Upon Reflection: Looking Back at a Week of COP21

Screen Shot 2015-12-05 at 4.32.14 PMToday the first delegation team is wrapping up its work from the first week of COP21. I am writing this post from the Relaxation Room, provided as a space to get away from the bustle that comes along with COP21. Today, most people in this room are lounging or sleeping with feet propped up and shoes off. Today, people are exhausted. But also energized.

Two days ago I couldn’t imagine a scenario where a streamlined text was successfully passed on to the COP Presidency for final negotiations. And yet here we are. The deadline was set, and the parties rose up to the challenge. Even amid our own small delegation team, members were awake into the wee hours of the night finalizing briefing memos on recent changes to the draft agreement. Party delegations were likely up even later.

This week could be charactScreen Shot 2015-12-05 at 4.19.56 PMerized as a gathering of people suffering in solidarity. But more accurately, it was represented by a group of people united in their determination to create a document that would have lasting and effective change. While at times the deadlines and the differences seemed insurmountable, in the end these were outweighed by a unified desire to change the world.

This solidarity, even in moments of complete contention, is what I will most remember from my time in Paris. People united by a common purpose can complete the impossible.


Decarbonization or Climate Neutrality? Which is the Better Path to 2°C? Is There Even a Difference?

https://www.bartlett.ucl.ac.uk/energy/events/ucl-energy-seminar-ddppIn order to keep global temperatures under 2°C, the threshold generally accepted as the best way to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change, there must be a limit on cumulative CO2 emissions. For those of you not tracking mitigation negotiations closely at COP21, there is some hot debating surrounding long-term signals maintaining this threshold. Delegates are looking at two potential options, decarbonization and climate neutrality. But what’s the difference?

While the two options may seem rather similar, they carry with them significantly different implications. Climate neutrality would require that countries achieve annual zero net anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by a specified date. What this means is that for every ton of anthropogenic GHG emitted, an equivalent amount must be removed from the atmosphere. This sounds great in theory. However some parties are concerned, and for good reason, that climate neutrality equates to more of a political move around than effective action.

Here’s why. Climate neutrality allows for those emitted GHG emissions to be compensated with removals via carbon offsets such as sequestration, carbon capture and storage. To actually keep global temperatures under 2°C with carbon offsets, large-scale uptake of negative emission technology will have to be implemented. According to Kevin Anderson of the University of Manchester, there are problems with relying on negative emission technologies to achieve an under 2°C global temperature target. Anderson noted that these technologies have never worked at scale, have huge technical and economic unknowns, and have major efficiency penalties. These technologies are often not worth the hype.
http://www.bloomberg.com/bw/articles/2013-01-25/using-a-traffic-app-cuts-commutes-manages-angerIn essence, climate neutrality means that CO2 may still be produced, but not all parties think this is a bad thing. It may leave room for developing countries to continue emitting GHG and thus enable them to continue essential sustainable development projects. However, a concern is that developed countries may purchase carbon offsets for their emissions from developing countries with natural carbon sinks. This allows for developed countries to continue with a “business as usual” approach to emission mitigation efforts rather than encouraging them to radically change their consumption patterns.It allows for the possibility that wealthy developed countries may pay for their emissions by buying carbon offsets from developing countries with lower emissions and natural carbon sinks.

Alternatively, decarbonization tends to be understood as a process that results in a decarbonized global economy with no anthropomorphic CO2 emissions. Amongst the scientific community, it is widely accepted that to successfully achieve climate stabilization, full decarbonization of our energy systems is likely our only option. While this idea seems rather straight forward, there is confusion about how decarbonization may be interpreted and implemented. While full decarbonization tends to mean zero unabated CO2 emissions, it is possible that decarbonization within the Paris Agreement would allow for emissions to be balanced with adequate reductions and carbon sinks. There are also concerns that a decarbonization option would not account for non-CO2 GHG emissions.

http://www.climatechangenews.com/2012/10/26/conservation-or-carbon-sinks-can-the-un-see-the-forest-for-the-trees/What is clear is that whichever option ends up in the Paris Agreement, further clarification and definition of terms should be made first. For either option to be effectively implemented, they should be accompanied by specific timeframes, definitions, rates, and standardized accounting measures.

 


Where do Human Rights Belong?

Today marked the first meeting of the ADP Contact Group. Though the meeting started out going over what seemed to be relatively mundane logistical issues, it quickly heated up when human rights were brought up. The problem? Whether human rights issues should be left to the preamble, or given a place in the operational text.

As a refresher, the preamble to an international agreement is not part of the legally binding, operative text of an agreement. Rather, it more or less sets the stage for the agreement and provides a context under which the agreement may be interpreted.

This morning, while addressing Article 7 of the Draft Agreement on Technology Development, Mr. Tosi Mpanu Mpanu, the Facilitator from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), addressed concerns over parties introducing new ideas this late in the game. Specifically, he mentioned that while working on the language of Article 7 Section 3, a party motioned to add language regarding human rights. Mr. Mpanu Mpanu noted that this addition slowed the progress they had been making on the text up to that point. However, because COP21 is a party driven process, Mr. Mpanu Mpanu felt obligated to mention it amongst the larger body.

http://paristext2015.com/2015/05/human-rights-in-the-paris-text/Mexico, the party in question, immediately responded. “Human rights is not preamble language.” Mexico maintained that human rights issues are operational issues and should thus not be relegated simply to the preamble. They expressed their willingness to be flexible with the placement of human rights, as long as it received a home somewhere within the operational text. In essence, that human rights text would be legally binding within the text. And in response to suggestions that the issue was being newly introduced, Mexico maintained that they have been asking for its inclusion for a long time leading up to these negotiations.

So that leaves the world with a big question. Should human rights be included in a binding agreement on climate change? Undoubtedly, climate change solutions will involve human rights issues. Climate change is about more than weather, it highlights and intensifies inequalities already in place. For this reason, it is likely that an agreement without biding language on human rights will be to some extent incomplete.


No Climate Justice without Gender Justice

Today at COP21, a focus for at least one of the meetings was how to achieve transformative solutions for both climate and gender justice. The meeting emphasized gender and economic disparities in developing countries and the fact that climate change does not affect men and women on the same level.

222For much of the developing world, climate change is a fact of life. It is difficult to find climate deniers in these areas. In poor, rural areas in Nepal, climate change is already affecting day-to-day life and has become an “issue of survival” according to panelist Alina Saba.There the melting glaciers are making traditional subsistence living almost impossible. Specifically, in these developing parts of the world it is the women who are most vulnerable to climate change while also being the ones most excluded from decision making and most expendable to a world “focused on maximizing profits and consumption.” In much of the world indigenous women are at the front lines of climate change, where they are in charge of producing and gathering food without being able to contribute to decision making processes.

Despite the difficulties facing women in many developing countries, when they are given a seat at the decision-making table women tend to incite real change. For example in Bangladesh salinity and sea level rise has made it nearly impossible for women to grow traditional crops. There, women were at the forefront of an initiative to begin hanging vegetable gardens throughout the country to battle these climate change impacts. The success of this project is evidence that when women are able to come together as an agent for solutions they can help build local movements to tackle large-scale problems.

However, the gender disparities at the climate change forefront are not limited only to those women in rural areas. In cities, where low-carbon lifestyles are more accessible, the increasing complexity of urban systems are also connected with increasing inequalities- including gender inequalities. According to Gotelind Alber of Women for Climate Justice, female-headed households tend to be some of the poorest in urban areas. Additionally, even amongst homes headed by both men and women, there tend to be disparities within the household. Financial inequality is not always homogenous within a household. Often women tend to be worse off with less financial stability and more day-to-day duties. Thus mitigation and adaptation planning in urban areas will require integration of all sectors, and must include gender issues.

The Women and Gender Constituency (WGC), a stakeholder group of the United Nations Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 10.18.44 PMFramework Convention on Climate Change, works to ensure that women’s voices and rights are embedded in all aspects of the UNFCCC framework and that gender equality and women’s rights are at the center of discussions. At the meeting, Kate Lappin of WGC, discussed climate change issues in a world that devalues women’s unpaid work. She specifically focused on the programs that attempt to redistribute work and build an energy democracy.

The idea behind an energy democracy is that it rejects the idea of net zero emissions on the premise that developed countries have historically contributed too much to global emissions. For example, the United States emits 176 times more carbon per capita than Nepal. Lappin suggests replacing a net zero emissions goal with goals that require zero emissions for developed countries while still requiring them to fulfill their financing obligations to developing countries.

Moving forward, city planning and climate negotiations should include equal participation of women at all levels. Further, negotiations and decisions must lead to modified policies to have a gender responsive climate policy. When women are included in the decision making process, effective change is delivered.


The Secret Weapon Against Climate Change? Family Planning

2_evidencebased_programming_2Family Planning may be the most cost-effective weapon against climate change. At least according to a new report from the University of California, San Francisco’s Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health. According to the report, family planning could provide between 16 and 29 percent of the needed greenhouse gas emission reductions.

Additionally, last year the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recognized for the first time the benefits of family planning for impacting climate change. The IPCC report recognized the importance of family planning in areas with a high vulnerability to climate change, including the Sahel region of Africa, as well as in rich countries like the United States. Increasing access to family planning not only helps reduce human suffering, especially in extremely vulnerable areas, but also decreases overall consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

PopulationToday the world population is over 7 billion, a number that is relatively recent in the history of human civilization. Between 1900 and 2000 the world population increased from 1.5 to 6.1 billion. That is, in just 100 years the population increased three times more than it had during the entire history of human kind. The effects of this astounding increase in human beings on the environment is staggering. Increasing populations threaten the survival of plant and animal species around the world, reduce air quality, increase energy demands, effect groundwater and soil health, reduce forests, expand deserts, and increase waste. And these effects will only get worse, as the United Nations predicts that the world population will reach 9.6 billion people by 2050.

According to the report from the Bixby Center, family planning programs are dollar-for-dollar the most effective way to avoid some of the worst impacts from climate change. There are currently 222 million women in the world with an unmet need for modern family planning methods. To meet this demand for family planning it will take $9.4 billion a year, an increase from current family planning spending by about $5.3 billion a year. Despite this high dollar value, family planning spending is still a relatively cheap option. According to the report, “For every $7 spent of family planning, carbon emissions would be reduced more than [one metric ton]… the same emissions reductions from low-carbon energy production technologies would cost at least $32.”

MTI5NTI2Mzc5NzgyOTE2MTA2Despite the cost-effectiveness, family planning still remains a contentious issue. But things may be looking up. As part of their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) countries must consider their population size and its potential growth in order to envision how per capita emissions may change in the future. The new UNFCCC synthesis report of INDCs takes into account different population growth scenarios for the next fifteen years, and suggests that some governments may not be using the best population data for calculating business as usual emissions scenarios. Additionally, in the report some governments state that population density and growth within their countries remains a constraint on their ability to adapt to climate change.

What this means is that family planning is necessary. Not only is it necessary on a human level (family planning is one of the best ways to improve education and quality of life for women around the globe), it remains one of the most effective tools at our disposal for combatting climate change.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Saying Goodbye to Cultural Landmarks

Sea-level rise is an unavoidable threat facing our planet in the coming century. Even avoiding increasing global temperatures above 2°C likely wont save us from a twenty-foot rise in sea-level by 2020. This kind of devastating sea-level rise will have disastrous effects on worldwide economies, agricultural, and livelihoods. It will also irreparably change the face of some of the world’s most treasured landmarks.

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Historical treasures the world over may be threatened, even if we stay within the 2°C target limit agreed on in Cancun. Further, a recently released study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that if we don’t hit this target limit, a global temperature warming of 4°C could cause anywhere from 22.6 to 35.4 feet of global sea-level rise.

So what does this mean for coastal communities, and the many global icons located there?

A report from the Union of Concerned Scientists last year outlined thirty national landmarks across the United States that could be lost or severely damaged from the effects of climate change. Among those monuments was Faneuil Hall in Boston, where the Sons of Liberty Planned the Boston Tea Party. Also included were the U.S. Naval Academy, the Kennedy Space Center, Jamestown, NASA’s Langley Research Center, and the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument. Around the country 118 national parks are considered to be at risk. Additionally, the U.S Interior Department released a report in June that revealed sea-level rise from climate change will damage the national park infrastructure and historic and cultural resources totaling in over $40 billion. And that’s just in the United States.

Climate change has the potential to cause rises in sea-level that may submerge areas currently home to between 470 and 760 million people on six different continents. Climate Central recently compiled a series of photographs that depict what sea-level rise will look like in cities such as Mumbai, Sydney, Shanghai, Rio, New York, Durban, London, and D.C. These cities are all major cultural and economic hubs for their respective countries, and any damage to them will likely also damage their countries as a whole.

In the battle against climate change, sea-level rise represents more than just economic losses. It means significant losses to culture, history, and livelihoods- not to mention lives. A study published in Environmental Research Letters found that 136 UNESCO World Heritage Sites will disappear with a warming of 5.4°C, warming that falls within projected ranges from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Sea-level rise may force us to say goodbye to cultural treasures such as Japan’s Itsukushima Shrine, the Sydney Opera House, the Statue of Liberty, Venice, Chile’s Rapa Nui National Park, and countless others. Further,
for cities such as Miami and New Orleans, its not a question of if they will be underwater, but when.

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For those cultural icons that are still salvageable, it is imperative that we reach an ambitious binding goal for limiting global temperature increases. After all, we can certainly survive without some of these historical landmarks, but why would we want to?

Images Courtesy of Climate Central.