After an unprecedented amount of time spent at a COP negotiating, the UNFCCC finally wrapped up last night. During the final days of the conference, the mood among youth and NGO's was dismal and pessimistic. Unfortunately, that mood was deserved and carried through to the final negotiations. Little was actually accomplished throughout COP18. The Kyoto Protocol was renewed for a few more years, but many parties dropped out of the agreement and emission reduction targets were not strengthened. Supposedly, the groundwork has been layed for a binding agreement in 2015, but who want's to actually wait that long? It feels to me like we have waited long enough. I mean, 18 COP's and this is all we've got? Any moment could be the point of no return, sending our climate and our lives into an era we would no longer recognize.
Not surprisingly, the Qatari government and media have claimed (or have been told to claim) that this conference was a huge success. In the newspaper above, as well as many others we have seen this morning, they have called the final negotiations to be a "Climate Gateway." Maybe I'm just being bitter, but the first thing I thought of was comparing this "climate gateway" talk to a gateway drug. This "celebration" of non-commitment could continue on in coming years and cause basically nothing to get done. Let's hope that does not end up being the case! We cannot afford another three years of passive action and weak commitments. However, from the way it looks right now, the 2015 goal will become a 2020 goal, which will in turn become a 2025 goal.
We need to stop this can from being kicked down the road any longer (as Dr. Peterman likes to say). The science tells us what will happen if pollution continues to be emitted at this rate. It also tells us that we have a very short amount of time to correct this problem before there are catastrophic consequences. I cannot imagine being a small island nation, who is [not so] slowly watching their home disappear as the sea level rises. How sad it must be to come to these conferences in such dire need of help, only to watch the same lack of progress be repeated over and over again.
International conferences such as the COP are beneficial because they give a reason for countries to come together and discuss this global issue. However, when large countries like the U.S. come to the conference with little or no domestic policy of their own, it creates an ineffective environment for everyone. A delegate from Spain we spoke with at dinner last night told us that the U.S. was virtually silent throughout the negotiations. That is simply not ok. We have all heard numerous times this week that smaller nations need us larger and more developed nations to assist them and set an example for them with climate policy. The task we are trying to take on is not impossble, and it is not unnecessary. I guess it's up to COP19 in Warsaw now to turn things around for us. The U.S. had better get their act together!
P.S. I'm counting on you, Obama.
I'd really like for you to watch this video before you read what I have to say about this event for an unbiased perspective! What kinds of feelings are you left with?
I heard about this action, as they call it here, a few minutes before it was set to start. I eagerly ran over to the location, totally pumped and ready to protest with some fellow U.S. youth! The group was still formulating their plan, so I raced over and asked what they were doing. I was told, "an action." Oh really.... I thought to myself, but I ignored the short response and asked what the action was for. The girl told me it was to voice Obama's lack of leadership at the conference. Now if you know me, you would know that I am an Obama administration supporter. However, I figured I could put aside the fact that I disagreed with their little statement to some regard (we all know that this whole fiscal cliff business is taking first priority at home at the moment), and take a stand for the environment.
I stood around for a few minutes, waiting to hear the game plan and start protesting! Unfortunately they seemed pretty disorganized, and when they starting arguing with each other over scribbling out a word of their "script," I peaced out of there. That's not my kind of group. I took a watchful position with the few media crews there and waited to see how this all was going to play out.
So, as you saw from the video, what played out was not the meaningful protest I had expected. I was extremely disappointed and left feeling uninspired. Was this seriously the best the U.S. youth could do? Just yesterday, two young people from Algeria and Libya were deported for their acts of protest in the main hall against the lack of progress at the COP. These U.S. youth (although I do appreciate the initial motivation behind the action) seemed to be hiding in a corner of one of the hallways. Even more depressing was the lack of interest from people passing by the group. My main critique is the lack of conviction in the youth's speech, but their body language was also that of indifference and non-commitment to their cause. There was no attempt to include other people in their protest, and the lack of involvement from anyone outside of the group quickly dissoved the tension that I initially felt in the air.
After some time to think about this event, I have decided that this disappointing action shows a lot about the U.S. We seem to be unmotivated and uninvolved internationally, and do not possess the spirit that the other countries here obviously have. I was just at a talk by the Costa Rican delegates, who have announced (and whole heartedly believe) that their country will be "carbon-neutral" in 9 years' time. Where is that ambition in the U.S.? Are we capable of being that ambitious and optimistic about anything? I am personally sick of the negativity, doubt, and lack of commitment I have been seeing.
After our morning coffee/ hot chocolate trip to a nearby mall, we decided to take the bus into a different part of the city to go to the Doha Sustainability Expo. I honestly was expecting something lame and redundant to what we'd been hearing all week. However, I was completely blown away. The event was hosted by Arab countries like Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and UAE. Ecuador was also there randomly (which provided me with the part of the video with the screaming man). The displays were very interactive, and really got the best of our inner 5 year olds. I also got some free gifts, sandwiches, and artwork (John and I made it and are hanging it in the Conference Room when we get back) that made the trip even more worth it.
Let me just say, these Arab countries have some serious advantage in the green technology department and a lot of ambition. I felt really ignorant walking around the expo center and being surprised by what I saw. At home, we never hear about any of the environmental groups or technology that they have invested in over here! They even had a room set up where you could view their designs for each World Cup stadium for 2022. And the best part - they will be modular, so they can be transported and given to other countries that don't have stadiums! Pretty cool idea if you ask me. Also, this country really doesn't need that many stadiums in one city of maybe 2 million people.
The only thing that was really weird and felt out of place was the animal rights group there. This whole get-up felt a little dramatic to me...
When we exhausted the fun of playing with all of the cool stuff at the Expo, we headed back to the Convention Center to check up on the negotiations and go to a few more side events. I met up with and attempted to get an interview from the woman I had met with at NOAA in D.C., but she wasn't allowed to answer any questions at the moment. She gave me a contact at the U.S. media center, so we'll see where that goes.
The guys and I ended up going to the same U.S. event later in the day about renewable energy technological development, specifically solar energy, currently being done in the U.S. John may blog a little about the more technical stuff (which kind of lost me), but I managed to muster up enough courage with my two buddies beside me to ask a question! I almost asked one the day before, but totally chickened out, so this was a big deal for me. It may not have been the most insightful question in the world, but I got to give us ACS representatives a little exposure. Here's a video of it courtesy of John! P.S. No making fun of me haha.
We had some time to spare before our first event today, so John and I decided to check out the organization and country booths that we hadn't visited yet. One of them, the country of Mauritania (which I had not heard of before), was giving out cool hats that say "Mauritania Addresses Climate Change." So above is a picture of us rocking those hats and supporting Mauritania!
Then, we came across Bellona's booth, where I found a funny handout that I thought you guys might find entertaining. I'll type out what it says in case you can't enlarge the picture.
"Hi, my name is Norway and I am a petroleum addict.
I've tried it all: vaseline, kerosene, gasoline, jet fuel, and diesel. I've even tried natural gas. Now I'm ready for the twelve steps to recover from my addiction and embrace the green future.
12 Steps to Recovery:
1. We admit that we have a problem. We had let ourselves be dependent on the great power of petroleum.
2. We admit that our intoxication of petroleum has resulted in a petro hangover.
3. We admit that our petroleum addiction has negative consequences for our surroundings and loved ones. Consequences such as poverty, destruction and despair.
4. We admit that our prosperous ecomony based on oil extraction will not last, and that we need to invest both manpower and money in renewable energy sources, such as algae, bio mass, solar, wind, geo thermal, tidal, and wave power.
5. We admit that we are afraid of a life without petroleum. However, we realize that a life with petroleum has no future.
6. We realize that our future has to be green.
7. We admit that we have enojoyed wasting large amounts of precious energy. Improving out energy efficiency will ease the burden on the environment, our economy, and our natural resources.
8. We choose to protect Lofoten and the Arctic environment and to manage our fisheries in a sustainable manner.
9. We commit to good green solutions, such as electric cars. We commit to the joy of plugging in and driving cleaner and cheaper.
10. We choose to fly through the landscape with windpowered high speed trains, instead of being airborne.
11. We realize that carbon capture and storage is part of the solution for remaining emissions and for future carbon negative energy porduction.
12. Having received this long overdue wake up call, we commit to carrying this message to other petroholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs."
So yeah, a little cheesy at times, but overall I thought it was a clever way to interest others in the issue by relating it to a well known disease like addiction. A lot of these points are ones that I consider, like our anxiety about committing to taking the time to plug in an electric car instead of fueling up on gas whenever we feel like it. Clearly, the U.S. could benefit from a similar intervention and rehab.
I am going to add some more information from the beginning of the talk below, but if nothing else you should watch this video! This discussion really sums up a lot of what has gone on in recent elections and how progress on climate change policy was affected. There were literally times when it took all of my self control not to throw out an AMEN! The guy at the end was my personal favorite! He had a lot of funny lingo going on.
Ok random event just occured that I have to talk about. A guy sitting near me in
the hotel lobby asked about my internet connection because his phone was not
picking up any. We ended up having a 15 minute conversation that was actually
very interesting! He is originally from Egypt, but now lives in Qatar to coach
professional soccer, or football as he called it. He actually played on the
professional Egyptian team when they went to the World Cup in Italy. (His name
is Allah if you want to look that up and see if it's actually true.) But he
asked me about the U.S., what I was studying in school, if I had played any
sports, and seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say. Main cool thing
about it - I really felt like he took me seriously as a person and said he
enjoyed talking to a " nice American girl." And now he just asked the guy at
the reception desk to bring me hot chocolate....
Anyways, I really loved this talk and took a ton of notes, so if I don't clarify something in my attempt to shorten it down and you are like .....whaa?.... please ask me!
This talk was not on the main schedule since it was basically thrown together at the last minute. It was held in a small room, and was only advertised by flyers they had made up and had sitting at the U.S. Center table. That being said, there weren't an overwhelming amount of attendees, but the small setting made it feel more personable and I actually liked that aspect. A member of the Union of Concerned Scientists started off, talking about how the ExxonMobile "fake debate" on climate change was finally wearing off. After the recent re-election of the Obama administration, which has outwardly supported green progress, expectations at the level of U.S. citizens and international bodies are set pretty high. He outlined three important issues that the administration would have to address in order to successfully implement climate change policy - 1. equity, meaning that everyone stops pointing fingers at each other and takes responsibility for their actions; 2. transparency, meaning that the government needs to begin to outline to the public exactly how they plan to execute emission reduction targets set, and 3. financing, which is of course on everyone's minds with the current state of the economy. He suggested that pursuing innovative financing options be the focus of this issue.
Next up was the International Climate Policy Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council. The part of his presentation I like most was when he talked about the pre-2008 perspective on climate as opposed to the perspective being taken now. If election results had different in 2008, a proposed 150 new coal power plants may exist today and emissions would be about 25% higher in 2020 than they were in 2005. Some main points that the Obama administration has taken on and succeded in implimenting include the finalization of passenger vehicle regulations, which will carry through to 2025 and should double transportation efficiency, which is one of the most aggressive standards on passenger vehicles in the world. In 2012, the first heavy truck standards in the world were finalized, as well as stricter regulations of household appliances. He left us with a list of other numerous regulations in the process of being finalized right now, like an addition to the Clean Air Act which would prevent the building of any new coal power plants without carbon capture or other similar technology.
The last presenter, a woman at the COP who represents a busniess focused organization, made some very interesting conclusions from this year's election. She commented on how energy and environmental issues have become more polarized than ever before. However, the outcome supporting decision
makers who believe in green policy, makes her believe that those formerly
opposed will now pause to think about it and figure out why so many people are
now becoming concerned. In turn, those in Congress will rethink their positions
on environmental issues in order to keep their jobs. I think this is a great
point that I've heard expressed many different ways, but mainly regarding the
need for certain political parties to "evolve" their views in order to survive
in today's world.
Here is a collection of some of the NASA Hyperwall videos that everyone has been talking about! I suggest jumping around to some of the different images if you don't have 12 minutes to spare - they are really interesting!
And a sneak peak from today's NASA event on Day 3!