Saturday, December 12, 2015

COP21 - The Deal is Done

The COP21 climate deal is done and it provides a very strong foundation for addressing climate change.

I spent the past two weeks watching the proceedings.  Though not inside the negotiation huddles, I could sense the seriousness and dedication of many involved as I watched diplomats scurry to private sessions with a clear sense of purpose.  Many others provided support as needed, whether it be a nudge from Al Gore, a talking-to from Bianca Jagger or an autograph from Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Bianca Jagger
Arnold Schwarzenegger

I was very impressed by the youth in attendance.  They were articulate, passionate and effective.  I heard youth representatives engage with United Nations and country leaders as they pushed hard.  They know they are inheriting an earth with problems and they know they'll have to take over addressing them.  As Kentucky native Caroline Engle of the Sierra Club Student Coalition said, the "road doesn't end in Paris."

Caroline Engle of Sierra Club Student Coalition
In response to a question about youth access to decisionmaking COP21 Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres recognized that youth will very soon be the leaders at future COP sessions.  She said her home country of Costa Rica placed three youth within their official delegation to learn how the intricacies of international diplomacy works.  "This process is something you learn by doing .. not in books," she said.
Christiana Figueres receives canoe paddle from Indigenous
group from Panama asking that we all
"paddle in the same direction"

I attended many sessions on financial issues.  Effectively deploying funds, providing loans to low carbon companies and countries, and assuring that investment capital gravitates towards carbon solutions is drawing the attention of business leaders.  Heike Reichelt of the World Bank told one gathering that the next generation of portfolio managers will be looking at the impacts of their investments, not just the standard risk and return numbers.  As Mindy Lubber of CERES said, "this agreement is what business and investors were looking for, sending a strong signal that the low-carbon global economy has officially arrived."

Mindy Lubber of CERES

For most observers, the deal is about as good as you can expect from a diverse group of nearly 200 countries.  The deal acknowledges that we need to do better than limiting global warming to 3.6 degrees farenheit (2 degrees celsius) and addresses many of the issues environmental leaders pushed for.  It was bittersweet for island-naitons and other low-lowing areas because even aggressive implementation will lead to sea level rise that is likely to devastate large areas.

The deal represents a turning point.  The world has finally recognized what the scientist have been telling them for years ... the Earth is in trouble and humans have the power to limit the damage.

I heard scientists continue to raise alarms.  Melting permafrost may release enough methane to trigger accelerated temperature increases worldwide.  Greenland and parts of Antarctica may be approaching tipping points where ice melt is irreversible and sea level rise could be even higher than the three to six feet predicted for the next century.  Several scientists complained about the challenges of presenting information in a way that is understood by policymakers,  "Scientists are not poets," said Valerie Masson-Delmotte at a session on climate science hosted by UNESCO.

Valerie Masson-Delmotte:  "Scientists are not poets"

Getting the deal was just the beginning of addressing the problem.  Now countries large and small need to rapidly decarbonize their economies.  The cars of the future -- a fairly near future -- will not run on fossil fuels.  Natural gas will give way to electricity for heating homes and food.  Better planned cities will help us move more efficiently.  As Governor Jerry Brown told COP participants, we need to "change our carbon intensive way of life ... friendship, beauty, art may need to take the place of commoditization"

California Governor Jerry Brown at COP21

I'm still absorbing and pondering what I learned over the past few weeks and plan to write more about my observations.  For now, it's a good time to savor the success of Paris and get ready for the challenges ahead.

Kenyan and Maasai tribe member Mary Simat:  "Women are the keepers of mother earth"

All photos by Michael Paparian

Thursday, December 10, 2015

COP21 - Some Images

Much is going on at COP21 as the negotiations enter the final phase and the media is covering much of this.  There is anxiousness as some of the final issues are addressed.  We should know more in the next day or two.  In the meantime, here are some photos I've taken in the last few days.
Australian youth with a message for negotiators

From a scientific presentation.  The good news, is it may
take many years to completely melt.  But ...

Dept. of Uh-Oh: some irreversible melting may have started.

COP 21 Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres is presented
with an oar by indigenous representatives from Panama,
urging that we all "paddle in the same direction"

Generations space - the publicly accessible area

Outside the entrance to the restricted COP21 zone:  Apples are
handed to participants on their way in ..
makes up for the item shown further down

The United States Pavilion includes a high-tech globe projecting
a variety of images of climate impacts

Sean Kidney of Climate Bonds Initiative explains state of the
 market at a meeting at OECD headquarters

California State Senator Fran Pavley, author of the landmark
California climate law, AB32

U S Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz is still smiling!
One way to get attention of negotiators:  Advocacy
group hands out chocolate with messages on back

Non-governmental organization representatives
get ready to meet with COP21 leadership

But sadness remains over November events in Paris.  I visited the site
of the Bataclan nightclub where emotions and sadness remain high

This is the bicycle of a young victim
who will never have a chance to ride again

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

COP21 - Mayors, Governors, Sheiks and Scientists

What's it like to be at COP21?

There's a lot going on and a common complaint is that it is not possible to participate in everything of interest.  The negotiations are being covered by the media.  People continue to be optimistic about a deal in Paris, but there remain issues to negotiate, including enforcement, when and how to update national climate plans, financing for mitigation, adaptation and renewables, and several others.  We got word today that the final agreement may take place a day or two after the final scheduled conference day of December 11.

It's not just negotiations, it's more like the "olympics" of climate change, with many things happening simultaneously and all of it at the highest levels.  The negotiations over the COP21 agreement are just one of many activities.

Here are some examples of perhaps 20 events I've attended in the past few days.

California Governor Jerry Brown seems to be everywhere and appears to have the stamina of a marathon runner.

At an event with US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, Saudia Arabia Oil Minister, Ali Al-Naimi and others, Brown recited facts and figures about California and world climate issues, including the estimate that there is about 20 years worth of fossil fuels left to burn at current rates before we exhaust the amount that can be burned and avoid cataclysmic climate change.  Brown and jump easily from facts to philosophy.  He said that countries working together on climate will make it possible to address many non-climate issues: "learning to solve this (the climate) problem can teach the world about solving other problems."

Calif Governor Jerry Brown and Saudi Oil Minister 12/8/15

At another event with over 500 local officials, he said states, provinces and localities have a responsibility to push and inspire our nations.  He also went into detail about how we need to "change our carbon intensive way of life" and suggested that friendship, beauty and art need to take the place of the commoditization of our lifestyles.

Mayors are a major presence and are pushing hard for national action by their governments.  Over 400 Mayors are in attendance, including California Mayors from Oakland, Chula Vista, Santa Monica, Richmond and elsewhere.

Mayor Frank Cownie of Des Moines said, "Our region used to be coal country, and now is powered by forty percent wid.  That's the future tat cities and states are creating."

Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie 12/8/15

Leaders of countries large and small are in attendance and actively participating.  I saw Henry Puna, Prime Minister of the Cook Islands describe how his country is already being ravaged by extreme weather and rising seas.  He lamented that it is hard to convey a message that his country is facing life or death.  "We are very, very fragile," he said and are being impacted by pollution his people did not cause.  Other Pacific island nations are looking for funds to relocate their populations as seas rise.

Cook Island Prime Minister Henry Puna 12/7/15

At an event about climate science, one of the leading world scientists looking at climate change, Valerie Masson-Delmotte, lamented that it is challenging to convey the gravity of the issues in ways that are understood by policymakers.  "Scientists are not poets" she said.

Scientist Valerie Masson-Delmotte 12/7/15.

The paparazzi would have a field day around COP21.  Rock stars, movie stars, world leaders and seemingly just about everyone his here.  Fitting two categories is former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger who has been quite blunt about the need for bold action on climate.

What's it like Inside COP21?

It is really several events in one.  There is a secure "blue zone" where the negotiations take place, the media congregates, organizations and countries display their materials, and many gatherings and events take place.  The adjacent "green zone" is open to the public and also has many events and and displays from organizations and governments.

There are a limited number of groups who could get accredited to be in the blue zone.  In total, according to COP Executive Secretary of COP21, there are over 20,000 accredited government representatives and 10,000 accredited non-government representatives.  In additon there are several thousand media, businesses and others with access to the Blue Zone.

COP21 Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres

At any given time, there may be a dozen or more events in the Green Zone and several dozen or more in the Blue Zone.  These events are in addition to the actual negotiations and side meetings.  As an example, today there events such as Toward a low CO2 Steel Industry in Europe, Human Rights and Climate Change, Climate Smart Agriculture, and many more.

To get into either venue, you have to pass through airport-style security.  There are plenty of lanes, so the wait to get in is minimal.  The presence of armed security is notable everywhere and there is limited vehicle access.  Most participants arrive by the local train or subway and are met by dedicated buses to the facility.  Photo badges are regularly checked inside the Blue Zone.  The badges are also color coded to indicate country representative, media, observer or several other categories.

Example of Security Badge

The COP21 site isn't the only venue for climate activity in Paris.  There are quite a few related events happening elsewhere, including a gathering of local officials from around the world, a landscapes forum and others.  I attending a briefing at UNESCO headquarters from the leaders of the scientific group looking into climate issues (the IPCC).  I'll be attending another off-site meeting later in the week at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

My waste and recycling friends will be glad to know that this is a zero-waste event.  There is a 1 Euro (about a dollar) deposit on coffee and drink cups that are to be reused or recycled.

I've also been tweeting @climatedispatch.

(all photos by Michael Paparian)

Sunday, December 6, 2015

COP21 - Midway Point

COP21 in Paris reached the halfway point of the two week session.

An initial text has been moved up for consideration by all the represented countries.  The text has hundreds of bracketed letters, words and extended language.  As Canadian delegate and elected House of Commons member Elizabeth May said on Sunday, the text is now "suitable for political negotiations."  Those negotiations have started in earnest.

Canadian MP Elizabeth May 12/6/15

Expectations remain very high for a decent deal by the end of the week.

The outstanding issues include how the agreement will be enforced, when it will be updated, whether there will be acknowledgement of aggressive oil phase out goals, how explicit the recognition will be for indigenous peoples, how the financing of projects in developing country will work, and many others.

There are many constituencies in Paris putting pressure on governments to be strong.  Over 400 mayors are attending and have been especially vocal in pushing for action.  The California mayors in attendance include mayors from Chula Vista, Richmond, Santa Monica and Oakland, among others.

Mayor Libby Schaaf of Oakland recognized the role and clout of mayors in a forum on local solutions, saying "If we could only power the grid with the energy of mayors, we could solve the climate problem."  She was especially blunt when asked in another forum when asked what her message to negotiators would be, saying it is "not time to be wimpy ... grow a pair."

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf

Youth are present and hoping their voices will be heard.  Timothy Damon of the youth group SustainUS said, "It's our future we should be more than observers."  Some youth showed their support for a goal of zero carbon emissions by painting zeroes on their faces.

Timothy Damon of SustanUS
Yann Lesestre and Leslie Tourneville of French youth group CliMates

Religious leaders are pushing for as strong as possible an agreement.  I had the opportunity to hear Katharine Hayoe speak and met her briefly.  She is an Evangelical Christian, climate scientist, professor and was named by Time magazine in 2014 as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. She said when we engage others on climate, we need to offer tangible, viable, acceptable & inspirational solutions.

Katharine Hayhoe and Michael Paparian

Green Bonds are getting noticed as part of the basket of financial solutions.  I like to characterize green bonds as the "flip side" of divestment.  Once entities divest from fossil fuels, they need to put their money somewhere. Putting their money to work supporting climate beneficial projects makes sense and green bonds offer one avenue for such investments. Frederic Samana of the top European asset management group Amundi said the green bond market is surging everywhere.

Frederic Samana of Amundi
The many people and constituencies gathered at COP21 have a common purpose.  As Al Gore told the assembled delegates on Saturday, "young people are looking to us to do what's right."

Friday, December 4, 2015

COP21: Quacky & Climate

When I was a child, we briefly had a pet duck named Quacky.  Quacky wasn't really meant for an urban back yard.  I remember the outing to Reseda Park near Los Angeles to free Quacky to swim among her fellow ducks.

Ducks were in abundance at COP21 today, but these weren't real. 300 paper maché ducks, hand painted by children, ages 8 to 10, were given to delegates inside the COP21 venue.  They were intended to remind delegates not to "duck" the issue of adaptation.  Delegates from the U.S., Costa Rica, Germany, France and others accepted them.

When I saw the ducks, I had to stop and find out what was going on.  The ducks were gathered by CARE France.  CARE works on helping impoverished people in areas that are now seeing the impacts of climate change such as Bangladesh.

“In Bangladesh, floods are becoming more frequent; they destroy houses and threaten communities’ income," said Philippe Lévêque, CEO of CARE France.  "In order to adapt, chicken livestock may be replaced by ducks. Equally nutritious, ducks are able to swim and therefore to survive floods. This initiative has given families a better ability to face climate hazards,” 

As droughts, floods and rainfall variability increase, adaptation is a matter of survival for many communities impacted by climate change.

“States seem to be reaching a compromise on a global goal for adaptation" said Fanny Petitbon, Advocacy Officer for CARE France.  "Acknowledging the need for adaptation would be a big step forward in the climate negotiations – it would prove there is a true will to improve populations’ resilience. However, funding is a tricky question which, so far, remains unanswered,”

CARE describes adaptation as "the poor cousin of climate funding," with only 16% of climate funding is dedicated to adaptation."

Adaptation is an increasingly important issue to impacted countries.  While at COP21, I've had conversations with folks from the Philippines, Cambodia, India and elsewhere, all of whom are concerned about how to address impacts today.  There have been a lot of numbers thrown around about acres affected, the number of intense storms, the number of homes destroyed, or the dollar value of losses.  But as Raymund Liboro of the Science and Technology Information Institute of the Philippines reminded me, "Behind numbers are actual people affected."

I'll keep the duck CARE gave to me as my reminder to think about adaptation.  I'll also think about the written by the child who made it, "life is precious - treasure it."  And I'll name my little duck "quacky."

Duck given to me by CARE:  "Life is precious, treasure it"

Displaying IMG_1367.JPG

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

COP21 - What About China?

What about China?  What about India?  These questions are often raised when talking about whether the world can meet climate emission targets.

Like all of the 150 or so leaders who spoke, Chinese President Xi Jinping gave a very strong speech at the opening of COP21.

He urged a strong agreement and cited major changes in Chinese energy policies.  He promised China would build a nationwide carbon emission trading, invest in energy efficiency and alternatives and seek a "better harmony between man and nature."  He said China would reduce CO2 emissions per unit of GDP by over 60% by 2030 compared to 2005 levels.  He promised major reforestation programs and said "we have confidence and resolve to fulfill our commitments."

Chinese President Xi Jinping 11/30/15

The Presidents of the United States and China issued a joint statement as the COP21 talks started: "The Presidents recognize that the Paris conference presents a crucial opportunity to enhance action to meet this fundamental climate change challenge."  This is a continuation of the cooperation on climate shown by the well-received US-China joint announcement of a year ago (details here).

How real is the China commitment to addressing climate issues and reducing carbon emissions?  This is one of the most important questions to those looking at how we can slow down climate change.  We know China continues to be a major coal user and their demand for energy is escalating at a very rapid pace.

Greenpeace has a China presence and energy is one of their top issues of concern there.  They recently issued a report complaining about the continued permitting of new coal power plants (report here).

But Greenpeace is very upbeat about the future for fossil fuel reductions in China and acknowledge  much progress as China shifts direction.  Li Shuo of Greenpeace China said earlier this week that since the Copenhagen climate talks of six years ago, "China's wind energy has jumped ten fold and solar energy jumped twenty-eight fold."

Li Shou, Greenpeace China 12/1/15

"What you are observing in the country is something you would never expect a few years ago," said Shuo.  "I think we are entering a very significant and tremendous energy transformation.  Two years ago, you ask anybody in Beijing, 'can you see the coal consumption in the country peak or decline in this decade,' nobody would believe that. Coal consumption in 2014 declined for the first time since 1998 ... You are seeing a decoupling between economic growth and the reliance on fossil fuel.  "

Mr. Shuo thinks China is heading towards a decarbonized future.  "If you look at renewable energy, China is now the number one wind installation country," he said.  "It will become the number one solar installation country by the end of this year.  If this is the progress that we make in four or five year time ... we think decarbonization by 2050 is not only something that is possible, it is happening now."

What about India?  More on that later.

Monday, November 30, 2015

COP21 Snippets from Day One

Today was the official opening of the 21st yearly Conference of the Parties to address climate change, COP21.

Over 150 heads of state attended, marking the largest gathering of world leaders under one roof at one time ever.  So many wanted to speak that after overviews from President Hollande of France, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and a few others, the leaders were split into two rooms so all leaders could give a short speech before the end of the day.  I listened to presentations from President Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping and others.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon 11/30/15
Ban Ki Mon told participants that "history is calling" on them to come to an agreement on climate and they should show "courage and vision."

President Obama 11/30/15
President Obama told the leaders it is "time to get to work."  China President Xi Jinping spoke of new Chinese commitments to climate solutions being woven into their 35 year plan for the country.

Chinese President Xi Jinping 11/30/15

German Chancellor Angela Merkel 11/30/15

Russian President Vladimir Putin 11/30/15

Plenty is being written about the conference and world leader comments, so I won't dwell on them here.  However, I will give some quick highlights from other sessions I attended today.  With upwards of 40,000 participants in the secure zone of the conference center, it has become a small city with a post office, electric vehicle rental office, office supply store and many restaurants. At any time there be several dozen events or sessions taking place on anything from negotiations over the text of the expected climate agreement, to discussions of adaptation in island nations, financing climate solutions, and effective communication on climate science.  The government of the United States has it's own small pavilion space where sessions hosted by various government agencies take place.  

Jacqui Patterson, Director of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program stressed the need to assure that climate solutions don't impact communities that have traditionally borne the health and environmental costs of energy and other technologies.  She cautioned that some "clean" energy may not be so clean.  "We need stringent definitions of clean energy," she said.

Jacqui Patterson, NAACP

Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned scientists has been to 20 of the 21 COPs.  He said he is more optimistic about an agreement, then he has ever been, but said that we'll all have to work to see that countries reach their goals and improve on them.  "We need a package of measures to address the ambition gap," he said.

Alden Meyer, Union of Concerned Scientists

Many constituencies are holding sessions to brief interested parties on the progress of the negotiations.  Many of the youthful environmental participants are being briefed by an umbrella group, TckTckTck, every morning.  The TckTckTck sessions are being broadcast on their website here.

Environmental Representatives Briefed by TckTckTck
Hoesung Lee is chair of the scientific body advising the United Nations on climate (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  He led off a session discussing how to make scientific information more readable and relevant to decisionmakers and the public.  Paul Lussier, Director of the Science Communication with Impact Network at Yale said that it is important to listen to the needs of entities and individuals and relate climate solutions to solving related problems.  "The focus is relevance," he said.  "And, if relevance is there, the issue of simplicity takes care of itself."

Hoesung Lee

Paul Lussier

Finally, the Climate Action Network is presenting a "fossil of the day" award every day of COP21 to highlight those countries that are climate laggards.  The award for the first day of the conference was shared by Belgium and New Zealand.  It will be no surprise when Australia gets the not-so-coveted award on a future day.

Fossil of the Day Award Presentation

(all photos by Michael Paparian)