Environment  Patience runs thin at UN mid year climate conference in Bonn, Germany

 

Top officials celebrate after the Paris Agreement was signed in December. But critics see no acceleration.

Top officials celebrate after the Paris Agreement was signed in December. But critics see no acceleration.

Acceleration? It depends on who you ask. That’s why the irony of this celebratory photo, taken immediately after the Paris Agreement was approved by 196 nations in mid-December, is so apparent here in Bonn, Germany, at the United Nations annual mid year climate conference.

On Monday, May 16, Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), proclaimed the Paris Agreement as “a historic achievement.”

“Today marks a new era for all of us,” she declared with great hope and enthusiasm to a plenary of national leaders. “With the support of thousands of non-Party stakeholders, you were able to make the seemingly impossible possible. You have brought down the many barriers that divided you. You have opened many opportunities that now unite you.”

Christana Figueres, UNFCCC, at the opening session in Bonn

Christana Figueres, UNFCCC, at the opening session in Bonn

It sounds good. In many ways, it is good.  Never before had virtually every nation on earth pledged to set voluntary goals to reduce their carbon emissions. They pledged also to fight deforestation and promote reforestation in vitally important tropical countries. Most critically, they pledged to hold the rise of global temperatures by 2100 to another 0.5-degree C, instead of a full 1-degree C.

The Paris Agreement got the world drunk on hope. But the buzz has worn off here in Bonn. Impatient activists and NGOs, particularly from poor, vulnerable nations now suffering the ravages of global warming, deride the lack of progress since Paris among the world’s most powerful nations and largest carbon polluters — China, the U.S., India, Russia, Japan and the EU.

They are rightfully impatient. They have already waited too long. Paris was COP21 (Conference of the Parties). Simply put, that means the first 20 UN climate summits ended in failure. Two decades of possible progress were lost to climate denial and political skittishness.

Thus, the claim in the top photo — We’re Accelerating Climate Action — looks like a lie to the critics here as it greets them each morning upon arriving at this modern conference facility made of glass and steel.

“Immediately after the UK signed the Paris Agreement, officials returned home and approved $3.3 billion in dirty energy subsidies for oil and gas companies,” said Asad Rehman with Friends of the Earth-UK. “Those subsidies should have been canceled given the Paris Agreement. We see a huge disconnect between what is said here (in Bonn) and what is happening here and at home.”

Rehman spoke at a May 18 press conference that assessed the Paris outcome and international action over the last five months. Impatience ran high among the panelists. So I posed  a devil’s advocate-type question: “Global leaders in Paris agreed in December that the agreement did not go far enough. They all pledged to revise the strengthen the document in the months and years ahead. Don’t they deserve a little more time?”

“Our people are already dying,” retorted Lidy Nacil with the Asia Peoples Movement on Debt & Development, told me. “Fossil fuel projects should have been canceled right after Paris.”

Rehman added: “You must understand. It’s not just been five months. Governments have willingly failed to act for more than 20 years. The UN has called for carbon reductions in 1990. Since then, carbon emissions have increased globally by 60 percent.”

Celia Gautier with Reseau Action Climate of France said the recent French government’s ratification of the Paris Agreement “Is not not sufficient. There will not be a magic wand to Celia Gautierchange climate action around the world that will keep temperatures around 1.5-degree C.

“Countries need to phase out fossil fuels now. The G8 must take the lead. But they are still reluctant to provide a road map on how the money will be raised to achieve of the goals of the agreement. Rhetoric needs to be matched with action. And we are not seeing it.”

Tamar Lawrence-Samuel, associate research director at Corporate Accountability International in Boston, said the U.S. managed to take credit as a stalwart hero of the Paris Agreement while continuing to send contradictory messages at home. No to Atlantic Ocean oil drilling and the XL Pipeline; yes to increased oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic.

“The United States continues to pollute itself between a rock and a hard place,” she said.

In covering this grim and dire story of international climate change since 2013, I have tried to remain open to the possibilities that nations, states, cities, faith groups led by Pope Francis and other faith leaders, and innovators funded by Bill Gates and Elon Musk can and will bring about the change necessary to stave off the worst effects of climate change.

What choice do we have but to cling to hope?

Yet I am reminded every day in Bonn that optimism comes with a price and the expectation of uncompromising political will. And that despite the Paris Agreement being exactly what Christiana Figueres hailed — “a historic achievement ” — turning rhetoric into meaningful action remains a complex and daunting task.

The UN meeting here in Bonn runs through May 26.

My reporting in Bonn is being sponsored by funds provided by Wake Forest University, where I am a professor of journalism and director of the journalism program. 

 

Environment  Mongabay: Last best place on earth: Who will save the Caribbean’s great coral reef?

Healthy coral at the Blue Hole in Lighthouse Reef Atoll off the coast of Belize.

Healthy coral at the Blue Hole in Lighthouse Reef Atoll off the coast of Belize. Photo by Justin Catanoso

This represents my first ocean-related climate change story, based on reporting in early March 2016 some 50 miles off the coast of Belize. Invited by my friend and mentor Miles Silman, a Wake Forest tropical ecologist, I joined his coral ecology students over Spring Break and snorkeled every day. My story for Mongabay.com is here.  Summary by my editor Glenn Scherer:

  • Lighthouse Reef Atoll in Belize is part of the Caribbean Sea’s Mesoamerican reef system, the world’s second largest. It is stubbornly resilient, and one of the last best places in the western Atlantic in need of total preservation. But virtually no action is happening to conserve it.
  • To save it, the entire reef needs to be a “no take zone,” allowing minimal livelihood fishing by local families, but banning the Guatemalan fishermen who the government of Belize has licensed to legally fish for sharks — exported for shark fin soup to China, at $100 per bowl.
  • The only thing that can save this World Heritage site is full protection: a ban on all large-scale commercial fishing, and the encouragement of eco-tourism to support the local people economically and to generate the funds needed for enforcement and high-tech monitoring.
  • Belize cannot, and will not likely, do the job alone. If this aquatic treasure is to be preserved for the future, the international conservation community will need to awake to its likely loss, and rally vigorously to the cause of permanently protecting it — now, before it is gone.
Miles Silman snorkeling.

Miles Silman snorkeling. Photo by Justin Catanoso

Starfish in the sea grass. Photo by Justin Catanoso

Starfish in the sea grass. Photo by Justin Catanoso

Queen angelfish. Photo by Justin Catanoso

Queen angelfish. Photo by Justin Catanoso

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Environment  Mongabay: Naomi Oreskes on climate change: “We’ve blown it… but pessimism is not acceptable”

Naomi Oreskes. Photo by Harvard University photographer Claudio Cambon

Naomi Oreskes. Photo by Harvard University photographer Claudio Cambon

Naomi Oreskes, a Harvard professor of the history of science, and an outspoken champion of the climate science surrounding global warming, spoke at Wake Forest on Feb. 16, 2016, in a high-energy panel discussion moderated by MSNBC’s Melissa Harris Perry. When i told my Mongabay editor Glenn Scherer about the event, he recommended I interview Oreskes for an online Q&A. I did. With so many similar interests (tobacco industry malfeasance to climate change science), we had a long, intense discussion. The result is a very readable and insightful Q&A, linked here.

Excerpt regarding climate denial: It’s a cliché to say that knowledge is power. It’s not true actually. Knowledge is knowledge. In our society, knowledge resides in one place, and for the most part, power resides somewhere else. And that disconnect is really the crux of the challenge we face right now.

Environment  Mongabay: Top Vatican official: climate change action is a “moral imperative”

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From my Mongabay.com interview with Cardinal Peter Turkson, who oversaw the writing of Laudato Si, and who may well succeed Francis as pope: “[A]t the time Pope Francis took over, the church had a lot of very serious challenges. It’s not that they’ve all gone away. Pedophilia [among priests] was at its raging height. Ok? And a whole lot of accusations and all of that. The church Pope Francis inherited had a lot of bruises. It’s not that the bruises are gone. But his own sense of leadership, simplicity, authenticity, credibility have helped to shove a whole of this bad stuff into the background.”

Thus, he said, climate change can take center stage. The full story is here.  The Q&A comes from an hour-long interview I had with him exclusively at his Vatican reception room. I took the photo above months earlier during the press conference at the Vatican in mid-June when Laudato Si was released.

Environment  Mongabay: The Paris climate talks ended in elation — now the real work begins, say Faith leaders

Statue at the entrance to Le Bourget Airport near Paris, honoring Charles Lindbergh, the first to solo the Atlantic, and Frenchmen Charles Nungesser and François Coli, who attempted the crossing two weeks earlier and disappeared without a trace. Each day during the Paris climate change conference, participants passed by the statue — a tribute to the Lindbergh Moment, which resonated with many COP21 attendees. Photo by abac077 on Flickr licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Statue at the entrance to Le Bourget Airport near Paris, honoring Charles Lindbergh, the first to solo the Atlantic, and Frenchmen Charles Nungesser and François Coli, who attempted the crossing two weeks earlier and disappeared without a trace. Each day during the Paris climate change conference, participants passed by the statue — a tribute to the Lindbergh Moment, which resonated with many COP21 attendees. [Cutline by Glenn Scherer]

Glenn Scherer, my exemplary editor at mongabay.com sums up my “faith community’s moment” story this way: The story link is here.

  • Catholic Pope Francis, with his climate change encyclical, and Islamic leaders with their Declaration on Climate Change, both helped to rally their billions of followers to set the stage for a successful Paris climate agreement.
  • Now, the world over, Faith leaders are discussing and debating the best strategies and tactics for avoiding climate chaos, adapting to global warming, and protecting the world’s poorest and must vulnerable from continuing environmental degradation.
  • “This is the moment the spirit is trying to work. We need to be there, in all corners of the world, to carry out the message as best we can. We believe in it. We believe in it!” — Sister Sheila Kinsey

Environment  News & Record commentary: Addressing climate change should be a matter of faith

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In writing for the News & Record on Jan. 3, 2016, I pulled together the threads from my reporting in Paris and Rome in December 2015 to note that, led by the example of Pope Francis, the global faith community’s is coming together for a common good — to fight climate change and work for environmental protection. My sources were strong, including Sister Sheila Kinsey (above) in Rome:

“People are saying this is the Catholic hour; the Christian hour,” Sister Sheila Kinsey told me in her office at the Christian Brothers House in Rome, where she runs the Justice Peace & Integrity of Creation Committee. “We are dealing with issues that are critical to human nature,” she added. “There has to be a way to come together and do it right, to protect the environment and human rights. We can go to the moon, for goodness sake! Why can’t we deal with this? It’s a matter of setting our priorities, establishing our values.”

The most powerful interview I had was with the man who could have been pope, and may stilTurksonl become pope after Francis, Cardinal Peter Turkson: “At the time Pope Francis took over, the church had a lot of bruises,” he explained. “Pedophilia was at its raging height, OK? So many accusations. He set up a commission to deal with it. It’s not that the bruises are gone. But his own sense of leadership, simplicity, authenticity and credibility have helped shove a whole lot of this bad stuff into the background.”

 

Environment  Mongabay: COP21 agreement prominently addresses protection of earth’s forests

Photo by Rhett Butler of mongabay.com

Photo by Rhett Butler of mongabay.com

Here’s a link to my final story of COP21 in Paris, a story that literally fell into my lap and came together quickly shortly after the final draft of the Paris Agreement was released but before it was unanimously ratified.  Rosalind Reeve, the main source, came into the Bloomberg/BNA office where I was working to rave about the forest inclusion for the first time. Dean Scott was only marginally interested. But I knew it was a mongabay.com story and she was only too happy to talk and talk. A few more sources later, and I had what I needed. Internet connections were so jammed I bolted back to my apartment in the city to write.

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Environment  Not over yet — UN negotiators extend talks until 9 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 12

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There was slim hope that UN delegates at COP21 outiside Paris, France, would reach an unprecedented accord by today’s 6 p.m. deadline. It would have taken 186 countries agreeing to reduce their carbon emissions, and a whole host of other thorny issues. That hope was dashed early in the day, when the French hosts said the next draft, and possibly the final draft, will be released around 9 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015.

My two friends, who have covered multiple COPs, are climate change reporters for Bloomberg/BNADean Scott on the left, Eric J. Lyman on the right.

Generally, there is a good deal of optimism about the draft released last night, though developing countries are worried that the language on adaptation, and the money available for them to fight the ravages of global warming, falls far should of what’s needed.

“France is respecting  red lines and leaving room for options,” said an NGO from India in a press conference this afternoon. “For example, developing nations want a 1.5 degree C cap (by 2100) and the U..S. wants 2 degrees. You can see the tension in the text.”

The cap refers to how much temperatures can rise between 1900 to 2100 to avoid the worst impacts of global warming. The earth has already warmed 1 degree C (1.8 F) and impacts are felt dramatically in all corners of the globe. Drought. Sea-level rise. Intense storms. Melting ice caps.

Eric, who has covered 14 COPS, put things in perspective:  “Game theory says that in any negotiation, the draft always weakens between the penultimate draft and the final draft. It just stands to reason. The issues left to resolve are the hardest, and they only way they get a unanimous vote — which is required — is to compromise.”

Dean, who has covered 11 COPS, said the last one to end on a Friday, close to deadline, was Nairobi in 2006, and little was accomplished. “It’s par for the course,”  Dean said. “Climate summits are like a good party. They should spill over into the weekend.”

The world is hoping there is something to truly celebrate.

Environment  Mongabay: COP21 — New satellite imaging tracks REDD+ deforestation tree-by-tree

Alessandro Baccini with Woods Hole Research Center Photo by Justin Catanoso

Alessandro Baccini with Woods Hole Research Center Photo by Justin Catanoso

Here’s the summary of mongabay.com story on a significant advancement in making the policy REDD+ work as a tool between countries to keep critical tropical forests intact. Much credit goes to remote sensing scientist Alessandro Baccini at Woods Hole Research Center.

  • Critics have long argued that the inability of satellites to track deforestation with precision created a loophole that could allow tropical countries to cheat regarding their annual deforestation rates.
  • Past satellite imaging systems could not resolve objects smaller than 500 meters (1,640 feet) across. A new system developed by Alessandro Baccini and his Woods Hole, Massachusetts, research team can see objects just 30 meters (98 feet) across.
  • Satellite imaging, combined with imaging from airplanes, along with ground-truthing will help make observation of tropical deforestation rates and carbon offsets far more precise in real time, preventing cheating and under reporting.

EnvironmentRadio  North Carolina Public Radio (WUNC) The State of Things: The Latest On Paris Climate Change Talks

Outside the entrance of the UN Climate Summit talks in Paris. Photo by Eric J. Lyman

Outside the entrance of the UN Climate Summit talks in Paris. Photo by Eric J. Lyman

Intro as read by State of Things host Frank Stasio: “”Ice caps are melting, ocean levels are rising and coral reefs are dying. The way things are going, some scientists say the world could be unfit for human habitation by the end of century. All eyes are on Paris right now as world leaders are negotiating an agreement to slow the effects of climate change. A deal is expected by tomorrow, but there are still big issues to resolve between the industrialized and developing nations.

The plan will likely include more renewable energy like solar, a topic of debate in North Carolina. Host Frank Stasio talks with Justin Catanoso, director of the journalism program at Wake Forest University, about the latest in Paris and a potential impact in North Carolina. To listen to the 11-minute interview, click here.