Monthly Archives: December 2014

Can Mayors Lead the Charge Against Global Warming?

TRIAD NEXT: On Saturday, Dec. 6, my first evening in Lima, Peru, for the UN climate summit, I had the good fortune of meeting Riley M. Duren, a chief systems engineer with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. For an hour or so in the lounge of the Lima Westin, after a long day of presentations at the Global Landscape Forum, Riley talked to me about an issue I had never really thought of before: the role of cities and mayors in the climate change equation.

He was so thoughtful and passionate on this topic that I set aside my Bloody Mary, grabbed my notebook and turned a casual conversation into an interview. I knew I had a column to write for the Triad Business Journal when I returned to the states. And within a few minutes, I knew our conversation would form the basis for my column, linked here at

WFDD: Local Efforts Help Battle Global Climate Problem

Photo by Michael Frierson

Photo by Michael Frierson

In my final radio report on the UN climate summit in Lima, Peru, I spoke with WFDD’s Keri Brown about some basics: why we have global warming, the extraordinary role forests play worldwide as a sponge for greenhouse gas emissions, and the notion that mayors might be more effective than heads of state in fighting climate change. The audio story is here.

Excerpt: “This was probably the most surprising thing I learned in Lima. I was talking with a climate scientist from NASA and he told me that the world’s 50 largest cities account for about 70 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. If you think about cities like Beijing, Mumbai, Bangkok, Rio de Janeiro or Los Angeles – big, smoggy places with a lot of traffic and a huge demand for energy – it makes sense.”

Roman Holiday: Three Spectacular Domes

The glorious ceiling inside St. Ignatius of Loyola in Rome

The glorious ceiling inside St. Ignatius of Loyola in Rome

In this travel story, printed in a Wells Fargo custom magazine, I write about three of my favorite domes in Rome. There are hundreds of them, of course, and favorites can shift from day to day. But these? They are always near the top, and always worth visiting again and again.

Roman Holiday: Three Spectacular Domes

By Justin Catanoso

It happens every time I visit Rome. My pulse quickens as I near the city’s historic center. It’s not the chaotic traffic that has my blood pressure rising, nor the anticipation of one marvelous meal after another. Like a lover separated from his partner for too long, my heart races at the first sight of Michelangelo’s masterpiece, the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica.

There it is, tall and majestic, off in the distance, across the Tiber River, high on a hill. It dominates this ancient skyline and announces in no uncertain terms that you are entering a place of architectural wonders.

Rome is a city of domes. There are scores of them topping churches and cathedrals, baths and basilicas. They are visually arresting from street level. But with three domes in particular, a special experience awaits you if you get closer, if you look closely or if you’re there at the right time.

Take the steps. Resist the urge, after a long wait in line, to go directly into St. Peter’s cavernous interior. Instead, shell out 5 euros and ascend the 551 steps to the cupola atop the dome. Midway up, you will enter a walkway that circles the famous main alter of St. Peter’s far below. It feels a little bit like heaven there. Light streams in through 16 tall windows.

Unseen from the floor, but now at eye level, a ring of plump cherubs in gold and silver mosaics by Baroque artist Cavaliere D’Arpino surround you. Before reaching the top, wander the roof of the basilica. Only there can you see the carved coat of arms of Pope Sixtus V – lions roaring above garlands of pears and flowers – around the base of the dome. It’s an apt honor. Sixtus, who made sure Michelangelo’s design was strictly followed, died the year the dome was completed, 1590.

Don’t be fooled. When is a dome not exactly a dome? When it’s tromp l’oeil, or French for optical illusion. The grand Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola, in the historic center of Rome, was supposed to have an imposing dome to crown its sanctuary. It was never built. The casual observer would never know it. Baroque artist Andrea Pozza, working in St. Ignatius in the late 1600s, was a master of tricking the eye. The nave ceiling fresco appears to open directly to the sky above.

Beyond the nave is what looks like the dimly lit vault of a dome. Eight marble ribs appear to arch upward to support a windowed cupola. It’s only when you walk in farther and stand beneath the “dome” that you realize you’ve been fooled. There’s no dome, only a huge round canvas stretched flat and painted to look like one.

Raining roses. It is quite natural, when standing inside the Pantheon in Rome, to stare transfixed at the nearly 2,000-year-old ceiling of the dome. It’s a marvel of advanced architectural achievement from an ancient world. I’m always astonished by its precise roundness, its honeycombed beauty, its unblinking oculus. I often think the sight is so powerful that it cannot be improved upon.

But on Pentecost Sunday, which comes seven weeks after Easter, it happens. During a long, elaborate Mass, Roman firemen clamor on top of the dome to the lip of the oculus with huge bags of red roses pedals. As the Mass ends and music swells, the firemen empty their bags to a collective gasp of excitement. When I was there in June, a thick shaft of light angled through the oculus. Rose pedals shimmered and fluttered through the light. People reached to grab as many pedals as they could.

All by itself, any day of the week, the Pantheon is one of Rome’s most incredible sights. But in one burst of color and magic that lasts a few minutes just once a year, the Pantheon and its glorious dome are rendered even more incredible.

COP20 post mortem: Achievements and obstacles from the UN climate summit in Lima, Peru

Joseph Zambo Mandea and Melaine Kermarc, both Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts, were among the climate change activists I met and interviewed at the COP20 - the UN climate summit in Lima, Peru. Photo by Justin Catanoso

Joseph Zambo Mandea of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Melaine Kermarc of France, both with the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts, were among the climate change activists I met and interviewed at the COP20 – the UN climate summit in Lima, Peru. Photo by Justin Catanoso

From the WFDD web post Dec. 17, 2014 (Audio link is here) — A global summit to address climate change wrapped up in Peru last week. After 36 hours of overtime negotiations, a draft of the Lima Accords was presented–a plan which will change how countries deal with carbon emissions. Wake Forest journalism professor Justin Catanoso is a regular WFDD contributor and attended the UN Climate talks.

Catanoso reported that there was momentum and optimism ahead of the summit. He says that still remains today, with the Lima Accords, which is the first deal committing every country in the world to reducing their fossil fuel emissions.

“This represents a significant breakthrough in a 20-year effort by the UN to come up with some international accord to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” says Catanoso.

But he adds that the strength of the accords is also its weakness. Each nation will set its own reduction levels and they likely won’t be held accountable by any governing body to guide that decision.

“If we don’t have that mandated amount, then we may not be able to keep global warming under 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit in the next 50-75 years,” says Catanoso. “That’s the point in which scientists say if we get warmer than that, things really spin out of control. The planet becomes increasingly uninhabitable.”

Every country has six months to report their intended cuts to the UN which would begin in 2020. It’s in advance of a meeting in Paris next year, where they will possibly sign binding agreements to cement greenhouse gas reductions.

KERRY: The Climate Crisis Is Here, And Republicans Are Threatening Us All

Former Vice President Al Gore listening to Secretary of State John Kerry's blistering speech at the UN climate summit in Lima, Peru. Photo by Justin Catanoso

Former Vice President Al Gore listening to Secretary of State John Kerry’s blistering speech at the UN climate summit in Lima, Peru. Photo by Justin Catanoso

LIMA, Peru — In a clear message to the world that the United States, at least in the form of the Obama Administration, intends to lead prominently in the battle against climate change, Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Lima on Thursday (Dec. 11) to deliver a blistering assault on GOP climate deniers in a 32-minute speech to a packed press conference.

I was just a few rows back and saw Al Gore‘s profile against the video screen with Kerry speaking. It made for a powerful image — two Americans who have been raising awareness about the dangers of greenhouse gas emissions for a generation. I snapped the photo with my iPhone.

AcostaBusinessInsider published my story about Kerry’s speech, which includes a one-on-one interview I had with the Peruvian co-chair of the Green Climate Fund. Naturally, the GOP leadership in Washington intends to block Obama’s $3 billion pledge to the fund. The story contains a short video clip of the vice chair shot and edited by Michael Frierson, a UNC-Greensboro film professor.

A powerful quote from Kerry not in the story:

“Ask yourself, if Al Gore and Dr. Pachauri and Jim Hansen and the people who’ve been putting the science out there for years are wrong about this and we make these choices to do the things I’m talking about, what’s the worst thing that can happen to us for making these choices? Create a whole lot of new jobs. Kick our economies into gear. Have healthier people, reduce the cost of healthcare. Live up to our environmental responsibilities. Have a world that’s more secure because we have energy that isn’t dependent on one part of the world or another. That’s the worst that can happen to us.

“But what happens if the climate skeptics are wrong? Catastrophe. And we have a responsibility to put in place the precautionary principle when you’re given certain evidence and you’re a public official.”

Video: UN General Secretary on why he believes climate talks are succeeding

UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon. Photo by Justin Catanoso

UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon. Photo by Justin Catanoso

I am working in Lima, Peru, this week (Dec. 6-12, 2014) with videographer Michael Frierson, a film professor at UNC-Greensboro. Here is a 2-minute clip from Dec. 9 press conference in with UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon answering an important question on why he is optimistic about the current UN climate talks, the COP20.

“Our planet has a fever and it is getting hotter every day,” he said. “We must take climate action now. And the more we delay, the more we will have to pay. This is our only world. Future generations should be able to live prosperously. We come together in Lima with a measure of optimism. There is a new climate for change.” — Ban Ki-Moon

Climate alert! China’s coal consumption is dropping — barely

Lu Lunyun of the World Wildlife Fund in Beijing at the UN climate summit in Lima, Peru.

Lu Lunyun of the World Wildlife Fund in Beijing at the UN climate summit in Lima, Peru. Photo by Justin Catanoso

LIMA, Peru (Dec. 9, 2014) — Lunyan Lu has a tough job. As a Chinese national, she works in Beijing for the World Wildlife Fund as its climate and energy program director. There she does what he can to lobby for environmental safeguards and greater use of alternative energy sources.

Chinese has kept a low profile thus far in the United Nation’s climate negotiations that I’m covering this week in Lima, Peru. But it is the elephant in the room — the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases with a deep supply of coal to burn and dependence on it to maintain its torrid transition from a rural to urban society with a leading economy.

During a press conference today with WWF staffers from countries including South Africa and Mexico, Lu made a comment that caught my attention. While coal accounts for 67 percent of China’s energy production, the use of coal “has plateaued,” she said, and actually will decline by 1 percent this year.

She did not offer this fact for applause. She doesn’t work for the Chinese government. She lives in Beijing and thus chokes on the smog-dense air like everyone else there. But she offered the insight as a way of illustrating that China is at least trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

When I asked her during the press conference if it’s possible for China to accelerate its slightly declining rate of coal burning, and lower its peak emissions before 2030, as President Xi Jiping recently pledged, she said:

Smog in Beijing on an a

Smog in Beijing on an average day. NBC News

“We have already seen a plateau trend of the coal consumption for this year. That may be not forever. That could be temporary, just for this year. That’s why we (the WWF) encouraged the government to maintain this trend. We also see the government has taken some action, using imported natural gas to offset some of its coal consumption. And they have a clear plan for nuclear energy. We do see that clear plan for action. We will try our best to urge the government to peak sooner.”

I spoke with Lu after the press conference. She explained that China is in a bind. Its growth goals are relentless, and its most abundant natural resource for energy is coal. It can’t practically import enough natural gas to meet its needs and reduce carbon emissions. But it is moving fast on renewable energy sources, with more than $100 billion invested thus far in wind, solar and nuclear platforms.

Lu confided that just like most Americans, most Chinese pay little attention to  issues related to climate change — despite gravity of the earth’s condition. But unlike in America, the air in China’s cities is so black and polluted from energy and traffic smog that people there are outraged and demanding that its government act for better air quality.

“We see this as an opportunity,” Lu told me. “This public outcry is about smog, but it also helps to fight climate change.”


Much Maligned REDD+ Gets a Boost from Above for Climate Mitigation

Entrance to the UN Climate Summit in Lima, Peru -- Dec. 1-12, 2

Entrance to the UN Climate Summit in Lima, Peru — Dec. 1-12, 2014. Photo by Justin Catanoso

As the United Nations climate negotiations in Lima, Peru, entered their second and final week, some progress – and thus some optimism — was claimed late Monday, Dec. 8. They were small steps. And because huge leaps seem impossible in grappling with this global crisis, even small steps take on growing importance. A big reason for the optimism is the incredible advances in scientific monitoring of carbon stocks and greenhouse gas emissions that simply didn’t exist a few years ago. It’s giving countries confidence to engage in this process. I explain why in this story on National Georgraphic online.

Unilever CEO: the new face of corporate climate change

Paul Polman, CEO of UK and Netherlands-based Unilever. Photo by Justin Catanoso

Paul Polman, CEO of UK and Netherlands-based Unilever. Photo by Justin Catanoso

LIMA, Peru — It’s not every day when you here the leader of a Fortune 500 company speak so eloquently about the responsibility to be contribute first to a civil and sustainable society, and not slavishly serve Wall Street and shareholder demands for ever-increasing profits. But Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, one of the world’s largest consumer goods companies, is that kind of leader. My story in covers Polman stirring talk at a side event connected to the UN climate summit here in Peru.

Excerpt: “For those of us in the food sector, like my company, we know that climate change cannot be tackled without a fundamental change in the way that agriculture – the world’s oldest and largest industry – is practiced,” Polman told an audience of several hundred. “In fact, most CEOs, I’m convinced of now, know that their companies cannot prosper in a world with runaway climate change. This is increasingly evident. They understand the need to work together with political leaders to address these challenges.”

Venue for Paul Polman's talk at the Global Landscape Forum connected to the COP20 in Lima, Peru.

Venue for Paul Polman’s talk at the Global Landscape Forum connected to the COP20 in Lima, Peru.


Now starring as diplomat: Bianca Jagger vigorously defends forests at UN climate change talks



Bianca Jagger on Sunday morning, Dec. 7, in Lima, Peru, at an event connected to the UN climate talks. She is speaking to Heru Prasetyo, a climate change expert from Indonesia. Photo by Justin Catanoso.

Note: I am in Lima, Peru, reporting on the COP20, the 20th annual United Nations climate negotiations. I arrived Dec. 6 and will remain through the end of the conference on Dec. 12. This is my first story.

LIMA, Peru – Whatever her youthful reputation as the wife of a world-famous rock star and glittery jet setter, Bianca Jagger has committed much of the past 30 years of her life to advancing causes associated with human rights and environmental protection in the developing world.

On Sunday morning, during a side event connected with the annual UN climate negotiations here in Lima, Peru, the 69-year-old Jagger sounded every bit the international diplomat she’s become in recent years. Delivering an impassioned 13-minute talk during a panel discussion, she spoke bluntly about the perils of climate change and the need to restore both destroyed and degraded forests as the best strategy to reduce the ongoing damage.

“Climate change will affect everyone, everywhere, in every nation, in every echelon of society, in the developing world and the developed world,” said Jagger, a native of Nicaragua and British citizen. “We will all suffer the catastrophic consequences of rising sea levels, ocean acidification, food scarcity and political unrest. But some of the most vulnerable communities in the world are bearing a disproportionate burden of the harm without having significantly contributed to the cost. This is a terrible injustice.”


Photo by Justin Catanoso

Noting that climate experts predict that 2014 will become the hottest year on record, Jagger warned: “Time is running out. Inaction will lead to severe and irreversible damage.”

In another time, in another setting, Jagger may have been the star attraction at an event such as this with fans and paparazzi swarming to bask in her celebrity. There was little of that in evidence Sunday morning during the Global Landscapes Forum held at the Westin Lima Hotel & Convention Center.

WITH A CROWD of mostly influential scientists, top environmental activists and leading figures from the United Nations, World Bank and World Wildlife Fund, Jagger arrived without fanfare as the founder of the London-based Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation. She appeared elegantly striking just the same, dressed in a full-length white wool coat with sparkling flats and leaning on a Dalmatian-spotted cane. She greeted a small knot of well wishers and quietly took her place on stage. Three other panels were taking place at the same time; Jagger’s panel – “A new climate agenda? Moving forward with adaptation-based mitigation” – attracted about 100 people.

Jagger noted that two years ago, she was appointed an ambassador to the Bonn Challenge, which aims to restore 150 million hectares (370 million acres) of degraded or deforested land around the world by 2020.

“I took on this role because I believe the objective of the Bonn Challenge is critical and more importantly, it is achievable,” she said.  “Frankly, it is one of the more achievable initiatives trying to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and improve the lives of people. Achieving the Bonn Challenge goal could sequester 1 gigaton of carbon dioxide a year, which would reduce our current emissions by up to 17 percent. That is really a very important advance from a restoration program.”


Bianca Jagger, before the start of the panel discussion. Photo by Justin Catanoso

The two-day landscape forum focused largely on the underappreciated role forests play globally in slowing the rate of climate change by absorbing tons and tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually through the process of photosynthesis. Millions of acres of tropical forests around the world (which do the most work in carbon sequestration) are destroyed for agriculture, mining and extraction. The clear-cutting is often far more than is necessary and at great costs to biodiversity and the indigenous peoples who make their homes and living in such forests.

A PRIMARY GOAL of these 20th annual UN climate talks is for governmental and environmental leaders from 200 countries to draft a legally binding agreement that can be signed as a global treaty next year in Paris.  Despite accords that came out of Kyoto (1997) and Copenhagen (2009), no treaty currently exists, even as the accumulating evidence of ongoing, manmade climate change continues to pile up.

Time is running out. Inaction will lead to severe and irreversible damage.” — Bianca Jagger

While progress appears to be halting after the first of two weeks of negotiations, the Lima draft is hoped to contain an array of strategies to slow the rate of greenhouse gas emissions largely through the reduction of burning fossil fuels for energy and transportation. Such reductions are seen as vital to hold global warming below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit in the next 50 to 85 years. Beyond that point, scientists predict far worse extreme weather patterns than we now see, greater coastal erosion, more water shortages and increased food scarcity than is already cropping up around the globe.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions – the airborne layer of chemicals in the atmosphere responsible for global warming – can go beyond cutting back the extracting and burning of fossil fuels. Other strategies include the expansion of alternative energy sources, greater fuel efficiencies in transportation, as well as similar efficiencies in home and building construction and lighting and appliances.

Increasingly, as the landscape forum emphasized and as Jagger stressed in her talk, the massive preservation of existing tropical forests, and replanting ones that have been damaged and destroyed, can play a significant role — if not the most important role — in staving off catastrophic climate change.

Jagger said the United States, along with countries such as Rwanda, Costa Rica, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Guatemala have already committed to restore some 51 million hectares (126 million acres) of forests by 2020 as part of the Bonn Challenge. She lauded large-scale restoration efforts in China and Brazil, too.

“It is true that governments have not come forward to do what is necessary,” Jagger said. “It is true that we don’t have a legally binding treaty now. But if we can continue with initiatives like the Bonn Challenge, we would see a difference. Forests are essential to our future.”

Justin Catanoso is a freelance journalist based in North Carolina and director of journalism at Wake Forest University. His environmental reporting is supported in part by the Wake Forest Center for Energy, Environment and Sustainability, and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting in Washington, D.C.