On this last day of the COP as meetings and side events wind down I found myself wandering around the convention center looking for something to do. I headed over to the main hall of the blue zone where there is a giant spider statue that kind of creeps me out. Under the spider a huge crowd of people was gathered around and a multitude of cameras and phones were pointed at the center of the crowd. I got closer to investigate and noticed about a handful of young people from around the world gathered together in demonstration. Each individual had taped a red circle over there mouths to symbolize climate justice and the suffering of people around the world. They then removed their circles and began to sing a song urging the negotiators to come together and agree on terms before it was too late. After the song they continued their protests with chants yelling "Don't back down!" Unfortunately before long they were surrounded by UN security and told to disband. Not looking to cause any trouble just make their message heard the group broke up and the crowd disbanded. This protest was just one example of the strong youth presence at this and previous COPs.
Throughout the week that we have been here we have observed a number of demonstrations and actions held by different international youth organizations. These actions range from holding up signs in protest to chanting and singing. Just yesterday two Arabic youth were detained and deported from the country after they held up a sign urging the leaders of Qatar to step up and demand action. I saw the video of the detainment and am at a loss for why they were treated with such inhumanity and disrespect. They were not being violent or even loud. They were just standing under the spider holding a sign and for that they were deported from the country! It amazes me that the people of this country allow such injustices and authoritarian rule. I guess I never truly appreciated the basic rights given to me as an American that so many other people around the world do not have. I applaud the bravery of those individuals that stand up to tyranny and injustice and am grateful that I do not have to be as brave.
I remember hearing about protest similar to today's under the spider at last year's COP. The youth of the world are not satisfied with the sluggishness of these international negotiations and they should be. We will be the ones to inherit the problems created by today's leaders. We will be the ones who suffer from the lack of urgency taking place. So they will continue to hold demonstrations and form protests because it is the only way that they can be heard at these meetings. I am sure there will continue to be a large youth presence at these meetings in the future and I hope that they are not going unnoticed by the people who have the power to stand up and do something.
With so many cool and innovating technologies centering around sustainable and renewable energy sources on display at this COP, I started to think to myself why aren't these earth saving technologies being utilized on a large scale. We have the opportunity as a society to phase out our dependence on dirty fuels such as oil and coal and move towards a more sustainable future. The problem though is not the science or the technologies, which as a nation we are on the forefront of research and development, it is the almighty dollar. Money makes the world turn, but as we continue on our current path of fossil fuel dependency that world might not be such a pretty place.
Money fuels everything; including our government. Politicians rely on donations to campaign and get elected. Once they are in office their supporters push them to pass and enforce laws that are in their financial interests. I am not saying that all politicians are corrupt, but the system that we have created only encourages financial politics. Yesterday an American NGO SustainUS released a list of the top ten members of congress that obstruct the national fight on climate change. These senators and representatives, all Republicans by the way, actively vote against bills and policies that would reduce our carbon emissions and lead us towards a better sustainable future. On the list were those whose pockets were filled by big oil, Mike Pompeo (R-KS), and big coal, Joe Manchin (R-WV), along with climate skeptics like James Inhofe. Senator Inhofe, who was the chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, actually believes that humans can not have any effect on our climate because God is up there watching us and only he has the power to change the world. It amazes me how these shortsighted individuals continue to get elected to lead our country. It is clear that we need more education on the facts and science of climate change, especially in those red states.
Here at the COP our American delegates continue to be bashed by the rest of the world as obstructed in the climate change mitigation process, but the truth is that the problem lies deeper within our governmental system. Our delegates are very hesitant to make commitments that they feel they might not be able to come through on. For example one of the big aspects of negotiations is the allocation of funding from developed nations to support climate change research and sustainable energy infrastructure growth around the world. Our delegation has their hands tied because whatever financial support we can provide as a nation has to be approved and allocated in our national budget, which requires approval from Congress. With the House of Representative still controlled by Republicans, the thought is that any financial promises our delegation makes at this COP will be shot down in the budget by the House.
Another big financial issue is the $2 billion of subsidies that our government gives to big oil companies every year. These subsidies have been in place since the beginning of the 20th century and are practically automatic each year. The same companies that take billions of tax payer money report collective profits of over $100 billion! Meanwhile companies that really need these subsidies to offer sustainable and clean energy at a competitive price must struggle every few years to receive a small portion of what big oil receives.
So what can we do about this incredible financial problem facing our country. The biggest thing is voting. These corrupt and short-sighted politicians are only in power because we as a collective voted them in. We need to increase climate change education and awareness. The next major national election takes place in 2014 with the mid-term elections in the House of Representatives. If we can get enough people on our side by then we might be able to shift the political makeup of the House so we can move towards a better future.
On Tuesday I attended a very interesting panel that discussed some different case studies of the utilization of renewable and sustainable energy sources. The studies focused on a broad range of application sizes from small communities and towns in Europe to entire countries. There were a number of panelists who discussed the phasing out of oil and coal towards a more sustainable and clean energy source. The first speaker was Dr. Zhonghe Pang a professor at the Institute of Geology and Geophysics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing. Dr. Pang focused on the latest efforts of China to harness the natural power found in their rivers and beneath the Tibetan Plateau. There is an abundance of geothermal energy found beneath Tibet due to the interactions between the Eurasia and Indian plate. China has been harnessing this energy and they are the world leaders in geothermal heat users followed by Sweden and then the US. Dr. Pang also discussed China’s massive dam building projects that harness the immense power of water flow and convert it into electricity. As you may know the largest dam in the world, the Three Gorges Dam, is located on the Yangtze River in China. This massive dam has the capacity to produce 22,500 MW which is a staggeringly large amount of power. With China being the world’s most populous country and one that is still developing its industry, this massive damn provides much needed clean electricity to a polluted region of the world.
The next speaker was Tracy Lane the Program Director of the International Hydropower Association. Mrs. Lane focused on the country of Iceland which is almost entirely reliant on renewable energy sources. Thanks to Iceland’s location on a seismically active plate boundary and its abundance of glaciers that melt and feed powerful rivers the country has almost completely phased out the use of oil for electricity and heat production. Before the 1970’s the situation was very different as Iceland was very reliant on imported oil, but then the oil crisis struck and political leaders decided to get their act together and heavily invested in renewable and sustainable energy sources. As oil prices continue to rise we could learn a thing or two from Iceland about their commitment for a sustainable and clean energy future.
After two discussions on geothermal and hydroelectric production the focus shifted to other forms of sustainable energy sources. Dr. David Renne, the president of the International Solar Energy Society, gave a presentation on the uses of solar power around the world. He highlighted a community in Canada that was the first solar heating/seasonal storage community in North America. The 52 family homes in Drake Landing solar community have reduced their amount of greenhouse gas emissions by 260 tons per year.
The next presentation focused on a synergy of sustainable energy sources being used by the town of Mureck in Austria. The farmers in this town started producing their own biodiesel to fuel their tractors and equipment when they realized that they could use the same principles to provide clean energy to the nearby town. They built a heating facility that burns wood chips and an array of solar panels to capture the suns energy. They also built a biogas production plant turning manure and crop byproducts into clean affordable energy. This community is a great example on how just a small number of people can eliminate a town or cities reliance on non-renewable resources. To me this is a glimpse into the future when oil reserves run dry and alternative sources of energy will be required.
From a small community to an entire country, the next presentation focused on Sweden’s use of a carbon tax has helped reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote renewable energy sources. The idea is that in order to increase the use of biofuel and other renewable energy sources the government has established a tax on oil and coal to raise their prices high above the prices of biomass. In Sweden, as well as many other European countries, district heating supplies heat to an entire town from a single heat generation plant. Traditionally these plants were fired by oil and other non-renewable energy sources. Today around 90% of these district heating plants in Sweden are fired by biofuels and other cleaner renewable sources. These case studies show how places around the world are moving towards the future of energy production. One day when the oil levels run low and prices shoot through the roof these technologies will need to be implemented in order to sustain our way of life. I encourage everyone to learn more about sustainable renewable energy sources as they are the future of our planet.
What a busy and exciting day at COP 18! After waking up at the crack of dawn, literally, we headed towards the nearest five star hotels that offered a shuttle to the Qatar National Convention Center (QNCC). The bus ride really made me appreciate the fact that I didn’t have to drive. If you think American drivers are rude and crazy you have never been to Doha. Drivers wait until the last possible moment to merge and when they do its less of a merge and more of a you better stop because I’m cutting you off either way. Our bus was inches away from an accident about every ten seconds. And the congestion from 1.4 million citizens getting around with a practically nonexistent mass transit system was enough to give the calmest of drivers road rage. After a half hour of constantly expecting to be involved in a terrible accident we finally reached the massive QNCC.
The front of the Qatar National Center
There was a lot going on in the convention center and it was a bit overwhelming, but we checked the schedules and figured out what panel discussions and talks we wanted to attend. First on the agenda for this busy Monday was a YOUNGO meeting. YOUNGO is the UNFCCC’s youth non-government organization, or NGO, constituency made up from youth members from all around the world. It was interesting seeing international youth get together for a common cause, but the meeting was abruptly halted shortly after it started by the fire alarm. After being forced all the way to the end of the convention center, past multiple fire exits, to the last set of doors we waited outside for a couple of minutes until they let us back inside. Apparently there was no fire so someone must have pulled the alarm or there was a technical glitch. Back at the YOUNGO meeting we soon realized that we were more interested in the adult side of the COP and took our leave.
Outside during the fire drill
We headed towards one of the exposition halls that contained booths from both government organizations and NGOs. There was a lot of interesting information on display and I took as many free pamphlets that I could. When it was time for the panel discussions and talks to start we walked to another huge expo hall that housed the United States pavilion for a discussion about the Environmental Protection Agency’s Greenhouse Gas Reporting System. It’s interesting that while most of the other countries were discussing limiting greenhouse gas emissions, our government is only concerned about quantifying them for now.
At this point our group of bloggers split up to divide and conquer this COP. With so many things taking place simultaneously we thought it would be best to experience as much as possible. I headed off to a discussion focusing on the European Union’s roadmap to 2050 and its system of emission credit trading. In Europe there is a continental trading market where industries can buy and sell credits to emit greenhouse gases. For each credit sold people in developing countries plant trees or do other things to offset the industrial emissions. It is a good idea but has a major flaw. The system was installed a few years before the financial crisis and when it hit industries stopped producing as much and as a result did not use up the emission credits allocated to them. This has led to a large surplus of emission credits that is keeping their price low. Without a high carbon price there is little incentive for companies to invest in technology and infrastructure that would decrease their carbon footprint significantly. Emission levels are going down but are projected to only decrease by 40% by 2050 instead of the goal of 85-90% that was proposed when the market was created. It is a step in the right direction however and is a much better policy than the US’s which is non-existent.
The giant spider statue in the QNCC
The next panel I attended was on the topic that I am very interested in, carbon capture and storage, or CCS. This panel was specifically on the CCS efforts taking place in the GCC, Gulf Cooperation Council, so it was mainly focused on CCS technologies that benefit the oil industry. A number of representatives from Persian Gulf states described their country’s work with CCS. The main purpose for CCS in this region is for enhanced oil recovery, EOR. Basically conventional means of drilling only remove around 30% of the oil in field. To increase this yield oil companies can pump CO2 down into the reserve and it will push out much of the remaining oil. The idea is the CO2 will remain in the underground fields where it will not contribute to environmental greenhouse gas levels. The problem is the process of capturing CO2, transporting it to the wells, and the infrastructure needed for all of these processes is fairly expensive and the oil companies are not desperate enough to invest as their oil reserves are not at the level where they need to invest. The one country with the exception is Oman where oil production is declining due to difficulties extracting the remaining oil reserves. However recently industries in other GCC states, realizing the importance that this technology could play in combating climate change, have begun building up CCS infrastructure even though it is not yet financially needed yet. It is good to hear that not everyone in industry is solely driven by the almighty dollar.
The rest of the day was spent at a number of other discussions including one on women involvement in combating climate change and two presentations at NASA’s hyperwall, for more information on the hyperwall check out Parker’s blog and Marla’s blog. After such a busy day I am exhausted but definitely looking forward to more discussions and panels tomorrow.
With today being Sunday there was a lull of activities open to non-delegates here at COP 18 in Doha, Qatar so we took the day to get our bearings and explore the city. Last night we were able to see the beautiful lights of Doha from our plane and taxi, but by time we got to the hotel it was too late to explore. This morning, after an interesting breakfast including canned tuna and peppers, we headed out to the Souq Waqif which means standing market in Arabic.
All of the stores are cramped into long-standing buildings overstuffed with a variety of merchandise. Everything from spices to Qatari souvenirs to puppies and exotic birds are on sale at the Souq Waqif. We walked around for a while looking at the various things for sale while vendors tried to sell us their goods at “special” price. For lunch we ate at a Moroccan restaurant outside. The air was filled with the smell of hookah smoke as a few stray cats wandered between the tables and chairs looking for scraps.
After a delicious meal of sliced lamb and French fries, very Moroccan I know, we took a stroll towards Doha Bay. Along the waterfront there is a promenade known as the Corniche with beautiful views of Doha harbor and the district of West Bay with all of its recently completed and still under construction skyscrapers. If there is one thing that stands out in Doha it is construction. Hundreds of construction sights are littered through the city as Doha rapidly expands outwards and upwards. Construction cranes are everywhere as entire districts of the city are springing up out of the desert. They are even building on what was once the Persian Gulf on the artificial islands known as the Pearl.
In West Bay every skyscraper is different with many architectural styles on display. But the real beauty of the skyline comes at night when the buildings are illuminated with dazzling colors. After walking the entire Corniche we headed back to hotel for some much needed rest. I am looking forward to going to the Qatar National Convention Center (QNCC) tomorrow and seeing what this COP has to offer.
Well my bags are all packed and I am getting very excited to travel to Doha later today. Our travels today and tomorrow will take us through Frankfurt and then on to Doha for the conference where we will reunite with Parker and meet Marla. I am very eager and cannot wait to get to Doha. On the other hand I am not really excited for an entire day of travel and two long plane flights. I have nothing against flying as I’ve done it many times before; it’s just the hectic frenzy that always accompanies traveling abroad. Waiting for hours at the airport just to wait hours on a plane just doesn’t entice my adventurous spirit. Not to mention the piles of school work that wait for me back home as finals get closer and closer. But it will all be worth it when we touch down in Doha Saturday night local time. From Marla’s blog posts and news from other websites it looks like the COP is going strong and there’s a lot going on over there. I’m looking forward to taking in everything I can and reporting it back here to you. My next post will be from Doha, Qatar!
Well the time has finally come. The 18th Conference of Parties has officially been opened on Monday in Doha, Qatar. The two week-long conference will aim at ratifying international climate change legislation as well as discussing the future of the globe. Marla has safely arrived and has already made a few blog posts. Check out her blog for coverage of the first week of COP. Nikki, Parker, and I will be travelling to Doha next week when we will take over for Marla.
This COP takes place weeks before many doomsayers predict the world will end on December 21st, but I hope no one involved in the negotiations shares this belief. It does cause some concern after super storm Sandy hit the east Coast weeks ago and more extreme weather is predicted for our future. Rising levels of greenhouse gases lead to increased global temperatures. As more temperature and energy is stored by the earth and its atmosphere, the potential for more violent weather only increases. It is not obscene to say that more severe weather is on its way. Whether it is in the form of another super storm, massive droughts or rising seas the potential for disaster is growing every minute.
At these meetings of delegates from around the world real change can be made for a positive future. Limits on greenhouse gas emissions can be put into place. While this may seem as only delaying the destruction of our planet there are other researchers and scientists who are looking into producing large scale industrial plants that will remove CO2 from the atmosphere and recycle it for other uses. If time and money is invested in these and similar ventures there could be hope for the future without drastically changing our current lifestyles. To catch up on the latest at COP 18 check out Marla’s blog or the UNFCCC official website.
Hello everyone! My name is John Siller and I am very pleased to be one of the American Chemical Society’s (ACS) student representatives to the 18th annual Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. I am currently a senior chemistry major at York College of Pennsylvania in York, Pennsylvania. This first blog post is to introduce myself and tell you all a little bit about myself and why we are going to Doha, Qatar in December 2012.
First of all, I am from a small town in New Jersey called Clinton. I have lived there for most of my life except for the first four years and the most recent four years while I have been at college. My mother is a math teacher and my father is a research chemist for ExxonMobil. Ever since I was a young boy, I have had a passion for learning new things and finding out how things work. My natural curiosity was fostered by my intellectual parents and visits to their workplaces. I attended ‘Bring-Your-Child-to-Work-Day’ at ExxonMobil for over ten years. I was
fascinated with the laboratories and experiments that affected millions of
peoples’ lives. Ever since I started learning chemistry from my father, I knew
that I wanted to be a chemist. Chemistry investigates how things work at the
smallest level and, if we can understand chemistry, we can do almost anything
Another thing I have recently discovered is that I enjoy teaching others the knowledge I have gathered. Teaching is not only a great way to spread knowledge, it is also a great learning tool for the teacher. I have come to realize that if I simply read something I am a lot less likely to remember it or understand it than if I try to teach it to somebody else. With this opportunity to attend a UN climate conference and this blog I will be sharing my knowledge with all of you and fortifying my knowledge on the subject and this subject is no small thing.
Climate change is real and affects everyone of us on the planet. I admit that at
first I was a bit skeptical about climate change like a lot of people. still are
today, both scientists and non-scientists alike, but then I was taught about the
actual data being collected. Now I am a believer and I understand the danger
climate change poses on our way of life. With this blog I hope to address both
audiences and convince the skeptics that climate change is real and something
must be done or our way of life as we know it is in serious jeopardy.
Anyway that’s enough preaching. Life goes on despite the impending problems and this blog will also cover the process of our journey to the other side of the world and wonder and spectacle that surrounds it. I encourage all of you to get more involved or at least start thinking about climate change. This blog will be a great communication tool and we are open to any feedback or ideas from our readers. We will be posting guest blogs if anyone is interested in voicing their opinion and I am very open to comments and emails. This journey represents a great opportunity in our lives where we will hopefully witness a major decision and a turning point in the war on climate change. And if not we will at least be more educated and have the opportunity to change the world.