Preparation for Paris

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

 

 

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

The Outcome

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Pacha Mama

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It only made sense that we end our semester long climate change adventure visiting some of the most incredible sites provided by Mother Earth, or “Pacha Mama” known as by the Quechua indigenous people of the Andes. After our experiences at COP20 chasing down delegates, collecting and trading business cards, shuffling from meeting to meeting, and escaping the heat (from both inside and outside the plenary) with some gelato, it was exciting to visit ancient sites that climate change could prohibit future generations from enjoying. I considered myself lucky to be able to visit Machu Picchu, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, where within the next year the Ministry of Culture in Cusco has decided tourism will be restricted to a certain number of visitors who must be accompanied by an official guide. The ancient Inca city of Machu Picchu is a gold mine for Peru’s tourism industry. Our guide, Hamilton, informed us just the 1Sol fee to use the bathroom generates 6,000 Soles per day.

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This tourist attraction is huge part of Peru’s economy and they would never close it, but it is sad to see that years of previous human degradation will restrict future generations to enjoy one of Mother Earth’s marvelous sites. This same concept applies to the Earth’s changing climate, years of environmental degradation caused by previous generations of humans is changing how future generations will be able to live on our shared planet. My experience at COP20 was both optimistic and skeptic. While it is optimistic to see progress in negotiations and progress in the use of sustainable technology, there is still a long way to go until we reach a global participation and agreement. Every year there is this extravagant event where representatives from each party meet to discuss what needs to be done to save the planet. However, much of this event is excessive and wasteful, which makes it seem counterproductive. But I am certainly invested in following the road to Paris and beyond.

Once You UN, You Never Go Back

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Under a moonlit night on Thursday night, the UNFCCC delegates, observers, and researchers crossed town from the Conference venue to the Parque Estadio Nacional in the center of Lima to mingle and enjoy a cornucopia of food, drink, and performances from native Peruvians.  In the words of our professor, Neil Leary, this was the “swankiest” party Lima has seen in the past decade.  With such a fantastic backdrop and magnificent evening, the official welcome reception for the COP welcome reception wasaonce for the history books.

The Place to Be

 

There were five different areas of the event, as there were in Voces por el Clima: Energy, Sustainable Cities, Oceans, Forests, and Mountains.  At each area, there was a unique buffet, open bar, and performances that focused on the specific section.  At the Energy section, there was a drum troupe performing that, midway through, pulled three of the Dickinson delegation onto the stage to salsa dance with them.

Dancing in the Moonlight

Later on in the night, there was a presentation by Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, and Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, the Peruvian Minister of the Environment and President of the COP, both of whom met with Dickinson students to talk to them.  There was also a live performance from a popular local Spanish rock band from Lima where Dickinson students started a dance party with delegates from Tanzania, Fiji, and Peru, to name a few.

Overall, fun was had for all, and there was consensus that it was the best night that anyone had experienced before.

Dinner with Delegates

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Thus far our time in Lima has been spent sightseeing, for both people and places. We have been spending our days at Voces por el Clima interviewing delegates and representatives from various countries, Peru, Bolivia, Netherlands, and the Democratic Republic of Congo to name a few. While also exploring Lima outside of COP venues, we continue to run into party members and representatives. We were fortunate enough to have dinner with Gabriel Blanco a delegate from Argentina who has attended 9 previous COPs. Through a more relaxed interview involving cebiche and cerveza, Señor Blanco held nothing back about Argentina’s insufficient climate action. While it was surprising to hear about Argentina’s climate denial, it was even more surprising to me that Argentinas government continued to send delegates to a convention in which the argentine people had very little commitment towards. Leaving that dinner was a bit frustrating to hear that despite this being the twentieth conference of the parties, some governments are still in disagreement about the changing climate which is greatly impacting the lack of education for its citizens. Therefore a cycle of negligence occurs. However, Gabriel Blanco seemed somewhat optimistic for the outcomes in Lima, and we told him we will come to Argentina to help change the minds of the many Argentines who remain apathetic towards climate change.

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The Chemistry of Earth Systems

Dried Samples

By Elizabeth Plascencia

Our sample site location off of I-81 in Carlisle, PA
Our sample site location off of I-81 in Carlisle, PA

As an Earth Sciences major in the 2014 Global Climate Change Mosaic, the elective course that I choose to enroll in was ERSC 331: The Chemistry of Earth Systems. This course is a major requirement and I also thought that it would be useful in addition to the ERSC 204: Global Climate Change mosaic course. Fundamentally this course has expanded my understanding of chemical principles and mechanisms behind major earth systems. The marriage between ERSC 204 and ERSC 331 further enabled me to comprehend the earth systems as a whole in understanding ocean acidification, thermal expansion, extreme weather-related events, anthropogenic environmental effects, natural hazards, etc.

Our final research project for this course revolved around the central theme of trace elements (particularly metals) in the environment as pollutants. Within our lecture course we were taught the differences between anthropogenic and geogenic sources of elements, so that once we began our field work in the Carlisle area we were able to make educated guesses on where to collect our soil samples. Scientific studies suggest that certain trace elements are more likely to be derived from anthropogenic sources while others are more likely to be geogenic, related to and sourced from the bedrock.

Our class was split into five research groups in order to help determine the sources and effects of pollutant trace elements since Carlisle has a large diversity of land-use. Once the research groups collected, analyzed, and presented their results, as a class, we attempted to infer the potential toxicity to the Carlisle population and environment.

Dried soil sample from I-81 off of Carlisle, PA
Dried soil sample from I-81 off of Carlisle, PA

 

The objective of my group research project was to discern the effect of transportation on soil chemistry, if any. Carlisle is a historical hotspot for truck traffic since its geographic location can reach over 100 million people within a 10-hour driving radius. Therefore, I-81 and the PA Turnpike are major areas for noxious emissions from the burning of oil and gas. Our sample technique consisted of collecting 10 soil samples on a vertical transect from I-81. We collected a sample every 10 meters from the road and proceeded to collect a top soil and deep soil sample in order to test for possible trace element accumulation overtime.

 

Making a glass disk from one of our soil samples in order to run an XRF analysis
Making a glass disk from one of our soil samples in order to run an XRF analysis

 

Our hypothesis is as follows: If truck traffic affects soil quality, then we should find high concentrations of trace elements closer to the highway near the soil surface. Trace element concentrations should exponentially decrease as we move away from the road and with depth. After XRD, XRF, and Total Carbon (TOC) analytical tests on our soil samples we concluded that Co, Cu, Zn, and Pb exponentially decreased as we moved away from the road. Zn and Pb also revealed a trend of exponential decrease with depth as well. Oddly enough we found that Na was extremely high above our Hagerstown background soil sample that we used as a standard to test against our soil samples. We soon realized that road salt was another anthropogenic source for this element.

Overall I found this material extremely helpful as an elective course for the mosaic. Further developing my understanding of the geochemical and geophysical reactions that drive the earth systems has helped me immensely.

Brazil: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Brazil Protest

In today’s class lecture we discussed Brazil’s progress towards mitigating climate change. Brazil has made an enormous effort in reducing tropical deforestation, Brazil has kept 3.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere since 2004″ (Atkin, 2014). Brazil once had the highest deforestation rate in the world mainly due to livestock and logging. Rainforests are an important carbon sink, however deforestation emits large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, thus changing the climate. Although Brazil’s 70 percent decline in deforestation has helped reduce greenhouse gas emissions, other parts of Brazil are still feeling the effects of climate change. Sao Paulo is suffering from one of the worst droughts to have hit Southern Brazil in several decades. The water scarcity is causing violent conflicts between residents. As the climate continues to change, and droughts become more prevalent we can expect to see more violent conflicts and citizens protesting for access to resources like water, which are necessary for survival. Rainy seasons in Brazil have shown a pattern of less rainfall each year, “The Sao Paulo metropolitan area ended its last rainy season in February with just a third of the usual rain total only 9 inches” (Gomez-Licon, 2014). The government is being blamed for the issues of water scarcity, which shows that as the climate keeps changing and water becomes more limited there must be systems implemented for distributing water equally. Otherwise the world’s poor will be exposed to more vulnerabilities, and violent conflicts will increase. 

 

Atkin, Emily. “Brazil Has Done More To Stop Climate Change Than Any Other Country, Study Finds.” ThinkProgress. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Nov. 2014. <http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/06/06/3446097/brazil-cuts-carbon/>.

Gomez Licon, Adriana. “Sao Paulo Drought Leaves Brazil’s Biggest City Desperate For Water.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 07 Nov. 2014. Web. 10 Nov. 2014. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/07/sao-paulo-drought_n_6118888.html?utm_hp_ref=green>.

 

Methane Emissions Controls: An Invaluable Learning Experience

FRACKING WATER

Within the Mosaic courses, we focus mainly on the UNFCCC and, thus, almost exclusively on CO2 emissions.  However, in ECON-222: Environmental Economics, a group of us from the Mosaic had the opportunity to research and learn about another greenhouse gas, one that is far more potent and dangerous to climate change: methane.  CH4 is the second most prevalent greenhouse gas emitted through anthropocentric sources, has an atmospheric lifetime of twelve years, and has a one hundred-year global warming potential twenty-one times that of carbon dioxide.  So, while it only accounts for fourteen percent of total greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, it is still a critical factor in the climate change realm; unregulated at its source, and methane emissions could undermine the work that the UNFCCC facilitates on carbon-dioxide emissions.

We focused on three main sources of methane emissions (agricultural sources, the oil and natural gas industry, and landfills) and employed various tools of economic analysis that we had learned previously in the course to critically analyze various policy options and make a recommendation as to which we believe is the most effective and cost-efficient.  My main focus was on the oil and natural gas industry, which accounts 37 percent of global methane emissions.  Natural gas is seen as a transition fuel away from fossil fuels for many economies that is both cleaner and readily available; while it may be cleaner in terms of carbon-intensity, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily better for the environment, as between 80 to 90 percent of each cubic feet of natural gas is comprised of methane.  Thus, most of the emissions in the industry come from natural gas processes, which is fraught with inefficiencies and opportunities for emissions to escape into the atmosphere.  Thus, many of the major policy suggestions I evaluated in this research project focused on increasing efficiency along the natural gas supply chain.  These policies further fell under two umbrella categories under increasing efficiency, one being the retrofitting and upgrading of existing equipment along the supply chain to mitigate emissions escaping in the first place, and the second being the capture and sale of those emissions that do escape.  Policies under both umbrella categories are currently being employed, and have proven to be cost-effective in both achieving emissions reductions and increasing revenues for the industry as a whole

This project offered an exceptional opportunity to complement what I’ve learned in the Mosaic classes and to delve into the intricacies of my chosen field of study (economics) and how it relates to climate change generally.

 

For more information on methane emissions specifically in the US, visit the EPA website.

For more information on the methane emissions from the oil and natural gas industry and for an in-depth look at proposed emissions control policies, read through the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Leaking Profits: The U.S. Oil and Gas Industry can Reduce Pollution, Conserve Resources, and Make Money by Preventing Methane Waste report from 2012.

Potential of Renewables

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In the World Watch Report, Renewable Revolution: Low-Carbon Energy by 2030 there are several topics about renewable energy sources discussed including future US scenarios, future global scenarios, policies, ways forward, etc.. Another important area of focus is the huge potential of renewable energy sources in helping reduce levels of emissions. (Sawin and Moomaw) This brings to the table a significant debate over whether or not the best approach to stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations is through mitigation implemented by policy instruments such as cap and trade systems or carbon taxes or if the best approach is a global transition to renewable energy sources. The evidence of previously successful transitions to renewables is strong enough to support the idea of an entire energy transformation.

There is enormous potential for all sectors of the economy to improve by investing in renewable sources of energy such as wind, hydro, tidal, and solar among others. “No one benefits from the release of greenhouse gas emissions, but developed and developing nations alike will benefit in numerousways from the transition to an energy-efficient and renewable world”(Sawin and Moomaw) To ensure the largest emissions reductions, both improvements in energy efficiency and renewables will be required however, this essay will focus on renewables. Advanced technologies can already be seen in several success stories including Germany, Denmark, Sweden, among several others.

Germany, for example, went from using essentially no renewable sources of energy to being one of the world’s leaders in the transition within just a decade. In eight years the amount of the country’s electricity coming from renewables, has increased from 6% to over 15%, leaving them well on their way to achieving their aggressive national targets for 2020. Also in the last decade, their wind and solar industries have accelerated tremendously, and the contribution of renewables to the overall final energy demand has tripled. The benefits of this movement has been not only in heavy carbon emissions reductions, but also in jobs, industry saving from fuel imports, and less pollution in the environment. The example of Germany’s noble efforts is “proof that, with a clear sense of direction and effective policies, rapid change is possible” (Sawin and Moomaw) In 2008,Germany emitted about 748 million tons of CO2 from energy use, it is estimated that if not for renewable sources, total emissions might have been about 860 million tons or 15% higher.

Furthermore, illustrations can be seen Denmark, Sweden, China, Brazil, and Isreal. First, in Denmark, their “economy has grown 75%since 1980, while the share of energy from renewables increased from 3 percent to 17 percent by mid-2008. In 2007, the country generated 21 percent of its electricity with the wind (Sawin and Moomaw). The Danes have set a target of 30% of their energy coming from renewable sources by 2020. Next, a significant shift away from fossil fuels can be seen in the heating industry in Sweden. They are now using biomass and waste as alternatives, because of heavy energy and carbon taxes, accounting for over 61% of total district heat production.

Also in the forefront of renewable action is China, hopefully setting a strong example for other nations by leading in the use of solar water heating, small hydropower, production of solar cells and wind (explosive growth rates). “A 2007 national plan aims for renewables to meet 15 percent of China’s primary energy demand by 2020. The government has tripled its 2020 wind target,from 30 gigawatts to100GW, and recently pushed its 2020 solar target from 1.8 GW to 20 GW” (Sawin and Moonmaw). Other models include Brazil who is thriving by using ethanol as a non-diesel fuel in vehicles and Israel who is a world leader in solar water heating.

As all of these examples show, over the past several decades renewable technologies have seen significant cost reductions and a real ready helping to avoid energy-related CO2 emissions. Estimates such as this one, On a world wide basis, the Global Wind Energy Council estimates that wind power avoided 123 million tons of CO2 in 2007” (Sawin and Moomaw) among others should be reason enough to see the potential of pushing for a quick revolution to renewable sources. Examples of places such as Germany show the great potential that can be unlocked.

clean-energy-world-leaders-2012-570x382 Check out this chart of leading countries in the renewable revolution.

Works cited

Sawin & Moomaw, Renewable revolution: low-carbon energy by 2030, Worldwatch Institute, 2009.

Business as UN-usual

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By Elizabeth Plascencia

IPCC AR5 projected global average surface temperature changes in a high emissions scenario (RCP8.5; red) and low emissions scenario (RCP2.6; blue).
IPCC AR5 projected global average surface temperature changes in a high emissions scenario (RCP8.5; red) and low emissions scenario (RCP2.6; blue).

What is the fundamental difference between the words ‘dangerous’ and ‘risky’? Uncertainty. It has come to my attention that the largest culprit for climate doubt is the market of uncertainties. The phrase ‘dangerous climate change’ is rarely seen within climate policy because it alludes to this notion of likely harm or damage, thus ‘risky climate change’ is often its placeholder. The phrase ‘risky climate change’ suddenly drops the gravity of the situation at hand to possible or uncertain effects and therefore loses its momentum as an immediate force to be reckoned with. However, we can no longer think on such a short human timescales, it is evidently a question of rapid anthropogenic effects on the global climate systems over geologic time. In order to avoid dangerous climate change transformative changes are essential within global economic, energy, and transportation systems.

It is inevitable that most human activities produce greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. Rates are a key factor in the climate change equation as we begin to measure greenhouse gases with long-lived residence times. It is key to understand that gases do not just decay, dissipate, and absorb into the atmosphere, rather their respective consequences carry on for decades, centuries, and even thousands of years. Yet with this in mind, the very root of our economic, energy, and transportation infrastructure relies heavily on harmful and polluting fossil fuels. As per the United Nations Environment Programme’s 2013 Emissions Gap Report, “Business-as-usual scenarios of future developments are generally based on an extrapolation of current economic, social, and technological trends. They usually reflect policies that have taken effect as of recent cut-off date, for example, 2010. However, in some cases they may include policies that, while approved will only enter to force at a future date” (UNEP, 4). Therefore, transformative change begins with breaking the “business-as-usual” mentality and habit.

Bill McKibben
Bill McKibben

 

 

Bill McKibben boldly remarks the truth of the matter if we continue of the trajectory of mere incremental policy reforms and change within his book Eaarth, “Even if you took all the possible “conditional proposals, legislation under debate and unofficial government statements” – in other words, even if you erred on the side of insane optimism – the world in 2100 would have about 600 parts per million carbon dioxide. That is, we’d live if not in hell, then some place with a very similar temperature.” (McKibben, 20).

 

 

Whilst observing the historically less-stringent climate policy within the body of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and then equating the projected Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports it is clear that the longer we wait to cut emissions the harder it is going to get. Therefore in order to avoid ‘dangerous’ climate change transformative action is required within global economic, energy, and transportation systems because our actions yesterday, today, and tomorrow directly affect the future of our blue planet.

For more information: http://www.vox.com/2014/4/22/5551004/two-degrees

Work Cited

McKibben, Bill. Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. St. Martin’s Griffin; First Edition Edition, 2011.

UNEP. 2013. The Emissions Gap Report 2013. United Nations Environment Programme.