The conference began rather quickly, in the sense that many of the presenters were ready to move past COP 21, fleetingly mentioning the standards set, and were setting new objectives and stating new problems moving forward. This aggressiveness was appreciated because what I expected coming into this conference was cloudy bureaucracy
I started the conference with my first side-event: Vietnam’s implementations of the Paris Agreement (just a couple days back, they were able to get the agreement ratified through their National Assembly). This is really where the challenges of implementation of the Paris Agreement became apparent and more importantly the value of COP 22 in Marrakesh. Vietnam pointed out they had to handle 5 main issues while constructing a climate policy proposal: (1) high startup costs associated with policy implementation and green technology, (2) low financing success (high transaction costs and difficulty in obtaining international climate finance), (3) interconnectedness (most actors need to work with more stakeholders instead of working with just their preferred partners), (4) patents (how does Vietnam transfer technology from one country to another), (5) Pathways to NDC - Nationally Determined Contributions (Bankers are not experts in climate financing and determining whether if an investment is feasible).
Another interesting event regarding climate change implementation was presented by the United States Pavilion. The US introduced the recently developed Climate Resilience Toolkit, https://toolkit.climate.gov, which offered a framework for local communities in the United States to tackle local environmental issues which were specific to their county. The usability of the toolkit is really where the site shines; the site offers three main features: (1) guidelines to developing climate resilience policy, (2) graphs on climate change, and (3) climate data relevant to your location. I personally feel that this is the future for local development of climate policy.
Nevertheless, all-in-all the Paris Agreement was very successful in setting the minimum bar for nations (regardless if it was above or below what they could contribute), and Marrakesh is where the action and implementation begins, as can be seen by the initiative taken by the US and Vietnam.
Today marked the first day of COP 22 (the 2016 UN Climate Change Conference) in Marrakech, Morocco. I was excited to get my badge and get started!
Two years ago, I had the opportunity to attend COP 20 in Lima, Peru. In the two years in between, a lot has happened on the global stage regarding climate change—most notably the adoption and ratification of the Paris Agreement, which entered into force just three days ago!
It is amazing the difference in the overall mood at the two conferences. At COP 20 in Lima, there was an almost frantic feeling that a groundwork had to be laid for COP 21 in Paris where a new accord was expected to be agreed upon.
But now, at COP 22 in Marrakech, the feeling is quite different. They are calling this year’s UN Climate Change Conference the “COP of Action” because now that the Paris Agreement has entered into force, it is finally time to act to take concrete action to reduce our fossil fuel consumption and accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels toward clean and renewable energy.
this year's UN Climate Change Conference is the "COP of Action"
As it was just the first day of the conference, I tried to talk to as many other delegates as I could to try to get a sense of their expectations for COP 22. One of today’s speakers made some interesting points regarding nationally determined contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement. Based on current national plans, we are still likely headed for average global temperature rise of 2.7-3.0 °C by the end of the century. It should be noted that in the Paris Agreement there is language stating that the goal should be to keep average temperature rise in that timeframe to below 1.5 °C. In order to achieve that goal, nations will need much more ambitious national action plans. These points were rather effective at highlighting the fact that we need action NOW!
As you probably guessed already, there is a large elephant in the room at the conference—tomorrow’s general election in the United States. Someone made reference to the election at nearly every event that I attended today. The two candidates are on completely different pages on climate change. One believes that it is a hoax, and the other is calling for strong action on climate change. So, as you could imagine, the result of tomorrow’s historic election will be felt significantly all the way over here at COP 22 in Marrakech.
Tomorrow will be an exciting day with COP 22 kicking into high gear, and the US election that will likely end up determining climate change policy in the US for the foreseeable future. Stay tuned!
As student representatives of the American Chemical Society (ACS) at the COP this November, we received training in Washington D.C. at the end of October. Our group met for dinner at the Marrakech Restaurant (a most delicious experience) and spent a Monday morning receiving training in social media strategies and journalism best practices. Our afternoon was spent visiting US climate negotiators and policy makers in both executive and legislative branches of government. My notes from the day are compiled in the following word cloud:
For our social media training, we discussed the importance of specifying an audience. It is important to be intentional with outreach, taking the time to understand what our audience values in order to make our message relevant. Social media and journalism can be effective ways to encourage climate literacy, discussion, and shifts in public opinion. This is of particular importance for public policy since policies, particularly in representative governments such as the US, are influenced by public opinion. This was highlighted in Leonardo DiCaprio's recent documentary Before the Flood (watch it here!) when he laments the significant number of US legislators who deny that climate change exists or is significantly influenced by human industry . He encourages his audience to use their opinions and votes to change this.
In discussions at the Department of State and Department of Energy (while other members of our group met with legislators), I learned about US involvement at COP 21, expectations for COP 22 and the process through which our government branches develop and implement climate policy. While the UN negotiation process is largely unintelligible and dizzyingly convoluted, the background knowledge I received in DC helped me hit the ground running... or at least confidently wandering in awe of the vast number of negotiators, advocators, and interests represented here in Marrakech.
As students of chemistry, we interact primarily with academics and research chemists. As ACS representatives at COP 22, we have a unique opportunity to experience work at a boundary between science and society. The UN conference offers a forum not only to increase our understanding of climate science, but to engage in a myriad of political, ethical, social, and economic issues. Science communication on a global scale involves diverse players and complex issues. I am thrilled to be a small part of it all.
“The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.” -Gloria Steinem
A classic ethical dilemma:
You are standing at a bridge, watching a train below you come down the tracks. It is headed straight for a group of five people who are totally unaware of its approach. You cannot get their attention to warn them; however, you have beside you a lever that will switch the train onto a different set of tracks where only one person is standing. Do you do nothing and let the five people die? Or do you take action, in effect causing the death of the single person but saving the five others?
A doozy, I know. Ethical dilemmas are highly frustrating: many people have to seriously consider what their action would be in this scenario. Some may know their answer right away. Grappling with hypothetical moral scenarios in a class or with friends can be fun, even; but in real life? Not so entertaining.
Under the broad umbrella of ethics falls environmental ethics, a niche sector that looks at human interactions with the natural world, considering things such as inherent worth of plants and animals, the definition of ‘nature’, and whether people can be placed in a role of greatest import within greater global ecosystems. Environmental ethics is “predicated on the claim that humans have moral responsibilities (or obligations) to nonhuman animals and/or nature” (Warren).
And nested within the realm of environmental ethics and philosophy? Ecofeminism. The other day I was trying to explain the link between environmentalism and feminism, and to be honest, I couldn’t verbalize the connection very well. So I read up a bit.
In her piece “Feminist Environmental Philosophy”, Dr. Karen J. Warren looks at the evolution of ecofeminist theory. The term was coined in 1974, and “referred generically to a wide variety of “women-nature” connections, often based in different disciplinary perspectives”, but did not become a philosophical position until the 1990s (Warren).
So.... what's the tie between women and the environment? A lot of it revolves around health.
“Data show that women—especially poor, rural women in less developed countries (LDCs) who are heads of households—suffer disproportionate harms caused by such environmental problems as deforestation, water pollution, and environmental toxins” (Warren).
Today’s environmental issues are very much feminist issues by nature of the inexplicable link between female susceptibility to environmental health hazards. My personal view of feminism is that is truly just humanism, and desiring equitable treatment and rights for all regardless of sex, race, economic status, religion, etc. One reason I think feminism has been successful in gaining attention as a movement--if not always positive attention--is that it is supported by strong personal anecdotes. One recent example of this was the outpouring of first-hand accounts of late-term abortion following the presidential debates. Women opened up about an extremely traumatic event in their lives to speak to the importance of keeping the right to choose legal, and how that choice is very often a necessity rather than a desired outcome.
Warren writes that a theme ecofeminist ethics is to be “both inclusive and contextual: it views ethical discourse and practice as emerging from a diversity of “narratives” or “voices” (especially women's voices) of beings located in different historical and cultural circumstances”. And this is where I think ecofeminism is a compelling vehicle for spurring environmental action. Building a framework of thought based on “a diversity of ‘narratives’ or ‘voices’”: that’s something almost every major political party, corporation, publication and educational system seeks to do.
Ecofeminism leverages the power of personal anecdotes to influence and inspire change in others. By looking at specific health impacts of women in developing nations, for instance, helps conceptualize the broader issue of sustainable energy and climate change mitigation. According to the International Energy Agency, “2.5 billion people rely on biomass, such as fuelwood, charcoal, agricultural waste and animal dung, to meet their energy needs for cooking” (p. 419). In many nations biomass makes up 90% of resource use in households.
Biomass itself? Not the worst thing, actually. But often these resources are collected unsustainably (for instance, tree cutting without replanting), and labor-intensive harvesting can come at the cost of attending school. Further, energy conversion is not very efficient in LDCs. Overall, “there are serious adverse consequences for health, the environment and economic development” (IEA p. 419).
And it is very serious: “About 1.3 million people – mostly women and children – die prematurely every year because of exposure to indoor air pollution from biomass” (IEA p. 19). Providing access to cleaner energy for cooking impacts more than the environment: it also directly impacts millions of people who might otherwise pay the price with a shorter lifespan. In nations where women stay at home, have restricted access to education, birth control and employment opportunities, they become susceptible not only to social inequities but also to environmental injustices.
Yes, feminism is at times a touchy issue. So is environmentalism. So was the fight for Civil Rights, and Women’s Suffrage, and regulation against child labor. Ecofeminism isn’t that big of a stretch. It's kind of like choosing to pull the lever and send the train down the track of less casualties. There will never be an ethical framework that makes everyone happy: I'm sure there are some that would argue ecofeminism dilutes the goals of two larger campaigns. But I think working to protect the environment and improve the lives of women around the world is a pretty good compromise.
Warren, Karen J., "Feminist Environmental Philosophy", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2015/entries/feminism-environmental/>.
“Energy for Cooking in Developing Countries”, World Energy Outlook (2006). International Energy Agency. URL = <https://www.iea.org/publications/freepublications/publication/weo-2006---excerpt---energy-for-cooking-in-developing-countries.html>
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