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”.


Private Investors Help Fight Climate Change

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The IPCC 1.5 special report cannot be ignored. Our current pace of environmental degradation will lead to disastrous consequences. Now is not the time to put our heads in the ground and pretend that climate change does not exist. You cannot deny that some force is taking place, changing the inventory of our resources. I remember as a kid growing up in Niagara Falls, the first snow would start early October. Now, snow does not fall in my childhood town until January. Niagara residents would say that rain in October was supposed to be snow and that global warming turned the snow to rain.

Climate change is based on fundamental principles of equilibrium. If a process uses too much of a single resource, nature cannot catch up to replenish what was removed. We experience this principle in our day-to-day activities. Fortunately, we can take action. Through the will of concerned countries, the Paris Agreement was adopted. Delegates from countries committed to the Paris Agreement have gathered at Katowice, Poland for COP24. This meeting of the minds helps push climate change forward, albeit at a slow pace. However, technical, policy and financial experts come together and get the opportunity to address the world their findings.

In the wake of the IPCC 1.5 special report, it is becoming clear that the costs to combat climate change is too great for governments and non-profit financial organizations to bear. Financial experts echo this point of view and call out to private investors to help close the financial gap. After all, we are all in this together.

Financial institutions cleverly developed multiple mechanisms where investors can participate and get good returns. For example, investors can invest in new technology designed to minimize waste or shift to a low-carbon fund portfolio and invest in companies with low carbon emission processes. Financial revolutions occur in numbers, similar to switching to another service provider because of bad customer service, you can choose investments or products with low carbon footprints. Companies must evolve with consumer preferences and will be forced to make changes to stay viable.

Furthermore, ignoring climate change as an investor could expose significant risk and negatively impact returns. The Economist estimated that climate change would incur $4.3 trillion of losses in privately held assets from extreme weather. This means that investing in companies that have not protected their facilities from the effects of climate change may suffer significant costs that directly impact the return on investment.

Traditional methods of investment are no longer the status quo. Consumer demands and market changes must include climate change analysis as part of investment decision making. Although the estimated total investment to meet the 1.5-degree scenario may require up to $3.8 trillion from all parties, market demand and investment strategies are naturally moving to an environmentally conscious economy. We are moving to a place where the environment and the economy are no longer competing forces but can work synergistically. Financial experts are helping to build the mechanisms where the economy can continue to grow and lower pollution at all levels of industry.


BURs: One Small Decision Leads to Surprising Results!

The Enhanced Transparency Framework (ETF) is a hot topic at COP24. At the conclusion of COP24 is the deadline for all parties to put their heads together, develop, and finalize provisions for the modalities, procedures and guidelines (MPG) of the ETF. The MPGs might supersede and replace the current transparency framework called measurement, reporting, and verification (MRV). Completion of the MPGs marks a significant milestone for the Paris Agreement. Anticipation to see the final provisions and roll out of the MPGs has already caused ripple effects when it comes to reporting.

The UNFCCC cannot help but celebrate the ongoing progress in transparency. The UNFCCC is observing the fruits of all party’s efforts, despite some resistancbur1_552e, through increase rates of party participation in submitting annual reports, specifically Biennial Update Reports (BURs). The BUR was the brain child of PA parties committed to climate change at COP17 in 2012. BURs are reports submitted by non-Annex I parties. BURs generally contain updates to GHG inventories, mitigation actions, status, needs and support. BURs should be submitted every two years at the time of the first submittal. Least developed country parties (LDC) have the flexibility to submit their first BUR at their discretion. The BURs are purely collaborative and peer-reviewed by international consultation and analysis (ICA). The ICA is made up of teams of experts that consist of PA parties.

Although BURs on their face may not appear to be an exciting process, parties’ implementation, feedback and lessons learned have exciting benefits. At COP24, the UNFCCC hosted a side event which showed the progress of BURs and featured case studies from Brazil and China.

As of today, the UNFCC has received a total of 66 BUR reports. Recent submissions from Brazil and China help serve as ideal case studies for other non-Annex I parties.

When Brazil started preparing its BUR report, little did it know that the BUR would significantly enhance government workflow and increase environmental awareness. Brazil’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs led the BUR report and quickly learned the logistical nightmare and resources needed to complete the report. Brazil’s BUR report took about a year to complete. However, after the report was submitted, Brazil conducted a lessons learned exercise and found surprising results. Brazil learned that preparation of the BUR improved communication and exchange between ministries. Brazil’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) engaged with energy and agriculture agencies, which were unfamiliar with the UNFCCC and the BUR. The MOFA encouraged these officials to participate in BUR workshops and in turn the agencies spurred investigation and internal discussion adopting environmental initiatives in their respective agencies.

China’s BUR had similar benefits compared to Brazil. Lessons learned after China’s first BUR submission revealed adoption of procedures that heightened internal quality assurance and control. Additionally, China started building a national system to archive environmental and climate change data. Even more impressive, China pushed past its reluctant disposition and started sharing emission factor data and best practices with the ICA. China is in progress in submitting its second BUR report and is excited to see the differences from its first report.

The BURs play a key role in helping developing countries establish environmental reporting procedures. BURs can also have the indirect effect of facilitating government cohesion between agencies and pushing countries down a greener path.


Africa Day at COP24

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Africa Day is a traditional day where the African countries bring awareness to the impacts of climate change on their peoples. This day is a way for African countries to make concrete commitments for addressing climate change. At COP24, Africa Day is used to table all the climate change issues African countries face, and learn how to effectively present them to all the other COP parties. Today, African nations hosted multiple presentations addressing their efforts and challenges in implementing their NDCs. Of the many discussed, I want to highlight two important issues: international support and the power of the next generation.

1. (Lack of) International Support

One presenter joked about how Africans should have intellectual property rights over the term “poverty” because everyone thinks everywhere in Africa is basically poor. In all seriousness, the presenters did make some valid arguments in response to the lack of international (mostly financial) support for implementation of African NDCs. Collectively, the continent of Africa only emits about 2-3% of global GHG emissions. Here, African officials expressed their frustration with other Parties’ expectations from African countries, yet do not want to assist the African countries financially to achieve those expectations. Moreover, African countries stressed the importance of including adaptation measures in their NDCs, whereas most developing countries would like to focus more on mitigation. It’ll be very interesting to hear the negotiations on whether to mandate adaption in NDCs, and I will be sure to keep you all updated on that process.

2. African Youth

Several African students and young professionals used these sessions as opportunities to confront their nations’ leaders on improving conditions to keep more young people in Africa. Last year alone, about 17 million young Africans migrated to Europe in search of food, work, and education. Both the young advocates and officials had constructive dialogue on how to keep more youth in Africa while tackling tough climate change issues. Some suggested to restructure budget allocations so the majority of funding no longer goes to agriculture. Food security is very important, but, according to the youth at this event, not at the expense of stimulating the economy or educating the next generation to lead the African nations.


Planting the Seed: Agriculture in Climate Negotiations

KJWA3With COP24 right around the corner, sights will be set on the newest agenda item, agriculture. In a landmark decision, Parties at COP 23 adopted the Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture (KJWA). This decision ended the six-year stalemate on how to address agriculture in the international climate talks. The KJWA “. . . seeks to develop and implement new strategies for adaptation and mitigation within the agriculture sector, that will help reduce emissions as well as build its resilience to the effects of climate change.” The inclusion of KJWA will support Parties’ goals of addressing climate change and food security.

The KJWA is in line with the Paris Agreement’s goal to keep the global temperature rise this century “well below 2⁰C” above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5⁰C. Globally, agriculture accounts for approximately 19-29% of greenhouse gas emissions, making agriculture vital to climate negotiations.

Under KJWA, SBSTA and SBI will jointly address agricultural issues through workshops and expert meetings, and by working with constituted bodies under the Convention. All bodies will consider agriculture’s vulnerability to climate change and approaches to addressing food security.

To start the work, key elements were identified. The agriculture issues include; methods for assessing adaptation, adaptation co-benefits and resilience; improved soil carbon, soil health and soil fertility under grassland and cropland; improved nutrient use and manure management towards sustainable and resilient agricultural systems; improved livestock management systems; and the socioeconomic and food security dimensions of climate change in the agricultural sector. By implementing these methods, emissions will be reduced and resilience in the agricultural sector will support food security.

Picture1At SBSTA /SBI 48, Parties set out a road map of work under the KJWA that includes six new workshops to be held sequentially up until COP26. The first Koronivia workshop will take place in Katowice and focus on modalities for implementing the outcomes of the preceding five in-session workshops on issues related to agriculture.

Several Parties and observer organizations have submitted comments for the first Koronivia workshop on agriculture. One of the most notable submissions came from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The submission stressed the importance of “facilitating knowledge exchange of information on good practices and lessons learned, capacity building for implementation and action in the agricultural sectors and enhancing access to climate finance in least developed and developing countries for the agricultural sector.” CGIAR System Organization, International Centre for Tropical Agriculture and the World Bank also submitted similar key messages.

Through submissions the message stressing the importance of agriculture in climate negotiations is clear. To address climate change and food security, agriculture must be considered in the negotiations.

 

 

 


Crypto-Climate Change: Bitcoin Emissions May Push Us Above 2C In Two Decades

Capture1Created and released in 2009 by Satoshi Nakamoto, Bitcoin (BTC, XBT) embodies a very simple concept; we don’t need a centralized agency controlling our money. The Peer-to-Peer cryptocurrency uses a public ledger—a blockchain—to monitor transactions between users, thereby cutting out the central bank. Each transaction is recorded as a block and added to the blockchain. Each user keeps a copy of the ledger as a way to decentralize the system and prevent falsified transactions. As a method of transaction verification, users with the proper computer skills “mine” the blockchain. They use ASICs (Applied-Specific Integrated Circuits) to receive a blockchain and verify the transactions within. In exchange, the miner receives a small amount of BTC. This is where the issue arises.

Mining the blockchain requires a massive amount of energy. In November 2017, the BTC network consumed more energy than the Republic of Ireland. As of May 2018, Digiconomist estimated that Bitcoin usage emits 33.5 MtCO2e annually. When combined with other cryptocurrencies, these emissions rival those of countries like Sweden and Norway. Large emissions are inherent in the mining system.

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Mining is a winner-take-all game. The full reward goes to the miner who solves the puzzle first. The greater your processing power, the greater your chance of success. The more electricity you use, the faster your computer runs. As long as the reward for successfully mining covers the cost of that electricity, the practice is profitable. The Bitcoin network as a whole reinvests almost all of the BTC paid out as reward into its electricity consumption.

As I write this, a single Bitcoin (BTC) is valued at $5,651.14. The reward for successfully mining a block is 12.5 BTC (approx. $70,600.00) plus any transaction fees that occurred during the time it took to mine the block (approx. $2500). This process occurs every ten minutes. The system rewards miners for using as much electricity as is feasible and penalizes those miners that don’t.

Although it is hard to predict the rise and fall of cryptocurrencies, their use may return to popularity. On November 14, 2018, Bitsane, a trading platform, released a public announcement that it had officially listed USDT (Tether) for trade. USDT is known as the digital dollar and the first stable crypto-coin. It is backed by the US Dollar and provides an easy method for liquidating cryptocurrencies, making them more tradable and, perhaps, priming them for the wide-use that fans have hoped for.

The blockchain also has the potential to revolutionize climate change action. Groups such as the Blockchain Climate Institute have embraced this technology and have advocated for its use in climate finance and as a reporting mechanism. In a new book, Transforming Climate Finance and Green Investment with Blockchains40 experts explore its applications in implementing the Paris Agreement. The topics it covers include blockchain applications in renewable energy smart grids, climate finance transfers, clean technology transfers, carbon markets, and the enforcement of green finance regulations. These topics will also be discussed in various side events at COP24. As widely distributed ledgers, blockchains are “trust machines” that can scale and speed up vital climate actions in the near future.


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.

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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.

 


Lets get on the same page

Capacity Building Initiative on TransparencyThe Paris Agreement, ratified by 170 Parties, at last count, has a clear goal for the world: Hold the rise in average global temperature to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius. While the goal is clear, the solutions are complex and challenging. This is especially true for Least Developed Countries (LDCs). LDCs lack the capacity and technical expertise to tackle these problems.  The United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) recognized the disparity between developed and LDCs in article 4.9 and implemented mechanisms to assist LDCs build capacity.

One of the recent mechanisms to be implemented as a part of the Paris Agreement is the Capacity Building Initiative on Transparency (CBIT). The goal of this initiative is to “strengthen the institutional and technical capacities of developing countries to meet the enhanced transparency requirements of the Paris Agreement.” In this context, transparency is more than access to information; it also refers to accuracy and standardization. Transparency allows all Parties to measure and compare the collective progress made by each country’s pledged climate change actions.

CBIT calls for transparency on two fronts: the first is transparency of actions and the second is transparency of support:

  • Transparency of actions is completed through Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) as called for by the convention in Article 4.1(f). Simply, NDCs are a set of measures taken by a country to limit GHG emissions. But this task is a more complex process than it seems. In order to meet the requirements of the PA Article 13.5, NDCs need to be backed by scientific data that can be Measured, Reviewed, and Verified (MRV). LDCs need to develop expertise in the methodologies used for collecting data. As an example, the first NDC submitted by Papua New Guinea (PNG) presented data with “considerable uncertainty”. To address that gap, PNG received financial assistance through CBIT to hire the expertise needed to collect the data needed to MRV its pledged actions. As the NDCs are evaluated collectively, they are compared to the ultimate goal of the PA. In turn, as delegates meet annually, they can evaluate climate change actions against the goal more effectively.
  • The PA in Article 13.6 requires “transparency of support.” The PA tasked the Global Environment Facility (GEF) with administering fund distribution. In order to facilitate that, the GEF publishes a report that details the support given under the CBIT fund. In its recent report of early November, 2017, $17,389,995 in CBIT funds was distributed to fourteen countries for transparency capacity building. This report also lists funding from other sources, including almost $19 million in co-financing for these projects.

In terms of spending on climate change actions, the CBIT fund doesn’t readily draw attention. However, it is an important part of combating climate change. By providing these practical measures, in addition to the climate change policies, the COP and its entities provide more holistic solutions. CBIT can be seen as one brick in giant wall of solution options. I would like to think of it as a corner stone that supports this wall far beyond its size would indicate.


Seas the Day

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

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

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

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

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

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


Climate Change “Refugees” in Hot Water

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

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

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

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

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

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Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre depiction of human movement in 2015.

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

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


Is Time Running Out?

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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


Farming for the Future: Climate Change and Food Security.

The United Nations weather agency recently announced that the past five years have been the hottest on record, with increasing evidence showing that this is man-made climate change. Thus, the urgency for solutions increases here at COP22 where the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is meeting to discuss and improve climate change goals. One way to mitigate climate change is to decrease GHG emissions. One way to do this, is to revise global farming techniques. Today at the “On-farm renewables and sustainable intensification to address climate change and food security” side event, several farming experts discussed opportunities to improve farming and food security. The experts discussed the use of sustainable intensification and renewable energy, co-benefits and trade-offs around land use, deforestation concerns, and exploration of funding options. Most notable was the conversation about sustainable intensification agriculture. Sustainable intensification is the optimization of all provisioning, regulating and supporting agricultural production process. Thus, sustainable intensification projects for agriculture help maintain and enhance production through the promotion of biodiversity and ecosystem services.

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The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nation (FAO) has several new programs to improve sustainable intensification. “LIBERATION: Linking Farmland Biodiversity to Ecosystem Services for Effective Ecofunctional Intensification,” which will help identify the relationship between semi-natural habitats and on-farm management and biodiversity. This project also seeks to connect farmland biodiversity to ecosystem services. It will do this by examining different strategies to mitigate ecosystem services. Another project, “Mainstreming Agro-biodiversity in Law PDR’s Agricultural Policies, Plans and Programmes (FSP),” which will provide farmers with the necessary incentives, capabilities and support institutional framework to converse agricultural biodiversity in Lao.

Intensification of crop and livestock production are also essential to mitigate climate change and provide food security. In order to keep up with demand for beef and leather, for example, 21 million ha of deforestation has occurred in the Brazilian Amazon between 2000 and 2015 to support cattle. Simon C. Hall, the manager of Tropical Forests and Agriculture National Wildlife Federation (NWF), spoke about insights from the Brazilian cattle sector. The NWF has been working in South America with local partners for over 20 years to eliminate tropical deforestation from agriculture supply chains. They hope to accelerate the development and implementation of intensification for sustainability because the implications of deforestation are staggering: longer dry season, reduced rainfall, increased temperature. Sustainable Intensification on the other hand (when coupled with zero deforestation commitments), will lead to: land sparing, reduced emissions from LUC, reduced losses of wildlife habitat and biodiversity, increased market access, preferential purchasing agreements, and reduced leakage and rebound effects.

These, and many other projects presented at this side event on addressing climate change through new farming techniques, provide examples on how we may work towards farming for a sustainable future.


Getting serious about 1.5°C

ap_611245925978_wide-0d885fdde8a9b22d1501efec383f5eb03654796c-s900-c85As we reported earlier, the historic Paris Agreement of December 2015 established a long-term temperature goal to keep global temperature increase “well below 2°C” and to undertake efforts to limit that increase to 1.5°C, “recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.”

The COP21 decision adopting the Agreement included an invitation to the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) “to provide a special report in 2018 on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways.”Screen Shot 2016-08-26 at 4.44.05 PM

The impacts on lives, livelihoods, and ecosystems is likely be quite different between a 2°C and a 1.5°C increase. And, while scientists have been characterizing the former for some time, too few studies have focused on a 1.5°C hotter world. So, this report will be very critical for policymakers.

The IPCC accepted the COP’s invitation in April and established an 11-member Steering Committee for the Special Report from among its top officials. A scoping meeting of more than 80 experts nominated from around the world was held in Geneva last week (August 15-18) to draft a Scoping Paper “describing the objectives and an annotated outline of the Special Report as well as the process and timeline for its preparation.” Carbon Brief, in reporting occgraph1n the meeting, characterized part of the message from Dr. Hoesung Lee, IPCC Chair, to the gathered experts this way: “[T]he report will need to spell out what’s to be gained by limiting warming to 1.5°C, as well as the practical steps needed to get there within sustainability and poverty eradication goals.”

Outcomes of the 1.5°C Special Report scoping meeting will be presented to the IPCC’s 44th Session in October, and once the report structure is approved, “a call for authors” for each chapter will go out.

It has become clear for many, though, that limiting the global temperature increase to 1.5°C is pretty much impossible at this point. In fact, based on IPCC carbon budget data (originally crunched in 2015) and assuming current levels of CO2 emissions, Carbon Brief concludes that there is a 66% chance we’ll reach that 1.5°C increase in just 5 years.carboncountdown

This IPCC report certainly won’t come too soon!


March continues the warming trend

The US earth on fireNational Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced yesterday that last month was the 11th straight record warmth month, joining the longest warmth streak in 137 years. March 2016 also stands out for its variance from the 20th century average global temperature:  it was 2.2°F higher than the average over the last century. Gavin Schmidt, Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, thinks we have a “99% chance of an annual record in 2016.”

NOAA began yesterday’s press release with “At the risk of sounding like a broken record, ….” All puns aside, concern is growing that this litany of broken records will lull the public into inaction about the “new normal.” Jason Furtado, a meteorology professor at the University of Oklahoma told AP “it’s becoming monotonous in a way. It’s absolutely disturbing … We’re losing critical elements of our climate system.”


February fever

Overheated ThermometerGlobal ​satellite temperature data indicates that February 2016 will enter the record books as the warmest ​above average month in recorded history.  Last month was likely somewhere between 1.15°C and 1.4°C warmer than average, making it the fifth straight month that global average temperatures surpassed 1°C above average. Some parts of the Arctic were 8°C above average, leading to the lowest February sea ice levels ever.

Exhibit A:  Alaska is so warm that Iditarod organizers are bringing rail cars of snow into Anchorage for the opening ceremony of the dog sled race. They will also shorten the normal 11-mile ceremonial circuit to only 3 miles. February 29 was the firstiditarod February day in recorded history without snow in Anchorage. Since December 1, 2015, Anchorage has received less than 8 inches of snow, compared to the more typical 60 inches. In the past, February has been the snowiest time of the year.