Sustainability at Otago – Cheers!

 

Dunedin Peninsula, University of Otago, Dunedin, NZ
Dunedin Peninsula, University of Otago, Dunedin, NZ

Studying abroad on a Non-Dickinson Program has been all but an easy experience. A couple of days ago I finally hit my month mark of being abroad and I am happy to say that everyday has gotten much better than the previous. It is with great happiness that I share the good news of my latest involvement with the S.E.A (Students for Environmental Action) community at the University of Otago. Finding a pool of like-minded people was exactly what I needed to finally feel like I had a place here. S.E.A. provides a safe space for open dialogue about pressing environmental issues locally and internationally. S.E.A hosts a variety of events ranging from coastal cleanup days, film screenings, Farmer’s Markets, lectures, seminars, workshops, etc.

 

Green Drinks, Dunedin, NZ

S.E.A tries hard not to focus solely on local campus wide issuesbut rather extending out within the larger Dunedin community through Green Drinks. Green Drinks Dunedin is part of a non-political international movement to foster a safe space for people interested in sustainability and the environment. Green Drinks Dunedin is hosted by Sustainable Dunedin City, which is the local council on climate change activism. Last Friday I met with the head of the council and shared my experiences from COP20. She was delighted to invite me to share my experiences at the next Green Drinks Dunedin on Thursday, March 26th. I look forward to sharing my perspectives from COP20 and to continue to connect with individuals from all walks of life who truly value the environment. Cheers to keeping the conversation going on the road to Paris.

Highlights from Peru

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Better late than never… I still have yet to reflect on my experiences at COP20. Almost three months ago the mosaic team embarked on their journey to Lima, Peru. Looking back on the opportunity as a whole, including the leisure parts of the trip to Cusco, Machu Picchu, and Ollantaytambo, and my personal travels to Arequipa and Puno, I can say that I genuinely enjoyed the academic portion of the trip better.

Being at an international conference was inspiring and one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had. Even the bus rides to and from the COP every day was unique and I still remember many of my conversations. If you managed to sit next to someone interesting on the bus then you had the entire hour long ride to talk with them and ask anything about where they are from, what they do, or what are some important concerns of their nation from climate change. On the bus I met people from Benin, Azerbaijan, Latvia, Brazil, Peru, and Ethiopia among plenty of other fascinating people. Furthermore, being present at the actual COP was, sorry for the lack of vocabulary, so cool. Everywhere you walked and everywhere you looked, there was hundreds of people from different nations and I think that’s what was the neatest part for me. When I got home and everyone would ask me what my favorite part was, my first response would always be just simply talking to people from everywhere… I mean, I met and spoke to someone who’s been to space before, I met Picchauri, I met heads of delegations, and the president of the COP.

The entire opportunity of the Climate Change Mosaic is something I am so grateful for and would do it over again in a heart beat. The thought of our final papers being done in a week from tomorrow makes me want to vomit.

 

 

 

An Observer Role is Not A Staring Role

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Although the COP20 was a couple months ago, one moment of clear inequity will be an indelible memory in my mind. In our climate change governance course, we learned that indigenous peoples had an observer’s status at the United Nations Climate Change Conferences. However, there’s always a difference between reading about something and actually seeing the thing you read about. Six of my classmates and I were fortunate enough to attend the COP20 as observers for the first week. I didn’t realize just how fortunate we were until I was interviewing an Amazonian indigenous chief. He discussed how difficult it was for him to gain access to the COP and how he was the only one representing his entire community. I looked down at my tag and then looked at his, I felt extremely guilty and wanted to tear the blue lanyard from my neck and hand it over to him. This chief, who’s highly respected amongst his peers and was fighting for his rights, had the same role as me. An observer.

He was at the COP to create awareness and  protect his lands from being further threatened by REDD+, land claims and deforestation. While, I was at the conference for an undergraduate research project to gather information about his situation. This situation felt so unfair. In negotiations, delegates and members of the World Bank would discuss the future of the Amazon territory, while Amazonian indigenous peoples could only observe the discussion about the lands they inhabit. In addition, when the room was full or the negotiators did not want to answer any questions, all the observers were asked to leave the room, meaning they couldn’t even observe negotiations. Indigenous peoples are highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change since they often depend on the environment for their livelihood. Hence, I believe that indigenous peoples should have full participation in negotiations to express their concerns and situation.

Although, this video below is a little off topic, I thought it’s message was really interesting!

The Eleventh Hour

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This semester I am taking a course called Sustainability: Social Justice and Human Rights. Each week we have to write an journal entry and I wanted to share some of my entry from the first week of class. We watched the film The Eleventh Hour in which Leonardo DiCaprio had a narrating role.

Week one 1/12 and 1/15

The first week of class we watched the film The Eleventh Hour, several main themes of this film struck my attention. First I want to mention the reappearing narrative of Leonardo DiCaprio. A few months ago I would have had NO IDEA that he was an environmentalist. I took part in the Climate Change Mosaic last semester where a group of 14 students and I went to COP20 (The Twentieth Conference of the Parties) in Lima, Peru. I first learned that Leo was an environmentalist a month or so prior to the conference, when he announced he would be attending the COP (Conference of the Parties). He never ended up attending the COP which is an entirely different conversation, but maybe if he had gone it would have done some good in terms of climate change awareness. Perhaps climate change needs a celebrity face to help engage the public and bridge the education gap. I envision something along the idea of the “Got Milk?” commercials that use celebrity faces to publicize their product.

Several ideas mentioned in the film resonated with me, particularly the idea of “current” sunlight versus “ancient” sunlight. These are terms that I have never heard before and I loved that they were brought up. When the world population was less than one billion people we could live off of completely current sunlight and on the other hand, with the exponential population growth we are experiencing today, we rely heavily on ancient sunlight. In general with this and many other environmental concerns, I always believe that a population limit would do our earth some good.

I am a supporter of the one child limit that China imposed for a period of time. The larger the population, the more stress on necessary resources. Think about the amount of clothes a single person goes through in their entire lifetime. All the materials that go into making them; millions of acres that are used to grow cotton to make a simple white t-shirt, shipping, fueling the factories clothes are actually made in. I think about the amount of food I consume daily… Personally, I don’t even eat that many processed foods and I don’t eat meat. I am one person; I consider myself to be a fairly sustainably minded person yet my carbon footprint is HUGE. “The UNICEF estimates that an average of 353,000 babies are born each day around the world.” (http://www.theworldcounts.com/stories/How-Many-Babies-Are-Born-Each-Day)

This is disgusting and quite frankly I believe that this rate needs to slow down and it needs to slow down as soon as possible. Think about how many resources are needed to supply 353,000 people… Society cannot just keep growing at this exponential rate and assume there is going to be infinity of this “ancient sunlight”. The Eleventh Hour also mentions that humans are the only species to recognize the future and know that there is a future. You’d think maybe we would treasure this ability and plan better for the future.”

Preparation for Paris

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The post Lima preparation for Paris is already underway. While each country and their delegations have their own expectations and responsibilities, it is imperative that the entire global community prepares as well. What better way to spread global awareness and participation than with live music!? Al Gore and pop icon Pharrell Williams have teamed up to announce a global Live Earth concert in June. This concert, with its purpose to demand climate action, will be staged in six cities on all seven continents. Yes, Antarctica will also be participating in this global event. On this day, the entire globe will stand up together for a cause that is affecting all aspects of our shared planet. The ultimate goal of this music festival is to collect 1 billion signatures to encourage world leaders to adopt a new climate agreement in Paris at COP21. There is a lot of pressure for the outcomes in Paris, especially after 2014 was recorded as the Earth’s warmest year on record. A global event like this could be groundbreaking for increasing public action and awareness.

 

 

http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/pharrell-al-gore-live-earth-2015-20150121

The Outcome

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I’ll admit it, I came to COP20 as a dewy-eyed, idealistic college student. After being immersed in the UNFCCC all semester, I was ready to see climate change tackled head on by the thousands of delegates that flew in from almost every country in the world. We came off the plane in Lima filled with excitement for the next two weeks.

 

I still felt the energy from attending the People’s Climate March in September. The EU had just announced its plans to reduce its total emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and, the previous month, China and the US, had jointly committed to addressing climate change.

 

The task for COP20 seemed simple enough: use voluntary agreements to create a draft of the Paris agreement. Even jaded COP20 attendees who I talked to felt that an agreement of voluntary commitments would be completed, even if the commitments were not very strong.

 

However, after two weeks of negotiating, the climate talks seemed on the verge of collapse. A day after the meetings were scheduled to end, a heated discussion ended in over 80 developing countries refusing to back proposals suggested by UN officials.

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The delegates pulled a 32-hour marathon session to produce a modest compromise. With the overtime session, 195 countries agreed to adopt a four page document that explains the types of national climate targets they will need to deliver in the next six months.

 

Countries with the leading economies will submit their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) by March 2015 and others will follow by June.

 

Still, most NGOs have called the agreement a weak one. A statement signed by Oxfam, Greenpeace, and Christian Aid said the agreement left the world on course of a warming of 4C or worse.

 

Countries do not need to explain how their INDCs are fair or ambitious. Instead, the UNFCCC will analyze the aggregate effect of all the pledges only a month before COP21 in Paris. Developing countries were placated with text including the importance of loss and damage. However, there is no concrete plan for raising the promised $100 billion by 2020 for developing countries.

 

Neither did Lima deliver concrete commitments to reduce short term emissions. Samantha Smith, leader of the WWF Global Climate and Energy Initiative said: “The science is clear that delaying action until 2020 will make it near impossible to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, yet political expediency won over scientific urgency. Instead of leadership, they delivered a lackluster plan with little scientific relevancy.”

 

In the end, the UNFCCC is just one tool for combating climate change. Waiting on politicians may take too long. A ground-up movement may be our best bet to avoid disaster.

Outcomes From COP 20, Lima

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The world gained momentum on a climate agreement going into Lima. A historic agreement was reached between the US and China going into COP 20. Pledges to the Green Climate Fund were on the rise and narrowing in on the goal on $10 Billion. Everyone knew going in that Lima needed to hole the proverbial climate agreement ship steady, and it did that. Nothing glamorous or jaw dropping came out of Lima, but the parties are in a position to meet the deadline for the 2015 Paris Agreement. That is much easier said than done, it is no easy task to get just under 200 countries to agree to a climate deal to limit warming to 2°C.

COP20 Main Hall (Lima)
COP20 Main Hall (Lima)

Some good things did come out of Lima. The President of the COP, Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, highlighted three important outcomes: (1) $10 billion goal for the Green Climate Fund was met, (2) the Multilateral Assessment work as countries exposed themselves to questioning about their emission reduction plans, and (3) the Lima Ministerial Declaration on Education and Awareness was put forward as a means to increase education efforts on climate change in schools around the world.

Strides were also made on National Adaptation Plans. Several platforms for NAPs were established including the NAP Global Network and the Lima Adaptation Knowledge Initiative.

The biggest piece of the 2015 Paris Agreement is going to be country emissions targets. Each country will set their own target in an Intended National Determined Contribution (INDC). Major economies are expected to submit these targets soon, which will put forth their contribution to global emissions reductions. This is the corner stone for the 2015 Paris Agreement. This bottom up style agreement has the potential to involve every country on the planet. However, the question then becomes how to ratchet up ambition. That part will be worked out using the Multilateral Assessment (MA). The MA will hopefully be the mechanism to allow pressure on parties to raise ambition towards reducing carbon emissions. AILAC and European Union (EU) parties advocate for a full on review of every countries’ INDC, while China, India and the Like Minded Developing Countries do not favor any public review of the contributions. This will be an important piece of the negotiations to follow through Paris, 2015.

Finally, the 2013-2015 Review met during COP 20 in Lima. This group is in charge of evaluating the adequacy of the 2°C goal as well as of party commitments. Part of this Review is the Structured Expert Dialogue (See my blog post from December 9th, 2014). They met twice with IPCC and other experts to discuss the adequacy of the goal, that is, if they ought to increase ambition to stay below 1.5°C warming. The dialogue will conclude in February, with a report coming out a few months after. It will be interesting to follow the conclusion of this process to see what inputs will be provided for the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Here is a link to the Elements for a Draft Negotiating Text. This draft text must be finalized in June, 6 months before the meeting in Paris, to give parties sufficient time to review the text and make edits.

What actually happened at the COP?

Now that I’ve had a solid 4 weeks of relaxation (and transcribing interviews) since I got home from Peru and the COP, it’s time to begin thinking about school again, and as such, I’ve decided to reflect on the COP with a blog post.

I never actually stopped thinking about the COP, or at least climate change. Every time my mom made me a home-cooked meal, or I was out driving somewhere or eating with friends, I couldn’t help but think about the effect my actions were having on the climate. Something as simple as eating, and I couldn’t help but think about the emissions that went into putting a simple pizza on my plate! And Christmas was horrible, especially after hearing dozens of people talking about how we need to turn away from being such a consumer culture. I had already told my mom I didn’t really want to make a big deal about Christmas, but even so, it was still a huge operation, albeit less so than in past years.

 

But to get back to the topic at hand, in the weeks and months leading up to COP20, you could hear people such as Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UNFCCC, stressing the importance of this COP. In September, thousands of people worldwide took to the streets to take action. In New York City alone, more than 300,000 people took to the streets to demand action from those taking part in the New York Climate Summit, happening during the same time, with companies and investors declaring their commitment to a low-carbon world. The momentum leading up to this COP was amazing.

 

And it was deserved, too. COP20 in Lima was very important, as it would lay the groundwork for negotiations to take place in Paris the next year for COP21, which would be even more important as the Paris COP, where governments will attempt to reach a universal climate agreement. But, being at COP20, there’s so much going on that it’s hard to catch what’s actually going on in the main negotiations. I don’t think I actually knew what had come out of Lima until I came home. So here I will try to show some important things that came out of the Lima negotiations:

 

First of all, a draft text was decided on that will be used in negotiations leading up to Paris. Over 100 countries are now advocating for a long-term mitigation goal, which is a good sign, and there is also good support for review cycles to strengthen emission reduction actions and support low-carbon growth.

 

In terms of the INDCs, or Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, which are to be submitted by March of this year (2015), proposed contributions will require information concerning the sectors and the gases covered, in addition to accounting approaches. The Lima decisions also allows for an analysis to be published by the UNFCCC aggregating all the contributions and reviewing how well they add up to staying below the 2 degrees Celsius marker.

 

Some progress was made on finance, which is a huge part of the climate negotiations. Contributions to the Green Climate Fund surpassed $10 billion, with 27 developed and 5 developing countries pledging money, giving a strong foundation to the GCF. Even with this, though, there is still much to be done on finance for crafting a post-2020 regime. The Lima decision urges developed countries to provide support, not necessarily finance, to developing countries, and the COP did request that developed countries help to “enhance the available quantitative and qualitative elements of a pathway,” but there is still much to be done in terms of specification in the Paris agreement about allocation and levels of finance, etc., in the post-2020 world.

 

One disagreement between developed and developing countries is about the attention that should be paid to adaptation (something I didn’t know until transcribing interviews). Developed countries believe negotiations should be focused on mitigation mainly, while developing countries want an equal focus on adaptation. Lima saw more attention paid to adaptation than previous COPs, with developing countries pushing for equal billing of adaptation in the Paris agreement. Many developed countries wanted to limit national contributions to mitigation only, but with the world already facing record-breaking floods and heat waves, developing countries were able to get adaptation included, albeit without much guidance on what information will be provided, and how these contributions will be assessed.

 

In addition to this, the process of how national adaptation planning is reported was improved, and there is now a work plan focusing on loss and damage.

 

Although much focus has been paid to a post-2020 agreement, the year is 2015, which means we have 5 years until that agreement would take hold. As such, negotiations also focused on pre-2020 actions. Countries will continue to share experiences curbing emissions, identify best policy actions, and continue expert meetings about actions through 2020.

 

Forests and reforestation, including REDD+, was also a talking point, due to the COP being held in a country with extensive forests. Brazil, Indonesia, Colombia, Guyana, Mexico and Malaysia all submitted reference levels benchmarking their emissions from deforestation, which paves the way to start receiving performance based payments for forest conservation and restoration. At the Global Landscapes Forum, Initiative 20×20 was launched, a Latin American country-led initiative to restore 20 million hectares of degraded forestland. Five impact investment firms pledged $365 million to recover cloud forests, avoid deforestation and boost climate-resilient agriculture. Also, advances in satellite forest monitoring and carbon mapping were announced in Lima.

 

But inside the COP, the focus on REDD+ was mainly on clarifying safeguards. Countries ended up not elaborating more on the safeguards, meaning countries can decide for themselves how to report on safeguards; disappointing for me as this is a topic which I got interested down in Lima, and this development is not something that will be good for many indigenous forest dwelling peoples.

 

Outside of these things, many cities including Rio de Janeiro, Paris and Tokyo highlighted best practices and pushed for greater action at the international level. Also, the Global Protocol for Community-Scale Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventories was announced. The first step of this is to identify and measure where city emissions come from through the use of the first global emissions standards for cities to track performance and set credible targets.

 

A lot of good stuff came out of COP20, but it is much weaker than what many people were hoping for. There is still a lot to be done in the coming year leading up to COP21, which will be crucial in keeping our world below 2 degrees Celsius. With so many countries and so many different viewpoints that need to be addressed to solve such a huge and time-sensitive problem, it’s very hard to stay optimistic, especially with so many people saying that we won’t be able to skirt disaster, but we’ve all got to try and keep on working to do what we can to avoid potential disaster.

 

 

Post COP Commentary

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“I attended a United Nations Conference on Climate Change.” I have said this sentence many times over the weeks following COP20 in Lima, to friends, family, and random aquaintences that asked why I spent the three weeks following thanksgiving in Peru. “Afterwards, we traveled both as a group and individually; so I got to go to the Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu, and then Lake Titicaca and Arequipa.” My response when asked what I did with the rest of my time in South America. All-in-all not a very causal conversation, but one I am fortunate enough to get to have.

However, I learned to use only this exchange after several failed attempts to explain the trip. Upon returning home I was frankly shocked at just how few people I talked to that had never heard of the conference, let alone knew that it was an anual event happening then. Initially I responded to the  inevitable, “So what did you do in Peru?” with, “I was at COP20 doing research with my school.” Confused faces egged me to elaborate, “You know the UNFCCC conference?” (always said as “UNF triple C” because as Neil taught us, only dweebs would say C three times). This never worked so I would continue with something like, “Remember the Copenhangen Conference a few years ago? Or maybe the Kyoto Protocol? It was like that but this year’s conference in Peru.” Sometimes this would work, however, I have a suspicion that many of them who just smiled and nodded with some vaguely affirmative phrase, did so not in understanding but as a means to change the course of conversation to a more familiar topic.

After a full semester of nothing but talk of the climate change and the UNFCCC, I had forgotten that just a few short months ago I too would have been equally unaware of what happened in Lima. Finally, my family confronted me saying I needed to find a way to explain what I did in a way that would allow people to understand.

However, I was talking to people who know at least the basics of what is happening with climate change, have maybe even read an Inconvenient Truth or the Omnivore’s Dilemma, fully believe the science, and furthermore, enjoy following world news and current events. They were aware of China- US deal to curb emissions and yet, only a few had even heard of the UNFCCC, or COP, and were able to converse about what happened in Peru. If even the people who are well educated, generally aware and genuinely care about climate change are not well informed of a hugely important and impactful process, how are world leaders supposed to feel a great pressure to make real progress? In not throughly and consistently covering what happened in Lima at the larger news outlets and mainstream media there is an immense disservice to both the public and the UNFCCC process.  I noticed a lack of conversation about Lima even from the many environmental organizations I receive emails from. I usually have an inbox full of updates, petitions, and information about how to get involved in important environmental battles. Yet, nowhere did I see this type of awareness raising or request from their constituents to press for international cooperation and action to come out of COP20.

Obviously the uphill battle of climate change cannot be won if we focus exclusively on the UNFCCC or the outcomes of a COP. The issue is complex and requires action on individual, local and domestic levels as well. However, we need to fight on every front possible, especially the international level, to stand a chance. I believe that by essentially ignoring it, we are all but surrendering.

 

COP20

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COP20 was a whirlwind of activities, events, demonstrations and contacts. From the onset I felt like it was a race to be able to do as much as possible in the shortest amount of time. We began each day emailing our contacts from the day before (if the WiFi permitted), following up with meeting times, thanking them for their time and information or persisting with the plea for an interview. Then, what I found to be the most challenging, was planning the day. The apps we downloaded onto our phones were largely inaccurate when it came to times and locations for side events and press meetings (they were often changed last minute). Neither did they seem to include the full range different things going on.  However, there were moniters that helped with that. From there the day was ours to explore and learn.

Each day involved some combination of side events, the Climate Action Network’s updates, and interviews. I personally loved attending side events. My research topic is about how agriculture is being discussed in negotiations. I chose this area of study because of a personal passion for the agricultural and food system. So, I was fascinated with the panelists, and experts that shed light onto the issue. Attending the events also made it easy to find excellent people to interview.

The Climate Action Network (CAN) had wonderful updates on the conference that synthesised what was happening behind closed doors and what we, as participants, should watch out for. The image on the left was taken at one of these updates. The image on the right is of our interview with Jeff, asking about his experience in Lima.

 

 

 

 

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