Better late than never… I still have yet to reflect on my experiences at COP20. Almost three months ago the mosaic team embarked on their journey to Lima, Peru. Looking back on the opportunity as a whole, including the leisure parts of the trip to Cusco, Machu Picchu, and Ollantaytambo, and my personal travels to Arequipa and Puno, I can say that I genuinely enjoyed the academic portion of the trip better.
Being at an international conference was inspiring and one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had. Even the bus rides to and from the COP every day was unique and I still remember many of my conversations. If you managed to sit next to someone interesting on the bus then you had the entire hour long ride to talk with them and ask anything about where they are from, what they do, or what are some important concerns of their nation from climate change. On the bus I met people from Benin, Azerbaijan, Latvia, Brazil, Peru, and Ethiopia among plenty of other fascinating people. Furthermore, being present at the actual COP was, sorry for the lack of vocabulary, so cool. Everywhere you walked and everywhere you looked, there was hundreds of people from different nations and I think that’s what was the neatest part for me. When I got home and everyone would ask me what my favorite part was, my first response would always be just simply talking to people from everywhere… I mean, I met and spoke to someone who’s been to space before, I met Picchauri, I met heads of delegations, and the president of the COP.
The entire opportunity of the Climate Change Mosaic is something I am so grateful for and would do it over again in a heart beat. The thought of our final papers being done in a week from tomorrow makes me want to vomit.
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.
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.
I was a member of the second group (lead by the fearless Jeff Niemitz) that attended Voces por el clima the first week and the real-deal COP20 the second week. I like to think as Voces as an excellent learning experience, and a great trial run before we got to the UNFCCC conference. The event was almost entirely dedicated to teaching climate change, because we spent the entire semester learning about climate change, personally, the biggest learning aspect of Voces came from learning to approach people, and improving my Spanish ability. That being said, Voces was filled with knowledgeable people and amazing art expressing the issue of climate change from a personal, abstract and human perspective. There were excellent photographs capturing sea level rise across the globe (they seemed to me to parallel James Balog’s work with glaciers), sculptures made from recycled material, and art lining the road to the main area.
Liz Plascencia and I teamed up, at first going around to the different booths (skipping the shameless Coca-Cola booth dedicated to green-washing and advertising) interviewing people from organizations that were relevant to our topics. However, once that tactic was exhausted we had to figure out a new method to find people that would be relevant to interview out of a seemingly random crowd. In the end we developed a scorched earth like tactic at Voces, we honed in on anyone we thought was a delegate and asked for an interview. The key was in the badges they wore: if it was pink (signifying delegate) we attacked. Initially we attempted small talk, trying to figure out what they did and specialized in specifically, before we asked for an interview. This proved less effective than just going straight for the gold and we transitioned to a more direct approach. In the end this method acquired us some lucrative interviews, with minimal complete busts. When we eventually arrived at COP, I felt very confident and comfortable talking to delegates.
Voces was certainly an informational place to be… especially if you spoke Spanish. Due to the fact Voces was largely centered on what Peru, and other Latin American countries are doing to combat climate change the majority of people there were exclusively Spanish speakers. While I have taken Spanish for many years and am proficient in the language, it certainly helped to team up with Liz (a native Spanish speaker) for interviews. After Voces por el clima my Spanish has never been better.
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.
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.
The biggest outcome from this meeting is that 2˚C is too much. With 0.8˚C warming already having occurred since pre-industrial times and 0.6˚C being baked into the current climate regime, there seems little hope that warming could stay under 1.5˚C. That is to say that we are already committed to approximately 1.4˚C warming and there seems to be little action to stop fossil fuels use immediately. In talking with various IPCC experts, they agreed that it is highly likely that we will blow past the 2˚C limit and warm the planet by several degrees by the end of the century. This means severe impacts.
The Reasons for Concern or the Burning Embers Diagram came out with the most recent IPCC synthesis report.This is the most important figure to the 2013-2015 Review because it shows impacts of warming levels as well as corresponding CO2 concentrations and needed emission reductions. This figure represents an enormous effort from IPCC authors and is one of the more important inputs from the IPCC to the COP. This figure now theoretically constrains global emissions seeing that the 2˚C goal was set in Copenhagen. Carbon dioxide emissions must be limited to between 2,500 and 5,000 GtCO2 since 1870. 1,800 GtCO2 has already been emitted leaving between 700 and 3,200 GtCO2 left to burn. This range will be dependent upon climate sensitivity and response. The lower scenario represents highly sensitive climate response, while the high emissions scenario represents a much less sensitive response. The SED will be concluding in February in Geneva in time for a report by June on the long-term temperature goal. The SED is important in the COP because the Review theoretically sets the level of ambition for the Paris Agreement. While a bottom-up agreement will come out of Paris in 2015, this review sets the groundwork to help ratchet up ambition in succeeding COPs under a pledge and review strategy. With the 1.5˚C target being virtually unreachable, the Review becomes political. Can the countries most impacted by climate change represented in the Alliance of Small Island Developing States (AOSIS) and the Africa Group get parties to agree to the 1.5˚C target? If so, this could have major ramifications for loss and damage as well as compensation. This is an important piece of the COP to watch and many people are not paying attention to it. Another Review is expected to coincide with the next assessment report of the IPCC.
My week at the COP20 in Lima was a completely different experience than I had ever imagined. I am normally a relatively shy person when it comes to approaching strangers, but in order to succeed in getting interviews, I had to push myself out of my comfort zone. So the first question I faced was how on earth do I get these intelligent, busy and experienced people to talk to me? From my time at the COP, I found several successful ways to score an interview. The first approach was stopping at any information booth that had to do with our topics. We began asking the booth operators what their organization was and from there we evaluated whether interviewing them could help us further our research. Most of our potential interviewees informed us that they “weren’t the person to interview” and handed us a business card of “someone that could help us with our research”. However later we learned the chances of the mysterious business card person e-mailing us back was a fifty, fifty chance. We were lucky with some of our booth-approach interviews for we were able to talk with the Head of Climate Alliance, a Peruvian indigenous chief, a scientist who worked on the REDD+ monitoring technology and other NGOS.
Another interview approach is something I call the after-side-event-creep. The technique consists of attending specific side events and waiting until the speakers have finished talking. Then you approach them (often more awkwardly than I participated) and then say “Hi I really loved your talk! Is there anyway I could ask you a few questions for my undergraduate research”. This mechanism I found to be more successful, but it does allow for the occasional embarrassing interview strike out. With this approach, I learned several lessons to be a successful climate change groupie- One: you must be fast. The speaker often has a line of fellow climate change groupies that that tend to shoot you death glares if you take too much time in your interview. Also there is a press for time because the room is often booked for another event directly afterwards, so the speakers leave the room quickly before you have time to chat with them. Two: you must pick your interviewee wisely. Often you want to chat with all the panelists, but usually there is only time to interview one person. So it’s important to evaluate which panelist could provide you with the most vital information and which panelist most likely to agree to an interview. Three: have your equipment ready. For the first couple interviews, our equipment was all over the place, creating obstacles for everyone around us. We learned to have tripod ready with the camera attached, so again the interview did not take too much time. This approach was the most groupie-like, but by the end of the week I felt like we had almost perfected the process.
Lastly is the luck-of-the-draw approach. A great deal of the strongest connections I made occurred randomly without the help of my detailed schedule. Due to circumstance and timing, I was able to chat with people who provided me with valuable input on my research. The first day at the COP sat next to a man on the bus who worked on REDD+ projects in Indonesia, which provided me with information on how Indonesia differs from the Amazon. Another interview only occurred because I dropped a pamphlet and the man sitting next to me picked it up and then began discussing the event. He use was a key member of Leave It In the Group and I had a 30 minute long interview with him. My classmate and I also met an undergraduate from Northeastern who we later met up with an discussed our concerns about REDD+ and Indigenous communities.
From taking undercover selfies with Christiana Figures to following a man who resembled the past President of Peru to memorizing the faces of delegates from photos on the Internet to trying to strike up conversations at the printer, the Week 1 team were successful climate change groupies.
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.
Half of the Dickinson research team is into their fourth day at COP20 and we are starting to get into a bit of a groove, but in traditional COP fashion it is hectic and can shift without notice. It starts off for me with a 06:30 wake up time. I spend the next hour gathering my things, running across the street to the supermarket to grab my breakfast and lunch, and then walk to the shuttle bus to COP at 07:30. The bus rides are long, but provide a good place to meet Party delegates or other observers (that’s what we are). We also occasionally fall asleep on the busses, since they are so comfortable.
By 08:30 or 09:00 we arrive at the venue, after which we generally sit down for about an hour and talk about the coming day’s events or interviews. We then break off to either track down delegates to speak with, head to the exhibition hall to meet interesting people from all around the world, attend side-events, attend negotiation sessions, secretly slip into closed events until we are politely asked to leave, or conduct interviews. This morning I will be attending a side negotiation and text editing session on Climate Financing Mechanisms. This type of event is one where negotiators from the Parties attend and offer edits to text in the draft agreement or discuss the negotiations.
At 11:30 everyday most of the group attends the Climate Action Network (CAN) press conference in Press Room 2. This is a great 30 minute press briefing hosted by CAN, a global network of civil organizations. Three new panelists speak everyday, one is usually form Greenpeace and the other two are generally wild card NGOs. They touch on everything from negotiations around forestry to the discussions around what the “safe” warming limit is. Afterwards we grab the business cards of the three panelists, in hopes of interviewing them later.
The mornings go fast and by 12:00 we are all sweaty and exhausted, so at 12:30 we have the team meeting, eat some lunch, drink water, and rest our aching feet. Soon after we are back on the hunt for delegates or doing scheduled interviews. For instance my afternoon today involves and interview with a Professor from PSU, an NGO observer who we spoke with after a press conference, and an observer from a second NGO (CDKN) that works on knowledge brokering (post on this forthcoming).
The afternoon are also when most of the side-events occur. This afternoon I will be sitting in on one that is about promoting climate technologies. This events provide good information for our research paper, introduce new research, and are a great spot to find delegates or experts to interview about research topics. We also tend some time running around the exhibition hall doing quick interviews with those representing groups that pertain to our research.
Around 18:15 I generally head to the exit with a few others, but some of the group stays until 20:00. Once we are back in the city, we find a good dinner spot. Last night we had some Middle Eastern food, and the two nights before we enjoyed great local food at a restaurant called Mezze. After dinner, we all converge at Butler University’s abroad center. They have kindly offered it to us in the evenings as a meeting spot. Here we download the footage we shot throughout the day and discuss how the day went. Generally we are out of there by 22:30 and head back to the Flying Dog (our hostel).
For the next couple of hours I usually organize my things for the next day, take a shower, grab a bite to eat, download any more footage that wasn’t downloaded at Butler, and relax for a bit, always making it to bed by 01:00.
After this weeks discussions in Germany, negotiations has stalled leading up to Lima. Developed countries were not able to agree to a deal on financing the developing nations in exchange for their commitment to reduce emissions. This will continue to play out all the way through Lime. How are developed nations going to meet their $100 Billion pledge by 2020? With financing pieces from the US falling through, it looks challenging, but to get developing nations on board to reduce GHG emissions, it must be done. Read more here about the developments.