Environment  Mongabay: A reflection on COP23: Incremental progress but no industrialized country’s top priority (commentary)

Fiji, the first truly vulnerable nation to host a COP, had hoped the motto of COP23 would be true. What it and other similar nations got was: wait til next year. Again. Photo by Justin Catanoso

Fiji, the first truly vulnerable nation to host a COP, had hoped the motto of COP23 would be true. What it and other similar nations got was: wait til next year. Again. Photo by Justin Catanoso

My first commentary for Mongabay, written with the encouragement of reporter/editor Mike Gaworecki. I greatly appreciated the opportunity. An excerpt:

How many hurricanes the ferocity of Harvey, Irma, and Maria must be experienced in the US alone to stoke a greater sense of urgency? How many climate refugees need to be pushed from sub-Saharan Africa and Syria because of unrelenting drought? How much more Arctic ice needs to melt? How much sea-level rise can be tolerated in low-lying island nations — and Miami Beach, for goodness sake — before COP participants stop delaying greater ambitions prior to 2020, when a stronger Paris Agreement is to take effect?

Uncategorized  Mongabay: @COP23 — Alliance pledges an end to coal; other key summit goals unmet

A protester outside the the entrance to COP23 in Bonn, Germany, holding up a simple, irrefutable truth. Photo by Justin Catanoso

A protester outside the the entrance to COP23 in Bonn, Germany, holding up a simple, irrefutable truth. Photo by Justin Catanoso

Late Thursday morning, November 16, 2017, at a packed announcement in the European Union meeting room at COP23, environmental ministers from Canada and the UK offered perhaps the most promising news to come out of the 23rd UN climate summit. They announced a coalition of 19 countries and two US states pledging to phase out all coal burning by 2030. My editor Glenn Scherer agreed that it was a good idea to close out my coverage from COP23 with a more upbeat story. That’s what this is (link here). The story closes with a wrap-up of the work left undone.

Environmental ministers Claire Perry from the UK (left) and Catherine McKenna from Canada, discussing the Coalition to Power Past Coal. Photo by Justin Catanoso

Environmental ministers Claire Perry from the UK (left) and Catherine McKenna from Canada, discussing the Coalition to Power Past Coal. Photo by Justin Catanoso

Environment  Mongabay: @COP23 — Leaders vie for protection of ‘incredibly important’ African peatland

One of the largest peat formations in the world has been confirmed on the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Congo. It's the size of New York State and is perhaps the world's largest carbon sink. Map by Mongabay.

One of the largest peat formations in the world has been confirmed on the border of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of the Congo. It’s the size of New York State and is perhaps the world’s largest carbon sink. Map by Mongabay.

Mongabay has been covering the story of his enormous new finding of peatland in central Africa all year. Editor Morgan Erickson-Davis, who has been coordinating coverage, asked if I could get a follow-up story from COP23. With assistance from Dave McGlinchey, the communications director at Woods Hole Research Center, and Melanie Gade, a communications specialist with World Wildlife Fund, they both pointed me to the exact sources I needed. Morgan added in some insightful context.  

EnvironmentRadio  WUNC/The State of Things — At UN Climate Summit, The US Takes A Different Position

Protesters gather before the Trump panel discussion on fossil fuels at COP23 in Bonn, Germany. Photo by Justin Catanoso

Protesters gather before the Trump panel discussion on fossil fuels at COP23 in Bonn, Germany. Photo by Justin Catanoso

Here’s the link to my live interview from Bonn and the venue of COP23 with host Frank Stasio of WUNC’s The State of Things, broadcast from Durham, North Carolina. This is the third time the program has had me on regarding my coverage of these UN climate summits — live from Paris in 2015, just before leaving for Marrakesh in 2016 and live from Bonn in 2017.

The tech folks in the media center found the only land line in the entire area, pulled it out of a broadcast studio and set it up on an empty room between two busy newsrooms. At 6:05 pm German time (12:05 pm back in North Carolina), Frank welcomed me to the program. We talked for just under 12 minutes. From what others tell me, it turned out pretty well. Special shout out to my friend Jill Drzewiecki, who listened to the live feed on her phone while commuting home after work in Rome, Italy.

Environment  Mongabay: @COP23 — U.S., wealthy nations curtail climate aid for developing world

A reminder to COP23 delegates, observers and negotiators as to what's at stake in these annual talks: the fate of human life on  earth. Photo by Justin Catanoso

A reminder to COP23 delegates, observers and negotiators as to what’s at stake in these annual talks: the fate of human life on earth. Photo by Justin Catanoso

This story, which I spent an entire day reporting — from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. — came from the newest member of the Mongabay editorial leadership team, Willie Shubert. An experienced environmental journalist, Willie wondered whether the ever-present clash between developed countries (G-20) and developing countries (G-77) was being exasperated by the United States’ fundamentally different role at COP23. Good question.

Initially, it wasn’t a story I was sure I could pull off.  My sources tend to be scientists, environmentalists and NGOs, not national delegates and negotiators. But I told my editor, Glenn Scherer, I would get an early start and work it and see what I came up with. Dean Scott, Bloomberg BNA’s lead climate change reporter, offered some great perspective before I started my reporting and recommended several sources. I attended a press conference early that was exactly the premise of my story. I lucked into some mid-afternoon interviews with a former president of a Pacific island nation and a member of the Australian national government, and finally, I found Harjeet Singh, an insider with ActionAid of London, who helped me pull all the pieces together. I started writing around 10:30 p.m. and finished around 2:30 a.m. I got the story.

Harjeet Singh of ActionAid, a key sources in this story. Photo by Justin Catanoso

Harjeet Singh of ActionAid, a key sources in this story. Photo by Justin Catanoso

EnvironmentRadio  Mongabay podcast featuring legend Jane Goodall (and me @COP23)

Mongabay founder Rhett Butler interviews primate legend Jane Goodall for the site's podcast. I am included as well, offering insights from COP23. Pretty good company.

Mongabay founder Rhett Butler interviews primate legend Jane Goodall for the site’s podcast. I am included as well, offering insights from COP23 in a conversation with editor Mike Gaworecki from Bonn, Germany.

Mongabay reporter and editor Mike Gaworecki also handles the twice-monthly podcast for the news organization that began about a year ago. I made by third podcast appearance on November 15 from Bonn, Germany and the 23rd Climate Summit. By shear luck and good fortune, the podcast also includes a fascinating interview by Mongabay founder Rhett Butler with primate legend Jane Goodall (who is on the Mongabay board). Pretty good company to be in all around.  The link to the podcast is here.

Environment  Mongabay: @COP23 — Trump team leads ‘surreal’ coal-gas-nuke climate summit panel

These spirited young people disrupted the on Trump event at COP23 -- a surreal panel discussion that promoted the use of coal and gas as a part of the long-term solution, not to climate change, but to energy security and economic prosperity. To hell with the earth, let's reward investors and make money while we can! Photo by Justin Catanoso

These spirited young people disrupted the on Trump event at COP23 — a surreal panel discussion that promoted the use of coal and gas as a part of the long-term solution, not to climate change, but to energy security and economic prosperity. To hell with the earth, let’s reward investors and make money while we can! Photo by Justin Catanoso

Here’s the link to my story about one of the most widely covered events at COP23. There is a YouTube video in my story that shows the protesters in action.

This was one of the weirdest, most bizarre and completely out-of-touch panel discussions I’ve ever covered or attended. It may have been the strangest in COP history. It was a circus of the surreal, from the two West Coast governors who denounced Trump in the room right before the president’s panelists took their seats, to the young people who stopped the event cold for seven long minutes with a song they revised, to the panel’s not once uttering the word global warming in an event that stretched nearly two hours, to the hostile questions and lack of answers during the brief Q&A. Oh yeah, there were hundreds of protesters chanting outside the room the entire time, denouncing the US president for making the US the only nation on earth to announce its intention to withdraw from the historic Paris Agreement.

The panelists at representing the Trump Administration view that fossil fuels really don't need to phased out after all, and that there is such a thing as clean coal. Of the three men on the left, their collective duplicity was breathtaking. To the others, it was clear they were not comfortable being a part of this charade. Photo by Justin Catanoso

The panelists representing the Trump Administration view that fossil fuels really don’t need to phased out any time soon and that there is such a thing as clean coal. Of the three men on the left, their collective duplicity was breathtaking. To the others, it was clear they were not comfortable being a part of this charade. Photo by Justin Catanoso

Environment  Mongabay: @COP23 — U.S. subnationals shoulder climate role in Bonn, Trump sidelined

Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York and global leaders on cities and climate, at COP23 in Bonn, Germany. By Justin Catanoso

Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York and global leaders on cities and climate, at COP23 in Bonn, Germany. By Justin Catanoso

Here’s the link to my first story from COP23, which posted Monday Nov. 13, 2017.

I arrived in Bonn, Germany in a sleep-deprived fog on Friday Nov. 10, 2017 to prepare to cover my fourth consecutive UN climate summit, this one hosted by the Pacific Island nation of Fiji.

While that Friday was spent learning my way around the sprawling site — I walked five miles that never and never left the venue — Saturday was consumed with the rise of the US subnationals, a coalition of 15 states, 455 cities, 350 universities and 1700+ businesses.

Their central message: There is the United States and there is the Trump Administration. The latter does not speak for the former. Gov. Jerry Brown of California and former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, among others, stressed #WeAreStillIn — meaning, the equal to nearly half the US economy is still in the Paris Agreement, no matter what Trump says he intends to do. It was a stunning, blunt and blistering rebuke of a sitting president.

The US Climate Action Center, not paid for by the Trump Administration, but rather private interests. Photo by Justin Catanoso

The US Climate Action Center, not paid for by the Trump Administration, but rather private interests. Photo by Justin Catanoso

Uncategorized  Mongabay: @COP23 — Voices from America’s Pledge; in their own words

Former Vice Prsident Al Gore speaking about the economic transformation taking place globally because of the rapid shift to renewable energy sources at the US Climate Action Center during the America's Pledge event. Photo by Justin Catanoso

Former Vice President Al Gore speaking about the economic transformation taking place globally because of the rapid shift to renewable energy sources at the US Climate Action Center during the America’s Pledge event. Photo by Justin Catanoso

This is the first story of its kind I’ve written for Mongabay. I had already written a full story about the America’s pledge event, led by California Gov. Jerry Brown and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. They pledged that an array of states, cities, universities, businesses and tribal nations had quickly formed a coalition after Trump announced June 1 his intention of pulling out of the Paris Agreement. Their goal — to keep the Obama administration’s carbon-reduction promises in the agreement.

There were so many so many compelling speakers, so many quotable comments that I could not get into the main story. So I put together a kind of photo essay with extended quotes that amplify and complement the main story. Read together, they tell a story all their own. My editor Glenn Scherer liked the idea and went with it. I’m glad he did.

The mayor of Pittsburgh (left) and the head of Walmarts sustainability efforts, during the America's pledge event. Photo by Justin Catanoso

The mayor of Pittsburgh (left) and the head of Walmart’s sustainability efforts, during the America’s pledge event. Photo by Justin Catanoso

Environment  Mongabay: Carbon sequestration role of savanna soils key to climate goals

An elephant roams the mixed savanna of Kruger National Park in South Africa in June 2017. Photo by Bobby Amoroso

An elephant roams the mixed savanna of Kruger National Park in South Africa in June 2017. Photo by Bobby Amoroso

I’m quite proud of this story for Mongabay, which for me represents a new part of the world, new ecosystems and new scientific sources with a news hook that sets up my coverage of my fourth United Nations Climate Summit — COP23 — in Bonn, Germany from Nov. 6-Nov. 17, 2017. Within a few days, it became hit the No. 2 spot on Mongabay’s Most Read stories list. Here’s how it came about:

When I met and began talking with Wake Forest biologist Michael Anderson in spring 2017 about his work in  in the Serengeti of Tanzania, I realized there was this enormous ecosystem — savannas and grasslands — that I knew precious little about. I’ve had the good fortune, with the initial invitation of good friend and tropical ecologist Miles Silman (also of Wake Forest), of reporting from the cloud and rain forests in the Peruvian Amazon and from the Mesoamerican coral reef of Lighthouse Reef Atoll far off the coast of Belize. But savannas and grasslands, which cover more than 20 percent of the earth’s surface? I knew virtually nothing.

Getting into Tanzania proved too difficult on short notice, so Anderson recommended South Africa. He then put me in touch with a quartet of scientists at a top university in Johannesburg (Nelson Mandela got his law degree there), and three responded readily that they would be happy to meet with me and talk about their research in the bush. Through the help of London-based World Fixers, I was able to hire a videographer named Neil Bowen in Johannesburg to work as my fixer, helping to arrange interviews, plot logistics and make contacts near the world-famous Kruger National Park. When my good friend Bobby Amoroso agreed to join me as my photographer, we bought plane tickets for the 17-hour flight from Atlanta to Jo-burg and went on safari.

Rhino resting in the wide open savanna in South Africa. These iconic creatures don't live in forests. Photo by Bobby Amoroso

Rhino resting in the wide open savanna in South Africa. These iconic creatures don’t live in forests. Photo by Bobby Amoroso

Over the course of 12 days, we observed, experienced and learned so much. I hadn’t expected to do a story on rhino poaching and the threat of species extinction in Kruger and the rest of the African continent. That story, which Mongabay posted in July, fell into our laps with the help of Bowen’s exceptional contacts. But this story here was my initial target: how do I understand the role of savannas and grasslands at two often conflicting levels — sequestering carbon in their soils and thus slowing the rate of global warming, and providing a home for the largest, most iconic animals left roaming the earth.

The essence of my story can be summed up in this quote from highly regarded researcher Bob Scholes (pictured with me below) when we met and spoke at a weekend event outside Jo-berg:

“If you want to keep global temperature rise under 2-degrees Celsius [1.8 degrees Fahrenheit; the Paris Agreement goal], then you need forests growing,” says biologist Bob Scholes, a systems ecologist at Witwatersrand University. “I love trees,” he adds. “But the fact is, for a lot of reasons, they are not always the answer.”

Bob Scholes and I at a science and art event on the outskirts of Johannesburg in June 2017. Photo by Bobby Amoroso

Bob Scholes and I at a science and art event on the outskirts of Johannesburg in June 2017. Photo by Bobby Amoroso