Tag Archives: global warming

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: 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”

1-turkson (1)

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  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.

Eiffel2

 

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.

Environment  UN climate talks update from Paris: 2 degrees C by 2100, or 1.5 to stay alive?

 A fuller treatment of this story was published on mongabay.com here.

A Filipino marine stands guard at the village of Guiuan in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Haiyan. Photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Liam Kennedy courtesy of the U.S. Navy.

A Filipino marine stands guard at the village of Guiuan in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Haiyan. Photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Liam Kennedy courtesy of the U.S. Navy.

By Justin Catanoso

The UN climate summit is entering its final 48 hours of negotiations, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, in a packed press conference, today (Dec. 9, 2015) promised an unprecedented agreement. Some 186 countries will agree, to some voluntary extent, to reduce their carbon emissions in order to hold global warming from pre-industrial times to below an increase of  2 degree C by 2100.

“We can accomplish so much more in the next few days, the next few hours,” Kerry said. “The decisions are tough, the debates are complex. But we all know the situation. We won’t leave Paris without a agreement And we all know what a effective agreement that looks like. It needs to be as ambitious as possible.”

To that end, a steady drumbeat of momentum has built in negotiations this week toward a more aggressive global warming target. A new catch-phrase has emerged in one press briefing after another: “1.5 to stay alive.”

“1.5 degrees is vital to stay alive,” said Samantha Smith with WWF International in a briefing Tuesday. “That should be the long-term goal.”

A group of 20 countries which call themselves the Climate Vulnerable Forum — think Seycelles, Maldives, the Marshall islands — are making the most noise for language in the text to hold global warming to a 1.5 degree C rise instead of 2 degrees C. The forum is chaired by the president of the Philippines, which has been hit by three of the strongest typhoons in its history in the past three years.

The web site tcktcktck.org spells out the difference in a mere half-degree Celcius:

“You want to solve the problem,” said John Knox, the UN’s special Rappateaur on the issue of John Knox WFUhuman rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. “Expressing 1.5 degrees as the target will have the effect of doing what’s necessary to solve the problem. Warming of 2 degrees just isn’t going to be enough to prevent massive climate change disruption over the next 50-80 years.”

Already the language in the final text appears to be fluid. Where it used to say “2 degree C,” there are now options such as “below 2 degrees C” or “far below 2 degrees C” or “between 1.5 and 2 degrees C.” Few will predict where the language will land.

There’s just one problem, said Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists. If the world could somehow magically stop burning fossil fuels tomorrow, the damage baked into the climate already is leading global warming to at least another 1.3-degree rise by 2100. Since that’s not going to happen, a target of 1.5 degree C may simply be unrealistic, Meyer said.

 

Environment  News & Observer: From Paris, a NC message on climate change

Letitia Webster, head of sustainability efforts at VF Corp. Photo by Justin Catnaoso

Letitia Webster, head of sustainability efforts at VF Corp. Photo by Justin Catnaoso

Excerpt: It is with a palpable sense of embarrassment that Letitia Webster of VF Corp. shares such information about North Carolina reneging on its green energy commitments with other top U.S. business leaders who, for the first time, have shown up in force at a UN climate summit.

Each is pushing in Paris for an unprecedented global accord in which all 196 nations represented at the summit voluntarily reduce their carbon emissions to try to stave off the predicted worst effects of climate change by 2100. Full story here.

Environment  Stern: “Worldwide buy-in is based on the notion that countries can make their own decisions.”

Todd Stern is President Obama's top adviser on climate the and U.S.'s  leadneogiator at COP21.

Todd Stern is President Obama’s top adviser on climate the and U.S.’s leadneogiator at COP21. Photo by Justin Catanoso.

Todd Stern has one difficult job. As President Obama’s top adviser on climate change, and the lead negotiator for the U.S. during the last seven UN climate summits, he is either marked as hero or villain, depending on what part of the world you’re from.

Yes, he represents the richest country on earth, one which could do more to alleviate the early ravages of climate changes in various parts of the globe. But it’s actually doing less than Norway. As a leader in the world’s lone superpower, he could exercise more influence on the proposed accord any time he chooses. But he knows that’s a sucker’s game, and never yields desirable outcomes.

Instead, Stern — even-tempered, soft-spoken, chummy with many long-time climate-change journalists — chooses to be clear, candid and concise. “Here’s what I can tell you; here’s what I can’t. Next question.”

Today he reminded the world’s media that the pledges of 196 countries to reduce their carbon emissions are just that — pledges, promises, not legally binding. Countries can renege, cheat or simply ignore what they said they would do. But for the world’s largest countries, the U.S. among them, transparency will be binding: strict inventories of emissions, clear reporting on actions, always open to outside review. The same strict rules will not, he said, apply to developing countries who simply don’t have the tools for such accounting.  But they will be nudged in that direction, with great assistance.

Meanwhile, Stern said, there is no reason to think that an accord won’t be struck by weeks’ end, the first time in history that all the nation’s on earth will agree to reduce their carbon emissions to slow the rate of global warming. Here’s why he’s optimistic: “Worldwide buy-in is based on the notion that countries can make their own decisions.”

In a world that suffers gravely from a lack of trust, that notion of trust that Stern describes might just end up saving the planet in the long run.