By Neil Leary
Bill McKibben, in his role as a ‘professional bummer-outer’, began his public lecture at Dickinson College by first speaking about the bad stuff, “the valley” – what we are doing to the atmosphere, the climate and the oceans, the changes they are making in the world around us, and the risks those changes are creating. He began this way because, as he said, “Unless we understand the pace and scale of the problem that we face, we have no way of understanding the pace and scale of the solutions that are required.”
McKibben then moved on to talk about what he has done and is doing personally, with students, with 350.org, and with others to bring attention to climate change. To make it politically untenable for elected officials to ignore climate change and continue to take no action. To make it socially unacceptable to profit from the extraction and burning of fossil energy.
He also spoke to us about our responsibilities for action. Responsibilities as individuals, as students, faculty and employees of a college, and the responsibilities of institutions such as Dickinson. His words give us much to think about. We are already engaged as an institution in acting on climate change. We teach about climate change, its causes, its consequences and strategies for limiting climate change and its negative impacts. We provide our students, and other members of the Dickinson community, with sills and encouragement to be active, engaged citizens. We are, as a signatory of the American College and University President’s Climate Commitment, working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are generated in operating our campus.
But we are also invested in corporations in the fossil energy sector. What will we do about this? What should we do? Dialogue on these questions began at Dickinson before McKibben’s visit, and his visit has energized and inspired many who are engaged in the dialogue.
Much of what McKibben said that evening is familiar to me, having spent much of the past 20 years working on climate change. But one thing he said was new to me and gave me a different framing for thinking about the problem: there’s nothing radical about advocating to limit CO2 in the atmosphere to 350 ppm; radical is making money from fossil energy. Here’s what he said:
“There is nothing, and I mean nothing, radical about anything that I’ve been saying. All we are asking for is a world that works like the world we were born into, and that every human being for 10,000 years has been born into. That’s not radical by any reasonable definition. That’s a conservative request that we are making.
Radicals work at oil companies. If you are willing to get up in the morning and go to work making a fortune by altering the chemical composition of the atmosphere, when science has told you what it will do, once you’ve seen by watching the melting artic what it will do, if you are willing to do that, then you are engaged in a more radical act than any human being who has come before you.”
McKibben went on to say: “And, if you’re willing to hold stock in that company, then you are, at least, a kind of participant in that radicalism. Our job is to check that radicalism.”
Through the investments of Dickinson’s endowment, we are a participant in the radicalism of filling the atmosphere with greenhouse gases and changing the planet. I am of mixed minds about what to do about this. Divestment would end our participation in making profit from fossil energy. But we would still be implicated through our consumption of fossil energy, and through our use of resources that were produced and delivered to us with fossil energy. For me, the priority is moving our entire society to reduce quickly and deeply our emissions of greenhouse gases by conserving energy and other resources, improving energy efficiency and transitioning away from fossil energy sources. Will participation in the divestment movement help bring that change? That’s an important and but open question.
This blog contains exciting educational reflections made during a year-long research project on the 15th United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP15)!
The course is over, and this is the last post of the site, however, many of our students and professors are planning to attend future COPs, and we hope to link you to those in the near future!
We are a research team from Dickinson College consisting of 15 students and 2 professors.
We spent the past year in a course titled From Kyoto to Copenhagen, during which we attended the 15th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, interviewed parties to the conference, gave presentations to our community, blogged, wrote research papers, lectured at an international ethics conference,made posters, gave demonstrations, and learned a heck of a lot about climate change!
For the past year, this has been our blog. We’ve written in it from our first days of class last fall, through our whirlwind of a time at COP15, and for the next semester as we returned and hit the community with as much information as we could.
We hope this blog will continue to serve as an exciting educational asset, as a relic of this historic past year of climate change events and our thoughts on them.
I urge you especially to look at our reflections while at Copenhagen and our archive of video interview footage from COP15, which we are proud to offer as a unique educational experience unavailable anywhere else.
That class is over, though, and currently, I am writing one of two final posts. Yet as this blog closes, the movement does not.
Several of our team members have plans to attend (and I’m certain blog from) COP16, and I will link their blogs here as they become available.
Our professors will be bringing another class like ours to COP17 to continue what we’ve begun. It is my sincere hope that Dickinson College will continue to support these unique learning opportunities and that you’ll learn from them and pass them on to friends and family.
If there is only one thing I’ve learned from the past year (I swear I learned more than that), it is that education is the most important gift we can give.
We all know people that think climate change is a hoax or who maybe aren’t convinced it’s the single most important matter to our generation. These people simply haven’t had the opportunity to see what we have, and we urge you to share it with them.
Climate change is truly a global issue. A huge takeaway from Copenhagen for me was: policy is slow.
We cannot possibly wait for our governments to take care of everything for us. That climate change is a global issue and policy won’t be fast-moving enough to help in large part to mitigate its effects means that we need everyone’s help.
If there’s one thing I pledge for the future, and I hope you’ll join me in it, it’s that I won’t keep quiet in front of climate skeptics anymore.
I realize it’s difficult. It’s politically incorrect. But this is bigger than political correctness, and I bet you’ll make some new friends with this hefty dose of self-respect you have.
The bottom line is: climate change is bigger than you or me. Unfortunately no matter how much we recycle or eat locally, it won’t add up to much without others.
It’s an uphill battle, and the other team has some pretty cool weapons, but we hope the information contained within this blog will help you fight it, and I hope that very soon it will be linked to know blogs on COPs 16, 17, and beyond.
See you then.
In my previous post, Reducing GHG emissions in a finance-constrained world, I mentioned the fact that pledges of climate funding at Copenhagen, though very encouraging, is nowhere near the expected needed level. After the excitement upon the funding news waned, many people began to question the vagueness in the language of the Copenhagen Accord. Will the financial resources be delivered as promised?
In one of its briefings, the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) pointed out that there are six significant questions that need to be addressed soon:
- What are the sources of funding? From public or private sources? Counting private funding creates potential double counting of current flow of foreign direct investment.
- Is it new and additional? Without this condition, many established sources for health care and education can be counted, effectively lowering the amount allocated only for climate change.
- Who decides? Who has the authority to make the final call regarding what country or project should receive the money is always an important question.
- Grants or loans? Apparently, grants would result in much more impact.
- How predictable? How consistent is disbursement of the fund?
- What channels? Local government? NGOs?
Those six questions if answered in a certain way can wipe out the effectiveness of the fund. The purpose behind rich countries providing the money would potentially be totally distorted in that case. It would possibly be more about diverting global pressure and criticism rather than helping mitigate climate change. As a result, global attention is still needed until all the above questions are answered in a positive way and until there is transparency in handling of the money.
This problem of vagueness in wording already emerged during the Bonn conference in late April. As the Guardian pointed out, many countries double-counted pledges and aid budgets in their climate change mitigation money. Technically, money used for aiding development should be separated from climate funding. The six questions above need urgent answers to prevent any further misappropriation and misinterpretation of the fund.
During the recent financial crisis, it was once again proven that transparency improved market condition by reinforcing investors’ confidence and, as a result, increased investment and liquidity in the market. Climate finance is a growing global market with participation from the public and private sector, much like the financial market. If this level of opacity sustains, it would be no surprise that there is not enough money in the market to channel to climate mitigation.
As we began to digest what came out of Copenhagen, many felt disappointed that a legally binding agreement was not reached and started to look forward to COP16 in Cancun. However, up to this point there are not very high expectations for this round of negotiation which is happening in 6 months.
About a month ago, negotiators from countries that convened in Copenhagen last December met again in Bonn, Germany, to discuss how to connect the outcome of Copenhagen to the negotiation in Cancun. The frustratingly long procedure that we saw at the Bella Center in Copenhagen seemed to repeat itself here. Many countries are still in the mindset that they would be at an economic disadvantage if they spend a little bit more than other countries on climate change mitigation.
The difference between developed and developing countries is still there. Developing countries want to take into account historical responsibility while developed countries want to change the base year to a more reason year to cut even less GHG emission (such as the US, followed by Canada). Developed countries want an across-the-board policy while developing countries focus on cutting carbon intensity but not absolute amount to allow for their economic development (such as China).
According to the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), there were so much frustration that the number of informal meetings happening outside of Bonn processes increased. Norway and France, in one of those meetings, launched an interim REDD+ partnership in an attempt to expedite the progress on key issues outside of the UNFCCC process. The formal UNFCCC meeting itself, ironically, was more focused on the procedures for wording of the text for the agreement as well as discussion on how many more meetings would be needed before Cancun. Yvo de Boer (video of de Boer on the upcoming negation below), Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, was pessimistic, “I don’t think Cancun will provide the final outcome. I think Cancun can agree on an operational architecture but turning that into a treaty, if that is the decision, will take more time beyond Mexico. Matthew McDermott, a climate negotiation commentary, of Treehugger even suggested skipping COP16 to focus on the negotiation round in South Africa in 2011.
Following the climate change negotiation for me has been very frustrating. It has made me question everything from the efficiency of international negotiation, the advantages and disadvantages of democracy and the role of science in the society. Politics clearly is many years, even decades, behind science. On a more encouraging note, many countries, including the REDD+ partnership mentioned above, are ahead of the pact in climate change mitigation. Businesses in general are also moving more to cutting emissions levels. Politics still slacks behind.