Feet on the Ground: Low-Carbon Travel to Paris

“A challenge that remains is to motivate the many participants of conferences and meetings to reduce their own carbon footprint, especially from travel.”

So reads the UNFCCC secretariat’s sustainability efforts web page. Some individuals took this challenge into their own hands (or rather, feet) and are pursuing unconventional travel routes to Paris.

First, there are the walkers. Yeb Saño, former Philippine Climate Change Commissioner, falls into this category. Saño is weeks into his 60-day, 930-mile expedition on foot, from Rome to Paris. Saño leads a group known as The People’s Pilgrimage, a group of multi-faith individuals walking to COP21, “carrying with them the hopes and prayers of millions for a better future, safe from climate change.”

Next, we have the runners and cyclists. A recent Huffington Post article highlighted Pole to Paris, a group running and cycling from the Arctic to COP21. Young scientists travel this route as a public awareness campaign for COP21, seeking to “bridge the gap between science and society.”

Finally, more cyclists! Climate Journey is “a storytelling expedition from New England to Paris for COP21.” The two cyclists, who will be youth delegates at COP21, are gathering local stories about climate change en route. Bike for a Future is another public awareness campaign bicycle ride from Vietnam to France.

Meanwhile, 95 percent of the UNFCCC secretariat’s total carbon footprint comes from air travel. At COP20, the secretariat purchased Certified Emission Reductions (CERs) to offset greenhouse gas emissions from UNFCCC staff and funded participants travel to Lima. COP21’s web page says the Conference’s €187 million budget will include funding for a “limited and offset carbon footprint.” Walkers, runners, and cyclists alike have already embarked on low-carbon voyages to Paris, catalyzing momentum for the upcoming climate change negotiations.

 


Mind the [Ambition] Gap

mind the gap

 

When stepping onto the Underground in London, a voice rings out, “Mind the gap.” Perhaps this should also be echoing through the halls of the COP20 venue in Lima, Peru, this week. The pre-2020 ambition gap is often stated in terms of what must be done differently from business as usual to keep GHGs from warming the global temperature 2°C (relative to pre-industrial levels) before the year 2020.

The most recent IPCC Report (AR5) states with high confidence that there are opportunities through mitigation, adaptation and integrated responses to narrow this gap. The ADP meetings held in Lima during this session are ripe with discussions of interim measures to be taken prior to the next year’s Paris COP21. On Tuesday, the Parties discussed a draft text which is set to accelerate implementation of climate action. Over the next 10 days, Parties will negotiate which gap-closing measures they are willing to take.

Parties are looking to negotiate specific texts and elements, while in Lima, that can be solidified at the upcoming COP21 in Paris; without concrete commitments in place upon leaving Lima next week, it will be very difficult to give Congresses, Parliaments and other governing bodies time to ‘okay’ these commitments before COP21.  Many Parties have voiced that it is very late to still be negotiating texts for the Paris agreement – yet the negotiations must continue.andina

Any agreement signed in Paris next year will become effective in 2020.  This leaves a ‘gap’ of the next five years – many Parties are already suffering from climate change and are calling for a developed nations to make commitments now.  The opening session of the ADP on Tuesday allowed G77+China to lead the way in calling for accelerated action by developed countries through financing and technology transfer for developing countries.  Although it is early in the process, Parties seem to be mindful, at least, that there is gap.

 


Nations Commit $9.3 Billion Towards Climate Action: Is it enough?

Yesterday international leaders pledged $9.3 billion towards the United Nations (UN) Green Climate Fund (Fund) at the first Pledging Conference in Berlin, Germany. Formally established in Cancun in 2010, the Fund aims to help developing countries mitigate and adapt to climate change. In this way, the capital would help those countries least to blame for, but most at risk from, climate change. The Fund would provide grants, loans and private capital for renewable energy and green technologies. big mills It is a step toward the far more ambitious goal announced in Copenhagen in 2009 for industrialized nations to mobilize $100 billion a year by 2020 for broader climate finance.

The initial capitalization of the Green Climate Fund is critical to the intergovernmental negotiations. The pledges act as an economic and political catalyst, spurring international climate action. “The [Fund] is the epicenter that determines the direction of both public and private investment over the next decades,” said Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Resources allocated to the Fund unlock financial flows from the private sector. Private investments are viewed as essential to the transition to a low-emission, climate resilient economy. These investments are stimulated through application of concessional public financing from the Fund.

Politically, the pledges build trust between developed and developing countries. “The result of today’s capitalization of the [Fund] is foremost an unmistaken sign of trust building,” said Hela Cheikhrouhou, Executive Director of the Fund. “This creates a positive atmosphere for the start of successful negotiations in Lima in less than two weeks,” stated H.E. Mr. Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, Minister of the Environment of Peru.

Twenty-one nations made pledges, including contributions from four developing countries. Their combined contributions are the “largest amount the international community has ever mobilized for a dedicated climate finance mechanism,” said the Fund executive members.  Earlier this week at the G20 Summit in Australia, the 20 biggest economies in the world emphasized their commitment to “strong and effective action to address climate change.” The United States pledged $3 billion and Japan $1.5 billion to the Fund.Canada’s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, broke from his usual ally on climate issues, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, when announcing Canada’s commitment the Fund.

At the Pledging Conference, Germany and France each promised $1 billion, Britain pledged more than $1.1 billion and Sweden contributed over $500 million. Other countries that made pledges include the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Luxemburg, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, South Korea and Switzerland. big graphUN Secretariat Ban Ki-moon said the pledges “demonstrate that governments increasingly understand both the benefits derived from climate action and the growing risks of delay.

Nevertheless, some wonder if momentum is building towards meaningful climate action. Critics point out that the international community failed to meet the UN goal of $10 billion. Oxfam called the $9.3 billion “a bare minimum” compared to the $10-15 billion it and developing countries call for. Oxfam further pointed out that Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada and Ireland have not yet made any pledges. “Financial support from developed countries should be a building block for a global climate agreement, not a stumbling block,” said the group’s Alison Woodhead. Marlene Moses of Nauru, chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), called the pledges “still well short” of the target. “If it’s a struggle to get $10 billion once-off, how difficult is it going to be to get to $100 billion every year?” said Yvo De Boer, who oversaw the UN global warming talks from 2006 to 2010. “Much more has to be done if the promise made to developing countries to provide financial support of $100 billion per year in 2020 to tackle climate change,big fireStephen Krug, a policy analyst at Greenpeace in Germany said. “While climate change is developing faster than expected, the financial support for those who are the most affected still evolves at a snail’s pace.

Climate experts have warned that time is running out in the battle against climate change. Are world leaders committed to meaningful climate action? Does $9.3 billion reflect the pressing need to combat what is proclaimed the “most defining issue of our time?” Only time will tell.


Celebreality: How a public figure can use their fan base to spread awareness about climate change.

On September 24, the UNFCCC’s Momentum for Change initiative teamed with UNEP Goodwill Ambassador and actor Ian Somerhalder to produce a documentary on climate change. Momentum for Change illuminates activities underway across the globe that are moving the world toward a highly resilient, low-carbon future.

Christiana Figueres blogged about the release of the documentary. Her message was retweeted 59 times ath2nd users selected it as a favorite 36 times. In comparison, Ian Somerhalder’s own tweet was retweeted over 3,000 times and added as a favorite by more than 5,000 twitter users. This discrepancy is likely due to the lopsided number of followers Figueres and Somerhalder have, 43,700 and 5,410,000 respectively.

Does it matter who the information comes from as long as Momentum for Change’s message is being spread? By choosing Ian Somerhalder as the narrator, Momentum for Change increased their documentaries exposure exponentially. More people will now see this important video than if a non- celebrity narrated the film.

Celebritie220px-An_Inconvenient_Truth_Film_Posters use their status as public figures to spread awareness about many causes, including climate change. Many celebrities deeply care about climate change issues and make strategic career choices to educate their fans on these important issues. In 2006, Al Gore’s campaign to educate people about global warming was documented in An Inconvenient Truth. The film went on to win several awards including the Academy Award for Best Documentary and the HUMANITAS prize by making significant contribution to the human family by communicating values, forming consciences and motivating human behavior. The film ultimately grossed US$50 million worldwide.

Leonardo DiCaprio, award winning actor and UN Messenger of Peace in the field of climate change, spokfa10ae_ee68fa8f12cb49619925e151d71aa563.png_srz_p_198_198_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_png_srze at the UN Climate March in September. He stated that clean air and a livable climate are “inalienable human rights” and that we can either make history by changing our actions or be vilified by the consequences. DiCaprio pledged US$7million  towards ocean conservation projects and his foundation is supporting the Green World Rising film series focusing on solutions to the climate crisis.

Celebrities can utilize their financial resources and public appeal to further the goals of the UNFCCC by educating their fans about climate change and actions that can be taken to limit it.


Can social media offer a voice and a virtual seat at the climate change table?

It is estimated that one in four people worldwide use some form of social media. While this statistic may cause concern among some populations, should climate change advocates around the world rejoice in this? According to news about Instagram , the International Center of Photography  is working hard to bring climate change front and center for every social media user. This eight-year project aims to showcase beauty of untouched areas of the world and appeal to the senses of ‘what could be lost.’ Some of the photographs highlight climate catastrophes such as deforestation in Borneo and melting glacial fields. This is not, however, an overt cry for change.  The idea is to expose Instagram users to these images and spark conversation which would not happen when one walks solo through the ICP’s Midtown Manhattan gallery.  The onsite exhibition coordinator, Pauline Vermare, explains, “It’s not about art, it’s about changing the society.”

View of the junction of the Colorado and the Little Colorado from the Navajo territory. The Grand Canyon National Park begins after this junction. Click the image to enlarge. Copyright Sebastião Salgado/Amazonas Images

View of the junction of the Colorado and the Little Colorado from the Navajo territory. The Grand Canyon National Park begins after this junction.  This is one of the ICP images.
Click the image to enlarge. Copyright Sebastião Salgado/Amazonas Images

Using social media to raise climate change awareness is not novel: three years ago, Al Gore started “The Climate Reality Project,” created a FaceBook page and asked the public to commit to hosting view-parties for online climate change events. Today, this page has almost 321,000 ‘likes’ and still acts as a news source for climate-savvy FaceBookers. Others add climate change inspired ‘hashtags’ that cross social media boundaries from FaceBook to Twitter and Instagram. This was evident during People’s Climate march as over 400,000 participants gathered in the streets of New York City – most uploading photos with #peoplesclimatemarch.

While these social media campaigns may subconsciously expose us to issues or overtly alert us to climate news, do they really make a difference to the leaders on the road to Lima and Paris for upcoming UNFCCC and Kyoto negotiations? It seems as though, while a good way to stay informed, there is little evidence that party leaders actually take social media into account when devising negotiating plans. This doesn’t mean social media has no influence on policy; it may just mean that this is one channel for negotiators to monitor the thoughts of citizens and for constituencies to keep tabs on issues.  Since 2008, the UNFCCC secretariat and Information Services Coordinator have stated that virtual participation in convention sessions is a priority. Growing numbers of Convention delegates, lack of funding for some Parties/organizations to send delegates and a new host city each year make virtual participation a timely choice.  With increased virtual participation via social media, an active FaceBook page for UNFCCC and a plethora of citizen groups pushing climate change awareness, WE MAY ALL HAVE A VOICE and a front row seat (at least, in front of a laptop) at Paris COP21.  As for Lima, have confidence that the blogging, hashtagging and tweeting will keep the masses informed.


Global leaders respond to 400,000 climate wake up calls

After 400,000 people marched on Sunday, NYC was again the stage of another climate change event: the United Nations Climate Summit 2014. Aimed to move forward the climate change negotiations and achieve an agreement at COP 21 in Paris, the UN Climate Summit gathered over 100 Heads of State and 800 leaders from business, finance and civil society. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon affirmed in his opening statement that “we are not here to talk, we are here to make history.” He challenged global leaders to propose climate actions on five fronts: emission reductions, mobilizing money and markets, pricing carbon, strengthening resilience, and mobilizing new coalitions.

While many of the leaders reiterated previous commitments – e.g. the need to limit global warming to 2o Celsius from pre-industrial level –  some of them announced new commitments that showed a real effort to advance climate change negotiations. Several countries –  developed, developing, and least developed countries – pledged to increase their GHG emission reduction goals beyond 2020 and increase the use of clean energy: the European Union committed to reduce 40% of its emission from 1990 levels by 2030; Ethiopia and Sweden stated their goals to become zero net emissions by 2025 and 2050, respectively; Republic of Korea announced that it will launch  the first Asian Emission Trade Scheme in 2015; Nicaragua committed to generate 90% of its electricity through renewables by 2020; and Tuvalu announced its goals to use 100% clean energy by 2020, just to name a few.

China, the biggest GHG emitter (28% of global CO2 emissions in 2013), announced goals to reduce its GHG emissions for the first time: 40 to 45% from 2005 levels by 2020. China also offered to provide $6 million for the United Nations’ efforts to boost South-South cooperation to address global warming. These announcements come as an initial break through to the developed versus developing country debate, which has been the biggest challenge in climate change negotiations. The shift in the tone of the Chinese government, which recognized its international obligation to tackle climate change as responsible major country, could force key emitter countries, such as United States and India, to participate in post-Kyoto commitments.

Another announced effort was the New York Declaration on Forests. The Declaration, the first of its kind, sets a non-legally binding timeline to cut natural forest loss in half by 2020 and to end it completely by 2030, while restoring 350 million hectares of degraded landscapes and forestlands. These efforts combined would result in a cut between 4.5 and 8.8 billion tons of carbon pollution every year. 32 governments, including Indonesia and Colombia (but surprisingly not my own country of Brazil), signed the Declaration, as did 20 subnational governments, 30 of the world’s biggest companies (e.g. Asia Pulp and Paper, Nestle, and Unilever), and more than 50 civil and indigenous organizations.

And last, but not least, poet Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, a Marshallese citizen, provided a moving speech that brought some world leaders to tears. She gave the face, the voice, and the perspective of those experiencing climate change impacts today – the ones that world leaders hope to address by the end of 2015 in the new mitigation and adaptation agreement.

  Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, Civil Society Representative from the Marshall Islands, is greeted on stage by her husband and her baby after speaking during the Climate Summit at United Nations Headquarters in New York

 

 

 


Over 400,000 Come Together in NYC for People’s Climate March

Yesterday over 400 thousand people marched through the streets of New York City yelling, singing, drumming, and clamoring for climate change justice. The march made the front page of the New York Times as the largest single environmental gathering in history, but across the world yesterday cities came together: 30,000 in Melbourne, almost 5,000 in Paris, 40,000 in London, 15,000 in Berlin, and 5,000 in Rio de Janeiro, to name just a few of the other 2,500 events around the globe. In New York, six of our delegation joined the march, myself included.

For march5me, the trip started at 3 A.M. in Vermont when a group of us left the V.L.S. parking lot, car-pooling to a bus in Montpelier filled with climate marchers, headed straight to N.Y.C. As we boarded, I took a glimpse up at the stars remembering my awe of the natural wonders of this world and wondered whether future generations would have clear skies to view these celestial lights. In my excitement, I anticipated singing, speeches, and storytelling on the bus, but in the early A.M., mostly we all just slept. It wasn’t until we approached the city that people really started stirring, and to fulfill our expectation of civil demonstrations, we quietly sang one song. But as soon as the bus parked, the activity started. The first sound to hit us of the streets of New York was the strong rhythm of a band of African drummers, playing as they made their way down the sidewalk to the March. On the same block, posters were set out with markers, the top stated in bold: “I’m Marching For” with a blank underneath for each person to write their own reasons for marching. In the blanks some wrote, “the Humans,” My Unborn Children,” or “My Mom.” As we moved closer to Central Park, the crowds drew denser; I saw more signs with messages from organizations and individuals with declarations of hope, anger, representation, and action. In the running for cutest sign was one carried by a little boy around three or four. Next to a drawing of a tiger, it said, “I like tigers,” and on the back it said “Save the tigers.”

We stood without moving in the masses for nearly two hours, marchmarchoccupying ourselves by meeting strangers and hollering out chants, such as, “What does democracy look like? This is what democracy looks like!” and “Divest, divest, put fossil fuels to rest!” Eventually real marching commenced. The march stretched a mile through N.Y.C.’s busy streets, down Central Park West, through Times Square, and eventually culminating in a block party on 42nd. I realized at Columbus Circle exactly how incredible it was to to be standing in that street, the rush and isolation of the automobile, for that moment, completely displaced for individuals in collective procession. My reverie ended when another chant broke out: “What do we want? Climate Justice! When do we want it? Now!” Perhaps the most powerful moment during the march was the moment of silence, where thousands of people stood together completely silent honoring those already lost due to climate change. The moment ended in a grand alarm with ringing bells and shouts; we must have action now.

For those interested in celebrity sightings, there were plenty, including Leonardo DiCaprio and Joseph Gorden Levitt, I was happy to spot Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org, but also would have loved to see Ban Ki-Moon, who was marching with New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, Al Gore, and Jane Goodall. But Ban Ki-moon at Climate Marchmore impressive than any particular individual in attendance was the vast diversity of the populace represented. There were blocs for the youth, for energy, for different states (I started the march in Vermont’s bloc); there were Buddhists and vegans, Indigenous groups, Unitarians, people of all ages (the youngest not yet even born)–all marching in solidarity. At one point I saw a huge arc that exemplified the feeling. On it stood a man carrying a sign, which read: “An atheist on the arc? Unite for climate justice!”

The big question at the end of the day as we all stood around exhausted but still warm with excitement, was “what next?” How do we keep this energy up and move it onto the next project of building new systems and policies to bring our march chants into pragmatic codes? Of course, many are already deep in the process of building changes to battle climate change. The UN will be continuing its work tomorrow at the UN Climate Summit. Millions are already working within their communities, but there is still more to go, and I hope we can keep our voices up as we all head back to our respective homes and keep that global solidarity with us and we continue working for climate justice in our own communities and projects. I got home exhausted, sweaty, and hopeful.


… by side (event)

The second of two fascinating and informative side events mentioned in my last post was hosted by the Global Canopy Programme, to launch its newest publication, The Little Book of Big Deforestation DriversIMG_4259 (which Alisha covered well here).  What caught my attention most was not the the research done to document and calculate the individual and cumulative supply chain impacts on climate change, but rather how to portray these results so that you want to learn more of these details. Can we, as individual consumers, augment national and international legal efforts to stop tropical rain forest deforestation, by making more informed buying decisions and thereby changing the deforestation catalysts embedded within the supply chain?  Take a look at the poster at right (I couldn’t help but think of Mara from the University of Montana, for she came to COP19 in part to learn how to communicate climate change impacts) and ask yourself:  how much forest did you eat today?