Tag Archives: Bonn

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

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

 

Environment  Mongabay: COP23: Trump, U.S. govt. seen as irrelevant to global climate action

Entrance to COP22 in Marrakesh, Morocco in November 2016. Photo by Justin Catanoso

Entrance to COP22 in Marrakesh, Morocco in November 2016. Photo by Justin Catanoso

When two major and startling studies on climate change were released a few days apart — one by US scientists and the other by the World Meteorological Organization — I pitched my Mongabay Editor Glenn Scherer as news story tied to the Nov. 6 opening of COP23 in Bonn, Germany. He recommended get some outside comments and after a flurry of emails, I had compelling comments from sources at World Wildlife Fund, Environmental Defense Fund, Greenpeace and Corporate Accountability International. From the story, linked here:

Both reports undermine the Trump administration’s hostile denialist stance on climate action and take a toll on the international credibility of the United States, at least at the federal level, at a moment of escalating environmental crisis on land, air and sea.

Delegate primary meeting hall at COP23 in Bonn, Germany. Photo by Justin Catanoso

Delegate primary meeting hall at COP23 in Bonn, Germany. Photo by Justin Catanoso

 

Environment  Mongabay: China flexes its new climate action muscles in Bonn; Trump administration blinks

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 2015. Trump’s threats to withdraw from the agreement has touched off a hostile global response, especially from China. Photo by Justin Catanoso in 2016.

A good source with World Resources Institute in Bonn, Germany, tipped me off to this story about China’s disgusted reaction to Trump’s repeated threats to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. After a conversation with Mongabay editor Mike Gaworecki, we agreed to a quick follow up given that the mainstream media has not reported the news yet. They will. We just have it early.

Environment  Mongabay: Trump failure to lead on climate doesn’t faze UN policymakers in Bonn

Press coveringLast year (May 2016), I was fortunate to cover the first week on the UN mid-year climate conference in Bonn, Germany. This year, under the specter of a US president threatening to pull out of the historic Paris Agreement, I produced a story for Mongabay from my home office in North Carolina. The story is here. Thanks to editor Glenn Scherer for his quick and thorough work. The story quickly hit Mongabay’s Best Read list at No. 5.

In my reporting:

  • Bonn negotiators remain unfazed by Trump’s climate change denialism or his threat to withdraw from Paris. Every signatory nation is going forward with meeting voluntary carbon reduction pledges. Some policymakers do worry how the parties to the Paris Agreement will make up the loss of billions of dollars in U.S. climate aid promised under Obama, but now denied by Trump.

Environment  Mongabay: Climate negotiators focus on carbon credits, underplay human rights

 

The opening session of the UN midyear climate conference in Bonn, Germany.

The opening session of the UN midyear climate conference in Bonn, Germany. Photo by Justin Catanoso

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 Knox WFUJohn’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.”

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.