By: Anna McGinn ’14 and Sam Pollan ’14
Instead of rolling out of bed and heading to classes as usual, on Thursday, October 20 the students in the Mosaic program traveled to DC to meet with United States negotiators, scientists, and government workers. Over our two days of meeting, we meet with a total of eleven speakers. Each brought a different point of view to the table, labeling different events as successes and failures and focusing on different angles of the problems and possible solutions. Everyone emphasized the need for immediate action on an international scale, but few expressed optimistic sentiments about the upcoming negotiations. One speaker, Jennifer Morgan from the World Resource Institute (WRI), explained a comprehensive plan that would lead the world in the direction of international agreement on actions that need to be taken on climate change by COP-28. It is exciting that eventually negotiations can lead to tangible societal change, but the question is, will it be too late?
Ms. Ko Barrett, is currently the Deputy Director of the Climate Program Office in NOAA’s office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, and she is also one of the lead negotiators for the United States at the COPs. Ms. Barrett explained to us the basis of what international negotiations are like from the point of view of a member of the US delegation. She walked us through the positive and negative aspects of both the Copenhagen conference and the Cancun conference. She explained that at Copenhagen, countries felt locked out of conversations that they wanted to be a part of which created an atmosphere of distrust. Even though they came to an agreement of sorts, it did not create anything binding. Going into Cancun, many countries believed that if these negotiations were not successful, it might be the end of negotiations under the UNFCCC as we know it. Luckily, Cancun was run in a much more transparent fashion thanks to the Mexican leaders, and countries were much more comfortable with the outcomes. Ms. Barrett described the recent COPs as a roller coaster ride, everyone had high expectations for Copenhagen, they were not met, everyone had low expectations for Cancun, they were exceeded, and now she is not sure what to expect in Durban. She also discussed the necessity of separating her personal opinions from that of the administration she represents. The job requires her to argue in a certain way even if it does not reflect what she believes. Her position as a scientist and negotiator puts her in an interesting position in this regard. Overall, Ms. Barrett’s insights into the inner workings of the negotiations were fascinating.
Dr. Tom Lovejoy is the chair of the Heinz Center for Biodiversity and is a biologist by training. His discussion focused on the importance of biodiversity and ways in which it can be reintroduced into places it no longer exists. He described how in his utopic world, restoration of biodiversity will solve climate change. He said that forests, if left alone, will regenerate themselves. When asked if he thought that this would be possible in the current global political climate and while still feeding the global population, he responded that he does not know about how it would work politically, but he does believe restoring forests will not decrease food production. His talk was interesting because, unlike most of the speakers, politics was not among the themes he discussed; however, his suggestions did not seem all that realistic. It does not seem like politics will allow for his utopic world to come to fruition in the immediate future.
Dr. Jack Kaye is the Associate Director for Research of the Earth Science Division within NASA’a Science Mission Directorate. His discussion centered around collecting data for climate research. He explained that from space, astronauts and satellites can either record data about the stars, planets, and other bodies in space or they can look back down to earth. Looking back to earth, they can study weather and climate patterns which help scientists on the ground to better understand climate change. He elaborated on the workings of satellites during which he explained how long they stay in space and how they are repaired if some parts of them stop working. His basic message was that NASA plays an important and unique role in climate change research and will continue to do so in the future.
Mr. Bill Breed is the Global Climate Team leader in the Bureau for Economic Growth, Agriculture and Trade at USAID. He began by talking about how climate change is relevant to USAID. Climate change is essential to USAID’s work because it affects agriculture, infrastructure, and energy. Generally speaking, the poor populations that USAID targets to help are some of the most vulnerable people to climate change. Climate change closely affects the manner in which USAID provides help. USAID realizes that the largest opportunity to change the way society is structured, is to begin with countries that are still developing and changing. Because this is where they do the majority of their work, it is essential that climate change is part of their agenda. He also talked about the need for adaptation in the communities that USAID works in because of their high vulnerability levels. He stressed that mitigation and adaptation measured need to be taken in both developed and developing countries. In regards to the international negotiations, Breed explained how difficult it is for delegations to come to agreements. However, from USAID’s point of view, progress has been made because developing countries that did not even have climate change on their agenda a few years ago are willing to talk about it. Throughout his talk, Breed referenced resources including, servir global and FEWS net.
Ms. Jennifer Morgan is the Director of the Climate and Energy Program at the World Research Institutes, and she has played a role in the COPs for many years. Like Ms. Barrett, Ms. Morgan began by discussing the expectations and outcomes of the previous COPs. Basically, she considered Copenhagen to be an outline of what needs to happen, and Cancun was a formalization of the country’s pledges which they made at Copenhagen. In Durban, she expects to see financing as a major issue. It is possible that the Green Climate Fund will be operationalized; however, the way in which the United States and many other countries will fund it is still up for debate. REDD will also be a topic discussed, and unlike other debates, it is expected that this topic might be successfully negotiated in Durban. The countries will also have to discuss Kyoto because the first commitment period ends in 2012. The goal of the African Nations is to not let Kyoto die on their soil, but it is hard to predict whether they will be able to prevent this from happening. WRI has mapped out long term plans for international negotiations which are politically feasible, but this means that they are extremely slow moving. Ms. Morgan understands the reality of the international negotiations. Her sense of urgency to take on climate change in a much more aggressive fashion was evident. WRI provides sources on climate change including the Open Climate Network and the Climate Action Tracker.
Ambassador Richard Benedick has represented the US in several notable international delegations. He was a key negotiator in the Montreal Protocol as well as in the Rio Summit in 1992. Ambassador Benedick began his diplomacy career in the State Department responsible for international policies regarding population, a field that he thoroughly enjoyed and even led him to an audience with Pope John Paul II. His discussion centered on his accomplishments in delegations and delved into subjects such as why the Montreal Protocol was so successful and why current climate negotiations are struggling. The main reason he gave was that countries are unwilling to commit to meaningful targets to reduce their emissions.
Dr. Gregory Symmes is deputy executive director of the National Research Council’s (NRC) Division on Earth and Life Sciences. The primary focus of our discussion with Dr. Symmes was on the role of the NRC in advising policy decisions through independent research. The NRC investigates topics at the requests of government as well as private industries or through their own initiative. They also play a role in climate negotiations by providing an unbiased view from a non-governmental third party representing the consensus of the academic elite.
Dr. Michael MacCracken has served as president of the International Association of Meteorology and Atmospheric Sciences as well as the first executive director of the US Global Change Research Program. His current focus is in the field of geo-engineering and climate remediation, which is what his discussion focused on. Dr. McCracken spoke about the several potential avenues in which climate remediation could follow. Proposed ideas included reflecting sunlight via mirrors on satellites in space, injecting small amounts of sulfur dioxide into the upper levels of the atmosphere, or, one of the most interesting ways, creating remote-controlled catamarans that would inject fine water particles into the atmosphere to brighten clouds and increase albedo. His presentation also addressed other climate change issues such as the problems with methane and why it is an important factor that is underrepresented during delegations.
Dr. Shalini Vajjhala and Dr. Joel Scheraga work in the EPA as Deputy Assistant Administrator in the Office of International Affairs and Senior Advisor for Climate Adaptation respectively. Dr. Vajjhala began the discussion by explaining the main tracks of international climate negotiations: the future of the Kyoto Protocol, long-term mitigation and adaptation, and science and technology. Another key issue is transparency and its connotations in other societies as well as the importance transparency plays in providing credibility and visibility to organizations. They also mentioned that conversation is not as evolved as the science and thus hinders implementing any policies. Dr. Scheraga discussed the role of adaptation as an investment in resilience and how the goal of adaptation is not success, but rather making sure nothing happens.
Dr. Dallas Burtraw is a Senior Fellow at Resources for the Future. Dr. Burtraw began his discussion by examining the difference between implementing domestic standards by either the preemption, when the state acts first, or meet or exceed, when there is a national standard and states can choose to either meet the standards or go beyond them. He also discussed the Supreme Court decision that now requires the EPA to take action on climate change. Dr. Burtraw concluded by stating that the US is on a good track for mitigation, however, we are struggling with financing the changes necessary to meet our goals.