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.



The Food System and Climate Change

Two billion people all over the world are affected by iron deficiency contributing to anemia. Two hundred and fifty million children suffer in more than half the countries on the planet suffer from Vitamin A deficiency. And 805 million people suffer from hunger. In the U.S. though, 1.3 billion people are overweight or obese due to a diet that is damaging to our bodies and our environment.

How could something so simple as eating, the most natural human activity, damage our environment? It is in the way in which our food system is set up, built upon fossil fuels. In the tropics, destruction of natural rainforests for agriculture contributes to 12% of total warming annually, even though only 50% of the food produced ever make it onto a plate. The creation of chemical fertilizers rely on oil, coal, or natural gas to supply the hydrogen gases necessary to artificially re-create the act of nitrogen fixation. Corn- and soy-fed cows consume on average the equivalent of 35 gallons of oil in their lifetime, due to the fertilizer used to grow their corn, transportation emissions, and many other sources of emissions along the industrial food chain. Wet milling, the process factories use to break down corn into factories to become cornstarch and various sweeteners, burns 10 calories of fossil fuel energy for every calorie of processed food it produces. It takes 1.3 gallons of oil to make 4,150 calories. Food transportation is yet another contributor to GHG emissions, producing about 12% of emissions in developed countries, such as the United Kingdom.

The food supply chain greatly affects climate, but a warming climate will also affect the food supply chain. It disrupts crop yields and pushes food prices up, increasing food insecurity for the world’s population. A study led by the Harvard School of Public Health found that rising CO2 levels strip foods of vital nutrients, which will increase the number of undernourished children in developing countries. In Africa, this number is expected to rise ten-fold by the year 2050.

Poverty and climate change are self-reinforcing. As climate change threatens crop production, the number of hungry and malnourished in the developing world will increase, which will result in unsustainable practices in these places to meet their current needs. To mitigate climate change, and in turn allay undernourishment and poverty, we must reimagine our food system. We should support small farms, which will rely less on fertilizers due to their being polycultures (most likely, because it will make more financial sense for a small farm), as opposed to many corn farms in Iowa, which are grown as monocultures with no other plants and animals, other than corn and soy. We should convert degraded lands into productive farms, which will help adapt to and mitigate climate change, reduce rainforest destruction, along with enhancing global food security. Breastfeeding for infants is a highly sustainable intervention that will reduce the carbon footprint of our food consumption.

As we near the COP and the world inches ever closer to the 2 degrees C limit, we must remember not to treat climate change as an isolated issue. Every action we take will affect it, and it, in turn, will affect every action we take.


All statistics without a link from The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan

Climate March

On Wednesday December 10, 2014, I attended and marched in the Marcha Mundial en Defensa de la Madre Tierra in Lima, Peru, put on by the Cumbre de los Pueblos. I got a taxi from my hostel with two other members of the mosaic crew, and we took it to the Campo de Marte at the intersection of the Avenue de la Peruanidad and the Avenue Salaverry. The march seemed to have a good amount of people at this point, but it didn’t seem as big as we had expected. But the marching didn’t actually start until 11 AM, we were just gathering in the park at this point. We left to get some bananas for breakfast, and when we got back, it seemed a bit larger of a crowd had gathered.


My other two companions had to leave at this point to go to the COP, so I was left alone. I walked around for a bit and got handed a bunch of pamphlets and stickers and pins and was asked to sign a few petitions. I was also handed a sign that consisted of a big green heart with “100% energia limpia” written on it (it wasn’t until a few hours after the march that I found out what this meant—100% clean energy). I would carry this sign for the whole march.


At one point the energy seemed to really start to come to a head and there was a bunch of performance art and drumming and traditional music and chanting being done, although at this point I couldn’t tell if the march had begun yet or not. But the energy was absolutely intoxicating. We had by this point blocked off all the traffic in the Campo de Marte traffic circle, and police had to direct traffic. I walked around in the middle of the street for a while checking out all of the different groups of protesters. It seemed that the march was split up into blocks of different groups, separated by large signs telling what their purpose for marching was (I think, it was all in Spanish, which I don’t speak). There was no block for people with big green heart signs so I walked around and checked out a bunch of different groups, one of which was a bunch of women banging on cans and chanting something. I tried to chant with them, but the language barrier made this impossible. I kept walking through the crowd until I realized that I was now standing in a line with a bunch of people with bandanas tied around their mouths and heads. This was the  “Bloque Hip Hop.” I stood in their lines for a while, but I felt very out of place there as they seemed a little too militant with their bandanas and their anti-capitalism signs for my green heart. Also, based on the amount of daps that were given, it seemed that they all knew each other pretty well. So I left their crowd.


The slogan of the march was “Change the system, not the climate,” meaning that this protest was meant to challenge the current manner of dealing with climate change, and try to change that. In fact, this I believe was the whole purpose of the People’s Summit—to offer alternatives to current negotiating systems. There were definitely enough people there to help out challenging the current system. By the time the marching began, I couldn’t see where the end of the crowd was.


As we began marching, I again joined in with the women banging on cans, mostly because they seemed nice and there were others with big green hearts in their crowd. The march was a lot of fun. We marched for about 2 hours (?) through the neighborhood of La Victoria (?) taking over highways and other streets. It was a lot of fun seeing how we were blocking off traffic, although the cars weren’t having that much fun. I almost got run over a few times by angry drivers.


I attempted to chant along with people, but it was all in vain—I couldn’t understand the Spanish. Occasionally I would yell the Spanish words I could make out, like “porque” or “clima,” but overall it was hard for me to chant in Spanish.


Every so often people would start yelling and running forwards which was fun. I also tried to check out a bunch of different groups in the march and not hang around the same people the whole time. There was a group with orange flags that said “PCP” on them. I have no idea what this meant. There was another group with green flags that said “CCP, ” The FENAOMP group, the CGTP group, and at the very front of the march were a bunch of people holding a huge green tarp with something I couldn’t make out written on it. And of course there were the women dressed in purple and the Bloque de Hip Hop, among other groups that I can’t remember.


As I said, we marched about 2 hours through the streets of Lima, sometimes on larger two lanes roads and sometimes on smaller city streets where we walked alongside residents of Lima not participating in the march. The march ended in a big circle I don’t know where. The whole circle seemed to be a big party. There was one person making a speech on a truck in Spanish to a substantial crowd, a few different bands playing, people burning coca leaves and making speeches, and people hanging around the park making demonstrations or just hanging out on the grass. The whole scene was pretty fun, although I decided to leave as I didn’t know anyone and couldn’t understand anything as it was all in Spanish. Getting out was hell, because the march had screwed up all of the traffic patterns and the roads were blocked up for as far as I could see. I had five taxis reject me until I finally found one that would take me back to Miraflores. All in all though, a really great experience, and I got a big heart sign from it, which, sadly, had to be cut up so that it could fit in my suitcase to go back home.


¡Cambiemos el Sistema No el Clima!



REDD+ and Indigenous Peoples

Many of my peers here at COP20 have probably heard the various rantings of me and Heather Morrison about REDD+, and why we believe it is wrong and should be taken out of a future Paris agreement. Because the COP is this year located in Peru, it seems that discussions surrounding REDD+ have taken a much larger public presence, because Peru is a country with mining and other extractive industries, and also Peru has in its country and in neighboring countries populations of indigenous peoples that are highly affected by REDD+. In this post, I will discuss REDD+, and the problems surrounding it.


REDD+ is a climate change mitigation solution that mainly focuses on offsetting carbon emissions by sequestering it in trees in reforested areas. It is a way to combat both deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions. The idea is that, because climate change has no boundaries, the location where greenhouse gasses are emitted does not really matter, so if you can take up the same amount of carbon in one location that is emitted in another, you can achieve net zero emissions. At the same time, you would be combatting deforestation, because transnational corporations or governments would finance reforestation projects in other parts of the world with deforestation problems.


REDD+ combats two very important problems: climate change and deforestation, and this seems like a great idea at first. But there are problems with how REDD+ is implemented, and many of those problems start with those people living in the areas that are home to REDD+ projects. Indigenous peoples and local communities are very adversely affected by REDD+. First of all, REDD+ has tried to build various safeguards into it, mainly dealing with getting allowing for indigenous participation in REDD+ governance and respecting indigenous peoples’ rights. But these safeguards are generally not well enforced at all, leading to the eviction of many indigenous and local communities off of their traditional lands, and lands that they rely on for agriculture and livelihoods. Most of the time this eviction is quite violent, with houses being burned down and people being murdered or thrown in jail, all in the name of conservation.


But even if it was possible to strictly enforce the REDD+ safeguards, there would still be the problem that these indigenous traditional lands, lands that should be under the ownership of those that live on them and monitor them, are being privatized, and the peoples living on these lands are being told that they can no longer practice their traditional livelihoods, because the land is now being used as a tree plantation for a specific type of tree which maximizes the sequestration of carbon. Biodiversity is reduced in favor of a monoculture of trees, and traditional agricultural practices, or land clearing for local communities is outlawed, as this would reduce the space available for tree space. The framework of REDD+ naturally causes the privatization of traditional lands and the marginalization of those that live on them.


And REDD+ really just allows transnational corporations and national governments to continue polluting. Financing a REDD+ project in a country means that these organizations don’t have to reduce their own emissions, because they are supposedly offsetting the emissions. And even though the idea that emissions are global and not regional is true, those communities living adjacent to huge power plants or extractive industries don’t really care if a company is offsetting their global emissions or not, because regionally the environment is being negatively affected, causing a degradation in the health of populations and their water quality. Just look at the chemical valley in Canada, or Cerro de Pasco, Peru. Even if governments or corporations are offsetting global emissions, they are still having just as much of a negative impact regionally.


REDD+ should be stopped and indigenous peoples given ownership over their traditional lands, and corporations and governments need to be made to reduce emissions and not just try to offset them in another part of the world. REDD+ has good intentions, but it won’t help to allow for the systemic change really needed to combat climate change. Stop REDD+, and change the system, not the climate.

A Complete Overhaul of the Global Energy System

Until this point, climate change negotiations have attempted to make incremental changes to address the problem. The Kyoto Protocol and Cancun Agreements both attempted to take beginning steps—such as setting emissions targets–to mitigate climate change, such as through emissions reductions targets, and there are other ways that countries are attempting to mitigate climate change. Individual countries have attempted to use carbon trading schemes or the creation of carbon sinks to address the problem. But, while all of these actions will definitely help to alleviate climate change, what is needed is actually much larger: a transformation of the whole of the global economy (Sawin). Transformative changes are needed to avoid what the UNFCCC defines as “dangerous” climate change, because incremental changes will not be quick enough to avoid the 2 degrees Celsius warming limit, and because the global economy is dependent on fossil fuels, which must be change to avoid dangerous warming.

“Climate change is fundamentally a development issue, not a pollution problem,” states a Worldwatch Institute report entitled “Renewable Revolution: Low Carbon Energy by 2030” (Sawin) What this means is that, while there definitely is a pollution problem that comes with carbon emissions, the way to solve climate change is not necessarily to cut down on air pollution. In fact, in a study by MIT researchers found that pollution-related benefits can only decline so far as carbon policies become more stringent (Resutek). At some point, health-related benefits will stop coming with the reduction of emissions, which means that even though one city or region might have solved the problem of air pollution, its citizens and industries they could still be emitting a substantial amount of carbon into the atmosphere. While reducing local air pollution can definitely help, the best way to mitigate climate change is to alter the way the global economy works, and that could start with how items you see and use every day are produced. Consider this: Fossil fuels are required to produce the clothes you wear, the foods you eat and the computers, cars, appliances and countless other goods you use. Even the fertilizers used in your garden and on farms require fossil fuels in order to be produced (Things Made). Reducing our dependence on fossil fuels in the crucial production cycle of every day goods could go a long way toward alleviating global warming.

Of course, even if we reduced emissions only incrementally, the global energy system would eventually be changed in sufficient ways. The problem with this is that that change probably would not come fast enough. As the Worldwatch report states, “Many scenarios show a gradual shift to renewables that still envisions a major role for fossil fuels for most of this century” (Sawin). But as the graph below in figure 1 shows, that won’t be enough to keep warming below the 2 degrees Celsius limit agreed upon in the Copenhagen Accords and Cancun Agreements. To ensure that we stay within the 2 degrees Celsius limit, emissions must be peak in 2020, and be reduced rapidly from there on out. Of course, this is still possible, as it is not yet the year 2020, but, at the incremental rate that negotiations are moving, it will not be possible to have peak emissions in 2020, and then reduce them as rapidly as needed after 2020 (IPCC). To achieve this rapid reduction of emissions, the world needs a deeper developmental transformation of the global energy system, not gradual increments of emissions reduction.

Transformative changes are needed to avoid “dangerous” climate change. Incremental changes of emissions reductions, such as those in the Kyoto Protocol and the Cancun Agreements, will not move the global energy system away from fossil fuels fast enough to avoid breaking through the 2 degrees Celsius limit of average global temperature change agreed upon in the Cancun Agreements. Also, merely reducing emissions will not be enough to avoid dangerous climate change; A complete overhaul of the global energy system is needed to do this (Sawin). At present, the world economy is so dependent on fossil fuels that their use cannot be reduced if typical living standards are to be maintained. We will need to change over from fossil fuels into other renewable sources of energy (Sawin). Of course, this complete developmental transformation of the modern global energy system is only theoretical. In real life, there would be few countries that would agree to this kind of complete overhaul of the global economy. This is exactly the reason we have treaties like the Kyoto Protocol: It might not be as stringent as many scientists would like it to be, but it might be the best agreement because it attracts such wide participation. So, while transformative changes of the global economy would be optimal for avoiding dangerous climate change, it might be that incremental policy changes are more realistic for our world.

Figure 1
Figure 1, from http://www.wri.org/ipcc-infographics


Works Cited

IPCC. “Understanding the IPCC Reports.” World Resources Institute. IPCC, n.d. Web. 02 Nov. 2014.

Resutek, Audrey. “Study: Cutting Emissions Pays for Itself.” MIT News. MIT, 24 Aug. 2014. Web. 02 Nov. 2014.

Sawin, Janet L., William R. Moomaw, Travis Bradford, Eric Martinot, Richard Rosen, Kelly S. Gallagher, Youba Sokona, Leena Srivastava, and Monika Zimmerman. Renewable Revolution: Low-Carbon Energy by 2030. Rep. Ed. Lisa Mastny. Danvers, MA: Worldwatch Institute, n.d. Print.

“Things Made From Oil That We Use Daily (a Partial List).” Community Classroom. PBS, n.d. Web. 2 Nov. 2014.



Andean Civilization and the US Food System

This semester I am taking South American Archaeology as one of my four classes. Right now, we are discussing pre-Incan Andean civilizations, some of which inhabited the area of Peru that we will be visiting on our upcoming trip. While developments in pre-Incan cultures might not be directly related to climate change, the topic of climate comes up often in the study of pre-Incan cultures, as it plays an important role in societies that are so connected to the Earth and the environment. There was, of course, no anthropogenic climate change during the pre-Incan period, but climate affects civilizations nonetheless. In fact, the collapse of the Tiwanaku was caused in part by a changing climate.
The Tiwanaku, a civilization present during the Middle Horizon period of Peruvian history, from about AD 500-1000, was already seeing fragmentation in their society near the late 11th century, as evidenced by the defacing of ritualistic monoliths– representing a ritual “killing” of the monolith’s ritual and power. But, beginning in the late 11th century and continuing for a few hundred years, a drought hit the altiplano region of the Andes, the location of the Tiwanaku capital. At the time, the Tiwanaku had a centralized food economy, and the drought put stress on this, exacerbating fragmentations in an already disjointed culture. Local production systems came under the control of local corporate groups exercising local autonomy over their region, taking power away from the elites of the society (Janusek). Tiwanaku civilization was really an alliance of many different ethnic groups, which probably made it easier for it to break apart.

Obviously, a development such as the one seen with the Tiwanaku can inform our current situation with global warming. For instance, the US, similar to the Tiwanaku, has a centralized food economy that could be damaged by the effects of current climate change. Because all areas of the country depend on a centralized production center, the whole country will feel the effects of climate change, as a decrease in crop yield in one part of the country will affect the quantity and quality of food shipped to the whole of the country. We are not only facing at long-term drought, as the Tiwanaku did, but also rising oceans, more extreme weather, and hotter global temperatures. While we might have a better infrastructure than the Tiwanaku did, if we don’t do anything, at some point we will not be able to deal with the fallout from current climate change. Further, even if the US can deal some of these effects, the same cannot be said for less developed countries. These changes will not only have damaging effects on human populations, but might even modify economic and government systems. Already, and as Michael Pollan hints at in his book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, we are seeing, in some areas of the US, movement towards supporting locally sourced food (Pollan). Could this represent regions of the US starting to exhibit more local autonomy, due to the stresses put on the world’s economic and political systems by climate change? Furthermore, private corporations and subnational governments are working together to form transnational governance networks, for the purpose of working to mitigate and adapt to climate change below the realm of international negotiations, as they realized some of the failures of the UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol. I’m not saying our whole civilization is going to collapse due to climate change, but climate change will definitely affect more than just our daily everyday life. It will affect the whole of human civilization.

Works Cited:

Janusek, J.W.   2004     Household and City in Tiwanaku. In Andean Archaeology, edited by H. Silverman, pp. 183-208. Blackwell Publishing, Oxford.

Pollan, Michael. The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. New York: Penguin, 2006. Print.

A Bottom-Up Approach to Climate Negotiations

The Kyoto Protocol, the first legally binding international agreement on climate change that pledged parties to emission reduction targets, had a commitment period lasting from 2008 until 2012 (UNFCCC Kyoto). Now that this period has ended, climate negotiators are concerned with trying to create a second commitment period to reduce GHG emissions. Scheduled to end its work in 2015, the date by which a protocol or international agreement should be completed, the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) is tasked with developing a protocol or other agreement with legal force (UNFCCC Ad Hoc). There are a multitude of ways to go about this–most broadly, the three options are a top-down, a bottom-up or a mixed-track approach.

A top-down approach to climate change would mean that after an international greenhouse gas concentration target is agreed upon, both the manner in which a country will achieve this goal, and individual country targets, will also be decided upon internationally through a general allocation formula. The opposite of this, a bottom-up approach, would consist of an agreement to allow states to define their commitments individually. The Kyoto Protocol was somewhere in between these two approaches, and was considered a mixed-track approach. Emissions targets were decided upon internationally, but this number was merely a sum of individual national commitments, and countries had very different emission reduction targets that they were able to decide partly on their own (Bodansky 4).
Moving forward, the next step should be one that lies somewhere in between a mixed-track and a bottom-up approach. It should take into account the agreed upon limit for rising global average temperature–2 degrees Celsius–and also allow countries to decide in what manner they want to go about reducing emissions.

An international agreement, as Daniel Bodansky explains, is “not only…the stringency of its commitments, but also the level of participation and compliance…” (Bodansky 2). The problem with a top-down approach is that it is tough to get the participation of a wide range of countries because each country has different economic capacity, poverty levels, and economic diversity. Make it too stringent, and more countries will reject it. The only way to get a substantial number of countries to accept an international agreement is to make it less stringent, which won’t have enough of an impact on global emissions to substantially mitigate global warming (Bodansky 2). A bottom-up approach is much better for reducing global emissions, as more participation from countries is inevitable because they will have the freedom to implement actions based on their economic capacity, growth rates and their amount of survival emissions. But there is one glaring concern with this bottom-up approach, which is that letting individual Parties decide for themselves what measures to take might result in a lack of ambition. Countries might be more concerned with their economies in the short run, rather than with mitigating climate change, and will enact less stringent measures than they would in a top-down approach.

At COP16 in Cancun, the Parties agreed to a maximum temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius (UNFCCC Cancun). Actions implemented by countries should be dedicated to controlling emissions to a point that would prevent temperatures from increasing more than that. To counteract subpar ambition in mitigation actions, Bodansky says, a legal agreement could be created stating that national targets and actions need to be judged by a panel of international experts both ex ante and ex post to make sure actions that are taken will be able to keep warming at or below the agreed upon 2 degrees Celsius limit (Bodansky 9). This might be a little harder to implement in an agreement than in a pure bottom-up approach, but because the Parties have already agreed to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius, it is much more likely for them to agree to this than, say, expanding agreements under the Kyoto Protocol, in which countries have already expressed disinterest in (Ministry).

On October 1, 2014, David Victor and Charles Kennel, in the journal Nature, argued that the 2 degrees Celsius limit should be ditched in favor of testing conditions such as CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, ocean heat content and temperature in the Polar Regions to track the stress humans are putting on the environment (Victor). They argue that these measurements are better indicators of human stresses on the environment than the global average temperature. While this may be true, the fact that world leaders have accepted 2 degrees Celsius as the highest acceptable amount of warming is a huge step, and must be taken into account in the ADP’s proposed second commitment agreement. To try and change this will slow international climate negotiations down significantly. But, moving forward from this 2nd commitment period, it might be possible to have Parties accept different indicators of global warming in the future. As Bodansky states, strong participation with less effectiveness can lead to strong participation and more effectiveness in the future, while less participation and more effectiveness might be held back by the fact that narrow participation can lead to carbon leakage and competitiveness concerns. (Bodansky 2). If a legal agreement can be forged that allows states to choose individual emission-reduction techniques and targets, but is able to make sure they are strong enough to meet the 2 degrees Celsius limit that has already been agreed upon, it might be possible to have strong participation with moderately strong effectiveness, and such effectiveness may only get stronger in the future.





















Works Cited

Bodansky, Daniel. The Durban Platform: Issues and Options for a 2015 Agreement. Publication. Arlington, Va: Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, 2012. Print.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan. Foreign Policy. Japan’s Position Regarding the Kyoto Protocol. MOFA. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, Dec. 2010. Web. 8 Oct. 2014.

UNFCCC. “Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action.” Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action. UNFCCC, 2014. Web. 08 Oct. 2014.

UNFCCC. “Cancun Climate Change Conference – November 2010.” Cancun Climate Change Conference – November 2010. UNFCCC, 2014. Web. 08 Oct. 2014.

UNFCCC. “Kyoto Protocol.” Kyoto Protocol. UNFCCC, 2014. Web. 05 Oct. 2014.

Victor, David G., and Charles F. Kennel. “Climate Policy: Ditch the 2 °C Warming Goal.” Nature.com. Nature Publishing Group, 1 Oct. 2014. Web. 08 Oct. 2014.

What Can You Do About Climate Change?

On September 23, our SUST 500 class at Dickinson College had the pleasure of meeting James Balog, a world-renowned photographer best known for taking pictures of climate change’s effects on glaciers and ice sheets around the world. Students got to sit down and have a discussion with him about his work and his perspectives on climate change.

He said many interesting things, but the thing that stood out for me was his response when asked what individuals could do about climate change, “I don’t know,” he said. Balog went on to explain he responded in that way because he didn’t know anything about the person asking the question. Different people have different lives, and while some people are in a position act on climate change at a national or international level, some people can do important things at a more community or personal level.

I thought this was a really important point to make, and one that I had not heard before. Generally, when people talk about action on climate change, they discuss doing the little things such as riding a bike to work or recycling or purchasing fuel-efficient cars. While these things are all very important, I feel these kinds of actions sort of lump us all into one generic response. In fact, there are extreme differences among people across the United States and in the world in terms of age, wealth, access to resources, and other things. All of these factors play a part in what actions it is possible to take regarding climate change. More important than doing the generic “ride a bike, recycle, drive fuel-efficient cars” is to take a look at your circumstances and situation in life and make progress where you are able to make the most change.

In the civil rights era, Malcolm X, after taking a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1964, changed his views almost completely on white allies. Whereas before, he was staunchly against joining with white people, he now had this to say: “Where the really sincere white people have got to do their ‘proving’ of themselves is not among the black victims, but out on the battle lines of where America’s racism really is—and that’s in their own home communities…That’s where sincere whites who really mean to accomplish something have got to work” (Autobiography of Malcolm X). Malcolm X was still against having white people join the Black Panthers, but now it was because he believed it was not their place to make change. White people had influence in places where most black people at the time did not, and X believed it was in these places that white people could really do the most work.

This relates to climate change in that people should work to mitigate climate change in the realms they have the most influence. Some can influence high government functions, while others can do more work at a community level. Others might only be able to do small things at the community level. People should work to make changes in line with the circumstances surrounding their lives.

James Balog
James Balog
Malcolm X
Malcolm X
Our class with James Balog
Our class with James Balog

The Climate Alliance: Linking European Municipalities to Indigenous Amazonians

The Kyoto Protocol, adopted in 1997, was an international agreement by sovereign nation states to commit to legally binding emissions reduction targets. While this was a big step forward for climate change governance, it did not bind all countries in the world to reduce their global emissions, only certain developed countries, because it was argued that developing countries were not responsible for the current problem and did not have the infrastructure to implement mitigation efforts. But in recent years, the GHG emissions of developing countries have surpassed those of developed countries. For example, in 2008 China was the top emitter of any country in the world, with India in third. And the US, the most powerful country and the 2nd largest GHG emitter in the world, did not join the Kyoto Protocol and is not bound by it (Global Emissions). Furthermore, nation-states are often limited as to how directly they are able to influence carbon emissions in their country. Much of the time, it is non-state actors, such as multinational corporations or individual consumers, that most directly influence the amount of carbon emissions (Bulkeley and Newell 8).

As people began to realize some of the failures and limitations of the Kyoto Protocol and the UNFCCC, they began to form non-state organizations and networks working across borders to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Municipalities, provinces and corporations formed various transnational governance organizations and networks to try and influence international governance and promote change at the community level (Bulkeley and Newell 54). One of these transnational networks is the Climate Alliance and was actually formed before the Kyoto Protocol went into effect (Bulkeley and Newell 55). The Climate Alliance has been very effective in advancing its objectives and reaching its goals. It has contributed to the exchange of information about local climate policy, coordinated projects devoted to indigenous rights, and has prompted CO2 emissions reductions in numerous European municipalities (Welcome).

The Climate Alliance, officially called The Climate Alliance of European Cities with Indigenous Rainforest Peoples, was created in 1990 and consists of 1,700 cities, municipalities and districts. It is partnered with the Coordinating Body for the Indigenous Peoples Organization of the Amazon Basin (COICA). COICA represents the interests of indigenous peoples in the functions of the climate alliance (Climate Profile).

The Climate Alliance was formed for the main purpose of supporting indigenous peoples and their rights in the Amazon Basin. The organization goes about this is in a variety of ways, one of which is by calling for ratification of ILO Convention No. 169, an international norm put forth by the International Labor Organization guaranteeing the legally binding protection of the basic rights of indigenous peoples. The alliance also participates in the ad-hoc working group formed at the 4th Conference of the Parties to the Convention of Biological Diversity, which addresses issues surrounding the preservation of “traditional knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous peoples”, and “respect[ing], preserv[ing] and maintain[ing] the sustainable use of biological diversity (What is the ILO?, Convention). European members of The Climate Alliance also bind themselves to certain greenhouse gas emissions reductions, support dialogues among indigenous peoples and governments and corporations, and abstain from the municipal procurement of tropical timber derived from destructive logging, and support other policies and measures for the protection of tropical rainforests and biodiversity (Our Objectives). Also, if the association for whatever reason dissolves, the funds, instead of going to states, serve non-profit purposes and goes to support projects in rainforests (Article 2). In the more political sphere, the Climate Alliance represents member European municipalities in events organized by the European Commission, and also influences decisions made by the EU institutions to strengthen the role of local authorities in climate change policy (European Policy).

In action, The Climate Alliance has been very effective in implementing many of its ideals. It has supported a project for the assembly of mobile solar lamps and modules, which will replace petroleum lamps in the Peruvian rainforest. This will not only help to cut down on CO2 emissions and health problems resulting from the petroleum lamps, but also improve the living conditions of indigenous communities and support renewable sources of energy (Solar Partnerships). Other things the climate alliance has done include representing both European municipalities and indigenous organizations in international forums, such as the UNFCCC, and working to secure indigenous rights surrounding such areas as reforestation measures and providing legal aid for indigenous organizations under attack from logging companies and oil corporations (International Policy, Cooperations and Projects). The most obvious instances of this happening are in Sarayaku, Ecuador, when The Climate Alliance provided legal aid and advice to the community after the government attempted to partition the community’s land between various oil companies. Protests and resistance from the community halted drilling, and there are currently ongoing debates over land and mining rights, although in 1998 the constitutional court recognized that “oil exploitation violated the rights of indigenous peoples” (Sarayaku). In the realm of reforestation, The Climate Alliance has raised awareness in indigenous groups, including COICA, about the dangers of these reforestation efforts, and subsequently disseminated information and held seminars for indigenous peoples to prepare for upcoming climate talks about the issue (Indigene Peoples).

The Climate Alliance also provides an information exchange about tools and recommendations for local climate policy through conferences and publications, and also showcases its members’ achievements in various databases (climate alliance activities). In the realm of CO2 emissions in European municipalities, a lot of good progress has been made. Liepzig, Germany has reduced its tons of C02 emission per resident from 11,315 tons in 1990 to 6,150 tons in 2005, a reduction of almost half. Langenegg, Austria is currently meeting the heating demand of municipal buildings 98.5% through renewable resources (Germany). Other municipalities have made great progress also, and all municipalities in the Climate Alliance have pledged to cut their per capita emissions by half by 2030 (Our Objectives).

In the aftermath of the Kyoto Protocol, many transnational organizations and networks, including The Climate Alliance, sprang up in reaction to perceived failure within the Protocol and the UNFCCC. The Climate Alliance, an organization dedicated to the protection of the world’s climate and indigenous rights in the Amazon Basin, has been effective in advancing its objectives and picking up the slack from international climate governance between nation states. It has protected indigenous communities from destruction by oil corporations and loggers and reduced GHG emissions in both Europe and the Amazon, all while promoting information exchange between municipalities about local climate policy. This shows that transnational networks and organization can be very useful in supporting and informing policy at the local level, which is important because this is one of the most important levels for behavior and policy change to happen. If effective climate policies are wanted, community involvement is necessary, because they are able to work on a more manageable scale and are able to understand local circumstances and obstacles to policy change better than a representative working at the national or international level (Bulkeley and Newell 73).



Works Cited

Bulkeley, Harriet, and Peter Newell. Governing Climate Change. London: Routledge, 2010. Print.

The Climate Alliance. “Article 2: The Purpose of the Association.” Statutes. Proc. of Assemble of 30th March, 1992. Frankfurt Am Main: European Secretariat. Statutes. The Climate Alliance. Web. 30 Sept. 2014.

“Climate Alliance: European Policy.” The Climate Alliance. The Climate Alliance, 30 Sept. 2014. Web. 30 Sept. 2014.

“Climate Alliance: Our Profile.” The Climate Alliance. The Climate Alliance, 30 Sept. 2014. Web. 30 Sept. 2014.

“Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).” Indigene: Biodiversity. The Climate Alliance, 9 Aug. 2014. Web. 30 Sept. 2014.

“Cooperations and Projects.” Indigene: Cooperations and Projects. The Climate Alliance, 9 Aug. 2014. Web. 30 Sept. 2014.

Germany. German Ministry. German Agency for the Environment. Future Café: Milestones in Local Climate Protection. The Climate Alliance. The Climate Alliance. Web. 30 Oct. 2014.

“Global Emissions.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency, 9 Sept. 2013. Web. 29 Sept. 2014.

“Indigenous Peoples in the International Climate Process.” The Climate Alliance. The Climate Alliance, 9 Aug. 2014. Web. 30 Sept. 2014.

“International Policy.” Climate Alliance:. The Climate Alliance, 30 Sept. 2014. Web. 30 Oct. 2014.

“Our Objectives.” Climate Alliance: Our Objectives. The Climate Alliance, 30 Sept. 2014. Web. 30 Sept. 2014.

“The Sarayaku Community Needs Juridical Support.” The Climate Alliance. The Climate Alliance, 9 Aug. 2014. Web. 30 Sept. 2014.

“Solar Partnerships – Solar Lamps in the Peruvian Rainforest.” Indigene: Solar Lamps. The Climate Alliance, 9 Aug. 2014. Web. 01 Oct. 2014.

“Welcome to the Website of Climate Alliance!” Climate Alliance: Home. The Climate Alliance, 30 Sept. 2014. Web. 30 Sept. 2014.

“What Is the ILO?” Indigene: ILO 169. The Climate Alliance, 9 Aug. 2014. Web. 30 Sept. 2014.


Climate Change and Indigenous Communities in the Arctic

The Arctic, defined as the area north of 66 degrees 33 minutes North latitude, a.k.a. the Arctic Circle, is home to a multitude of indigenous people, among them the Inuit in Greenland, Canada and Alaska, the Inuvialuit in western Canada, the Athabaskan in Alaska and Canada, and the Saami in Norway, Sweden, Finland and northwest Russia. These people’s cultures and traditional lifestyles are shaped by the Arctic environment, and because of this these people are very vulnerable to climate change. For people who depend on a stable local environment to support and sustain their settlements and lifestyle, a changing climate can have a very injurious effect. One of the ways in which the warming climate can adversely affect indigenous people is that the weather becomes less stable and therefore harder to predict. Experienced hunters and elders have reported that traditional techniques of predicting the weather are becoming ineffective, with storms occurring without warning and wind direction changing suddenly. This unpredictability in the weather can present problems when trying to figure out the best times to, say, dry fish, or lead a hunting party. Yet another problem is that the changing climate has brought about more freezing rain. This affects snow characteristics, and nowadays, Arctic natives report that there is a lack of good snow that can be used to build igloos. This is causing an increase in injuries and deaths for members of hunting parties because the hunters are unable to build shelters quickly enough when faced with a sudden storm. Another problem caused by freezing rain is that much of the wildlife of the Arctic, including reindeer and musk ox, cannot find food in the winter due to the thick layer of ice covering these animals’ usual food sources. This will in turn affect the indigenous people who depend on these animals for food. Climate change has also caused sea ice to decline in both extent and thickness. With less sea ice, seas are stormier and more violent, which is dangerous for hunters, as the thin sea ice is very unsafe for travel This also adversely affects anyone else who wants to use the sea ice for transportation, either walking or using sleds. Animals, such as walrus and polar bears, are beginning to see the range of their habitats decreasing, threatening their populations and adding stress to those people who depend on the animals for food and for the warmth that their pelts provide. The indigenous people living above the Arctic Circle depend on a stable environment and stable weather conditions to support their lifestyles, but climate change is causing the landscape of the Arctic to change. Sea ice is less stable, weather conditions are unpredictable, and even the surface of the ground is changing. This is affecting the food supply of these indigenous Arctic people, along with their travel and safety. Although the indigenous peoples of the Arctic might seem as far removed from our society as one can get, we cannot ignore their concerns and troubles, as it is almost a foreshadowing of what might happen to us if we ignore climate change for long enough.   Thanks to Neil Leary for the link to the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment: ACIA, Impacts of a Warming Arctic: Arctic Climate Impact Assessment. Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Sami person with a reindeer
Sami person with a reindeer
Arctic Sea Ice Volume on June 21st throughout the years
Arctic Sea Ice Volume in thousand cubic kilometers of ice on June 21st from 1980 until 2012
Food in the arctic is getting scarce in the winter due to freezing rain.
Food in the arctic is getting scarce in the winter due to freezing rain.
A classic picture associated with climate change: the polar bear with nowhere to call home, due to a decreasing amount of sea ice
A classic picture associated with climate change: the polar bear with nowhere to call home, due to a decreasing amount of sea ice
An Inuvialuit person and his home
An Inuvialuit person and his home
The extent of ocean that sea ice covers is decreasing
The extent of ocean that sea ice covers is decreasing