Monthly Archives: December 2015

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

Photo by Rhett Butler of

Photo by Rhett Butler of

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 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.



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


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.

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 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.

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. Norway’s paradox: spending billions in oil profits to preserve forests

Per Pharo, a kind of Nordic Santa Claus for the environment. Photo by Justin Catanoso

Per Pharo, a kind of Nordic Santa Claus for the environment. Photo by Justin Catanoso

I truly stumbled on to this story. On Saturday, while finishing up an interview in a small conference room with an American NGO, he pointed out a serious-looking gentleman in the corner deep in conversation. “That’s one of the most important people at the COP,” the NGO said. “You should talk with him.”

Per Pharo is director of Norway’s Forest and Climate Initiatives. Given the billions of dollars he has at his disposal, his influence at UN climate summits is enormous. I interrupted his conversation, introduced myself and handed him my card. “Mongabay?” he asked. “Give me five minutes please to finish, and I’d be happy to talk with you.”

The interview went well. But the story grew far more interesting as I learned more about the world of contradictions that are Norway and climate policy. When you’re awash in oil money — oil burned elsewhere and contributing greatly to CO2 emissions — suddenly Pharo can be cast in a slightly different light. Influential, yes. Generous, absolutely. But with hands slightly soiled with oil profits. The story is here, perhaps my best of a busy week. Thanks to Glenn Scherer at for some amazing deadline editing and packaging.

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 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 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.


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.

The Vatican’s Cardinal Turkson: Pushback on the papal encyclical? Mostly in America

  1. Link to the fuller story is here.
    Cardinal Peter Turkson, (right) the pope's point person on the papal encyclical. Photo by Justin Catanoso

    Cardinal Peter Turkson, (right) the pope’s point person on the papal encyclical. Photo by Justin CatanosoYou

    You take your opportunities where you can get them. I have been in email contact with Marcus Wandinger (left, above), a member of the Holy See Delegation to COP 21, for two days. This morning, he put me in a position to meet the cardinal Pope Francis put in charge of researching and writing Laudato Si, On Care of Our Common Home, the widely influential papal encyclical on environmental protection. I managed to wrangle a 15-minute interview. It will factor into a larger story I will write for, but here’s an excerpt.

    Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana told me about how the Vatican and Catholic delegates have been fanning out around the world to educate bishops, seminaries and parish priests on the encyclical, and how to teach it to their followers. Asked where he is getting push back, he didn’t hesitate: “Your country, the United States.

    “The U.S. has many places that are stubborn. When we talk about social responsibility, they think about Socialism. That’s unfortunate. This is about doing good work. The pope believes faith without works is worthless. We must we live it, and it must play out so that we can show others what we do. That’s how the Jesuits teach it. It’s not Communism or Socialism or anything like that. It is caring for our common home. But that’s a hard message to get across in some American parishes.”

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.

Triad Business Journal: VF official at UN climate summit: North Carolina is missing out on renewable energy opportunities


Business panel discussion at the US Pavilion. Photo by Justin Catanoso

Business panel discussion at the US Pavilion. Photo by Justin Catanoso

Triad Business Journal, where I was executive editor from 1998 to 2011, posted my first story from Paris and COP21. The story is here.

Here’s an excerpt:  The business leaders’ message was consistent and clear: Climate change in the form of drought, more frequent and erratic storms of greater intensity, and rising sea levels, is costing them millions, disrupting their supply chains and damaging their investments. Mostly, though, they each stressed the economic opportunities lost in not transitioning more aggressively to renewable energy sources.