By: Lucas Frye
Barack Obama has been lauded for his efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions during his tenure as President. Under his administration, regulatory requirements for the largest industrial emitters were strengthened and executive action was used to incentivize decarbonization of the American economy. Despite these successes, President Obama’s climate legacy is today in tatters and we are hurtling more rapidly toward global humanitarian disaster. Nearly every concrete policy implemented during his eight years in office has been systematically dismantled in the last four. A simple change in the ruling party was sufficient to allow these reversals, which occurred through the same mechanisms by which the original rules were implemented. Some backsliding should not have been unexpected; the Presidency changes party nearly every time there is no incumbent to seek reelection. Yet, we do not observe reversals in every policy after every transfer of power. What makes other actions resilient to the political whims of the day? In crafting the next generation of climate policy, we should look at the failed attempts of the Obama administration, and think critically about the features that might have allowed them to stick around. I argue that a truly resilient policy has two key characteristics: enactment through concrete legislation, and content popular enough to make repeal politically infeasible.
The major reason it took so little time to put a bullet in each of Obama’s signature proposals is simple: it was easy. They were produced almost exclusively through unilateral executive action, meaning that his successor is able to modify or destroy them with the same ease and lack of oversight. This was the route of choice, because Democrats only held a majority in both houses of Congress between 2009 and 2011, and even then, they failed to pass significant climate action legislation. We could have implemented an emissions trading scheme, with the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, but it failed under total Democratic control. It never even came to a vote in the Senate, because the Democratic leadership didn’t want to risk the majority by threatening competitive seats. We could be a whole decade further along in cutting our emissions, but now we continue to accelerate toward catastrophe because of perceived electoral risk.
The irony is that these appeals to the center are not a safe bet and do not prevent alienation of one’s constituents. I can imagine very few voters are calling up their representative and asking for less action on the issues that are supposedly so important. In fact, this sort of dancing around the problems in order to avoid taking a real stand is one of the reasons these seats are so weak in the first place; Republican strategists and marketing experts are keen to seize upon the narrative of the weak, spineless, dishonest Democrat who seeks only to keep their power. Yet, the “moderates” craft weak, meaningless policy and then act surprised when Republicans not only successfully capitalize on these façades, but take their seats and start producing real legislation that works in the opposite direction. It’s as if incumbent Democrats hardly seem to consider or care how their work is going to be treated after they leave office—barring some conspiracy unbeknownst to me, they surely can’t believe they’ll have the majority forever. For the party of supposedly progressive values, this is blatantly reactionary behavior.
If these politicians actually spent their energy on ambitious policy with sweeping changes to the way we do business, they might just find that voters like a candidate with a little bit of vision for the future. If we really want to make it difficult for policy to be repealed, we must make laws that become quickly and broadly popular. This would increase the political risk for the opposition to take visible action against them. The major hindrance in the full repeal of the Affordable Care Act was its sharp rise in popularity once people became accustomed to the new structure of our healthcare system. To allow the public to undergo this adjustment, the changes made cannot occur on thirty-year timelines or require long-winded policy papers to explain; they must be understandable, tangible, and fast-acting enough that the law can actually be associated with its effects. Few people really care about the concept of global average surface temperature, but few can ignore changes to their work and livelihoods. Climate change legislation that is well-written and ambitious in timeframe should generate recognizable improvements that will significantly reduce the political capital to be gained from the acts’ removal. Opposing climate action would already be political suicide if the effects didn’t seem so far away from our day-to-day experience.
Take a package of legislation like the Green New Deal proposal advocated by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT): it proposes radical transformation in a number of sectors to kickstart our emissions reductions on an unprecedented scale. The individual components focus not just on areas of traditional climate policy scope (regulating emissions from power plants, etc.), but combine these efforts with systems for improving the social safety net, reducing cost for consumers, and ensuring justice for communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis. As envisioned, fossil fuel workers would be assisted in transitioning to new high-paying careers in the fast-growing sectors of green energy, infrastructural improvement, sustainable agriculture, and others. The plan would provide for home efficiency improvements, public transportation expansion, and universal high-speed internet to reduce utilities and fuel costs for millions of households. It would provide a fund to assist communities in adapting to imminent climate impacts and recovery for the loss and damage already incurred. If you think this sounds politically risky, you’re not alone, but if politicians are committed to making resilient climate policy, they can leverage their political energy into getting these things done. If it works, the positive impacts will be felt quickly and dramatically, and then every conservative (or liberal) who voted against it will be remembered as voting against job creation, cheap energy, and the support of the climate refugees soon to be found within our own borders.
It is clear that we must shape strong and resilient climate policy if we are to have any chance of real action lasting beyond the reach of electoral wins. It is no longer sufficient to prioritize incremental change, when in the next election cycle, those improvements can be undone just as incrementally and even more rapidly. It is certainly not enough to create left-leaning majorities in our legislatures if those representatives are going to continue ignoring the imminent threat climate change poses. We know from our best scientific predictions that urgency and ambition are requirements if governments are to effectively respond to this global crisis. Despite this reality, politicians in competitive districts continue to labor under the assumption that bold action will surely lose them their seats, as if beating their opponents constitutes a platform in itself. This refusal to address the real problems is indeed a part of the reason their tenures are so fragile. Resilient legislation on climate change needs to be sweeping not only because of the dangers of inaction, but because a well-constructed policy can serve as its own spokesperson. Symbolic action or minor improvements to our systems will fail to address the root of the climate emergency, but also waste limited political capital on work that will fail to see the end of the next election cycle.
Everybody seems to know that the Earth is warming up. All across the news we see stories of Climate Marches, movements for climate policy, and conversations of 1 or 2 or 4 degrees Celsius increase. But what does that impact? Certainly, we could just turn down our air-conditioners a few degrees, or wear lighter clothing, and adapt to a few degrees temperature change just fine, right? The truth is, there are several impacts that climate change is having on our planet that are not solvable by clothes or air conditioners. Several of these effects are changing our ecosystems, which then impact us indirectly.
So what are some of the major effects that climate change is having on our Earth’s ecosystems beyond ‘turning up the heat’?
1) Ocean Acidification:
This phenomenon is a result of the main compound that impacts climate change: CO2 or Carbon Dioxide. The oceans and the atmosphere are always exchanging gasses, trying to reach equilibrium. This means that there is going to be the same proportion of gas, for example oxygen or carbon dioxide, in the atmosphere and in the ocean. When this Carbon Dioxide enters the ocean, it goes through a chemical reaction and turns into an acid.
All the animals that live in the ocean rely on the water’s chemistry to survive. Perhaps the most vulnerable species to this acidification are animals that make shells/skeletons of calcium carbonate. These are animals like Oysters or Corals! These animals are vital to creating habitat for our oceans, supporting fish populations, and in the case of oysters, even feeding humans directly!
Click here to see what NOAA's Ocean Acidification Program (OAP) is doing to monitor this!
2) Shifting/Shrinking Climate regions
The animals on the planet at this time are specifically adapted to living in the climates/habitats available right now. As the Earth warms, we are seeing changes in the temperature and rainfall patterns across the world. This changes the ecosystems that are available to animals, and also changes were certain ecosystems are found. For example, as the Earth is warming, deserts are increasing, pushing out grasslands and forests at their edges. Also, a warmer overall Earth drives many animals toward the North and South poles (the coldest parts of our planet) to stay in a comfortable temperature. This is seen in several marine species such as sharks. We are seeing animals venture into regions they are not traditionally found, impacting human use of these regions, as well as ecosystem interactions.
This shift is also causing a shrinking climate region for plants and animals living on a mountain. Plants that live on mountains can be very specifically adapted to their region, and their height on the mountain. As the Earth warms up, species are moving up these mountains (toward the colder mountain-top) to find the same temperatures they’re adapted to. This is a concern for animals and plants that take advantage of the mountain-top ecosystems, as they have nowhere to shift and are going to be exposed to increasing warmth. Read more about what the US Geological Survery has to say on this here!
3) Sea Level Rise
The sea levels are rising for two main reasons: Sea Ice Melt and Water Expansion. The sea ice melt is increasing the amount of water that is in the ocean, while water expansion is increasing the amount of space this water takes up.
Heat and Cold affect water volume kind of like how they affect the air in your tires. When the temperature outside drops suddenly, the air in your tires become very dense and take up less volume, causing your tire pressure warning lights to light up on your dashboard. The opposite is true as well, meaning that heat causes air (and water) to expand. The increasing temperature in the atmosphere is causing the ocean water to expand, meaning that sea level would rise even if no extra water was added.
Sea level is projected to increase by at least 1 foot by 2100 if we seriously limit our emissions rates and could rise as much as 8.5 feet if we continue to emit greenhouse gases at high levels. With 40% of the whole world’s population being within 60 miles of the ocean, it is important to begin making plans and adjustments to the land-loss we will likely experience. View an interactive map by NOAA here!
4) Global Loss of Species
The climate crisis we are currently facing is one of several reasons that Earth is experiencing a dramatically increased rate of extinction. The current rate of extinction is comparable to the past 5 mass extinctions the planet has seen (one of which was the extinction event that killed the dinosaurs!). There are several reasons this is occurring, including some of the reasons we’ve already mentioned. The loss of species is concerning because whether we realize it or not, we are very dependent on animals and plants for our own survival. Plants help to give us oxygen, and animals can provide ecosystem services like keeping pest populations under control (birds of prey and small mammals) and providing us with food (like fish or deer). We also can find many compounds in nature which help us cure diseases and solve human health problems. When we lose plant and animal species, we lose our chance to discover things about the world, and our chance to learn things that may help us be healthier.
Read more about this here!
5) Spread of Disease
Several diseases which cause harm to human population are what is known as ‘vector borne’ diseases. This means that these diseases spread by infecting a carrier. A great example of this is Zika in mosquitoes. As the world warms up, more of our Earth is experiencing things like long periods of heat, more rainfall, and fewer hard freezes. All of these allow mosquitoes to travel to and live in regions they never have before. As these insects travel far and wide, they bring with them diseases which have previously been uncommon or non-existent in these areas. This poses a threat to people in these regions who do have rarely been exposed to these diseases and have no immunity. Because of this, climate change can affect the infection rates around the world, making diseases like Zika, Malaria, and Dengue a threat to human health around the world. Read about what Stanford scientists have to say about that here!
So as you can see there are lots of impacts that climate change can have on the world besides just increasing the temperature. Helping to reduce all of these impacts could be costly and very challenging, but luckily the world is making moves toward a healthier future in lots of ways! Read blogs under our Technology Tab to learn about how advanced technology can reduce climate change effects, or head over to our Policy blogs to find out what some of the world leaders have to say about the future of climate policy. As always, stay tuned for blogs, podcasts, and social media interaction coming up!
By Lucas Frye
For decades, the issue of climate change has been framed as a crisis for the future, a problem that our children and grandchildren will need to solve. The messaging of the climate activists centered around long-term measures like global average temperature change and sea level rise, where changes on the order of degrees Celsius and inches have little meaning or significance to people without scientific backgrounds. Insufficient emphasis was placed on the human impacts that a changing climate is already having on hundreds of millions of people globally. This has allowed the political classes to delay climate action in the interest of short-term economic benefits and minimize the link between greenhouse gas emissions and the livelihoods of those they govern. The great threat to human life and dignity posed by the climate emergency is on our doorstep, and we need strong political will to reduce the damage.
Harms caused by anthropogenic climate change are referred to as “loss and damage” within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and include those resulting from both sudden-onset events, such as extreme weather, and slow-onset events, like sea level rise. Extreme weather events, like heat waves, droughts, cyclones, and storms are occurring more often and with greater intensity as the atmosphere warms. Higher temperatures cause increased evaporation of surface water, which results in drought in some places and extreme precipitation in others. In fact, regions that are generally dry are becoming drier and regions that are generally wet are becoming wetter. This combination of droughts and more intense rainfall are causing the loss of human life and damage to infrastructure in places like the Philippines, where Typhoon Phanfone has killed over 50 people. These changes in weather further promote food insecurity as crop yields decline and grazing land for livestock is lost.
Higher temperatures also cause thermal expansion of seawater and the melting of ice at the poles, resulting in sea level rise which can flood coastal areas and force people out of their homes. Increased flooding also poses threats to water security, as treatment facilities are disrupted and water quality declines. Lives are also being lost to the facilitated spread of diseases like malaria and dengue fever, which thrive in extended breeding seasons promoted by rising temperatures.
Who is most at risk?
The climate emergency doesn’t affect all groups equally. The negative impacts are most severe for members of already disadvantaged communities. First, there is of course a regional dependence on exposure to climate hazards. Those who live in low-lying coastal communities will be the hardest hit by sea-level rise, as their homes will be subject to increased flooding and subsidence. There is also a strong economic tilt to this vulnerability: citizens of low-income countries suffer more than those in high-income countries, despite the latter being responsible for most of the emissions causing these problems. Food insecurity, water scarcity, and human dislocation pose the greatest threat to those without the wealth and mobility to adapt to climate change. Within countries, divisions of race and gender further place disproportionate suffering on the shoulders on those who are already least able to afford the high costs of rising emissions.
The climate emergency was foreseen well in advance, and yet today it takes a skyrocketing number of lives and irreversibly changes many more for the worse. As land shrinks beneath the sea and the land that remains becomes increasingly arid, the wealthy are paying to maintain their way of life, but the poor have little choice but to migrate, beg, and starve. These impacts are already unavoidable for millions in on the front lines of climate change, and it won’t be long before they are knocking on the door of industrialized nations as well. How much longer will it take the countries most responsible for the climate crisis to take an active role in solving it?
by Kristian Gubsch
The 25th annual Conference of the Parties (COP) was held in Madrid, Spain this year and lasted from December 3 – December 15 which is the longest COP ever held. I arrived on December 4th and left December 11th, and was able to attend five days of the conference in total. To be honest, the conference was initially overwhelming as there are multiple schedules of events published, simultaneous presentations, negotiations, and panel discussions going, and on top of that the conference center was very large. Luckily, a few of my colleagues here at Climate Conversations were able to show me around and I quickly learned how to maneuver the COP. Throughout my time at the COP I was bombarded with all kinds of information about climate change, but after processing it all I have broken it down into my three main takeaways below.
What is Article 6 of the Paris Agreement?
One of the main reasons I was excited to attend COP25 was to see international climate policy negotiated in real-time. With so much pressure and expectations coming from the worldwide protests and the rise of Greta Thunberg and her movement Fridays For Future, I imagined this sense of urgency would be reflected in the negotiations. One of the main points of contention throughout the COP was Article 6 of the Paris Agreement which, prior to attending COP25, I was unfamiliar with. Article 6 essentially allows countries with lower emissions to sell their remaining emissions to larger emitters to help them meet their emissions target outlined in their nationally determined contribution. However, Article 6 has been discussed extensively at prior international meetings so there was mounting pressure to reach an agreement at COP25. As I sat through the negotiations, the sense of urgency was palpable among the co-facilitators (co-facilitators are basically moderators of the discussions who are responsible for incorporating countries’ suggestions into a drafted document and urging countries to reach a consensus) of the negotiations as they reminded several different countries be brief in their remarks.
The negotiation that I attended was supposed to only last for two hours; however, it ran an extra hour long and suggestions had only been made for two out of the three paragraphs that were supposed to be reviewed. By the conclusion of the conference, there was still no consensus among countries which means it will not be discussed again until the next intersessional meeting in June 2020. After sitting through three hours of Article 6 negotiations, it was impossible for me to ignore the stark contrast between the young activists at the conference and the lack of cooperation at the international level in regards to legislating progressive climate action. If you are interested in other aspects of COP25 negotiations and what to expect going forward I would encourage reading CarbonBrief’s breakdown of the conference found here.
The U.S. is Still In! (Sort of)
While we are all well-aware of the Trump administration’s intent to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, some of you may be less aware of the work being done by U.S. Climate Action Center. At COP25, each country has the opportunity to host their own pavilion where people can learn more about how the country is responding to issues that are being caused by climate change. Since the U.S. is withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, the U.S. Climate Action Center is a group that attends international climate conferences in the United States’ absence and organizes events to spread awareness of the climate action that is happening in the United States. This center also represents the effort of a broader movement in the U.S. called We Are Still In which is a movement that consists of 2,234 businesses/investors, 287 cities/counties, 353 colleges/universities, 10 states, 68 cultural institutions, 28 health care organizations, 50 faith groups, and 11 tribes across the nation.
Over the course of the week, I attended several panel discussions that included university presidents, business leaders, and policymakers. From the university panel, I learned of an organization called Second Nature that is pushing universities to integrate carbon neutrality and sustainability goals into their futures. So far over 450 schools have declared a carbon neutrality goal and the network of universities that have made a commitment can be viewed here. The next session I attended consisted of CEOs from various companies such as The Dow Chemical Company, Edison International, and Unilever, as well as a representative from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). During this discussion, I was encouraged to hear that CEOs were taking the issue of climate change very seriously and as one of the panel members put it, “there are no jobs or businesses on a dead planet”. The coalition of companies, organized by the group We Mean Business, who are pledging to reduce their emissions was also discussed and more than 87 companies have pledged to go net-zero or reduce their emissions. Finally, the panel discussion composed of policymakers reiterated the importance of the private sector’s action on climate change and emphasized that the environment and business go hand-in-hand. This was a bipartisan discussion with both Democrats and Republicans on the panel and both sides agreed that bipartisan climate action at the local and state level can also be very effective.
Sweden is Home to the First Climate Positive Company
I had never heard of the phrase “climate positive” until I attended a panel of business leaders discussing why they are key partners to keep the global temperature rise to below 1.5 ᵒC. A representative from the Swedish company MAX Burgers explained that “climate positive” is a term applied to a company that meets three categories: 100% of their greenhouse gas emissions are measured, there is a history of reducing emissions, and at least 110% of the emissions is captured. At first, I was skeptical because I am aware that animal agriculture, particularly cows, are a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions globally. However, they have made an effort to offset these emissions by planting more than 700,000 trees in Africa and continue to plant trees each year to maintain their climate positive status. Additionally, Mevo ride share, a car sharing company in New Zealand, claims to be the second climate positive company and the first climate positive ride sharing service. Their electric vehicles are charged with 80% renewable energy from the grid and the rest of the energy is offset by 120% through the purchase of certified rainforest carbon offsets. While the phrase “climate positive” is not yet widespread in the business world, it is encouraging to see companies in industries that are typically responsible for a large emissions footprint take action to not only to reduce emissions, but also improve the environment. Overall, I was re-energized through seeing the action being taken by the private sector and am excited to see more and more companies make commitments towards a more sustainable future.
Acknowledgements: I would like to thank the Opportunity Fund, Office of Undergraduate Research, and Honors College at Washington State University for funding my housing and meals during my trips to Washington, D.C. and Madrid. I would also like to thank Alaska Airlines for covering the cost of my domestic flights.
by Kristian Gubsch
1. What’s with all these acronyms?
When I first started learning about the Conference of the Parties it was hard to keep straight all the acronyms. Governments love to use them but often it can make things difficult to understand. Some of the most common acronyms used when discussing the Conference of the Parties are UNFCCC, IPCC, and COP. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was established to limit greenhouse gas emissions to a point that would prevent significant human interference with Earth’s climate. While this goal is very broad, it establishes a baseline for the UNFCCC to establish non-binding emission limits for member countries (member countries are also referred to as Parties) and create agreements or protocols for the Parties to follow. After the UNFCCC treaty was signed, the first Conference of the Parties (COP) was held and these formal meetings serve as opportunities for global leaders to discuss, assess, and push forward climate change action. The science that informs the climate action that is discussed at the Conference of the Parties stems from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC was initially formed in 1988 to prepare a review of climate change science, the impacts of climate change, and to figure out how the world is going to respond to these impacts. Their Assessment Reports, now five in total since 1988, consist of the most comprehensive global analysis of climate change and are an excellent resource to those of us who would like to be more educated on the topic. Now that you have a background in the acronyms, let’s dive into what has happened at previous COPs.
2. What is the Kyoto Protocol and why is it important?
The Kyoto Protocol was the result of the 3rd Conference of the Parties (COP3) in Kyoto, Japan. Basically, this treaty follows along the lines of why the UNFCCC was created: to control anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. This plan was a first attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions around the world as countries that ratified the agreement were given maximum carbon emissions levels. Despite this plan, global emissions overall have continued to increase as the plan targeted developed nations like the U.S. and Canada and did not include other big-emitters like India and China.
3. What is the Paris Agreement?
The Paris Agreement came as a result of the 21st Conference of the Parties with the main goal of the agreement to limit global temperature increase to below 1.5 degrees Celsius. Unlike the Kyoto Protocol, this agreement is non-binding which makes it difficult to hold countries accountable for their promised contributions to the agreement. However, the Paris Agreement was very significant as it was a symbol of almost universal global collaboration towards limiting the effects of climate change as 194 states and the European Union have signed the agreement. I am also well aware that my country, the United States, intends to withdraw from the Paris Agreement which will take effect November 4, 2020. Despite this, there are still many Americans who support global climate action and the stance of our government does not necessarily reflect the review of the public majority. My home state of Washington has been a leader in climate change policy and continues to push forward legislation that aims to limit our contribution to the issue. This goes to show that despite the federal stance on the issue, states and, more importantly, individuals, have the potential to make incremental progress in educating their communities. Through this, they can empower local governments and businesses to make the appropriate changes.
4. What is going to be the focus of COP25?
At COP 25, countries will be tasked with reevaluating each of their environmental commitments with many nations still far from their Paris Agreement goals and even those commitments are not estimated to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. COP 25 gives the world an opportunity to reinvigorate ambitious climate actions. The Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) for the Paris Agreement are to be submitted in 2020 so this conference is an opportunity to revamp each member country’s contribution. Another desired critical outcome of COP 25 is enhanced outreach to boost overall climate action. Climate change cannot be solved purely on the governmental level, so it is important to ensure private sectors and citizens like us are on board with pursuing more aggressive climate action. According to Patricia Espinosa, the U.N.’s top climate change official, COP 25, “is our opportunity to make major progress on what people throughout the world are demanding—real and lasting action on climate change.”
5. Why did the conference move from Santiago to Madrid?
You may have heard through national headlines that Santiago had to withdraw from hosting two major international summits due to widespread public protests. As a result, COP25 and the APEC summit had to be cancelled and relocated to another venue. Recently, Madrid has stepped forward to organize and host COP25 which is a daunting task considering there is over 20,000 people are expected to attend. These protests began as the Chilean government increased transportation costs, but quickly escalated as over 400,000 Chileans took to the streets to demand better quality healthcare, living conditions, and education. As the protests turned violent, the unprecedented decision to cancel COP25 in Santiago was made and several days later Madrid stepped forward to host the world’s largest conference on climate change.
Acknowledgements: I would like to thank the Opportunity Fund, Office of Undergraduate Research, and Honors College at Washington State University for funding my housing and meals during my trips to Washington, D.C. and Madrid. I would also like to thank Alaska Airlines for covering the cost of my domestic flights.
by Yasmin Ajirniar
Last week, on Tuesday, September 23rd, French courts delivered a heavy blow to Dow France, one that cost 99 million euros in frozen assets. The action serves as a preventative measure, should the company attempt to move its money outside of the country prior its January trial in 2020. Workers and workers’ families who have been left uncompensated for damages caused by the product, Nemagon, have filed a lawsuit against Dow Chemical, the multi-national manufacturing parent company of Dow France.
First of all, although the workers rights are now being pursued in 2019, it is necessary to return to the 1970’s when Nemagon, a pesticide, was banned in the United States for the health risks it poses. However, large companies such as Dow Chemical which are headquartered in the United States, continued to produce and distribute the pesticide, particularly in South American countries. For example, in Nicaragua, thousands of banana farm workers were sterilized from using Nemagon.
In spite of legal action taken by the workers in Nicaragua, Dow Chemical refused to compensate the workers who were denied the right a family, a fundamental human right, claiming that the trial had been unfair towards the company. This was decades ago. Today in France, where a large share of Dow operations, Dow finances, and affected workers reside, the case has reappeared.
Dow Chemical is no stranger to French Courts which are known to undertake legal cases involved the rights of an individual. Two years ago, in 2017, products containing sulfoxaflor from Dow Chemical were questioned regarding their toxicity towards bees.
In consideration of the timing, location, and application of the ruling, the decision by the French courts in early 2020 will be significant, and it will be valuable to follow the progression of the lawsuit. How well will Dow France defend its case against the workers? According to European law, the precedent the court sets should apply across the European Union. What precedent will the court establish? And will it be actually be enforced outside French borders?
by: Yasmin Ajirniar
From mid-summer to late fall of 2015, the cosmopolitan city of Milan hosted the World Expo towards the northeast of its city center. There, the sleekest designs and most novel technology was featured to the theme of “Feeding the planet, Energy for life”. Regarding the non-traditional energy concerns, a collaboration between Merck and Belectric, called the solar trees, inhabited the German Pavilion; It was an installation that was not only symbolic in its design but also suggestive in its technological feat.
by Shelby Toles
As a political science student, being a representative for a scientific organization was intimidating at first. I admit that I was nervous my political background would not be sufficient for my representation of the ACS. However, that was not the case. Through our visits to the US State Department, the US Embassy of Poland, and overall participation at the UN conference in Poland, I realized that we ACS students were being exposed to the merging of science and politics, with one being just as important as the other. It is no question that climate change is both a scientific and political issue, and it should be treated as such. However, for years, politicians have jumped through hoops to create solutions to scientific problems without the scientific backing. At the same time, scientists have also struggled to make significant progress with major issues because they lack a connection to the political world. However, with the recent increase of urgency to create a viable, long term solution to what UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, described as “the defining issue of this generation,” these two worlds are coming together more than they ever have before to combat the growing threat of climate change. After the 2019 ACS national meeting in Orlando, my ACS sponsor, Dr. Gregory Foy, told me that what it means to be a chemist is now changing. He says that it is not just about balancing equations and titration anymore, but now scientists have to be politically literate for their work to make a difference. The same goes for politicians, in order for real problems to be solved, they need to be familiar with the scientific explanations of complex problems such as climate change. To me, a United Nations conference about climate change seems to be the perfect scenario where these two worlds can meet each other halfway. At COP 24, that is exactly what I saw.
by Lucas Frye
The inability of any one person to see all of the sights at the COP was never made clearer than on my last full day in Katowice. This was the concluding day of the first week of the conference, and the subsidiary bodies of the UNFCCC were rushing to complete their work before sending it off to be handled by the Parties’ ministers in the second week. As such the bodies were required to hold their last sets of informal consultations and contact group meetings in the morning and their closing plenaries in the afternoon and on into the night, able to adjourn only when the work was concluded. I left around 7:00 P.M. and wasn’t even there for the conclusion of the first of these plenaries!
The end of the first week of the COP drawing near, facilitators were becoming visibly more anxious to produce streamlined documents to present to the environmental ministers set to arrive for week two negotiations. This was evident in the sixth day’s APA agenda item 7 talks, where there was a good bit of tension between the co-facilitators who had produced a second iteration of the draft document and the Parties who weren’t too fond of it. As an attempt to move towards a “landing zone” or a document with fewer options and less bracketed texts which could get in the way of consensus further in the process, the draft conclusion was significantly slimmed down and Parties took turns berating the removal of their respective preferred sections and the general loss of balance in the representation of their views. In addition, many delegates were annoyed by the late release of this document, a mere thirty minutes before this session began. As such, few had had the chance to fully parse the document and the position of the co-facilitators was essentially “you have the room; work on finding solutions until our next meeting this afternoon”. Of course, the hour would instead be spent with the Parties asking for guidance on how to move forward (with many insisting that it simply could not done with such essential elements removed) and asking for the options in the first iteration back in the negotiating text. After each intervention, the co-facilitators attempted to calmly remind Parties of the rapidly approaching deadline for the completion of the working group’s agenda item and pleaded with them to use that time to find common ground with one another. I was unable to attend the second session of the day, but it would become clear that the effort of the co-chairs of the APA to push things forward faster met with similar pushback in the other agenda items.
I attended another side event, this time at the Indonesian pavilion. Several countries and organizations operated pavilions in an area separate from most of the meeting rooms, where side events and exhibits were held to demonstrate those nations’ specific contributions to sustainability technology and climate policy. These spots were also well-populated due to the free food and merch goodies available to event attendees, like cappuccinos at France, exotic meat samples at Poland, and ornate bags and bottles of powdered ginger at Indonesia (I wasn’t just holiday shopping, okay?). The event I attended, which followed a traditional dance routine in an open area of the pavilion, was titled “Traditional Society Actions in the Changing Climate” and detailed the role of indigenous knowledge and rights in reducing domestic carbon emissions. The first speaker was Mina Susana Setra, Deputy to the Secretary General of the Indigenous People Alliance of the Archipelago-Indonesia, who explained her organization’s work in getting the Ministry of Environment and Forestry to recognize indigenous people’s customary lands. According to the ministry’s requirements for this recognition, it is estimated that 5.7 million hectares of customary forest has the potential to be recognized and this organization has worked to map out these areas and assist in the paperwork required for local governments to maneuver the process. This work was underscored by the large carbon sequestration potential from these large swaths of land and the high economic value that their ecosystem services can provide to indigenous communities given proper management.
Next was Agung Wibowo, Senior Researcher at The Association of Community- and Ecology-Based Legal Transformation, who discussed frameworks for dealing with customary forest in Indonesian law. The legal system in Indonesia, in accordance with the third amendment to its constitution, recognizes adat, or the customary law of indigenous peoples within the country. This and several key constitutional court decisions have also created a process for territories and forests to be granted back to these peoples, in a process which has accelerated under the current president, Joko Widodo. In the future, this association hopes to augment the land rights of indigenous peoples by the further reform of land rights law, increased recognition of human rights within the country, and harmonization of policies affecting different sectors. Following Wibowo was Aristia H. Wanjaya, Program Manager for the IDH Sustainable Trade Initiative. If you’re curious, IDH also means Sustainable Trade Initiative, but in Dutch. This presentation focused on the various ways sustainable production and trade can benefit people economically. By assisting local communities with implementing agricultural best practices, capacity-building for production and protection of ecosystem-specific commodities, and access to markets and finance, this organization has sought to benefit the capability of these groups to grow their economic output and prosperity. In Indonesia, these efforts have focused on improving the sustainable production of mangrove honey and coconut charcoal as trade commodities and operation of ecotourism ventures.
Next in line was Vadis Vik, Environmental Counselor at the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Washington, D.C., who gave a brief overview of the Indonesia-Norway REDD+ Agreement. REDD+ is perhaps the most marvelous acronym I came across at this conference, because the plus operates like Hermione Granger’s bag, holding far more words than any reasonable initialism would normally allow. The full expansion is “reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries”. How neat is that? Anyway, this agreement provides pay-for-performance financing, that is, Norway gives Indonesia up to US$1 billion for achieving verified GHG emissions reductions. After gracefully sidestepping a question about future amendments to this agreement, she gave the floor to the final speaker of the event, Monica Tanuhandaru, Executive Director of Kemitraan: The Partnership for Governance Reform, who spoke of her group’s efforts to work with civil society organizations and government agencies to—you guessed it—reform governance. Her presentation focused on the local wisdom and traditional knowledge held by indigenous groups about preserving forests. Many villages in Indonesia depend on the forest and the services it provides for their livelihood, but have disproportionately less access to that forest and the rights pertaining to it relative to corporations and the state. This discrepancy is made that much more important by the increased vulnerability of these local communities to the effects of climate change. Social forestry efforts in the country aim to legalize access by local peoples to the forest by the issuance of management and use permits. Another major effort is to simplify regulations that pose a barrier to the return of farms to their customary claimants. Social forestry is implemented in national policy as part of Indonesia’s NDC, due to the high carbon value in forested area (deforestation would reduce in huge net emissions growth). In addition, forest upkeep provides income for poor communities and thus fits into the country’s sustainable development efforts. Social forestry also provides a platform for testing possible incentives for sustainable forest management. As an example of the successes of this program, key examples of the improvement of degraded forest by returning the land rights to indigenous peoples were presented. Further, it was shown that long-term facilitated social forestry sites have led to greater economic benefits than new forests. Recommendations from the talk included delegating parts of the permitting process to local governments to accelerate application review, formulation of a multi-stakeholder working group on social forestry to speed up development and verification of proposals, increased financial support from the central government, and stronger cooperation between different bodies within the Ministry of Environment and Forestry. As someone who went into this conference with very science-minded interests, I felt I learned a lot about the role of traditional knowledge in sustainably managing ecosystems, something rarely encountered in the academic study of environmental science.
Later, at an APA stocktaking meeting, where the APA co-chairs checked up with progress on all of the discussed agenda items, I heard more of what the Parties at the APA 7 meeting had expressed earlier: the new iterations of draft proposals went too far in eliminating options. Nearly every single negotiating group went through a laundry list of issues with the work of the co-facilitators, which in their view had thrown concern for reflecting the Parties’ views out of the window. Saudi Arabia and the US went so far as to suggest that their ministers would not even participate in discussing a document that did not meet certain criteria. Even Switzerland, which expressed many of the same concerns as the co-chairs that progress was not quick enough, slipped in a couple of points about paragraphs they needed to see back in the documents. Despite the co-chairs’ best efforts at urging the Parties to be “solution-oriented”, it seemed that for the moment, such solutions were still out of reach. This second-to-last day of the first week of negotiations (and my time at the COP) seemed to be a microcosm of that charge of the IPCC Special Report on 1.5 °C, that we are almost out of time, but not yet out of time.