Bipolar on Climate Change at COP24

Choose one word to describe the results of COP24 and the state of climate change today. Bipolar … dramatically bipolar. We find ourselves torn between despair and hope, between optimiScreen Shot 2018-12-17 at 2.08.08 PMsm and realism, between real progress and a Paris rulebook with no rules. Though Polish officials declared success, really the Paris rulebook that came from COP24 is an agreement to disagree and try again later.

The good news is that after weeks of marathon, overnight negotiating sessions the parties came to a 133 page agreement reflecting years of work since the Paris Agreement. What the agreement does do is affirm the Paris Agreement and allow parties to move forward. What it purports to do, but really does not do, is establish the framework, the rulebook as it is called. Yes, there is progress in the agreement, but to call it the rulebook it was supposed to be – that just stretches too far.

The World Resources Institute identified four key elements needed for a Paris Agreement rulebook: 1) common timeframes; 2) reporting and accounting methodologies; 3) transitioning to the new transparency framework; and 4) effective peer review processes. Screen Shot 2018-12-17 at 2.26.14 PMOn common timeframes the agreement states that they agree there should be common time frames, they should discuss it in June 2019, and then approved by the COP with even a reference to what year it should be approved by deleted from the final text.   The development of a registry that would hold all the NDCs is critical to transparency and access by the public which helps hold Parties accountable. Here again the agreement agrees to have the UNFCCC work on a prototype, but it is subject to confirmation at the COP in November 2019 – another indicator that there were a couple of issues, particularly regarding a search function, that the parties could not agree on. Parties could not agree on the features each NDC should have and pushed consideration of further guidance out until 2024. The Parties did agree (per the Paris Agreement) that they would submit the NDCs based on common information in Annex I and be held accountable via common information in Annex II. However, they could not agree on how “target” should be defined and so the final text simply states – “general description of the target.” Still these Annex’s do call for the information required to at least have a skeleton framework for transparency.

The real big failure at COP24 was a complete breakdown on Article 6. All of the work on cooperative approaches and Internationally Transferred Mitigation Outcomes, (see my earlier blog posts here and here) the work that enables the investment by developed countries into developing countries that is needed to accelerate progress, all of these sections were tabled until next year. They will use the progress in negotiations as a starting point, but without some agreement we cannot begin to create global markets that investors will trust enough to invest in.

Screen Shot 2018-12-17 at 2.22.10 PMFundamentally, they agreed – thus moving the Paris Agreement forward – to disagree – thus hampering acceleration and progress. As the Assistant Secretary General Elliot Harris quoted Vermont’s Bill McKibben: “If we don’t win very quickly in climate change, then we will never win. … Winning slowly is the same as losing.”

Despair and Hope: Throughout the week there was an endless stream of somber information regarding the reality we are facing.   The new UN Emissions Gap Report indicates the gap between what is being done and what is needed has grown significantly while countries fail to perform to their commitments. Screen Shot 2018-12-17 at 2.19.57 PMFrom estimates that climate change will drive 140 million people to move within a little over 50 years as projected in the World Bank Group Report to entire countries and cultures being obliterated in the Marshall Islands. From the Unites States government report of a 10% impact on the economy double that of the recent great recession that will exacerbate environmental, social and economic inequalities – to the sad reality that we most likely cannot save our coral reefs and arctic ice is disintegrating at a faster pace that scientists had ever predicted.     AND YET, we must have hope to move forward – we cannot be crippled by despair. Climate change action is also predicted to yield direct economic gains of $26 trillion according to the New Climate Economy Report.Screen Shot 2018-12-17 at 2.17.19 PM

Frankly that is the world we face now. One where we must simultaneously face the extreme consequences of our apparent failure while maintaining hope that if EVERY ONE OF US does our part we might, just might, avoid catastrophic failure.

“Once you choose hope, anything is possible.” Everyday we will face and experience despair, and every day we must be bipolar and choose hope.


Indigenous Women May Just Be the Key to Successful Latin American NDCs

 

Perempuan_Adat_Harus_Dilibatkan_dalam_Negosiasi_Perubahan_IklimDelfina Katip, a preeminent Peruvian advocate for indigenous women’s rights, gave an incredible presentation on the power of indigenous women in climate change adaptation for a side event called Minga NDC and Talanoa Dialogue: Indigenous strategies for climate ambition. The panel began with opening remarks on the importance of including the interests of indigenous people in the Peruvian NDC. International climate change negotiations have been somewhat isolated in the past, not acknowledging other groups’ interests–especially native populations. Achieving the ambitions outlined in NDCs will be a collective job, and the Peruvian presenters made it clear that the country cannot move forward without the national government acknowledging indigenous people’s needs.

Katip’s message was very clear: indigenous women need to participate in climate change actions and projects in Peru.

These women know how to utilize native biodiversity, and how to adapt to changes in the environment. In Peru, climate change has affected both the forestry and clean water availability, thus changing the biodiversity in those areas. Yet these women have learned to keep producing food in their regions. They possess amazing skills to analyze the consequences of climate change,
positive and negative, and develop successful solutions. She described multiple government projects that have failed because officials never thought to ask the local women important factors (like the effects on agriculture, the youth, or biological factors that would negate there projects) they should consider. The role of the woman has always been under appreciated, but NOT today.

The overarching theme here is that NDCs cannot stay as just a document with fancy words. It is time to apply the experiences that women, and men, have with climate change consequences to adaptation strategies. If we can start analyzing conservation through the eyes of adaptation, that will lead to success.


The Log-istics of Carbon Dioxide Removal

Trees are the coolest source of CO2 Removal on the planet.

http://www.climatechangenews.com/2012/10/26/conservation-or-carbon-sinks-can-the-un-see-the-forest-for-the-trees/

Trees and vegetation are known to help cool ambient air temperatures through evapotranspiration.  If left undisturbed, forests can also be a vital source of carbon storage.  Estimates from the Global Forest Resources Assessment (FRA 2015) show that the world’s forests and other wooded lands store more than 485 gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon: 260 Gt in the biomass, 37 Gt in dead wood and litter, and 189 Gt in the soil.

In the most recent IPCC Special Report Summary for Policymakers (SPM), the world’s leading climate scientists assess the pathways the global community can pursue over the next few decades to prevent overshoot ofScreen Shot 2018-10-08 at 3.58.11 PM warming beyond 1.5°C.  The fact that all pathways to limit global warming to 1.5°C require mitigation via some form of Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) is not to be overlooked. But these removal amounts vary across pathways, as do the relative contributions of Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) and removals in the Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU) sector.  BECCS sequestration is projected to range from 0-1, 0-8, and 0-16 GtCO2/yr, in 2030, 2050, and 2100 respectively; the AFOLU-related measures are projected to remove 0-5, 1-11, and 1-5 GtCO2/yr in these years.  These contributions appear meager, and they are… but every little bit counts in this climate.

A reasonable argument can be made for increased investment in and use of CCS to achieve emissions reductions.  The SPM makes it clear that forests alone won’t be able to make a significant numerical difference in reduction of CO2 from the atmosphere.  And as the New York Times aptly points out, “the world is currently much better at cutting down forests than planting new ones.”

On the surface, CCS seems like a logical outgrowth from the nature of GHG emissions production.  The IPCC’s Special Report on Climate Capture and Storage (SRCCS) describes CCS as a mitigation activity that Screen Shot 2018-11-15 at 11.37.30 PMseparates CO2 from large industrial and energy-related point sources, which has the potential to capture 85-95% of the CO2 processed in a capture plant.  Direct Air Capture (DAC) technologies like ClimeWorks remove CO2 from the air. Proponents argue that DAC is a much less land-intensive process than afforestation: Removal of 8 Gt/CO2 would require 6.4 million km² of forested land and 730 km³ of water, while DAC would directly require only 15,800 km² and no water.

However, as our blog has cautioned readers in the past, CCS requires significant financial investments from industry and government and are only regionally accessible.  Only places that have sufficient infrastructure and political support can pursue this path of technological sequestration, leaving underdeveloped countries at a major disadvantage.  A recent report published in Nature Research further emphasizes that BECCS will have significant negative implications for the Earth’s planetary boundaries, or thresholds that humanity should avoid crossing with respect to Earth and her sensitive biophysical subsystems and processes.  Transgressing these boundaries will increase the risk of irreversible climate change, such as the loss of major ice sheets, accelerated sea level rise, and abrupt shifts in forest and agricultural systems.  Above all else, CCS ultimately supports the continual burning of fossil fuels. CCS technology may capture carbon, but it also has the potential to push us over the edge.

Money tree

Mitigation has historically been the focus of the FCCC and other collaborative climate change efforts.  Global climate change policy experts are familiar with the binding language associated with activities related to mitigation in the multilateral environmental agreements: Article 4(1)(b) of the Convention calls for commitments to formulate, implement, publish and update national programs containing measures to mitigate climate change; and Article 3 of the Kyoto Protocol (KP) calls for Annex I Parties to account for their emissions reductions in order to promote accountability and activity guided by mindful emissions production.  In the waning hours of the KP, the Paris Agreement has become the new collective rallying document, whose ambitious emissions reduction target has inspired the likes of the IPCC to offer us pathways to get there.

If we are not currently on track towards limiting GHG emissions well-below 2°C in the grand scheme of the FCCC, why not insure some success, however small, buy securing CO2 in forests, not CCS?  Forests are a well-established CDR technology that do not have the associated risks with CCS.  While the most recent UN Forum on Forests report kindly reminds us that forests are also crucial for food, water, wood, health, energy, and biodiversity, the SPM upholds that mitigation contributions from carbon sequestration technology are numerically minuscule in the face of the large-scale change necessary to avoid CO2 overload.  A much more engaged energy overhaul is needed.

The ideal SPM pathScreen Shot 2018-11-15 at 11.10.17 PMway states that afforestation can be the only CDR option when social, business, and technological innovations result in lower energy demand and a decarbonized energy system.  A more middle-of-the-road scenario achieves necessary emissions reductions mainly by changing the way in which energy and products are produced, and to a lesser degree by reductions in demand.  This speaks to the need for a broad focus on sustainable development rather than continuing business as usual.  Regardless of the pathway, forests need to be preserved, whether it be for carbon sequestration, their cooling effects, or merely beauty.

Sometimes there is no turning back.


Energy Justice: Mitigation, Adaptation, AND Sustainable Development Goals in the IPCC Special Report

Cooking in MyanmarOver three billion people rely on wood, charcoal or dung for cooking, with primarily women spending 15-30 hours per week collecting these resources. Household Air Pollution (HAP) results in over 4 million deaths a year. The second most impactful climate change pollutant is black carbon and HAP contributes 25% of black carbon. Clearly, we can integrate mitigation, adaptation, AND sustainable development.

The first sentence of the Global Warming of 1.5°C IPCC Special Report references the Paris Agreement’s enhanced objective “to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change, in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty.” (Article 2) The IPCC report references and builds on the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) approved and adopted by national leaders in September 2015. The SDGs consist of 17 goals and 169 targetsSustainable Goals developed as a sustainability framework. Top goals include the elimination of poverty and hunger; an increase in health, education, and gender equality; and access to clean water, sanitation and affordable energy. Additional goals address economic growth, industry, innovation and infrastructure, sustainable cities and responsible consumption, life below water and on land, climate action, peace, justice and strong institutions, and partnerships for the goals.

Screen Shot 2018-09-30 at 1.29.54 PMThe IPCC report highlights one of the largest differences between 1.5°C and 2°C as the disproportionate impact on poor and vulnerable populations, furthering inequities. However, addressing these inequities through sustainable development can also become a positive. One bright spot in an otherwise dire report is the potential for significant synergies between sustainable development with mitigation and adaptation strategies. But ONLY IF we think about the issues holistically and find mechanisms to cooperate internationally. Article 6 of the Paris Agreement recognizes “the importance of integrated, holistic and balanced non-market approaches” and mentions supporting and promoting sustainable development in Paragraphs 1,2,4, and 9. A failure to consider mitigation and adaptation strategies in the context of sustainable development and the SDGScreen Shot 2018-09-30 at 1.28.58 PMs could result in the opposite effect of creating long term negative impacts on the health and survival of those populations that contributed the least to the problem and have extremely limited resources to weather the consequences.

Let’s strengthen our sustainable development goals through enhanced Nationally Determined Contributions and provide some accountability with some teeth in Katowice.


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.

 


NDCs Registry Update: Pandora’s box remains closed

3K1A8294Yesterday,  the Parties reached a conclusion on the NDC registry. But it was a procedural conclusion, with the substantive discussion to take place at SBI46 in Bonn next May. Even so, it still took additional SBI informal sessions to come to agreement:  the registry agenda item had been limited to three sessions, but the Parties’ disagreements on the draft conclusions led the co-facilitators to add two informal session to reach an agreement. However, don’t let the word agreement fool you. The Parties were able to agree on the text because they went back to the SBI decision adopted in Bonn for this agenda item. Thus, the agreement was on a previous agreement! Nonetheless, the Parties insisted that discussion will continue next week at the SBI Plenary on two items of disagreement: 1) whether the Parties should have one registry or two registries that deals differently with NDCs and adaptation communications, and 2) whether the text of the draft conclusion should include a call for Party submissions.

Diplomacy is indeed the art of the possible, although sometimes it seems that some negotiations will never end and the Parties will never reach a consensus. That is why I think this conference is so important. We often hear about the devastating impacts of climate change all around the world.  But it is sometimes hard to understand what the respective country and their people are going through when you are not directly experiencing it. This conference puts a face on the devastating events and brings together representatives from all over the world who will fight in the negotiations for the insertion of an “a” or a “the” because that choice makes a whole lot of difference in their world.

With this blog post, my week at COP22 ends. It has been a wonderful week where I was surrounded by amazing people, and participated in exciting negotiations and side events where I learned that we are not alone in the fight against climate change. 3K1A8496

 


Caught on the Front Lines of Climate Change

In an event hosted today by WOCAN (Women Organizing for Change in Agriculture and Natural Resource Management), six inspiring women shared their stories of community, loss, and leadership. The panel was comprised of women from diverse and remote regions of the world, including a Native American of the Ponca Nation, a representative from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a Quechua-speaking native of the Ecuadorian Amazon, and several leaders of global non-profit organizations. All of these women came to COP21 with the same message: the voices of women and indigenous peoples are essential to effectively addressing climate change.

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Panelists at today’s event, Global Women & Indigenous Peoples on the Frontline of Climate Solutions: Forests & Renewable Energy

Each of the panelists shared shockingly similar stories of their lives and their communities, highlighting their plight against the effects of climate change. Most indigenous communities contribute very little to climate change, yet feel the effects far more profoundly than the rest of the world. Women also face disproportionate impacts from climate change, indicating that this group had tremendous insight to offer from both perspectives. They had faced the direct impacts of climate change and had established innovative methods of addressing the associated problems. In the case of the Ponca Nation and the Amazonian natives, both groups are actively opposing resource extraction in their sacred ancestral lands. Women in Colombia are reclaiming land for traditional agricultural practices after years of protests allowed them to begin saving seeds again. Women in the DRC are creating carbon negative local economies by planting trees. By organizing their communities and utilizing traditional and institutional knowledge, they are developing robust, local solutions to climate change.

Nevertheless, a Paris agreement may not address these groups’ needs or their suggestions. There are currently four binding sections of the agreement that reference gender equality or the rights of indigenous people, and two of those references are bracketed. This means that the rights of indigenous people and women may not be adequately addressed in two important parts of the agreement (purpose and finance). Hopefully, this panel discussion, along with the other events associated with Gender Day, will encourage the negotiators to avoid this absurd result.


“What would we tell our grandchildren if we fail?”

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron delivers a speech during the opening session of the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) at Le Bourget, near Paris, France, November 30, 2015.   REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron delivers a speech during the opening session of COP21 at Le Bourget, near Paris, France, November 30, 2015. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

Today’s children and their future heirs have been getting a lot of airtime at COP21 as Parties and world leaders regularly invoke “our children, grandchildren, and future generations” in a call for immediate action on climate change. At the Leaders Event Monday, British Prime Minister David Cameron, the Prince of Wales, French President Francois Hollande, and the prime minister of Tuvalu were among those who invoked future generations – even mentioning their own children and grandchildren – to stress the importance of a long-term deal. This personal appeal to “think of your children” is unsurprising as climate policy fundamentally asks the present to sacrifice for the future.

A 2013 Time magazine article discusses the question of intergenerational equity and cites a study about “the retirement saving crisis” to suggest that human beings are not good at planning for the future even when their own future selves stand to benefit. Time suggests that this inability to sacrifice for the future is compounded in the climate change context because the most severe impacts from climate change are many years away or else they are happening in developing countries that are out of sight.

So, is there hope for a climate deal in Paris when human beings only think of themselves?

Some reassurance comes from the text of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC or “Convention”) itself. The first stated principle of the Convention under Article 3 reads, “[t]he Parties should protect the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations of humankind, on the basis of equity and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.” While Mary Robinson, the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, observed at the CVF meeting this week that this article includes the only mention of people in the Convention, the principle makes clear that Parties should consider future generations when making decisions.

youthThis principle is the subject of tomorrow’s Young and Future Generations Day at COP21, a non-stop celebration of youth power and participation in the climate talks. This celebration “recognizes the key role that young people play in reaching innovative and ambitious solutions to climate change,” and will generate several related side events on tomorrow’s calendar.

Beyond Paris and the Convention, three weeks ago, Our Children’s Trust hit a major milestone when, for the first time, a judge ruled in favor of intergenerational climate justice. The judge ordered the State of Washington to reconsider 8 youth plaintiffs’ petition requesting that the Department of Ecology write a carbon emissions rule that protects the atmosphere for their generation and those to come. The judge’s eloquent opinion summarizes the importance of intergenerational equity stating, “[the youths’] very survival depends upon the will of their elders to act now, decisively and unequivocally, to stem the tide of global warming before doing so becomes first too costly and then too late.”


No Climate Justice without Gender Justice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


CAN International flashes climate movement’s teeth on Day 1

CAN International logo

 

CAN (Climate Action Network) International’s COP21 opening press conference this morning delivered strong words for the leaders and negotiators. (CAN International is a recognized “network of NGOs working on climate change from around the world.” Member groups well known in the U.S. include 350.org, Union of Concerned Scientists, World Resources Institute, and World Wildlife Fund.) Four organizations presented:

Keya Chatterjee of US CAN praised the climate movement’s hard work since COP15 in Copenhagen that has achieved today’s powerful level of engagement. She noted that 2 of the 3 key ingredients for a just transition to a livable world have been met: 1) an activist base -“check;” and 2) a permissive majority – “check.” The third requirement, political leadership, is being demanded at COP21 where leaders are called to reveal “if they are with the world or not.” Activists clearly feel that Obama’s political credibility is on the line.

CAN Intl Webcast panel Nov30

Mohamed Adow of Christian Aid decried the current inadequate offerings of developed countries on mitigation and adaptation that will result in the sacrifice of the most vulnerable countries to climate change. He shared that the INDCs will deliver a too high 2.7°C increase, and called on the Parties to complete a strong agreement that provides for robust adaptation help, a loss & damage mechanism, and the climate finance to make these happen.

Tim Gore from Oxfam predicted that the negotiations will be brutal, and could get nasty. Three of the flash points he anticipates:

  • Current commitment questions- $100Bill/year by 2020. Will this happen and will there be enough adaptation finance from it? The Africa Group has put a proposal on the table to ensure $32 billion for adaptation from GCF by 2020.
  • Loss & Damage- “a David & Goliath issue,” with the US not wanting to move on it at all, and the other developed countries happy for the U.S. to take the hard line position.
  • Post 2020 finance- “the great known unknown” at these talks. There is a serious need to for a new commitment on finance. The key tradeoff is between getting new numbers on the table and getting others at the table. But who goes first?

Pierre Cannet of WWF France called upon Parties to reach a solid, inclusive, transparent agreement that also provides for a role by civil society. He congratulated France’s efforts to make this COP a real success. Pierre’s primary message was to stay in the negotiators’ ears in Paris, and keep the messages coming through demonstrations and marches, predicting that civil society’s vital role in building a strong response will serve “to change course and make history.”

KeyChatterjee-USCAN at CAN Webcast Nov30One of the most impassioned statements of the press conference came during the Q&A, when Keya Chatterjee (USCAN), expressing the commitment of the massive climate movement in the U.S. to hold the country’s leaders accountable to mitigation targets, nearly shouted, “I promise you, over our dead bodies, will these targets not be met!”

The Movement is unapologetically here. Let’s hope the political will is.

 

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Please note: Press conferences at the COP are a great way for remote followers to get real time news and views. You can tune in via the UNFCCC webcast page and catch the live action before it reaches your favorite news feeds.


Empowering Women in the Fight for Global Food Security

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Women and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

“The new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have gender equality and women’s empowerment at their core, and include a target to ‘double the agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers, in particular women.’ Indeed, rural women are critical to the success of almost all of the 17 SDGs.” UN SG Ban Ki-moon

There is no doubt that climate change affects less developed countries more dramatically. It also affects women more significantly, since they represent the majority of the poor  and vulnerable. On 15 October, the world recently celebrated the 6th anniversary of the International Day of Rural Women, “the majority of whom depend on natural resources and agriculture for their livelihoods.” Climate change’s effects on food security are well-known and well-established; therefore, in order to fully address food security, women’s issues must be at the forefront. The UN FAO released a report on 13 October indicating that expanding social protection will offer a faster track to ending hunger.

How can food security via women’s empowerment be achieved through the UN’s SDGs? Specifically, 1 (4) , 2 (3)  5(7)  relate to women’s rights to land. Current land use practices coupled with the exacerbating effects of climate change like droughts and other extreme events have led to soil degradation and desertification.  Women are often responsible for supplying the food and fuel for the household and finding ways of making up for the shortfall when these catastrophic events occur. However, they are not in a position to make decisions about how the land is used – either for their benefit or the environment’s – because they do not have the authority or ownership of it. For example, in most African countries, approximately 75% – 90% of land is held under traditional rules, customs and practices, which mean that women are not able to assert control over it or its use even though they are primarily responsible for its cultivation.

Solar Market Garden in Benin

Solar Market Garden in Benin

The outlook is not dim, however. As the world looks to COP21’s negotiations in Paris, the Momentum for Change Lighthouse Activities – an initiative spearheaded by the UNFCCC Secretariat – is shining light on models that “mov[e] the world toward a highly resilient, low-carbon future.” Projects profiled are “innovative and transformative solutions that address both climate change and wider economic, social and environmental challenges.”  One Lighthouse winner is the Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF ) Solar Market Garden. In Benin, women are now able to grow food year-round despite a six-month dry season. By using solar-powered pumps with drip irrigation systems, women farmers are able to pump water for irrigation from nearby rivers and underground aquifers instead of hauling it long distances. This is both an environmental and socio-economic benefit as the girls of the village are now able to attend school and the women can allocate their time to other economic pursuits.  “It also empowers them to become entrepreneurs and leaders in their communities. By embracing solar power and micro-irrigation technologies, these female leaders are trailblazing solutions for both climate change mitigation and adaptation that can be replicated throughout the world, especially sub-Saharan Africa.”

A Group of women attend a workshop in the oasis of Serkla, Guelmima.

A Group of women attend a workshop in the oasis of Serkla, Guelmima.

This is just one example. Looking forward to COP22 in Marrakesh, perhaps the world can witness firsthand the success that women living in the Moroccan province of Errachidia have realized by cultivating medicinal and aromatic plants using renewable energy and selling them in the markets. This UN Women  project is supported by the UNDP Tafilalet Oasis Programme and the Swiss Cooperation.

Clearly, the support of women’s rights to land, mobilizing their agricultural knowledge, and providing social support will provide food security and opportunities for climate change mitigation and adaptation.

 


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.


Outside the ADP negotiation rooms

IMG_0920Some days at UNFCCC negotiations, the glass looks more full outside the negotiating rooms.

Given the 4am revisions of the negotiation texts, meetings today started off slowly.  The ADP gathered in the late morning to acknowledge the new text, send the G77 and other negotiating groups off for coordination on it, and announce the afternoon and evening “spin off groups.” These smaller, more focused meetings are drafting sessions.  Under the UNFCCC rules of procedure, the Parties may choose to exclude observers.  On Day 2 of this penultimate ADP session, that’s precisely what happened.  So Parties met behind closed doors to work on four parts of the draft agreement (mitigation, finance, capacity building, and technology transfer) and the draft decision on Workstream 2 from 3pm till 9pm.

Good thing.  This gave civil society organizations (CSO) even more time to shine light on the UNFCCC Parties’ slow progress in achieving the Article 2 goal of “stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” One CSO project merits special attention.

Fair Share:  A Civil Society Equity Review of INDCs was launched at the ADP negotiations on Day 2.  The review’s authors are “social movements, environmental and development NGOs, trade unions, faith and other civil society groups,” who “have come together to assess the climate commitments that have been put on the table through the UN climate negotiations.” (A full list of them may be read here.) Thefair shares bar graph methodology is straight forward and simple (two adjectives rarely applied to the UNFCCC):  compare a country’s historical GHG emissions to its INDC pledge filed during the last eight months.  Fair Shares does this number crunching bearing in mind the IPCC’s calculation that we have a limited global carbon budget remaining before catastrophic warming sets in. Reviewing the voluntary, nationally determined INDC pledges in this light, the review “seeks to ascertain whether the Paris Agreement will be ambitious enough and tolerably fair.”

In the end, the review recommends that the Paris Agreement should include:

  • Targets to reduce emissions in 2025, 2030, 2040 and 2050, working toward “near-zero emissions” by mid-century;
  • A “step-change” in international climate finance;
  • A “clear and fair plan to address the emissions gap through new cooperative action fuelled by scaled-up support from the developed countries that are most responsible.”