I arrive on Nov. 11, 2016 to cover my third consecutive UN Climate Summit, COP22, this one in Marrakesh, Morocco. Today, Nov. 8, 2016 — Election Day in the U.S. — I was interviewed on WUNC’s The State of Things of the significance of this summit and what’s at stake. The recording of my conversation with host Frank Stasio is here. Thanks to Anita Rao for her excellent preparation and production.
In preparing to cover my third consecutive United Nation’s Climate Summit — COP22 in Marrakesh, Morocco — I was able to call on a variety of new sources I made when in Bonn, Germany, at the mid-year summit last May. Among some officials, there is a tendency to let Marrakesh be something of a breather after the historic achievement at COP21 in Paris. The Paris Agreement, ratified with unprecedented haste, was the first time after 20 years of failure that 195 nations agreed to each do something about reducing their carbon footprint.
But Paris is simply a blue print. So much hard work remains. And we’ve already lost two decades to political inertia and denial. Thus, we have no time to waste. COP22 must exceeds expectations and begin delivering on the promise established in Paris. My story here explains why.
In the waning days of President Ollanta Humala’s administration in July 2016, Peru’s National Congress approved a set of innovative climate change-related policies designed to reduce deforestation, protect watersheds and biodiversity, and provide the tools needed to leverage international investment through UN programs such as REDD+ and the Green Climate Fund.
But a new administration has taken over and lawlessness is often the rule in the Amazon basin. My story for Mongabay.com looks at the new policies and the challenges for implementation. First time with with Mongabay editor Morgan Erickson-Davis, who did a great job with my story.
Good friend and former NPR anchor Paul Brown is back in Winston-Salem producing
Across the Blue Ridge, a weekly music program of traditional mountain music. Paul and I worked together years ago when he was the news director at WFDD. When I told him last spring about my opportunity to meet Emmylou Harris and report on her desire to raise money for the Jesuit Refugee Service through a U.S. acoustic concert tour, he advised: “Get some sound. Let’s do a story for Across the Blue Ridge.” I did. Paul produced a beautiful 20-minute segment of three Emmylou classics with an interview with me about her after the first song, Orphan Girl.
Here’s the link on Soundcloud.
My dear friend and editor Lisa Chase, a senior editor and writer at Elle, the glossy women’s fashion magazine out of New York City, opened the door for me for one last Emmylou Harris story. This one is very different, mostly a Q&A of a more personal nature for Elle.com. The link is here.
Excerpt: As we walk the Roman streets that tourists avoid, Emmylou shares with me her motivation to get involved, the wellspring of her humanitarianism, and her everlasting belief in the power of music to change the world.
Glenn Scherer, my superlative editor at Mongabay.com, never wavered when I told him I could get him a story from my interview in Rome with Emmylou Harris that would work on the site. After all, the Americana music icon was in Rome to learn about the European refugee crisis and what she could do to help. Because it’s becoming increasingly clear that mass migration in Africa and the Middle East is being driven to some degree by drought, severe weather, and sea-level rise — all under the umbrella of climate change — Emmylou just needed to say a bit about the connection and I’d have my story. She did. Here’s the link.
This is a little outside my specialty of climate change, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to spend time with and interview Emmylou Harris, one of the greatest voices in American music. She’s also a great humanitarian, as my story tries to explain. Here’s the link.
I met her in Rome, Italy, on June 3 thanks for the herculean efforts of my good friend Jill Drzewiecki with the Jesuit Refugee Service. She organized the three-day visit, which included a private concert for about 60 invited guests at the residence of David Lane, US ambassador to UN Agencies.
My second and final story from my four days covering the UN Midyear Climate Conference in Bonn, Germany, in mi-May 2016 focused on a policy recommendation on human rights and Third World development proposed by my Wake Forest colleague John Knox, the UN Special Rappatour on Human Right and Climate Change. The link to the story is here.
John’s proposal sounds so sensible, I write, “That is until you realize that CDM projects were established by the Kyoto Protocol as a way for wealthy industrialized countries to earn carbon-emission credits against their pollution caps by investing in clean energy or efficient energy projects in developing countries. Millions if not billions of dollars are at stake in CDM projects financed by the World Bank. It’s not hard to imagine how these complex international business transactions might be slowed or even undermined by adding local human rights requirements into the future project mix.”
This story for Mongabay.com, one of two that got posted from Bonn, complements the previous blog post with far more details and graphics, thanks to my editor Glenn Scherer. The story link is here.
An excerpt: “And so, the declarations bounced to and fro, through the week, ranging between glowing optimism and gloom. The conference, which opened May 16, ranthrough May 26. Policies and complex particulars of the Paris Agreement, like financing for REDD+ (dealing with deforestation), and the Clean Development Mechanism (dealing with emissions reductions projects in the developing world), are all being debated in Bonn, though no real decisions will be made. Those must wait until November 7-18 and COP22 in Marrakesh, Morocco.”
I hope to be in Marrakesh.
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.”
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 change 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.