An interview with the President of the COP

Image from:
Image from:

Ok, no I didn’t have the interview, but Peru’s Environment Minister, Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, was recently interviewed by Charlotta Lomas. He discusses his hopes for COP20 and how the Peruvian government is prepared to help make the event successful.

This is going to be the biggest conference in Peru’s history, but they are ready for the challenge!

Read the interview for yourself here.


Immediate Top Down Action is Needed

Emission by country

The Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) was charged with figuring out how to set up a new protocol in 2015, which will come into effect in 2020 (UNFCCC, 2012). The UNFCCC (2012) asked the ADP to work to find ways to close the ambition gap between pledged emission reductions and the level of reductions necessary to stay below 2 degree Celsius warming. Some countries are voluntarily stepping up and agreeing to emissions reductions (such as Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMA) in developing nations). However, the world is not close to being on track to stay below the 2-degree limit (UNFCCC, 2012) agreed to in the Copenhagen Accord (UNFCCC, 2010). The best way to get the world on track to reducing the impacts of climate change is through top down agreements, which reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. A top down agreement will be the most effective given the current situation because meaningful emissions reductions can be realized in a small window of time, the biggest polluters would be legally bound to reductions, and an agreement can be forged to minimize the worst impacts of climate change.

Global Emissions Projections
Global Emissions Projections

If a bottom up approach were taken, emissions reductions would not be realized quickly enough to have an impact. Voluntary pledges will not work because they allow too much flexibility on a national level. Every country is ultimately self-interested and will obey the rules of the prisoners dilemma unless they are able to coerce others into an agreement. Under this circumstance, only those countries that can benefit from emissions reductions (politically or economically) will cut GHG emissions. Emissions cuts might take place under this scenario, but they will either be “low hanging fruit” emissions cuts, because they are economically viable, or other reductions that make sense for a country to take on regardless of the way other countries act. For example the US, under George W. Bush, pledged to reduce carbon dioxide emissions per dollar gross domestic product (GDP) (Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, 2002). Other countries could make similar insignificant commitments where emissions could still increase when they have pledged to reduce under some parameter. A bottom up approach does not bind countries together to make a difference. Other forcings must occur to get countries to join for emission reductions.
Bodansky (2012) argues that a “multi-track approach” is best because it will give countries flexibility, but will still hold countries accountable and allow for real commitments. This method does provide the most politically feasible route forward and would lead to relatively quick short-term emissions reduction benefits. However, this path could disintegrate as parties jockey for positions that require less commitment. For example, India has proposed that countries should not have to mitigate emissions until they reach US$20,000 GDP per capita (Bernauer and others, 2014). According to the World Bank (2014) India currently has a GDP per capita of US$1,499 averaged over 2009-2013, allowing them to avoid responsibility for the foreseeable future. Yet, India is responsible for approximately 5% of the world’s emissions (World Resource Institute, 2011) and is thus needed in climate negotiations as emissions continue to grow (Baumert, 2005). Under a multi-track approach, countries can easily evade ambitious GHG reduction plans.

2011 Emission by country
2011 Emission by country

A top down approach allows for quick and decisive action. The most important piece is for the biggest emitters to come together to make a deal, because small nations do not matter in terms of emissions and mitigation. About 70% of the worlds emissions belong to (in descending order) China, United States, European Union (28), India, Russia, Indonesia, Brazil, Japan, Canada, Mexico and Iran (WRI, 2011). These countries must come together and pave a binding path forward that would limit warming globally. This plan would need to take the form of a legally binding Kyoto like agreement (Bodansky, 2012) from the biggest GHG emitters and could later be expanded to include future emerging emitters. A top down agreement is imperative to ensure that the necessary (largest emitting) parties sign on to reach meaningful cuts to avoid worst-case scenarios from warming. Fast and decisive action is needed to close the ambition gap between pledges and the reductions needed to keep the world below 2 degrees Celsius warming (UNFCCC, 2012), which can only be achieved through legally binding and enforced agreements amongst the biggest emitters.
The bottom up will provide insignificant short terms emissions reductions, which will not be enough to stay below 2 degrees Celsius. Energy and focus should not be put towards achieving a bottom up strategy because that is not where meaningful change is going to occur. Only the biggest emitters need to focus on establishing drastic reductions immediately under a legally binding framework. There is no time to wait to include every country. The biggest emitters must take decisive top down action to minimize warming immediately.

Baumert, Kevin A., Timothy Herzog, and Jonathan Pershing. Navigating the numbers: Greenhouse gas data and international climate policy. World Resources Inst, 2005.
Bernauer, Thomas, Robert Gampfer, and Florian Landis. “Burden Sharing in Global Climate Governance.” Toward a New Climate Agreement: Conflict, Resolution and Governance (2014): 44.
Bodansky, D., 2012. The Durban Platform: Issues and Options for a 2015 Agreement. Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.
Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES). Analysis of President Bush’s Climate Change Plan. February, 2002.
IPCC, 2014: Summary for policymakers. In: Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Part A: Global and Sectoral Aspects. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Field, C.B., V.R. Barros, D.J. Dokken, K.J. Mach, M.D. Mastrandrea, T.E. Bilir, M. Chatterjee, K.L. Ebi, Y.O. Estrada, R.C. Genova, B. Girma, E.S. Kissel, A.N. Levy, S. MacCracken,P.R. Mastrandrea, and L.L. White (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, pp. 1-32.
The World Bank. Data. “GDP per Capita (current US$)”. 2014.
UNFCCC. Copenhagen Accord. “Report of the Conference of the Parties on its fifteenth session, held in Copenhagen from 7 to 19 December 2009.” UNFCCC/CP/2009/11/Add.1. March 30, 2010.
UNFCCC. Report of the Conference of the Parties on its seventeenth session, held in Durban from 28 November to 11 December 2011, UNFCCC/CP/2011/9/Add.1. March, 15, 2012.
World Resource Institute (WRI), CAIT 2.0. 2011. Climate Analysis Indicators Tool: WRI’s Climate Data Explorer. Washington, DC: World Resources Institute. Available at:

Besides the mosaic, what else is occupying my time?


Having already taken global climate change, this semester I am taking chemistry of earth systems and Introduction to Soils with the mosaic. While these courses are not directly related to climate change, they are providing a great balance with the mosaic.

In chemistry of earth systems we are learning about chemical reactions and different techniques to get at compositions of rocks including XRD and XRF analysis (pictures of our machines at right). Geo chem, as we like to call it, is giving me a great background in the chemistry of how the earth works. We are learning about reactions that are fundamental to keeping the planet’s systems in check (i.e. weathering reactions).

Justin and Ben in soils class
Justin and Ben in soils class

Soils class is a very nice complement to geo chem as it is providing a great understanding of clays, soil structure and soil composition. We frequently get to go on field trips (picture left) to see different parts of the valley and learn about how soils are important to our lives. The most relevant part of the course for climate change is my independent research project. I will be studying how soil development begins with deglaciation. You may be wondering how I am going to do this in Carlisle, but the answer is simple, tombstones. I will be dating lichen and developing a growth curve to see how quickly lichen are growing in this environment. The tombstones represent my recently glaciated rock and will allow the analogous study. Picture below shows an environmental that was recently glaciated (Greenland) and is now becoming populated with lichens, which will build to develop soil.

I am looking forward to further engaging in this course work and developing a great understanding of earth systems.

Soil development in Greenland
Soil development in Greenland

Seeing Greenland after having been there

After going to Greenland this past August, I had even more questions after seeing Chasing Ice the second time around than I did the first time I saw it. This past week Jim Balog visted Dickinson College to receive the Rose-Walters Prize for Global Environmental Activism and many of us had multiple opportunities to interact with him. What I find most interesting about his work is the questions of scale, which he raises for us. Even after having seen the Greenland ice sheet, I have a hard time visualizing the scale of the ice Balog is photographing.

Photograph taken from Jim Balog
Photograph taken from Jim Balog

The photo (right) of black dots in ice exemplifies this idea for me. Take a look at it and think to your self: how big are those dots? Once you think you have an idea, click here to explore the Dark Snow project and see some pictures that have those same style of features in them with scales. (Hint: those a very small features, on the order of centimeters).

Even after going to Greenland it is still hard to imagine how massive these glacial features really are. Balog does a nice job of helping his audience visualize this with comparisons to lower Manhattan, the empire state building and the capitol building, yet I still don’t think most people can gain an appreciation for the enormity of the ice. I have included several pictures from my trip to Greenland below with relatively small icebergs with boats in the pictures for scale. Can you see the boats?

If you are interesting in viewing Chasing Ice, see Extreme Ice first, it is free!

Can you see the boats amongst the small glaciers?
Small glacial tongue
Small glacial tongue

Climate Action Network: Progressing Climate Action


The Climate Action Network (CAN) contains over 900 non-governmental organizations (NGO) from more than 100 countries (CAN, 2014A). The CAN’s mission is “to promote government and individual action to limit human-induced climate change to ecologically sustainable levels…through information exchange and the coordinated development of NGO strategy” (CAN, 2014A). The CAN does an effective job of coordinating NGOs to submit comments to the UNFCCC on a broad range of topics. They are able to successfully orchestrate climate oriented NGOs to advocate for immediate and meaningful climate action as well as the advancement of human rights. By creating a network of organizations around the world, the CAN has been able to affect the negotiation by directly providing inputs on the negotiations through paper submissions, rallying NGOs around common talking points, and by convincing negotiators of their position.

Since its start in 1989, CAN has been part of the climate negotiation process and conversations (Duwe, 2001). Since then, CAN has continuously grown and become one of two lead parties within the ENGOs (Environmental NGOs) (Dryzek and Stevenson, 2014). They have submitted a large range of papers during and after each COP. CAN has several themes in their position statements, which advocate for greater climate action and for upholding human rights (CAN, 2012). Some of their themes include:

  • Strong mitigation measures, including reducing the use of fossil fuels (Voorhar, 2014) and ending subsidies for fossil fuels (CAN, 2009) while increasing investments in renewable energies (CAN, 2014C).
  • Quick action on climate change to keep warming to a minimum (CAN, 2012; CAN, 2014C; CAN, 2013B)
  • Developed countries need to have public financing in place to help promote renewable energy projects for developing countries (CAN, 2014C) such as the Green Climate Fund (CAN, 2014B; CAN, 2011)

These themes are strong positions for climate action and represent the way in which CAN is attempting to project their views and give input on the negotiations.

The CAN has played a crucial role in bringing together voices to push negotiators towards climate action. CAN works extensively with other network NGOs to develop joint positions on relevant issues to present a strong front to the negotiations (CAN, 2013A). The CAN was critical in aligning multiple voices to speak on behalf of ENGOs to push the Kyoto Protocol forward (Dryzek and Stevenson, 2014). The NGOs within CAN helped shape the Kyoto Protocol by persuading the EU to hold their emissions reductions as well persuading the US to be flexible with target-setting (Bulkeley and Newell, 2010). The CAN has been effective within the negotiations because they have been able to unify their network of NGOs under their statements and positions, giving power and voice to the submissions and ideas.

Additionally, the CAN works to promote greater understand of the negotiations for individuals as well as delegates. The Eco-Newsletter, produced by CAN, provides a daily report about what is happen within the negotiations (CAN, 2014C). This allows outsiders to understand what is going on and gain an ENGO perspective into the negotiations. Many delegates will also read Eco-newsletters because they provide a summary of the on going negotiations (Duwe, 2001). Side events, of which CAN is only a small part, further help attendees and developing nations better understand all of the complexities of climate change and the negotiations (Hjerpe and Linnér, 2010). Being part of negotiation education is a crucial role filled by CAN and allows them to be a more effective transnational network by incorporating more people, organizations and ideas.

CAN has not only been successful as a larger organization, but many of the 900 daughter NGOs have helped them succeed in their mission. Yet, that many constituents can lead to a weaker message from the organization due to differing opinions. While that many stakeholders signify power and voice in numbers, they can also present an obstacle to efficient and bold decisions. Additionally, CAN-International is not well funded nor have they historically planned well as an organization, only releasing their first multi-year plan in 2013 (CAN, 2013). By engaging policy makers in the negotiation process, CAN has been able to impact negotiations in advocating for stronger climate action and can continue to improve these efforts with better funding, planning and consensus building.



Bulkeley, Harriet, and Newell, Peter. Governing climate change. Routledge, 2010.

Climate Action Network International. “About CAN” 2014A.

Climate Action Network International. “Eco-newsletters” 2014C.

Climate Action Network International. Adaptation and Loss & Damage Under the ADP. June 2, 2014B.

Climate Action Network International. Annual Report 2013. 2013A.

Climate Action Network International. CAN-I Submission on New Market-based Mechanism. March, 2012.

Climate Action Network International. Climate Action Network – International Submission to Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex 1 Parties under the Kyoto Protocol Regarding Response Measures. April 24, 2009.

Climate Action Network International. Climate Finance under the ADP. June 2, 2014C.

Climate Action Network International. Submission on 2013-2015 Review. April 1, 2013B.

Climate Action Network International. Submission to the Transitional Committee for the Green Climate Fund. July 29, 2011.

Dryzek, John S., and Hayley Stevenson. Democratizing global climate governance. Cambridge University Press, 2014.

Duwe, Matthias. “The climate action network: A glance behind the curtains of a transnational NGO network.” Review of European Community & International Environmental Law 10.2 (2001): 177-189.

Hjerpe, Mattias, and Björn-Ola Linnér. “Functions of COP side-events in climate-change governance.” Climate Policy 10.2 (2010): 167-180.

Voorhar, Ria. Climate Action Network International. Statement on UNSG’s Climate Summit by Climate Action Network and the Global Call for Climate Action. September 23, 2014.

People’s Climate March in NYC

Mosaic Students marching with their Professors in mind
Mosaic Students marching with their Professors in mind

Today 25 students and 4 faculty members from Dickinson College descended on New York City with 400,000 other people from around the world to demand climate action. We started in Central Park and ended at the UN headquarters on 9th Ave. We came to New York for a variety of reasons, but what we all hold in common is that we demanded action to address climate change now.

We are all anxiously watching what will happen on Tuesday September 23, 2014 as Ban Ki-Moon holds the Climate Summit in New York City. We are doubtful yet hopeful that our actions today will make a difference on the international stage.

400,000+ strongWhat happened today shot past our wildest expectations. 400,000 is a lot of people, we are ecstatic to see where this goes. We can’t wait for the future. Please join us.

See a TIME article here






Dickinson students found Bill McKibben of on the streets!
Dickinson students found Bill McKibben of on the streets!


More Trees



The Weather in 2050

On the UNFCCC newsroom homepage today I found the video at the bottom of this blog post. The first four minutes of the video show a news anchor man going through the current weather across the US with a hurricane off the coast of Florida, a heat wave in Chicago and a server drought in the south-west US. The video ends with Ban Ki-Moon addressing the viewers and asking for us to take action on climate change with him. On one hand the video seems overly dramatic. But, is this what it takes to get people to take up Ban Ki-Moon’s call for action?

After investigating the WMO’s website, I was able to find a link to a series of videos that the organization is running in preparation for the Climate Summit at the end of the month in New York City. A list of those videos can be found here.

It is very interesting to me that they are running this campaign on weather related events. We know that there is not a clear connection between any given daily weather event and climate, yet, this video series suggests that weather when examined in different locations globally is an indication of a warming climate. These videos are consistent with the predictions of climate modelers, according to the WMO website. So, maybe this is an effective way of convincing people of the real dangers of climate change. What do you think?


Anarchy in Climate Negotiations

Global Emissions
Trends in global CO2 emissions: 2013 Report. PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. European Commission Joint Research Center. 2013.
Trends in global CO2 emissions: 2013 Report. PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. European Commission Joint Research Center. 2013.

Over the past 20 years of climate negotiations, nothing substantial has been accomplished in terms of mitigating global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Only those countries that have the most to lose from climate change, i.e. sovereignty, have pushed for meaningful action. This has led to a lack of significant commitments by major polluters, and international organizations such as the United Nations (UN) have failed to enforce mitigation strategies. Realism provides the strongest lens through which to see and understand the path of the global climate change negotiations and provides the best predictor for how states will act in this arena moving forward.

States function in an anarchic system, and thus climate negotiation between all countries also face the challenges of anarchy. There is no one group that can control the states and force everyone to agree on any one path to action. It can be argued that the UN brings all of the states together for the discussions and that they dictate the schedule, but the UN has not exemplified the ability to inspire or force any decisions to be made. The United States, the world’s second largest emitter of GHGs, acts as hegemon in the climate negotiations (Bulkley and Newll, 2010) and is able to maintain no binding international regulatory measures on GHGs. When the US senate passed the Byrd-Hagel Resolution the Kyoto Protocol lost global emissions reductions significance. When the hegemon backed out, it unraveled the Protocol, proving that the most powerful must be integrally involved in order to have effective results. According to a realist point of view, if the US, instead of backing out, had used its political and military power to enforce a strong agreement, the Kyoto Protocol could have come into force for all states; however, that would not have been in the best economic interest of the country, which means that they would not enforce the Protocol.

Constructivism does not work as a model to fully explain global climate negotiations because communication and involvement from non-state bodies is not leading to cooperation by the involved parties. The negotiating parties are not accepting norms and ideas, thus there is no currently plausible mechanism for mitigating global GHG emissions. It is simply not in the economic self-interest of powerful states to slow growth and prevent the use of fossil fuels. In this light, the realist point of view describes inaction from the most carbon intensive states because they have an intrinsic self-interest in continuing to burn fossil fuels. This is not to say that these nations would not receive some benefit from pollution reductions such as cleaner air, but currently their personal cost is much greater than any benefit they may receive.

Using the realist theory we can explain why some parties, such as the Alliance of Small Island States, who are most vulnerable to climate change (Bulkeley and Newell, 2010) are already taking action. From a realist point of view, small island states would only voluntarily cut back on emissions if they would directly benefit from those actions. These nations risk loosing their sovereignty due to sea level rise, so it is consistent with a realists understanding for these most vulnerable countries to cut their emissions to attempt to spark international change. When faced with losing an entire nation, it is expected that the population would be as vocal as possible to attempt to save their sovereignty. As Fletcher (2013) describes, Costa Rica is taking action after increasing political pressure in the 1980s to stop deforestation. After accepting funding to help these efforts, Costa Rica has become a global model for carbon emissions reductions and forest preservation. The European Union has taken more significant action than any other powerful and significant state in terms of GHG emissions. The EU and states that have taken action on climate change have not done so because they are good global citizens. They have done so because they are vulnerable to the effects of climate change and will be better off as a state (or grouping of states) if they take actions to preserve environmental services and reduce GHG emissions. Even though these actors and other states have been cooperating on small actions, a realist view still most accurately describes the climate negotiations because there has not yet been collective action by all global parties.

The only way states will be able to agree to a binding agreement on GHG emissions, under this realist theory for international relations, would be for a hegemon to take charge of the negotiations. The hegemon or another powerful state that could compete with the hegemon for that position would have to successfully threaten the use of force to make other states comply with mandatory GHG reductions. With a lack of such a leader and a global government, it is highly unlikely that this outcome will occur. Countries will continue to negotiate around climate change until the cost of inaction becomes too great and it is no longer in a hegemon’s best interest to continue to allow excessive GHG pollution.


Work Cited

Bulkeley, Harriet, and Peter Newell. Governing climate change. Routledge, 2010.

Fletcher, Robert in “Climate governance in the developing world.” Reference & Research Book News 2013: Academic OneFile.

Trends in global CO2 emissions: 2013 Report. PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. European Commission Joint Research Center. 2013.

As the Ice Leaves, Greenland Becomes Green

Kulusuk, Greenland
Puppies with sled dog mom in Kulusuk, Greenland

This summer I had the opportunity to travel to Greenland with the Earth Science department. We had an incredible trip and got to see a lot of ice. Climate change is readily apparent in the landscape and in speaking with the locals. One man local to the small settlement of Kulusuk told us that the dog sledding season used to last from September until June, now they usually can’t start until late October and are ending in early May, a drastic change for this culture. Even though the season is getting shorter, families still train dogs to sled. This picture shows a mom with two new born pups, there were also more in her litter under her belly.




Tidewater glacier near Kulusuk, Greenland
Tidewater glacier near Kulusuk, Greenland

One our first full day of hiking we were able to see a glacier that has been studied by some Danish scientists for many years, Mittivakkat Glacier. There is a great deal of scientific literature on the subject, some of which can be found here. We were only able to see one small tongue of the glacier shown in the photograph. For more information on this glacier see journal articles here.


Apusiaajik Tidewater Glacier near Kulusk, Greenland
Apusiaajik Tidewater Glacier near Kulusk, Greenland


The most striking glacial feature we saw was an incredible tide water glacier, about 30 minutes from Kulusuk by boat. The Apusiaajik Glacier is retreating. While there is currently no scientific literature on the glacier, locals say that it is just in the past 5 years that the rock in the middle of the photograph above has become exposed. This is consistent with other glacial observation in the region that many “tide water glaciers” no longer reach the ocean.

All photographs taken by Will Kochtitzky, August 2014

Where the free market fails

Current political conservative rhetoric typically bashes the government’s regulatory role and promotes a completely free market economy. This view, which became very popular with Ronald Reagan, fails from the perspective of negative externalities and a lack of full cost consideration. If the US had a completely free market, business would be able to rape and pillage land to access mineral reserves, such as fossil fuels to feed our growing population and economy. Fortunately, for the environment, the US government has put in place a series of laws, which protect people, air, land and water. However, these laws and regulations are the very reason why we have climate deniers. Any group (governmental, non-profit, or business) which has a cost presented to it, through legislation or possible action, has a vested interested (benefit) from not having that action completed, this is why corporations have hired people like Seitz, Singer, Nierenberg and others to spread doubt.

These people such as Fred Seitz and Fred Singer (as described in Merchants of Doubt) are essentially climate hit-men, old reputable scientists working to promote the interest of corporations looking to profit from resource extraction or products that damage personal/environmental health (ie. Cigarettes or DDT). These corporations have a vested interest in avoiding the added externalities of their products, and thus are willing to spend millions of dollars to prevent any kind of environmental or health governmental action. This is where the media begins to unfairly represent climate change. Journalists are used to presenting two sides of any argument from neighborhood parks to health care, journalists attempt to cover both sides of the story. They are mistaken then when they attempt to do the same with climate change or scientific issues in general. Seeing as the public does not read scientific journals, Seitz, Singer, and others are able to insert their propaganda into the mass media. This leads to bias in the media in how climate change deniers are presented to the public. Deniers are typically given equal time and reputation for a factually incorrect viewpoint. This is the first step that must change in order to help the public understand the degree of certainty that we have (as scientists) in the current research on climate. (See John Oliver’s show here for a more accurate, and comic, representation of a debate)

In the end, it is the responsibility of those of us who have contributed most to the pollution to take action now to prevent future devastation. Climate change is like second-hand smoke. Those of us in the developed world (the smokers) have been polluting for decades and have raised levels of greenhouse gases to unsafe atmospheric levels. In this analogy the citizens of the developing world are the ones who are now faced with a problem in which they did not contribute (received all the costs without any benefits). The developed world still faces these issues, if not more so, because we must find an alternative way to run our economy.