protein?

At least that’s the outcome fake-meat innovators like Impossible Burger are striving for: a meatless burger that captures the textures and flavors of meat to whet the appetite of even the staunchest carnivores.

In fact, the fake meat industry’s approach might be working. Whether for health, environmental, or ethical reasons, more people are tossing veggie burgers on the grill. Food giants like Tyson are taking notice: last year, Tyson bought a 5% stake in Beyond Meat. Google’s Eric Schmidt even identified plant-based proteins as the number one “game-changing” trend of the future.

The growth of the fake meat industry is good news for climate change. After all, the world’s appetite for meat drives 14.5% of total greenhouse gas emissions. According to a U.N. report, factory-farmed animals contribute more to climate change than all the world’s cars, trucks, trains, planes, and ships combined. Having each American replace chicken with plant-based foods at just one meal per week is equivalent to taking more than half a million cars off U.S. roads.

Further, feeding huge numbers of confined animals uses more food than it produces. And while some cultures may be willing to eat insects to cut the impact of livestock on our planet, this option does not seem compatible with–or palatable to–the tastes of Western nations.

The incredible impact of factory farming adds up when you take a hard look at demand. For example, Americans eat three times the recommended level of meat. Given meat’s impact on climate, eating “like an American” is beyond sustainable. “Even in doing everything we can to reduce the emissions associated with meat production, rising demand means livestock emissions would take us beyond the global objective of 2ºC,” said Rob Bailey, a research director at the think tank Chatham House. “Therefore, dietary change is a precondition for avoiding catastrophic climate change.”

Even the UN Climate Change Conferences recognize the importance of dietary change. In addition to focusing on low-carbon and free range food, COP 23 plans to serve a higher share of vegetarian and vegan food than at past sessions.

In changing people’s diets, using “nanny statism“ to tax dairy and meat products–while theoretically effective–may rub Western nations the wrong way. Given the personal choice and cultural intricacies involved in making dinner, “it is not the place of governments or civil society to intrude into people’s lives and tell them what to eat.”

But the fake meat industry might just bring home the bacon. With more and more palatable options, and the withering taboo of veggie burgers for “radical vegetarians,” free market innovation is helping carnivore nations put more plant-based foods on the table. If the fake meat industry puts out a good spread, it could spark a marked drop in greenhouse gas emissions and help feed the world along the way.