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)

Sunday, November 29, 2015

COP21 Preliminaries

On the day before the opening events at the Paris climate summit, there were some preliminaries for many participants.

United Nations climate head Christiana Figueres gathered "civil society" participants, including environmental groups and non-profit citizen organizations, for a briefing on security and related issues.

Over 150 heads of state are gathering tomorrow (Monday) for the start of the conference.  Figueres said that never before have that many "heads of state ... ever, under any circumstance, under any convening power, come together under one roof in one day."  This created logistical and security issues that have been compounded by recent events in Paris.  With all of the security, Figueres said, "there is no safer place on the face of this planet right now than this venue."

Christiana Figueres speaks to Civil Society groups 11/29//15

Figueres was joined by the United Nations head of security for the conference.  He was introduced simply as "Kevin."  Figueres and Keven stressed that they are open to displays of views by participants buy wanted "no surprises."  They explained why, within the secure section of the venue, anything out of the ordinary, including spontaneous demonstrations of any sort, will lead to quick intervention by security personnel.  They did say, however, that they will work with individuals and organizations on ways to show their views that will not surprise security personnel.

UN COP21 Security Head Kevin 11/29/15

Within the secure venue, upwards of 40,000 or more individuals will be registered, including government representatives and non-government representatives from environmental groups, educational groups and institutions, business organizations, and others.

The security outside the venue is also very visible.  Several peaceful legal protests were held in Paris today, including placing over eight tons of shoe in and around the Place de la Republique to represent individuals who could not gather because of new, temporary restrictions on concentrated public gatherings in France.  That didn't stop some individuals from massing resulting in a police response and some arrests.

Riot police get ready to disperse climate protesters 11/29/15

Back at the COP21 venue, transportation options are stressed.  The registered participants were given passes to ride public transit for free during the conference.  Conference vehicles include electric minibusses.

COP21 participants lining up to get transit passes 11/29/15
Electric minibus at COP21 11/29/15

The conference site includes two "wind trees."  The "leaves" are all mini-windmills.  Each tree can produce 4.3 kw of power.

"Arbre a Vent" Wind Trees 11/29/15

I can't write about my first day in Paris without a note of sadness for the victims of the terrorist bombings earlier this month.  At the Place de la Republique, there are an overwhelming number of makeshift memorials and related offerings, including the one pictured below for 37 year old Thibault Rousse Lacordaire who died at the concert venue.  It was hard for anyone, myself included, to avoid tears as we saw the many hand-made tributes.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Heading to Paris for Climate Action

I’m heading to Paris this weekend for the United Nations climate meeting commonly referred to as COP21 (21st "Conference of the Parties").   

I share the sadness of all decent people over recent events in Paris and elsewhere.  While compassion for those affected by tragedy and heightened security concerns will certainly impact the attendees, the government of France, world leaders and the United Nations feel it is vital for the gathering to take place. 

Nearly 200 nations and their leaders, including President Obama, will be attending for at least some portion of the two week meeting.  The general sense is that the resolve among world leaders is stronger than ever to unify around a common goal of addressing climate change.

COP21 will not be the final resolution of climate issues. Rather, success should be measured by nations unifying around the need to address climate change and the related commitment to hold global warming to an average of about 2 degrees centigrade or less.  

Even at a 2 degree increase, we can expect notable impacts, including sea level rise of up to three feet by the end of this century.  Nations have submitted plans to get on the 2 degree path.  However, their pathways are just the beginning steps.  If they only do what they've committed to so far, the world will do well for a few years, but ultimately temperatures will exceed the 2 degree goal.  Commitments will need to be regularly revisited, deployment of alternative energy accelerated and the phase down of fossil fuel use will have to be very rapid.

Plenty will be written about the proceedings as they begin on November 30 and reach an anticipated conclusion on December 11.  While in Paris, I plan to post a few updates and photos on this blog.  I won't try to duplicate the news stories about the conference, but I will try to pass along some of the items of interest.

Michael Paparian and United Nations Framework Convention on
Climate Change Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres,  June, 2015

In addition to the national government representatives, there will be upwards of 40,000 or more representatives of scientific institutions, environmental groups, businesses, state/local governments, universities and others.  The meeting will include hundreds of workshops and other “side events” discussing everything from the latest scientific research to local government roles, financing and public engagement.  I wil go to many of these.

I’ll be attending as a representative of the InterEnvironment Institute.  I am on the Board of the Institute and have been to a number of international environmental meetings with them.  The Institute has been “accredited” by the U.N., thus allowing us access to the more central U.N. meeting areas.

Since leaving the Treasurer’s office earlier this year, one of my projects has been to help environmental finance efforts, including establishing a network to promote “green bonds” in California.  I’ll be meeting with others who share similar interests, including those who are establishing green bond groups in other countries with assistance from the Climate Bonds Initiative.  I also plan to assist the efforts of the Climate Reality Project (Al Gore’s Group) and reconnect with some old colleagues from the Sierra Club.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Science Fiction Meets Climate Change Reality

Kim Stanley Robinson has been writing science fiction for over three decades.  That's long enough for some of his themes of ecological calamities, weather extremes and climate decay to become strikingly real.

He's thought a lot about climate change and climate solution frequently called on to give his perspective.  Robinson was the keynote speaker recently at the 350 Sacramento town hall on climate change.

Author Kim Stanley Robinson speaking at
350 Sacramento Climate Town Hall Nov. 14, 2015

Successfully addressing climate change is now defined by many environmental and world leaders as limiting the increase in global temperatures to about 2 degrees centigrade (about 3.5 degrees farenheit).  Even if we achieve that cap on warming, we're likely to see many negative impacts, including sea level rise of about 3 feet by the end of this century, more extreme weather events and very high localized temperatures.

Robinson thinks of success as reducing CO2 levels to levels to pre-impact levels.

"It's also true that complete success is not going to come in our lifetimes," he told the audience in Sacramento.  "It's going to be a multi-generational effort and yet here at the start of it we can't let that discourage us. We can't quit just because we're going to have to pass on to the next generation the semi-damaged world where the solutions are not yet fully in place."

"We do what we can in our generation," Robinson said.  "We pass it on in a kind of scaffolding system, build the scaffold as strong as we can and hopefully the next generation will stand on that scaffold and do a little better and we'll get ourselves to sustainability at last."

Participants at 350 Sacramento Town Hall Nov. 14, 2015

How do you avoid becoming overwhelmed?

Robinson spoke of keeping the vision in mind.  "The long term project is a vision so it orients you like you're driving at night and you have something on the horizon.  A vision of what it can be like when it is going well.  That's the utopian mindset.  ... 350 Sacramento?  That's the long term goal.  If you say to a politician you need 350 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere tomorrow ...  well it's not possible ... but then it's like building a bridge and you put the footing in on your shore and you have a vision of where you're headed."

Kim Stanley Robinson continues to write about climate issues.  He said his next novel will be about massive sea level rise.  He also recently republished the climate "Science in the Capital" trilogy he wrote a decade ago.  He condensed the books into one volume and updated some of the information based on the latest science.  The new volume is "Green Earth."

"I will keep pounding away on these issues," he says.  He is optimistic about the prospects for a better future.  "When you get together in groups like this and you see the people devoting their time to this cause, you realize it can work .. it can be done"

Friday, November 13, 2015

Americans Want Climate Action

Overwhelming Agreement on Climate

Americans not only agree that climate action is needed, they so overwhelmingly see the threat and want action that it is "hard to find this many Americans agreeing about anything."

That's the bottom line conclusion of Dr. Jon Krosnick of Stanford University.  Having studied and surveyed American attitudes about climate change for two decades, he's in a position to know.  Dr. Krosnick spoke recently at the University of California Sacramento Center, presenting his findings from years of survey work.

Dr. Jon Krosnick in Sacramento Nov 12, 2015

Over the years, Dr. Krosnick's surveys have gotten more sophisticated in addressing various misconceptions about public attitudes and opinions on climate.

Since 1997, Dr. Krosnick has seen a consistently high belief that global warming is or probably will happen, with between 82% and 88% of those surveyed recognizing the problem.

Support for Government Action Widespread

Fully 78% of Americans support government action on climate, according to the surveys.  "You only get up to these numbers at this level if there is endorsement of this policy not only be people who are comfortable with government action but a considerable number of americans who say, as a general rule, they prefer for government to stay out of the activity," said Dr. Krosnick.  "So this is remarkable issue in the sense that this is a place where people who are in general skeptical about government involvement support government activity."

One of the issues Dr. Krosnick says he hears is that there are geographic differences of opinion regarding global warming.  When he tested for this, he found that strong majority belief that global warming is happening in every area of the country.  "There is not a single state that is majority skeptic on this issue, said Dr. Krosnick.  The lowest number in any state is 75%.  Interestingly, some of the highest numbers are in Oklahoma, home of climate denier Senator Jim Inhofe.

Parakeets and Science

Dr. Krosnick got a laugh from the audience in Sacramento when he recounted getting a call from the New York Times asking for his response to the assertion by politicians that they have nothing to say about climate change because they are not scientists.  He said, "For a politician to say I am not a scientist is like saying I'm not a parakeet."  His polling shows that the not-a-scientist statement resonates better that absolute climate denial among very conservative voters.

Summary of Climate Polling:  Americans Green & Want Action

Dr. Krosnick gave the Sacramento audience a summary of his findings:

"A majority of Americans are green on this issue, There seems to be no regions of skepticism as far as we can tell ... It is in fact a priority for people .. They want their government to address it. People do appear willing to pay to reduce emissions. Taking green positions seems to help candidates win an election. A not-green position can hurt a candidate."

More on Dr. Krosnick's most recent national polling can be found at the New York Times site here and Resources for the Future here.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Climate Dispatch: 5 Most Viewed Posts

I started Climate Dispatch earlier this year with the hope of providing information and viewpoints of interest.  There have been 24 posts so far.  I'm working on more and plan to provide updates when I attend the United Nations climate meeting in Paris early next month.

What's been most interesting to Climate Dispatch readers?  The five most viewed posts to date are:

1.  Traitors to Humanity

The most viewed post, Traitors to Humanity, offers some thoughts on how climate deniers will be remembered in the future, concluding:
For a bit of political self-gratification now, the climate denial leaders are condemning themselves to be forever remembered as betraying humans and the planet.

2.  Some Recent Climate Change Videos I Liked - August 2015

Never underestimate the power of visual media.  I enjoy learning about issue through a variety of sources, including videos and video clips.  I guess I shouldn't be surprised that the second most viewed post was a compilation of six videos ranging from an overview of cap and trade to an analysis of the Pope's encyclical to climate impacts on the wine industry. The post is linked here.

3.  California Coast:  Get Ready for Sea Level Rise

The California coastline is already seeing the impacts of rising tides and warmer waters.  What is not generally known is that our best efforts to address climate change will likely lead to a sea level increase of about 3 feet in the next 85 years.  Without aggressive efforts, the rise could be 6 feet.  Even a few inches causes dramatic impacts, so we better get ready.  The third most viewed post relates to climate impacts on our coast and is linked here.

Source:  PG&E presentation to CEC/PUC Adaptation Workshop 7/27/15

4.  Clean Coal:  This Hydra Needs to Die

Promoting "Clean Coal" has become a favorite energy source for many of the Republican presidential candidates and some are even distancing themselves from cleaner energy like solar and wind.  The fourth most viewed post compares "clean coal" to the many-headed hydra that sprouts more heads each time you cut one off.  The post is linked here.

Hydra: Digital image courtesy of the Getty's Open Content Program

5.  California 2030 Climate Goals: Renewable Energy

The fifth most viewed post was part of a series covering summertime workshops to assess progress towards California climate goals for 2030.  The renewable energy post is the only one of the series in the top five list.  The other posts covered transportation (#8) and energy efficiency (#11).