New Alarming Report on the State of the Arctic

This Tuesday, on December 11, 2018, at the same time that the 11iceCOP24 is about to conclude in Katowice, Poland, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (“NOAA”) released its annual international Arctic report card (the “Report”) reflecting on a range of land, ice, and ocean observations made throughout the Arctic during the 2018 calendar year. The Report includes a series of 14 essays prepared by more than 80 scientists from 12 countries and it underlines the changes that are continuing to occur in the Arctic environmental system in relation with climate change.

As the Report shows and as reported by the media, “the Arctic is experiencing the most unprecedented transition in human history”.

It is underlined that, in 2018, surface air temperatures in the Arctic continued to warm at roughly twice the rate compared to the rest of the world. It is also noted that the year 2018 was the second warmest year on record in the Arctic since 1900 (after 2016) and that Arctic air temperatures for the past five years (2014-18) have exceeded all previous records since 1900.

The Report further indicates that such continued warming of the Arctic in 2018 is an indicator of both regional and global climate change and a driver of broad Arctic environmental change. Scientists explains that atmospheric warming continued to drive broad, long-term trends in declining terrestrial snow cover, melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet and lake ice, increasing summertime Arctic river discharge, and the expansion and greening of Arctic tundra vegetation. Despite the growth of vegetation available for grazing land animals, herd populations of caribou and wild reindeer across the Arctic tundra have declined by nearly 50% over the last two decades.

895ARC18_Landfast_mahoney_Fig3According to the Report, the Arctic is no longer returning to the extensively frozen region of recent past decades—in 2018 Arctic sea ice remained thinner and covered less area than in the past. Also, Warming Arctic Ocean conditions are coinciding with an expansion of harmful algae species responsible for toxic algal blooms (which have been found in the tissues of Arctic clams, seals, walrus, and whales and other marine organisms).952ARC18_HABs_anderson_Fig2

NOAA concludes that “new and rapidly emerging threats are taking form and highlighting the level of uncertainty in the breadth of environmental change that is to come”.


“We don’t have the luxury of feeling discouraged”-Former Vice-President Al Gore Warns of the Dangers of Climate Change at COP24

“The cheapest and most effective carbon sequestration technology is called a ‘Tree.’ When this technology is taken to scale, it is called a ‘Forest.’” The Former Vice President of the United States and Presidential hopeful paused to let the laughter subside. Holding up a hand, he became deadly serious once more. He had come to COP24 to continue fighting for the cause he had become synonymous with: Climate Change.

As the United States joined countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Russia in denying the dire IPCC 1.5 report and negotiations on the Paris Agreement Work Program slogged on, Al Gore reminded the world that this is a group effort. While the effects of climate change do not affect us all equally, they still affect us all.

Shahid Balouch, a gravedigger, poses for a photograph in a mass grave in the cemetary, as preparations are made in case of another heatwave in Karachi, Pakistan May 13, 2016. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

Shahid Balouch, a gravedigger, poses for a photograph in a mass grave in the cemetery, as preparations are made in case of another heatwave in Karachi, Pakistan May 13, 2016. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

High temperatures continue to set records around the world. They melt roads and damage infrastructure; high nighttime temperatures impact agricultural viability; and in Pakistan, the government has dug preemptive mass graves, anticipating the costs to human life. Most concerning, however, are the effects of rising temperatures on global air currents.

When the jet stream is strong, it forms a boundary between lower latitudes and arctic winds known as the Polar Vortex. When high temperatures near the equator push an excess of warm air northward, the jet stream weakens and this boundary dissolves. This occurred at the end of 2017.

The weakened jet stream allowed the Polar Vortex to split in two, sending excessively cold systems into North America, Northern Asia, and Europe. Temperatures plummeted to below -10C, infrastructure collapsed under the weight of snow, and, in Brussels, homeless people who refused shelter were detained for their own safety. All major climate zones, except Antarctica were warmer than their 30 year averages; including the Arctic.

The area between the, now two, polar vortexes, was occupied by vagrant jet stream currents. The warm air washed over the North Pole during what is typically its coldest season; the season when annual sea ice forms and multiyear sea ice is strengthened. Instead the Arctic lost 95% of its multiyear sea ice.
His voice lowered and his tone conspiratorial, Gore looked over the crowd: “This is part of a larger annual weather pattern. However, we do not have the luxury of being discouraged.” We, as world leaders on climate change, have a moral responsibility to reverse these trends, and save our planet and its people.

His words were a call to action, aimed at breaking the political deadlocks that plagued various aspects of the negotiated text. As we move into the last two days of negotiations, we’ll see if his words have galvanized the Parties, or if the same issues plague consensus.


Local climate data at your finger tips

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The scientists at Climate Analytics – the ones that gave us the invaluable Climate Action Tracker (CAT) – have done it again.

They have taken the global research and stats featured in the IPCC’s reports and scaled them down to more locally understandable and useful info. Thus far they have developed four online tools that allow you to learn how:

  1. the warming climate will affect staple crop yields in sub-Saharan Africa,
  2. the projections of local sea level rise for different warming levels,
  3. climate projections will affect extreme weather conditions at the African national and provincial levels, and
  4. to attribute global warming increases.

Bookmark this site, for Climate Analytics is due to publish more tools in the next few months.


IPCC special report leaves the world in dire straits

In response to an invitation from the Parties of the Paris Agreement (PA), and pursuant to the Article 2 efforts to limit temperature increases well below 2°C, the IPCC prepared a Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C (SR15), released Monday, 8 October, 2018.

Climate scientists sounded the alarm yet again, painting a dire picture of the future without immediate and drastic mitigation and adaptation measures worldwide.  High confidence statements made by the panel include:

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  • Human activities have caused approximately 1°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels
  • Current global warming trends reach at least 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052
  • Staying below the 1.5°C threshold will require a 45% reduction in GHG emissions from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching net-zero by 2050
  • Pathways to 1.5°C with limited or no overshoot will require removal of an additional 100-1000 GtCO2

Pathways of current nationally stated mitigation ambitions submitted under the PA will not limit global warming to 1.5°C.  Current pathways put us on target for 3°C by 2100, with continued warming afterwards.

The ENB Report summarizing SR15 was able to shine a light on the good that can come from responses to this special report (not to mention upholding the ambition intended with the PA).  SR15 shows that most of the 1.5°C pathways to avoid overshoot also help to achieve Sustainable Development Goals in critical areas like human health or energy access. Ambitious emission reductions can also prevent meeting critical ecosystem thresholds, such as the projected loss of 70-90% of warmer water coral reefs associated with 2°C.

Groups like the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) are intensifying their adaptive scientific support through a “fully-integrated, ‘seamless’ Earth-system approach to weather, climate, and water domains,” says Professor Pavel Kabat, Chief Scientist of the WMO.  This “seamless” approach allows leading climate scientists to use their advanced data assimilation and observation capabilities to deliver knowledge in support of human adaptations to regional environmental changes.  By addressing extreme climate and weather events through a holistic Earth-system approach, predictive tools will help enhance early warning systems and promote well being by giving the global community a greater chance to adapt to the inevitable hazardous events related to climate change.

WRI Graph

Success ultimately depends on international cooperation, which will hopefully be encouraged by the IPCC’s grim report and the looming PA Global Stocktake (GST) in 2023.  In the wake of devastating hurricanes, typhoons, and the SR15, it’s hard to ignore both the climate and leading climate scientists urging us to take deliberate, collective action to help create a more equitable and livable future for all of Earth’s inhabitants.

In Decision 1/CP.21, paragraph 20 decides to convene a “facilitative dialogue” among the Parties in 2018, to take stock in relation to progress towards the long-term goal referred to in Article 4 of the PA.  Later renamed the Talanoa Dialogue, these talks have set preparations into motion and are helping Parties gear up for the formal GST, with the aim of answering three key questions: Where are we? Where do we want to go? How will we get there?

Discussion about the implications of SR15 will be held at COP24, where round table discussions in the political phase of the dialogue will address the question, “how do we get there?”

It won’t be by continuing business as usual.

 


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.


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.

migration-1

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.


The Power of Youth in Climate Action

Three espressos into the day  and I was ready for a nap, but the afternoon side event I chose to attend turned out to be surprisingly invigorating and inspiring. Since I did not get an NGO ticket to the APA informal consultation I wanted to attend, I decided to check out the “Intergenerational Inquiry: the Highlight of the Young and Future Generations Day 2016” side event. To be honest I thought these sessions were going to be demonstrations of what governments or local communities can do to help increase awareness. Instead, I walked into a highly energized, passionate display of youths from around the world who are a part of YOUNGO. YOUNGO organizes the Conference of Youth (COY12) every year which is hosted before the annual COP, and today presented several inspiring youth-led initiatives.IMG_3796

Richard Kinley, opened the meeting in a reflective mood because this is his last COP, as he will be leaving his role as UNFCCC Deputy Executive Secretary next year. He reminded us that we are in a much better place for climate change action than we were in 1991, however we are nowhere near the necessary commitments as it might even be too late. These youth, then, are so important because they are the faces of social and economic change. They are the drivers of the market, and therefore have immense capacity to create change as they help drive new social lifestyles and economic models. Mr. Kinley reminded us that the change we need is immense, and it is going to take the energy, vigor, commitments, and passion of youth to keep pushing forward.

The floor then turned to several young people who are fighting climate change. Fazoua Bour, a member of COY12, explained that the Moroccan youth civil society has tried to deliver a message to the delegates involved in COP22. In a passionate speech, Ms. Bour proclaimed that young people are qualified to make proposals, even here at a UN conference; ideas are is not about age, but about capacity. Therefore, COY12 is campaigning for action, education, and for young people who want to express their ideas. There is not enough time to wait to for adults to negotiate, argue, and implement a global agreement.

Young people are starting to fear that these agreements will take too long and the solutions will be too late. They feel the urgency climate change impacts, and are therefore the ones who can be IMG_3784creative enough to help us develop solutions. As Hakima El Haite, the COP22 Special Envoy and Morocco’s Climate Champion, said “we are too old to re-imagine the world…[however] we have the responsibility to make it a reality to improve your world, the one you are dreaming of.” One example of this creativity was displayed, as they also presented the COY12 award-winning film. The young woman who made the film explained that every documentary she had seen about climate change was too depressing and boring so she has created a film series of fun, inspiring images to make people interested and dedicated to the cause.

These are the ideas the world needs. In light of recent events, we now face increasing obstacles to promote the health of the environment, but I never want to look at my younger cousins or future children and have to say, “I’m sorry I didn’t do enough.” The young people at this event today reminded me of my pre-coffee, pre-law school, pre-nightly-wrinkle-cream days (I am 24 years old). When I was a kid I was crazy about earth, I had the energy to run through parks, pretend to talk to animals, once I even climbed a tree to prevent my neighbors from cutting it down. I don’t know when I got to be so tired and honestly lost that sense of hope. The YOUNGOs are a force to be reckoned with and I applaud them for their enthusiasm and appreciate that push they gave me this afternoon.


It’s a Small (Virtual) World: Using VR as a Knowledge Sharing Tool

Source: Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab

Source: Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab

Yesterday, during the Informal Consultation on the Nairobi work programme (NWP) the Secretariat provided an update of progress made since SBSTA 44 back in May. In the report, the Secretariat highlighted the success of social media efforts to-date, which included a video interview series designed to raise awareness on the importance of working with vulnerable communities. What if instead of viewing the interviews on Youtube viewers could virtually experience the experts as if they were in the same room? Or better yet, what if the interviews took the viewer to communities most affected by climate change?

The idea is not that far away. As technology continues to advance, so do our platforms for information sharing. It is likely that virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) will soon become as commonplace as Facebook and Twitter. Who hasn’t heard of Pokemon Go? Virtual reality provides people the opportunity to experience the first-hand effects of climate change. For instance, Party delegates from Canada could experience the aftermath of a typhoon in the Philippines or drought in Sri Lanka. The tool could be an incredibly effective way to both humanize climate experiences and expose people to on-the-ground implementation of new adaptation actions.

Developers are already creating these experiences. Researchers at Stanford recently created a virtual ocean acidification experience. Likewise, David Attenborough has a coral reef VR experience. Not to mention, there are a number of COP 22 exhibits promoting VR technology as a tool for climate change. In an effort to increase awareness and share knowledge, it is not unreasonable to imagine the NWP adding VR and AR to its modalities of communication. Perhaps allowing people step into someone’s world can provide just enough empathy and awareness to generate more effective adaptation actions.


Ecological Migration and Migrating Towards Ambitious Climate Change Commitments at COP22

In 2011, the UN projected that the world will have 50 million environmental refugees by 2020. These are people who need to resettle due to climate change impacts such as drought, food shortage, disease, flooding, desertification, soil erosion, deforestation, and other environmental problems. This past week the New York Times released two stories about the plight of “ecological migrants” in the deserts of northern China. The first is a visual narrative about people living in the expanding Tengger Desert. The second article highlights the world’s largest environmental migrant resettlement project, in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.

“Ecological migrants” are the millions of people whom the Chinese government had to relocate from lands distressed by climate change, industrialization, and human activity to 161 hastily built villages. China has already resettled 1.14 million residents of the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, where the average temperature has risen 3.8 degrees Fahrenheit in the last 50 years (more than half of that increase occurring from 2001 to 2010) and annual precipitation has dropped about 5.7 millimeters every decade since the 1960s.

China is only one example of a region where people have had to relocate due to climate change. Where will everyone go? This is a problem that all countries need to figure out quickly because, if the UN’s prediction is accurate, the current system of asylum, refugee resettlement, and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) may prove inadequate.

The Marshall Islands need to figure out where their people will go as their island nation is quickly disappearing underwater. Predictions of dangerous tropical storms and rising salt levels in their drinking water may force citizens to flee even before the entire island is lost. In Bangladesh, about 17% of the land could be inundated by 2050, displacing an additional 18 million people.

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Road leading to Isle de Jean Charles often floods, cutting off the community.Credit: Josh Haner/The New York Times.

Climate change relocations are not limited to small, developing nations. The United States has begun preparing for its own. In January, the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced grants up to $1 billion in 13 states to help communities adapt to climate change, including the first allocation of federal money to move an entire community due to the impacts of climate change: a $48 million grant for Isle de Jean Charles.

Other than the overcrowding of cities and uprooting and destruction of rural lifestyles, the global refugee crisis presents a larger concern: national security. Last year at COP21 in Paris, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry tied the conflict in Syria and the resulting global refugee crisis to climate change. Secretary Kerry linked Syria’s drought and resulting urban migration—first domestic, then international—as a key factor to the civil war. This was a relevant example of how climate change can exacerbate existing political turmoil within a country.

Thus, all countries must stay committed to climate change goals, not only for maintaining millions of people’s lives and homes, but for national safety throughout the world. Whether they consider it a focus or not, many countries are currently facing the problem of creating new domestic policies on immigration. While it may be too late for some vulnerable areas to completely avoid the need to relocate its people, every climate change action helps mitigate the problem. Hopefully the issue of relocation and climate change refugees or “ecological migrants” will push countries to be more ambitious about their climate change actions at the upcoming COP22.


Exxon redux: who knew what and when

exxon memoFrom the Panama Papers to the Pentagon Papers with a stop in between at the internal memos exposed during the states’ litigation against Big Tobacco in the 1990s, industry documents are powerful tools in showing who knew what when – and shifting the tide of public opinion. We’ve reported on Inside Climate News‘ expose and political and legal reactions to it. Now, a treasure trove of documents on display at CIEL‘s website show what Exxon knew when.  Read more here.


Climate Change in 10,000 years

melting greenlandLeading climate change scientists from around the world published this week in Nature Climate Change a statement about the long-term impacts of our short-term policymaking.  In light of all the celebration of the political good will embodied in the Paris Agreement, this statement is a profound reality check.  From the abstract (with my bolding of text):

Most of the policy debate surrounding the actions needed to mitigate and adapt to anthropogenic climate change has been framed by observations of the past 150 years as well as climate and sea-level projections for the twenty-first century. The focus on this 250-year window, however, obscures some of the most profound problems associated with climate change. Here, we argue that the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, a period during which the overwhelming majority of human-caused carbon emissions are likely to occur, need to be placed into a long-term context that includes the past 20 millennia, when the last Ice Age ended and human civilization developed, and the next ten millennia, over which time the projected impacts of anthropogenic climate change will grow and persist. This long-term perspective illustrates that policy decisions made in the next few years to decades will have profound impacts on global climate, ecosystems and human societies — not just for this century, but for the next ten millennia and beyond.

“It’s a statement of worry,” Raymond Pierrehumbert, an Oxford University geoscientist and one of the statement’s 22 authors, is quoted saying in the Washington Post. “And actually, most of us who have worked both on paleoclimate and the future have been terrified by the idea of doubling or quadrupling CO2 right from the get-go.”

So what should we worry about?  Sea level rise above all else.  This NASA video helps us really see (via a line graph superimposed on images of receding land ice) how quickly its glaciers have melted in just 10 years time.

The Post ends on the increased capacity we humans have to calculate the long term impacts of our pollution with a high measure of precision, even if we’re a little slow on the uptake.  “All of this coming together means that a conversation about increasingly long-range forecasts, and about the millennial scale consequences of today’s greenhouse gas emissions, is growing within the scientific world. The question remains whether a similar conversation will finally take hold in the public and political one.

Welcome to the Anthropocene.


Are State INDC Mitigation Pledges Strong Enough?

 

UNEP

Today at COP21, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) hosted a joint presentation on the 2015 UNEP Emissions Gap Report. This sixth Emissions Gap Report was published in November 2015. The report assesses country mitigation commitments based off their submitted INDCs. Then it compares the resulting emission levels for 2030 with what scientific studies require in order for the world to be on track to stay within the maximum global temperature increase goal of 2°C. Many of the report’s authors attended the presentation and the official presenters of the report included:

Mr. Steiner explained that based on current INDCs, GHG emissions would decrease 25% by 2030. While this reduction shows progress, it is still not sufficient to achieve the goal of limiting the global temperature increase to 2°C by 2100. As the INDCs stand today, accounting for both conditional and unconditional mitigation pledges, the COP is 50% of the way to achieving a GHG reduction of 42 GtCO2e, the amount needed to stay within 2°C. The fact that current INDCs are halfway to their reduction goals indicates that significant further mitigation efforts are required. Mr. Steiner stressed that the Parties have not run out of time to reach their goal, but the longer they wait the less cost-effective and more difficult it becomes to successfully achieve these mitigation goals. Mitigation action over the next four years, or during the pre-2020 timeframe, is material to staying within the 2°C threshold. With each passing year, the risk of inequity grows exponentially between developed countries and countries most vulnerable to climate change; this inequity is unacceptable because many vulnerable State Parties are already paying a higher price as they suffer more and more extreme weather events caused by climate change.

The UNFCCC Director of Strategy, Mr. Thorgeirsson, furthered the discussion on INDCs with three interesting, and mostly optimistic, reflections. First, he explained that the 2°C and 1.5°C temperature goals, which are often called long-term goals, are not necessarily at odds with one another. According to Mr. Thorgeirsson, the 2°C limit would serve as “a guardrail or defense line,” meaning that at bare minimum Parties’ mitigation efforts would limit the global temperature increase to 2°C, but this guardrail would be supplemented with the aspirational goal of limiting the temperature increase to 1.5°C. Ultimately, Mr. Thorgersson believes the two temperature goals should converge to create a joint narrative.

In his second reflective thought, Mr. Thorgeirsson encouraged the audience to not be disheartened by the submitted INDCs because the mitigation commitments in these documents reflect current realities based on current technologies and political situations. Therefore as technologies and political situations evolve so will mitigation pledges.

Lastly, Mr. Thorgersoon declared that answering the question of whether the Parties are on the right track in their mitigation efforts is an impossible question to address. States across the globe are in the process of transitioning from a fossil-fuel economy to economies based on different assumptions. These new types of economies contain many unknown factors that make it difficult to definitively know the effect of the Party’s mitigation pledges.

Ms. Jacqueline McGlade, Chief Scientist for UNEP, was the final presenter of the 2015 UNEP Emissions Gap Report. In her presentation, Ms. McGlade explained that the UNEP report has been released in various stages in order to capture and present more accurate carbon emissions data as more Parties submit their INDCs to the UNFCCC. This drafting difficulty is an on-going dilemma. Ms. McGlade explained that over 40 INDCs have been submitted since the latest stage of the UNEP report was released. She then assured the crowd that after COP21 concluded she and her team would resume updating their study to reflect the new mitigation pledges.

Ms. McGlade concluded the presentation with a final call to action, explaining that under the current INDC mitigation pledges there is a 66% chance of the global temperature increasing 3-4°C by 2100. A temperature increase of 3-4°C would result in catastrophic effects, but with focus and action the 1.5-2°C goals can still be reached. The COP21 process has revealed an unprecedented level of engagement in addressing climate change as an international issue. This engagement is a promising indicator that the Parties’ are committed to successfully fulfilling their long-term mitigation goal of limiting the temperature increase to 1.5-2°C.


The Role of Gender in Climate Politics

Climate change is proven – the vast majority of the scientific community, along with many major businesses and nearly every major insurance provider, all agree that climate change is having real impacts on the world today. Most also believe that those impacts are the result of anthropogenic activity. However, the facts about climate change are not being translated into political action. This is in large part because the facts are not driving the discussion.

Despite the fact that the latest IPCC report states that “warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia,” and that “human influence on the climate system is clear,” somehow 18% of the US population still does not believe global warming is occurring, and 35% does not believe that it is caused by human activity. Even worse, the 114th Congress includes 162 climate deniers (approximately 30% of Congress) with only eight states represented exclusively by individuals who believe that addressing climate change is a priority.

Sen. James Inhofe

Sen. James Inhofe

Who are all of these climate deniers? Many Americans, if asked to picture a climate denier, would likely picture a figure like Rush Limbaugh or Senator James Inhofe. It turns out that there is more to this assumption than mere stereotyping. Several studies have been published over the past five years, building on existing bodies of research, which all indicate that climate skeptics are most likely to be white, conservative men. I took a closer look at three psychology and sociology studies from three different continents, all of which came to this same conclusion.

A study out of Cardiff University indicated that men are more skeptical of climate change than women, and that “political affiliation is a strong determinant of skepticism, with Conservative voters amongst the most skeptical.” An American study out of Michigan State University was one of the first to explicitly categorize “conservative white males” as the most skeptical of climate change. This study went a step further to analyze conservative white men who self-reported an above average understanding of global warming (considered “confident conservative white men”). By isolating these individuals, the study found that 48.4% of confident conservative white men believe the effects of global warming will never happen, compared to only 8.6% of all other respondents. Additionally, it found that while 71.6% of confident conservative white men believed that recent temperature increases are not primarily due to human activities, only 34.2% of all other respondents feel that way. Finally, a 2015 study published in the New Zealand Journal of Psychology supported and extended the “conservative white male” effect based on a sample of over 6,000 New Zealanders. This study confirmed that conservative white males (along with older individuals with high levels of socioeconomic status and less education) are disproportionately more likely to be skeptical of the reality of climate change and its anthropogenic cause.

These studies essentially just prove what most of us already knew or assumed. But the impact of the “conservative white man” syndrome is significant. Not only do the studies provide scientific evidence that conservative white men are the least likely to take action on climate change, it also indicates that “beliefs about climate change are fundamentally linked to existing values and worldviews,” and “are not a result of knowledge deficit or misunderstanding.” In other words, they are also least likely to be swayed by the overwhelming scientific consensus or by the urgency of environmental advocates.

Ms. Usha Nair, representative of the global south and current Co-Focal Point of the Women and Gender Constituency stakeholder group

Ms. Usha Nair, representative of the global south and current Co-Focal Point of the Women and Gender Constituency stakeholder group

None of this would matter so much if it were not for the fact that political decisions related to climate change are predominantly made by men. The UNFCCC Conference of the Parties is actually mandated to “improve the participation of women in bodies established under the Convention and its Kyoto Protocol.” However, progress is slow, and the involvement of women in recent Conferences of the Parties has been limited. Women only represented 36% of the Party delegates to COP20 last year, and only represented 26% of the heads of Party delegations. This year, women represent only 25% of the members of constituted bodies (which is a ~3% decline from last year) and represent only 23% of the regional groups and other Party groupings.

Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, and other Senate republicans

Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, and other Senate republicans

Even if we give the benefit of the doubt to the Conference of the Parties and assume that the participants in the process are all committed to combating climate change, any international agreement that the Parties sign must still be approved by two thirds of the United States Senate for it to become legally binding on the U.S. (although there are alternative mechanisms for the country to deposit its “instrument of ratification” with the UNFCCC). At least one source indicates that 32% of the current Senators are climate deniers, creating a very narrow margin for the 66% approval of any international climate change agreement. The fact that the whole of the U.S. Senate is currently 54% republican, 94% white, and 80% male does not lend hope to the cause.

Now, none of this is to say that every climate denier is a conservative white male, nor is it to say that all conservative white males are climate deniers. It is my ardent hope that the current United States senators (republican, democrat, Caucasian, minority, male, and female alike) will vote to approve the agreement reached at Paris this year. But if they do not, it might be an additional incentive to diversify our elected officials.


Animal Adaptation to Climate Change: Looking Through the Lens of the Quino Checkerspot Butterfly

Climate change affects animals. This is not a new revelation. The first IPCC Assessment Report, released in 1990, discusses how climate change negatively impacts polar bears. But the conversation on animals and climate change often neglects the stories of how animals survive by adapting to climate changed conditions.

Many species adapt by broadening their diets and changing other behaviors, such as migrating patterns, mating habits, and hibernation lengths. For example, the National Wildlife Federation reports that the Quino checkerspot butterfly was disappearing in the late 1990’s. The butterfly was dying because hot weather in California was causing its host plant to dry out before any caterpillars could enter adulthood.

This endangered subspecies was considered a “goner,” but then the Quino did something surprising. Surrounded by desert, the butterfly could not migrate butterflynorth to wetter terrain. Instead, it moved to higher ground. The Quino population resettled at a higher elevation and most importantly, adapted to using a new host plant. This adaptation is exciting because it indicates what one scientist calls “a genetic revolution.”

Moving to a new host plant isn’t as easy as it sounds. The butterfly genes governing its search image and its natural instinct to lay eggs on a particular plant have to change. This one genetic change can create a domino effect on the genetic make-up of the Quino. For instance, the butterfly might have to alter the number of eggs it lays because of the new host plant’s capacity to nourish young caterpillars. In turn, the young caterpillars might need to develop new enzymes in order to eat the new host plant.

If the decision to move to a higher elevation is able to change what type of enzymes the next generation of Quino produces, the capacity for animal adaptation to climate change is immense. This past summer, researchers discovered polar bears have started eating dolphins. As northern seas become ice free, dolphins are migrating farther north, which in turn provides starving polar bears a new source of food.

Animal adaptation to climate change will not stop global warming, but it does illustrate why the UNFCCC is making an effort to enable the human animal to adjust to a climate-changed world. In order to mitigate climate change, humans must be able to adapt to the changes already occurring. The new agreement draft text shows that Parties are trying to balance mitigation and adaptation efforts in their commitments to address climate change concerns.

 


Senator John Kerry: “Amateur hour is over. It’s time for science fact to trump science fiction.”

Wednesday, December 16, our last day in the Bella Center due to NGO restrictions, was an intense day.  In the first meeting, we witnessed the resignation of COP15 President Connie Hedegaard and several Heads of State statements, as well as the concern from developing countries regarding the imposition of the Danish text.

Senator Kerry at the Bella Center

I left the plenary to hear U.S. Senator John Kerry discuss the critical role of a global deal in advancing domestic legislation.  Kerry is the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and lead author of the Senate’s climate bill.

As I was attempting to enter the meeting, I ran into Brice Lalonde, Kerry’s first cousin and French ambassador in charge of international climate change negotiations since 2007.  I had the luck of finding a seat in the front row!

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