We are working on it!

Island in the oceanAttending COP23 as an observer is a privilege because you are able to attend international multilateral negotiations. You witness established alliances use their power as a block and observe the dynamics of side negotiations. In these international multilateral negotiations, delegates agonize over words and paragraphs. They set their lines in the sand early and often. All of it done with diplomatic speak and collegiality but sometimes some get close to stepping over the line. Most of all, it is a privilege because you get to see the world trying to solve a problem collectively. With all this privilege, there is no denying that at times, these negotiations are frustrating. On rare occasions, the frustration causes one to think that the process is not working.

In a conversation with a delegate, I asked whether he is experiencing such frustration. Stalled talks are particularly challenging for him because he is from a Small Island Developing States (SIDS), which the United Nations considers as vulnerable nations because of climate change effect.  SIDS are usually located in the paths of hurricanes, which are happening with more frequency and more force. In the summer of 2017, for the first time, this delegate’s country issued mandatory evacuations from one of the outlying islands because no available shelter was adequate against the wrath of the coming storm. In the aftermath, the island became uninhabitable.

Additionally, SIDS are very vulnerable to rising sea levels. If water levels continue to rise, the oceans will soon reclaim these islands. Their challenge is their reluctance to make these issues public. Because their economy is dependent on tourism, climate change effects will drive off tourists, which will hurt an already fragile economy.

To answer my question, the delegate simply smiled. Then he started looking around at the other delegates and asked how many countries are represented. I told him there are delegates from 170 countries. He asked what are they all doing here? I told him that they are working on climate change issues. He replied with an even bigger smile, “exactly!” and repeated shortly after– We are working on it.

It is true that the COP process is complicated. One is instantly overwhelmed by the structure. There are three processes contained within the COP (UNFCCC, Kyoto Protocol, and the Paris Agreement). Furthermore, each convention, protocol, or agreement has its own framework, and they sometimes intersect with each other. Having said that, the complexity of the process really lies in the magnitude of participants. At last count, there are one hundred and seventy countries that have ratified the Paris Agreement. These countries represent different needs, levels of development, levels of ability, and a different sense of urgency. Even with the common shared goal of limiting the increase in the Planet’s average temperature, the complexity is how to arrive at the desired results. In other words, who does what and who pays for what is the main source of difficulty at the COP negotiations, but…..

We are working on it!

 

Negotiation agenda


Justice Not Charity: It’s Just Compensation

Article 8 of the Paris Agreement was monumental for advocates of Loss and Damage. But the first draft of Article 8 reveals the concessions and compromises developing countries made to get it. Notably struck from the final version are the words and concepts of “compensation.” In the early draft, “compensation” was referred to as a “regime” for developing countries to receive support – specifically “LDCs, SIDS, and countries in Africa affected by slow onset events.” Without this clause, developing countries are left to the ambiguity of the current Article 8. Ever since, there has been financial tension between developed and developing countries to provide for the tragic loss and damage costs climate change has incurred.

Without the context of “compensation” in the Paris Agreement (and without any formal agreements afterwards), many developing countries are left with a seemingly lack of avenues to finance their recovery efforts. Fortunately, not all these avenues have closed against them. Formal litigation efforts for climate change damages is one burgeoning justice avenue developing countries may use to collect remedies from historically polluting countries. As climate change litigation gains traction, advocates should pay attention to framing loss and damage issues as a matter of justice rather than a matter of humanitarian aid. As Sabine Minigner of Brot for die Welt said on Tuesday (11/14/2017), climate change compensation is not charity but justice. Developing countries should not be penalized for carbon emissions they did not emit.

This burgeoning legal environmental justice concept can be seen in U.S. courts of common law. For example, the monumental case of Kivalina v. ExxonMobil began with a vulnerable people’s group in Alaska. The eventual plaintiff-appellants alleged that many fossil fuel giants (oil, coal, electric utilities, etc.) had contributed to global warming. Under tort law they sued for remedies of $400 million under public nuisance. The case was unfortunately dismissed for judicial doctrinal reasons. But even though the plaintiffs in Kivalina did not succeed, their litigation proves an important stepping stone as U.S. courts grapple with justice for those impacted by climate justice.

The U.S. is not unique in its litigation – many other countries are establishing legal avenues through plaintiff actions to bring polluters to justice. Screen Shot 2017-11-17 at 1.43.13 AMBut the Kivalina case is still unique in that the plaintiffs were not seeking injunctive or immediate action, but reactive after-the-fact measures to bring them to their previous status quo. This was not litigation with goals for unjust enrichment. It was a matter of loss and damages and how a plaintiff can get a tortfeasor to compensate them for such. In that sense, climate change litigation parallels concepts of tort litigation.

And in most, if not all, tort casebooks the themes of justice, equity, and fairness are featured. The basic concept being that if one person hurts another, the tortfeasor (the one hurt) should be held liable in court to restore that person as far as they have damaged them. With this in mind, climate change litigation – as an arm of justice – may operate similarly.  Maybe climate change litigation will gain more traction as those without, sue those who have and courts get more comfortable with climate science within their courts. So even though the Warsaw Implementation Mechanism will wait for another Excom to determine its finance arm, vulnerable people groups may have another avenue to recover incurred climate change damages from polluters. And really they should, it would just be justice taking form in compensation.


Who is representing the US at COP23?

COP 23You are on your way to COP23, the place to be for everything climate change. You walk through the doors and find yourself among hundreds of people from all over the world, running from one session to the other, with a quick stop perhaps for a cup of coffee. You attend negotiations and presentations, and develop an understanding of what is important to a country or a block of countries as they attempt to reverse the alarming rise in the planet’s temperature.

After a day or two, the chaos becomes normal and all the different languages you overhear start having a familiar tone. You begin to appreciate the setting: located by the Rhine and intersected by a city park, dotted with ponds where ducks, geese, and swans keep residence. It is beautiful. Then, as you are waiting for an electric car/bus to take you between the Bula and Bonn Zones, you notice a white dome shaped building to the side. Curious, you head there and find a sign for the U.S. Climate Action Center.  Peppered throughout the place is the hash tag #wearestillin.

You feel surprised because the U.S. declared its intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. But a list of this Center’s events shows these presenters: Al Gore, Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, Governor Jerry Brown of California, Governor Kate Brown of Oregon, and Governor Jay Inslee of Washington.  In other words, a collection of American environmental rock stars and members of the U.S. Climate Alliance fill the place.

But then you notice that the U.S. delegation is hosting a “side event” titled The Role of Cleaner and More Efficient Fossil Fuels and Nuclear Power in Climate Mitigation. Unlike events held at the U.S. Climate Action Center, which attracted many attendees, this event drew protests. So who is representing the United States?

A closer look at the U.S. Climate Action Center shows that it as an effort by California Governor Jerry Brown that is funded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. It has attracted a collection of states, counties and municipalities; colleges and universities; businesses; non-profit organizations; faith organizations; and ordinary citizens. All told, the U.S. Climate Action Center spans all fifty states, 127 million Americans, and $6.2 trillion, all intent on honoring continued U.S. commitment to the Paris Agreement. A delegation called the People’s Delegation at COP23 pledged to the UNFCCC that “we are still in.”

The U.S. delegation, with representatives from the State Department and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is the delegation of record.  It, and only it, has the authority to negotiate on behalf of the U.S. (at least till the U.S. projected exit in 2020). But I believe the delegation that can effectuate the goals of the Paris Agreement has the upper hand. If “we are still in” manages to reduce GHG emissions in the U.S., then they are the delegation of record!


“Replace NAFTA Don´t Let Trade “TRUMP” Climate: #TransformTrade”

“Find the Justice now, Keep it in the Ground, … not in this town, we will fight this NAFTA now and replace it next round.” That is the song that a group of young people from Canada and the U.S. sang in the Bonn Zone of the COP23 today.

According to the Sierra Club, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)  has empowered corporate polluters and locked in fossil fuel dependency, “boosting destructive mining in Mexico and contributing to the rise of Canada´s toxic tar sands industry.” Captura de pantalla 2017-11-14 a las 12.50.14 a.m.

President Trump signed an executive order to renegotiate NAFTA to grow the U.S economy.  Even though it was not intended, the Sierra Club believes that this renegotiation could be an opportunity to incorporate and enforce the climate goals in the Paris Agreement.

For these young people, the trade agreements are more binding than the climate agreements. Transforming NAFTA limiting fossil fuel activities and improving workers lives, will enhance the protection of workers rights, communities and the planet.

As noted by Anthony Torres from the Sierra Club, “corporate trade agreements like NAFTA have undermined the Paris Agreement´s core objective of tackling climate change. Instead leading environmentalists across North America have called for a NAFTA replacement that incorporates and enforces the Paris Agreement´s climate goals.”IMG_9274

Likewise, Maia Wikler from SustainUS and a Vancouver, BC resident said: “My government has an opportunity and a responsibility to ensure that NAFTA´s replacement enforces the Paris climate goals rather than undermining them. So far, our trade and climate agreements have gone in opposite directions- a huge gap not being addressed at this conference.”

Everyday we get to see more young people clamoring for decision makers to improve climate actions. #TransformTrade is one more. Hopefully, if the governments involved in NAFTA follow their petitions, and don´t let trade “trump” climate, the renegotiation of NAFTA will incorporate the Paris climate goals.

 

 


Seas the Day

Living along the bottom of the seabed are the hydrothermal vents. These vents exist in environments under immense pressure, with volatile temperatures, toxic minerals, and devoid of sunlight. As the tectonics plates spread and magma rises, hydrothermal vents form. They are created when seawater circulates through fissures in the ocean’s crust and becomes super-heated by magma. After the mineral-rich waters reemerge, the minerals solidify to to form vents. These vents are the homes of biodiverse ecosystems and valuable mineral deposits. Thus, it is a target for scientific research, the biotechnology industry, and mining companies.download

Even these deep sea communities are affected by climate change. Ocean temperatures are rising because the ocean acts as a buffer, sequestering excess heat in the atmosphere. The rising temperature stresses food chains that deep sea organisms rely upon, increases ocean acidification, and deoxygenates the ocean. Deep sea hydrothermal vents have unique properties that are especially relevant to mitigating climate change impacts.

Hydrothermal vents are a cornucopia of scientific potential in addressing climate change. These vents have evolved a plethora of uniquely evolved organisms that advance mitigation efforts in the climate change arena, aid in the clean-up of oils spills, and have potential applications to the medical field. For example, vent organisms have the ability to consume consume 90% of the released methane. In the atmosphere, methane is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. These qualities have been put to use in creating industrial carbon-scrubbers.

While hydrothermal vents pose a significant aid in mitigating climate change, it is under threat from exploration and mining. Deep seabed mining involves exploiting mineral deposits from the seabed, such as though primarily found at hydrothermal vent sites. This “deep sea gold rush” has driven many industries to begin see the deep sea as a source of profit. As a result, Companies from around the world have claimed almost all of the Atlantic ridge, spanning from below the equator up to the polar caps. Seabed mining requires highly disruptive and damaging processes that have the ability to irreversibly alter hydrothermal vent ecosystems.DSM-infographic

 Currently, the International Seabed Authority (ISA) has granted numerous exploration licenses for the ocean floor. The ISA requires “responsible” exploration of the seabed and applies new technologies to monitor the environmental impacts of mining. However, even if the best available science were applied to mining the deep seabed, it is virtually certain that deep sea mining “would be disproportionately high relative to terrestrial mining.” This is because a complete mining project would require the killing of invertebrate communities and create sediment plumes that would disturb thousands of miles of seafloor.

Thus, a more robust governing system is needed. Luckily, international organizations have stepped up in this arena. One such organization is the Deep Ocean Stewardship Initiative (DOSI). DOSI works to identify priority management needs for resources in the deep ocean, is developing a set of best practice standards for sustainable use and development, raise awareness, and compile scientific date. DOSI focuses upon aiding developing countries in generating policies that protect and manage deep ocean resources like hydrothermal vents. Organizations like DOSI provide feasible alternatives policies and management strategies for development. These alternatives are crucial when dealing with sensitive, valuable, and unique ecosystems.download (1)


A Caffeine Constrained World

At the 23rd Conference of Parties (COP 23), Denise Loga, Co-founder and Managing Director of the Sustainable Food Academy, brought to light the issue of food security in changing climate. She recognized that the earth cannot sustain humanity’s current food systems. Unsustainable patterns of human consumption paired with climate change lends kindling to an already robust fire.

Climate change is resulting in sea level rise, increased extreme weather variability, and fluctuating temperatures. These characteristics of climate change affect crop yields and survival, threaten the livelihoods of farmers, disrupt economic production and supply chains, and threaten food security within vulnerable countries. According to State of Food Insecurity in the World (SOFI), approximately 815 million people are undernourished. This number is likely to rise as climate change decreases food security, which puts pressure on government food security strategies.

For example, coffee is a particularly climate-sensitive plant and is already experiencing decreased yield due to climate change. In a joint study by the the International Center for Tropical Agriculture under the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security, coffeedownload production in Brazil is predicted to see a drop by 25% by 2050 and Indonesia production is likely to drop by 37% by 2050. The loss of the valuable coffee trade is likely to impact developing countries disproportionally as coffee as a key export of developing nations. These countries are also tend to have the highest malnourishment and poverty rates. Adding economic pressure to countries in this position would further exacerbate domestic issues. This is one example among many in which the loss of a food resource has drastic impacts upon humans.

Loss of food security is an natural consequence of a rapidly changing climate. Due to the disproportionate impact upon developing countries, measures should be taken to ensure food security within those countries most vulnerable. This requires countries to take action to mitigate the effects of climate change and provide relief and aid to those countries in need. Without action on a significant scale, impacts on food security will be felt globallymap_c3_a3_50map_c1_a1_50


Science and Adaptation: Prevention is the Key

Cyclone_NargisCOP23 is significantly emphasizing the impact of extreme weather on climate change adaptation. This issue is even more prevalent with the major weather events that have occurred in the past several months: intense hurricanes in the Caribbean and the southern United States, flooding in South East Asia, and severe drought on the West Coast of the U.S. and northern China. In the opening plenary of the COP23, the Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) laid out our past and our future projections: the outlook was grim. This past year was one of three hottest years on record, with these past five years being the warmest average since the WMO began monitoring in the 1850’s. And unfortunately, these severe weather events tend to impact the most vulnerable communities in the world.

The majority of hungry people live in the most disaster-prone areas of the world, creating an ever-continuous cycle of lack of food and further destruction. But these disasters are usually predictable: we can predict floods, typhoons, and droughts. Science has created a system of which we have a better understanding of how these systems work, when they will come, the effect they will have, and potential steps we can take to avoid their impact.

global-temp-and-co2-1880-2009Article 7.7(c) of the Paris Agreement emphasizes adaptation to climate change, specifically with respect to increased technology and science to prevent the impacts of climate change. But the first step to prevention is warning. The Global Climate Observing System has determined seven global climate indicators to assist in the determination of the status of climate change. These indicators include surface temperature, ocean warming, atmospheric CO2, ocean acidification, sea level rise, glacier mass balance, Arctic and Antarctic sea ice level. These indicators give scientists better understanding and mechanisms of the impacts of climate change. Policymakers and scientists can then turn around and implement these impacts into cohesive plans to adapt to the ever-increasing harm from climate change, using these indicators to better predict where future harms will likely occur.

thailands-rice-farmersThe UN and NGO’s have recognized the importance of science and planning in the implementation of adaptation plans to create better systems for individuals that live in the most prone areas. One particular group, the World Food programme, began implementing investment opportunities in local crops, reducing the focus to small community projects. These investment plans allowed farmers more security in their crops and gave them the ability to invest in better equipment and increased opportunities for advancement of their farming practices. Overall, by ensuring the farmer’s crops, especially in areas that are of greatest concern to climate change, the economy of the entire area was boosted.

Science plays an important role in understanding climate change. But science should also play an important role in the solution. By using the science that is already in place, communities and NGOs can establish better mechanisms for adapting to climate change and the harms that inevitably come with them. Petteri Taalas, Secretary-General of the WMO, warned that these severe weather events we have been observing are only the beginning. If there is no mitigation of climate impacts then the events will only get worse. But before mitigation can make any significant impact, countries must adapt. They must adapt to the impacts of climate change and science can be there, guiding them on their way to more sustainable development and security.


Teachers Without Borders

In the context of climate change, capacity building focuses upon developing the infrastructure, response and communication mechanisms, access to finance, climate awareness, and human capital of developing countries. This in turn enables the countries to meet carbon emission goals and develop sustainably. Developing countries face significant capacity challenges, which frustrate their ability to carry out their commitments under interactional climate change agreements. These issues stem from a lack of public awareness, shortage of experts and research institutions, insufficient international, aid and domestic political instability.

The COP 23 capacity building session entitled “Balancing International Standards & National Context” further delved into this issue. Speaker John O Niles, representing the Carbon Institute, identified the need of a stable workforce that can measure, report and verify obligations under international agreements as invaluable elements of download (1)effective capacity building. For instance, the Paris Agreement requires “soft” pledges of domestic commitments to take inventories of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), submit national communications, make pledges, and then implement those pledges over time. This essentially requires capacity in the form of a “GHG accountant” at each step of the process to be making assessments and informing policy decisions. Without an active educated workforce, this process falls apart.

Ideal capacity building allows for sustained and transformative development of domestic infrastructure. In other words, ideal projects would lead to the creation of an educated workforce well-equipped and funded to address international climate change obligations. Traditionally, capacity building has taken the form of monetary investment paired with training by experts. These are usually conducted via bilateral and multilateral efforts. This often involves a developing country investing money in consultancy companies which provide training workshops. These short-term assistance projects can be unresponsive or unadaptable to the local customs, political climate, and economic markets. In addition, many are considered high risk investments that deter possible foreign investors. Thus, capacity building has met with many challenges to effective implementation. However, new strategies to implementing capacity building have been gaining traction.

One such expanding  category of capacity building that has met with increased success is the trans-border partnership of academic institutions. These allow for sustained negotiations and trainings between developed institutions and developing countries. For instance, Emory University initiated the Global Climate Initiative by partnering with Nanjing University. This relationship provides mutually beneficial collaboration on climate change issues and trains a new generation of internationally-aware students. Additionally, the Norad Program allows for training of faculty and universities. Norad connects himagesigher education institutions within Ethiopia, Malawi, and Norway. This program develops an educated faculty, improves regional collaboration, and enhances outreach to local communities by their home institutions. These partnerships between academia and developing governments is beneficial because it allows national governments and their respective universities to build a qualified workforce.


The public health crisis that is climate change

lancet 2017The Lancet, the leading global health journal, just came out with a searing report on how climate change affects public health. “Climate change is happening, and it’s a health issue today for millions worldwide,” said Anthony Costello, a co-chairman of the commission that produced the report.

Based on research done at 26 universities and intergovernmental organizations around the world, the Lancet report notes that atmospheric CO2 was at an all time high in 2016, reaching a concentration not seen for more than 3 million years, that has caused:

  • 306 weather-related disasters per year between 2007 to 2016 – a 46% increase since 2000
  • the forced migration of at least 4,400 people
  • an estimated 5.3% decrease in work productivity for people doing manual labor from 2000 to 2016 due to increasing temperatures (productivity fell 2% just from 2015 to 2016)

The Lancet’s health impacts of CCreport is exhaustive, addressing impacts and exposures, mitigation and adaptation, finance and economics, and public and political engagement.  And it’s timely too: for the first time in the UNFCCC negotiations, there will be a high-level event on “Health Actions for the Implementation of the Paris Agreement” at COP23, hosted by the Fiji presidency on Sunday, November 12 in the Bonn Zone.  As a vulnerable low-lying island state, Fiji’s leaders know climate change’s public health impacts all too well.

As Jeff Nesbit, former director of legislative and public affairs at the National Science Foundation during both the Obama and Bush administrations, observed in his NYT op-ed yesterday entitled Climate Change is Bad for Your Health, “This is now a medical and public health fight, not just an environmental one.”


Climate Change “Refugees” in Hot Water

Direct effeBlog Photo 3cts of climate change such as droughts, floods, rising sea levels, and hazardous weather events have immediate and lasting impacts upon displacement of communities. For example, five reef islands in the remote Solomon Islands have already been deemed uninhabitable due to sea level rise and erosion. Since 2008, approximately 22.5 million people have been displaced by climate or weather-related events. Charles Geisler, a sociologist at Cornell University, predicted a worst case scenario of up to 2 billion climate change migrants by 2100.

Traditionally, a sovereign state is responsible for the protection of its people, which includes relief from natural disasters. In situations where domestic states do not have the ability to provide adequate protection, relief, or relocation, international law offers possible avenues for addressing this issue. Unfortunately, there is no current international legal framework in place to respond to the impending climate change migrant crisis. There are a number of possible protective instruments available, but they all present different barriers to practical application.

First, the United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (UNGPID) recognize internally displaced persons (IDPs) who have been forced or obligated to flee “to avoid the effect of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights, or natural or human-made disasters.” However, this only applies to people displaced within their own state, effectively requiring state legislation to enforce IDP rights. Thus, the UNPGID lacks the ability to effectively protect cross-border climate migration. 

Second, the UN RefugBlog Photo 2ee Agency (UNHCR) requires an individual be persecuted against to qualify as a refugee under the Refugee Convention. As a result the “[e]nvironmental factors that cause movements across international borders are not grounds, in and of themselves, for the grant of refugee status.” Climate migrants might be recognized as refugees if the respective state government “persecuted” them by intentionally failing to give protection or aid. This claim would be extremely difficult to prove, however, as international law recognizes that “no individual government is primarily at fault” for the consequences of climate change.

Third, a climate change migrant could qualify as a “stateless” person under the Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons (CSSP). This status is also limited as it would only be available to migrants whose home state no longer exists. In addition, the CSSP offers only limited rights to stateless individuals and has only been signed by 66 of 165 states.

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Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre depiction of human movement in 2015.

While the UNHCR is unable to provide legal relief and refugee status for climate migrants, it is supporting the Platform on Disaster Displacement (a continuation of the Nansen Initiative on cross-border displacement). UNHCR has also developed planned relocation guidance that identifies vulnerable areas and gives instructions for disaster response migration mechanisms.

The UNFCCC establishes and recognizes the need for adaptation and mitigation, but fails to address migration strategies under adaptation. On May 19, 2016 the UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn confirmed a clear link between environmental and climate changes, migration and vulnerability.  As a result, the UN is taking steps to assess this connection and shape adaptation policy that protects the most vulnerable populations. While climate migrants do not have an identified legal status as climate change refugees, there is international movement towards addressing this issue under the UNFCCC.


Conflict & Climate Change: The Real Triple C

You read this title and say to yourself, “There is no war in climate change!” “What? Scientists don’t go to war!”  Often the discussions on climate change center around the environmental effects. Experts do not attribute climate change as a direct cause of war, but it is a catalyst for conflict. The connection between conflict and climate change is not a game of six degrees of separation. Many governments and NGOs have already generated reports on the effects of climate change and security.

Climate change causes sea-level rise, natural resource scarcity, and natural disasters. These external pressures pose a considerable threat, particularly to developing nations. Climate change makes forced migration and climate refugees more prevalent. Climate change can contribute to armed conflict in two ways. First, scarcity of natural resources can change the political economy of a state. Second, climate impacts can stimulate conflict by changes in social systems. Climate change causes environmental stress which asserts an influence on peace and security.

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Examples.

Sudan. The conflict in Darfur began because of an ecological crisis that arose from climate change. Southern Sudan started experiencing drought as a result of sea level temperature rise in the Indian Ocean. This drought caused scarcity in food and water resources, and heightened tensions between the Arab herders and nomadic farmers. The conflict in Darfur arose during this drought when there was not enough food and water for all.

Somalia. Somalia is located in the Horn of Africa, which is particularly susceptible to climate change. Somalia has subtle connections between drought, food insecurity, and conflict. Drought and food insecurity plague Somalia, which has caused food crises. The food crises result in internal displacement within Somalia. Civil conflicts have coincided with the food crises. Militant groups have taken advantage of the current environmental vulnerabilities to expand their power, making climate change an external pressure on Somalia.

Syria. Similar to Sudan, the civil war in Syria arose in a time of drought. The drought was ongoing between 2006-2009 in the fertile crescent. As a result, rural Syrians along with Iraqi refugees were forced to migrate to larger cities. After the drought, the Syrian conflict arose in 2011.  Scientists believe that the drought played a role in Syrian unrest because food became expensive and water scarce. The expensive food and water scarcity put external pressures on the political climate in Syria.

The effects of climate change place external pressure on the political climate of nations. As nations seek to keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels, we face the challenges of how climate change impacts affect security and civil unrest. As we go into climate change negotiations, we should realize the threat of armed conflict that climate change poses.


Seeing is believing

cat 5 stormThe poll numbers on the U.S. electorate’s perceptions of climate change have changed over the years. After the most recent spate of tropical storms out of the Atlantic, a new poll by Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds that 68% of Americans think weather disasters seem to be worsening.  Moreover, almost all of this 68% attribute this increase in extreme weather events totally or mostly (46%) to human-induced climate change or at least in combination (39%) with natural variability.  According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the US has experienced 15 weather disasters that cost $1 billion or more. The Associated Press’s analysis of 167 years of federal storm data concludes that “no 30-year period in history has seen this many major hurricanes, this many days of those storms spinning in the Atlantic, or this much overall energy generated by those powerful storms.” Having experienced the recent storms first-hand, Greg Thompson, a retired pest control researcher in New Orleans, sees it this way: “When so many things are happening and so many of them (storms) are intense and so many of them are once-in-500-year levels and they’re all occurring, it’s a pretty good sign global warming is having an effect.”


New U.S. public opinion data on climate change contradicts Trump Administration policies

yale 2016 data mapAt the same time that the Trump Administration is moving to rescind the Clean Power Plan and other EPA rules on climate change, the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication reports that 7 out of 10 Americans support limits on CO2 emissions by coal-fired power plants. Huh?

Bob Inglis, a former Republican congressman from South Carolina, sums up the political calculus:  focused activists, like those in the Tea Party, can shape a politician’s approach because “those are the ones who can take you out at the next primary.” Mr. Inglis should know. He lost a 2010 primary election to Trey Gowdy, a Tea Party candidate who challenged his views on climate change.

Another polling mismatch reported by the Yale Program researchers is in perceiving personal risks from climate change.  Most people polled believe that climate change is already harming people in the United States and will harm people in developing countries and in future generations.  Yet only a fraction of the polled public – 40% – thinks that it will harm them personally.  This huh? moment is chalked up to the human brain’s inability to perceive and be alarmed by slow-onset threats like sea-level rise and moving disease vectors caused by the gradual warming of the atmosphere.

The climate change perception deception can also be seen geographically.  Poll data from Texas and Florida displayed on maps in the New York Times illustrate this point well. The climate change impacts felt in Florida include salt-water intrusion into drinking water sources and sunny day flooding.  In Texas, they include droughts in the west and hurricane damage on the state’s eastern Gulf Coast. Unsurprisingly, the more affected areas are populated by people who are more worried about climate change. Even though these threats can sneak up on us and varying degrees of scientific uncertainty can make us question the link between our greenhouse-gas emitting behaviors and global warming events, once they/we do, we begin to see climate change as a threat requiring action.

Which brings us back to the Trump Administration’s proposed policies and Mr. Inglis’ observation about how like-minded voters can affect members of Congress.  In addition to the support noted for placing limits on power plant emissions, the majority of those polled also favor government funding for renewable energy research (82%), regulating CO2 as a pollutant (75%), and requiring that renewables produce 20% of electricity (66%). Yet these policy actions are exactly the sort opposed by the White House. Could focused voters “take out” senators and representatives up for reelection in 2018 who side with the Trump Administration?

 


Is Time Running Out?

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COP 22 hourglass display representing the limited time left to avoid irreversible climate change before the year 2100.

Referencing the response to climate change at today’s COP 22, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry presented the issue in terms of time.   He stated, “The question is not whether we will transition to a clean energy economy. The question is whether we will have the will power to make the transition in time.  Time is not on our side.”  He was speaking to a group in Marrakech, but his question was really to the world.

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Secretary of State John Kerry in Marrakech, Morocco for the COP 22 Climate negotiations.

 

 

 

 

Sec. Kerry confirmed that the global community is more united than ever and taking real action this year, as evidenced in such historic global agreements as the Paris Agreement, the ICAO Agreement and the Kigali Agreement. Sec. Kerry reassured his listeners that despite the uncertainty that is coming from recent election results, climate change is not a partisan issue.  The majority of Americans, scientists, military leaders, intelligence community, state and city leaders, business leaders, advocacy groups and community organizers are committed to fighting against the problems that contribute to climate change. The Secretary emphasized that although he would not speculate on the incoming administration’s policies regarding the Paris Agreement, he took heart because “issues look very different on the campaign trail than when you are actually in office.”  In fact, the U.S. is on its way to meet its Paris Agreement goals based on market forces and state regulations already in place. Investing in clean energy makes good market sense because as the Secretary said, “you can do good and do well at the same time.”


Implementing Adaptation for Resilient Mediterranean-climate Regions

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One of the side events at COP 22 today presented best practices and case studies for implementing adaptation in Mediterranean-climate regions, with a focus on: consumer behavior; stakeholder and citizen participation; health; and climate policy. The speakers identified ways that sub-national governments can increase adaptation efforts. Surprisingly, few of the case studies involved countries along the Mediterranean Sea. Instead, the speakers focused primarily on initiatives and policies in South Africa and California, both of which are primarily mediterranean climates. In fact, mediterranean-climate regions can be found on every continent but Antarctica.

The Mediterranean basin gives the climate its name, and more than half of world’s mediterranean climates are found in this region. However, the mediterranean climate can also be found in regions in southwestern Australia, central Chile, coastal California, northern Iran, and southwestern South Africa. Mediterranean climate zones are characterized by hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters. These regions experience pronounced climactic changes between season, most notably in terms of temperature and rainfall changes. Mediterranean climates cover just 3% of world but account for 20% of plant biodiversity and house over 200 million people.  Most large, historic cities of the Mediterranean basin, including Athens, Barcelona, Beirut, Jerusalem, Rome, and Tunis, lie within mediterranean climatic zones, as do major cities outside of the Mediterranean basin, such as Casablanca, Cape Town, Perth, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Many of these cities are major coastal cities and biological hotspots supported by tourism-based economies that are especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

The dense populations in these cities concentrate the demand for services and infrastructure, which increases the city’s vulnerability to climate change. These regions will experience an increase in their average temperatures, declining air and water quality, increased frequency and intensity of droughts and heat waves, and an increase in ground-level ozone. These impacts will lead to loss of habitat, decreased biodiversity, and water shortages. Climate change will also greatly impact human health. For example, during a prolonged heat wave in Los Angeles in 2006 more than 16,000 excess emergency room visits were reported. Just last year Jerusalem experience 5 straight days of snowfall, something that has not happened in decades, which shut down highways and crippled the city’s infrastructure. Additionally, as food and water become more scarce, populations will begin to migrate to cities in search of subsistence and further exacerbate the impacts of climate change. The first step governments should take in addressing this problem is changing how they view these migrants. Instead of seeing migrants as a political issue that is separate from climate change they must change the paradigm to one that views them as what they really are: climate refugees.

While cities are the source of many climate-related problem, they can also be the source of the solutions. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change underscored the urgent need for cities to act in its last assessment report. The building sector has the greatest potential for delivering significant and cost-effective adaptation benefits through improved design and smarter technologies to conserve energy. Many of these measures would have co-benefits too, including reductions in noise and waste. Cities can also adapt to climate change by improving their infrastructure. For example, Los Angeles is investing in bus line, pedestrian walkways, and improving bike safety. Cities must continue working to keep the lights on, people employed, and emissions down. These concerns are not limited to mediterranean-climate regions and should be comprehensively addressed by all levels of government to reduce their vulnerability and increase their capacity to adapt to climate change.