We went to the Marie Curie museum first thing this morning, since we felt obligated to go and support a fellow female chemist. One of the quotes from Marie that was posted tied in perfectly to what we were seeing at the COP, so I wanted to share her wisdom with all of you.
If you aren't able to read that, it says...
"I understand that international cooperation is a very difficult
task, but it must be undertaken even if it requires immense
effort and genuine devotion."
Marie Curie said this about international cooperation back in the 1920s! How fitting of a quote it still is in 2013 while the first week of the United Nations Climate Conference comes to a close tomorrow. We have seen for the past 19 years of COPs that nations are not apt to agree with one another or be willing to compromise their individual wishes for the greater good of humanity. It is indeed taking an immense amount of effort to reach an agreement that will bind countries to reduce emissions, but I am assured that genuine devotion is present in Warsaw every day. The next step is to spread that passion from what seems like mainly the younger generation to the policy makers' older generations.
Time to get radioactive! ...... get it? =D
Today I attended a side event called the Intergenerational Inquiery, which is geared towards making all ages at the COP equally represented. The room was completely filled with youth delegates. I had never seen a side event so well attended before! I had to literally almost fight people away from the seats near the front row that I was saving for Natalie and Margaret. And trust me, these young people are ruthless. They were particularly interested in these seats because I had gotten to the venue early enough to secure prime seating right in front of the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC (basically the person who runs the show), Christiana Figueres. She has been one of the most outspoken people at recent COPs about youth involvement and the need for negotiators to think about our futures.
Check out this short clip of Christiana addressing some of the questions that youth delegates asked her about at this year's COP. This includes her speaking about the three young people that were detained and de-badged on the first day.
I am truly inspired by Christiana and her down-to-earth, motherly approach to working with youth and advocating for them in the UNFCCC. She deserves a lot of credit and respect for everything she has done for us young people and our futures thus far, and I do not feel as though she was given that today by any means. I hope that in the future, these young people will realize that they need to be mature and respectful when conveying their wants in the negotiations, or people like Christiana will have no reason or desire to advocate for us anymore. I fully understand the frustration that they are feeling seeing almost twenty years go by without a meaningful binding contract to protect our futures. However, as fairy godmother-like as she may seem, Christiana does not have a magic wand that she can wave and resolve issues that are strictly U.N. territory. For the youth to truly make a difference at these negotiations, they need to be organizing and making themselves heard at home before delegates are sent to the COP with orders on what their country's position will be.
After my disappointment today at the Green Climate Expo (it was not as interactive as last year's Sustainability Expo in Doha and I can't exactly read Polish), we headed back to the conference center to see what was going on there. After we finally found out where to pick up our welcome packages, consisting of a really cool tote bag filled with a few COP19 labeled goodies, we split up to attend some different talks. I chose to go to a talk called "Climate Change and Post 2015 Development Agenda" being held by the Center for Community Economics and Development Consultants Society. Basically, it addressed the issues that developing countries are facing with climate change and how the proposed agreement in 2015 will need to regard their needs. Main points from this talk:
- energy must be accessible and affordable for all people
- vulnerability to climate change must be taken into account
- countries must develop with sustainable environments, economies, and social structures
The concept of vulnerability was one that stuck out to me during this talk with leaders from Africa, India, and South/Central America. They specifically mentioned the fact that the United States is one of the least vulnerable countries to the effects of climate change (they did say that Hurricane Katrina would probably be an exception to this rule). In addition, the U.S. is typically the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases that are causing climate change in the first place. To these struggling countries, it just doesn't seem fair. Why are Americans the ones that continue to harm the environment while the developing countries, who hardly emit anything in comparison, are the ones that have to bare the brunt of the consequences?
When we in the U.S. experience a major natural disaster like Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy, we can chalk it up to random bad luck of the draw. We are so fortunate to not have to experience events like these very often, so we tend to forget that these same kinds of storms are running down on other parts of the world with increasing intensity and/or frequency.
How do we transform our lack of vulnerability to climate change into an understanding of the consequences of our actions in other parts of the world?
In one of my sustainability classes last semester, my professor was talking about how she is trying to decrease her carbon footprint in her own life. She was transitioning to a vegan lifestyle, which is a pretty difficult thing to do in today's society! While talking about her journey to becoming a vegan one day, she mentioned that all of her hard work in decreasing her footprint would go to waste when she traveled for business or pleasure by airplane. Air travel contributes to a significaly larger amount of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions than does road travel. To give you better idea of how much of the emissions budget air travel takes up, check out the figure below from the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization).
Being an avid traveler myself, I was disappointed that all of the smaller things I had changed in my lifestyle to reduce my carbon footprint throughout my years of being environmentally aware were completely cancelled out the moment I stepped onto a plane. I travel to get rid of stress and forget about problems like the climate crisis and here I am creating even more of one! But I thought, everyone needs to use air travel sometimes right? It is impractical and nearly impossible to go to some places today without getting there by plane. Hey, I mean I've gone to two climate conferences now that required a hefty amount of flight time to get there, and the whole point of the conferences were to reduce emissions! What the heck, I'm completely contradicting myself!CLICK HERE for the ICAO's official Carbon Emissions Calculator for air travel and track your own footprint! Follow the link on the page for the methodology of the calculation.This has been on the back of my mind for a while now so when I saw an event today on aviation and it's role in climate change, I decided to check it out and see what I was supposed to do about this dilemma in my logic. Thankfully, and not to my surprise, some people had informed the U.N. years ago that there was a need to address global aviation standards. The International Civil Aviation Organization was put together as a kind of U.N. committee to address this issue. Other than U.N. party delegates, the committee is also made up of representatives in industry in regions all over the world, technology developers, and environmental NGOs (just to name a few). The ICAO already has in place standards for noise level and air quality emissions, but does not have a set standard for CO2 emissions. Interestingly, an industry representative came up with the global scheme that has become the prominent discussion in ICAO negotiations about a CO2 standard. Why would an industry rep care about the U.N.'s mission to cut CO2 emissions? Because it also makes the private-sector industry more efficient and saves them money. The industry representative at this talk said that they recognize the importance of climate change and their role/impact in the issue. Now if only some other industry could come to those conclusions... Some of the key aspects to this scheme are:
- More efficient operations. (Everyone, including the airlines, hates when you have circle around and around the airport for an hour before landing because air traffic has backed up the runways.)
- Improve management and infrastructure. (aka make better decisions)
- Improve aircraft design to be more fuel efficient. (Fuel is now about 40% of an airline's total costs, whereas a few years ago it was only about 14%.)
- Develop alternative energies for aircraft. (Especially alternative fuels that are "drop-in," or can be added directly to the existing fuel supply and run through the same engines that are already in place.
It doesn't sound like a completely radical plan, right? That's because it really isn't one. It's the most efficient and most effective way to cut problems from the consumer, industry, and environmental ends when traveling by plane.
Another interesting point I took away from this talk also came from the industry representative to the ICAO. He said something along the lines of, "Air transport needs a single global solution and global regulations [from the U.N. committee] just to make it less confusing! One airline flies to about 100 different countries per day. If every country has their own regulations that are different from everyone else's..." You get the drift. It's all about a global agreement and solution to the problem.
Let's hope the UNFCCC negotiators use this new ICAO success story as an example for their work in the coming week and a half.
Today is Poland's Independence Day, but there are not many people at the conference that appear to be celebrating Poland. The atmosphere here almost feels the opposite. We were even given a flyer by the COP warning of demonstrations that would take place among the Polish people in Warsaw today and which places/times we should "Avoid." Doesn't sound like your typical Independence Day in America, huh? When we first heard that we would be spending this day in Warsaw, we thought, "Cool! Let's go to some of the events in town!" However, this is clearly not your average block party, fireworks, and homemade chili contests kind of Independence Day. (NOTE: We found out later on in the night why this was occurring - whole 'nother story!)
The day before Poland's Independence Day in Warsaw's Old Town.
Other than this strange feeling in the city, the vibe within the conference itself seems to be suggesting a sort of resentment towards the host country and it's decisions surrounding this climate conference. As was the case last year in Doha, there began a year in advance a sense of irony that a country which is a major contributor to the global emissions problem would host the UNFCCC, whose goal is to eradicate these practices. The NY Times said in October 2013 that Poland gets 88% of its electricity from coal power plants. Burning fossil fuels like coal is one of the most prominent ways that humans have contributed to altering our atmosphere's composition, which is shown to cause the rapid rate of climate change we are seeing today.
Another controversy within the conference is Poland's choice of corporate sponsors that have historically been advocates of non-renewable energies. Some of these include Alstom Power, who has been built 95% of Poland's coal power plants since 1995, and PGE Polish Energy Group, whose lignite power plant is supposedly the largest source of CO2 emissions in Europe. (These facts taken from desmogblog.com.) Although some of the corporate sponsors appear to be researching and developing "clean" coal and other alternative energy options, it just feels a little ironic. However, as my practical boyfriend pointed out to me, maybe their sponsorship is an advertisement for themselves to show that they are more committed to addressing environmental issues than they have been in the past. I hope that's the case (because we all know there is no such thing as clean coal)! SIDENOTE: My boyfriend also brought up a good point that I have been thinking about. Should these coal power corporate sponsors get some credit for at least researching and developing clean'ER' coal? Perhaps they are not ready to transition completely away from coal, but hey, at least emissions wouldn't be as harmful as they are now. It's a start? Should we give them a little slack for at least beginning to address the problem? They kind of have the right thought process going on there: fossil fuel burning is bad for the environment.
Lastly, the slap in the face for conference attendees and delegates was that Poland decided to hold the International Coal and Climate Summit, hosted by the World Coal Association, in Warsaw RIGHT in the middle of the COP negotiations. That should be interesting, right? Their website states that this summit "bring[s] together the leadership of the world's largest coal producing
companies, senior policy-makers, business leaders, academics and NGO
representatives to discuss the role of coal in the global economy, in the context of the climate change agenda." When I hear the words "climate change agenda," I hear sarcasm. Maybe that's wrong of me to assume, but it's what a lot of others at the COP are assuming too. If you check out their website, you'll find that this summits mission is to promote "clean coal" in order to address environmental issues. Short-term, sure I can respect trying to get better. However, contrary to the WCA's beliefs, it is not a long term solution. Coal power needs to go.. like yesterday.
What really got the youth organizations angry was that Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC and their closest ally in being heard at the negotations, is scheduled to speak at the International Coal and Climate Summit, which they believe will undermine the legitimacy of the UNFCCC process. I highly recommend checking out this article if you'd like to read more about how the youth are addressing Christiana about this issue.
Christiana Figueres (right) at the Opening Ceremony of the COP19.
Many of the youth are now referring to our host country as Coaland.