On December 15th, 2009, I attended a side event with a panel speaking on the social consequences of climate change. They began by discussing six human tipping points that illustrate the effects of climate change. Those six tipping points are the decline in agricultural productivity, water scarcity, extreme weather events, declining ecosystems, increased health risks, and economic and social vulnerability. They discussed how these tipping points will be experienced by, and have been experienced by, poor countries first.
The panel also addressed how climate change impacts women and children. Women and children are more acutely impacted by climate change. Some effects of climate change that tend to impact these vulnerable groups are the loss of livelihood, increased violence as a result of the depletion of resources, and unsafe migration. The evidence of these effects come from the increased mortality of women and children. The panel discussed how including these issues in the COP 15 negotiations gives a human face to climate change. This is beneficial because giving a human face to an issue that is perceived as scientific may promote fast action and is harder to ignore.
Many panelists also discussed the need for capacity building among women affected by climate change on the local level. They emphasized the need for improvement in educational resources for women and reproductive health initiatives, in order to empower women and encourage planned fertility. This would give women a bigger voice on the issue of climate change and promote the decrease in infant mortality. They also stressed the point that women have knowledge for sustainable use of natural resources and including these perspectives in the Copenhagen negotiations could be highly beneficial for many parties involved.
On December 14th, 2009, IPCC chairman, Rajendra Pachauri spoke in high level briefing for the youth. He began his speech by discussing the IPCC’s 4th assessment. The process the IPCC used to make sure the report was accurate and reliable was explained. He also touched on the recent controversy of the leaked emails. He assured the audience that nothing in the emails was included in the IPCC report and that every stage of the draft is reviewed with extreme scrutiny.
The larger and more profound message delivered by Pachauri during this briefing was about the youth’s ability to bring about change. He emphasized that no matter what happened in Copenhagen the youth has to go back to their countries and push policy makers to address the issue of climate change. He encouraged the youth to utilize the media and rally as much public support in their own countries as possible. When asked about the continued participation of the youth in Copenhagen despite the restriction on the number of people allowed in the Bella Center, Pachauri again emphasized the importance of the work at home and encouraged the youth to relay the massage to policy makers that “your lives extend past their elections.” Pachauri’s statements were very inspiring and he was very personable. His commitment to including the youth and encouraging their participation was exciting to see, even on the verge of so many being excluded for the remainder of the week at the Bella Center.
On December 10th, 2009, and panel of advocates of human rights held a side event discussing the role of human rights in the COP15 negotiations. They stressed the importance of understanding the connection of human rights to climate change. Because the effects of climate change deprive people not only of their material rights such as their homes and belongings, but also their lives, it is undeniable that climate change is a human rights issue. Human rights are also relevant to the negotiations when discussing mitigation and the principle of common but differentiated responsibility.
The panel outlined ways that human rights should be present in the negotiations, and will also open up new avenues for underrepresented populations. They described how the “real life” component of climate change becomes apparent in the discussion of human rights. Climate change may seem abstract, but definitely becomes more real when shown an image of humans wading through a flood or homes collapsing from the soil underneath them eroding. They also described how giving human rights a legal platform allows for policies to be formed addressing these issues. Finally, the panel expressed how the discussion of human rights leads to acknowledging the interconnectedness of the world. Our carbon emissions in the United States effect countries across the world, and this connectedness requires responsibility on the part of developed countries. Because these effects violate the fundamental rights of other populations it is our responsibility to mitigate these impacts. The panel was genuinely passionate about the role of human rights in the negotiations and it was an extremely appropriate presentation for human rights day.
On December 7th 2009, at a side event at COP 15, held by the European Union, a panel outlined the ways cities can contribute to reducing emissions by utilizing public transportation. Their presentation began by stressing the importance of the issue of transportation and its impact on green house gas emissions. They proceeded to outline three strategies that would lead to reducing emissions through public transportation. These three strategies are avoiding, shifting, and improving. Avoiding refers to avoiding the need of citizens to utilize any motorized mode of transportation through land use planning. Shifting, refers to making other non-motorized forms of transit more desirable, such as walking or biking. Improving has to do with the actual technology of public transportation, as well as other communication technology making public transportation more accessible.
Another section of the European Union’s presentation on Transportation included three possible city policy packages that would increase efficiency and reduce emissions. The first one was called Defossilize Upfront. This package included small infrastructural changes such as adding bike lanes or making certain streets more pedestrian friendly. The second package was called the Decarbonize Deluxe. This package included a city toll for commuters entering the city and stricter clean fuel standards. The third package was called Avoid and Gain. This more drastic package included retaining or establishing a dense urban infrastructure, developing pedestrian infrastructure, and avoiding car friendly infrastructure. It is important to point out that these packages are not necessarily mutually exclusive. They also stressed the importance of regional land use planning across the European Union. As an American, this struck me as completely unfeasible. How can you establish and implement land use policy in cities that do not necessarily share the same infrastructure, vision for their city, or political culture? In America, regional land use planning is not even politically palatable between cities and suburbs. In a way, this challenge is the same as one challenge faced in establishing a global solution to climate change. In any policy matter that involves infrastructure, economic, and lifestyle changes, can one size ever fit all?
In his speech, Andrew Light, the director of the center for global ethics at George Mason University, discussed the application of a philosophical theory and practice to the issue of climate change and the United Nations negotiations. He began this portion of the speech with the assertion that environmental concerns must be balanced with human needs, and they cannot operate distinctly from one another. He also explained that he believes climate ethicists should offer practical advice based on their knowledge that coincides with the values people have. Light argues that the perception of how much people value environmental issues, such as global warming, has been skewed by social science polling that forces constituents to rank what issues they value the most. Surveys like this make it appear that people are not concerned with the issues of global warming. However, Light points out that when constituents are polled on how they feel about the positive and negative outcomes of policy to reduce carbon emissions, the results show that they highly value the positive outcomes over the negative.
After exploring this discrepancy in social science polling, Light proposes a policy from the perspective of a climate ethicist. This policy has three requirements for the top twenty-one green house gas emitters, disregarding whether the countries are developed or not. These three requirements are increasing the use of renewable energy portfolios to 20% by 2020, reducing forest emissions by 50% by 2020, and improving energy efficiency by 2% by 2020. He concluded that the efficiency gains would end up outweighing the costs. While this solution clearly disregards political questions and questions of equity in regards to developing countries, it is a practical one scientifically. If Light is correct about the majority of people valuing positive outcomes over negative outcomes in climate change policy, his proposal would also reflect those values. As the negotiations in Copenhagen approach, and numerous solutions are being proposed, is one like this worth considering or even conceivable?
On October 1st, during the negotiating sessions in Bangkok, the United States Climate Action Network discussed the United States position in the Copenhagen climate change negotiations after the release of the Senate Climate and Energy bill.There has been a lot of speculation on whether or not the United States will be able to pass any domestic legislation regarding climate change and goals in green house gas reduction before entering negotiations in Copenhagen. Although, by nature our legislative branch moves very slowly, because of the stress President Obama has put on the issue of climate change and the concerns of the global community, it will be interesting to see in the weeks to come whether or not congress will treat this legislation with a sense of urgency.
During the first United States press briefing in Bangkok, Dr. Jonathan Pershing was asked about the United States participation in the negotiations if we are unable to pass any Domestic legislation on the matter. He responded by pointing out that the United States is in the midst of trying to form policy on climate change and acknowledging that the negotiations will be much stronger and productive if the United States comes to the table with a secure domestic policy. During the briefing with the United States Climate Action Network, Lou Leonard, the director of United States Policy in the World Wild Life Fund, discussed the bill introduced to the Senate and discussed the process of getting legislation passed through the Senate. He explained that as we get closer and closer to passing legislation on healthcare, more attention will be paid to the issue of climate change and we could quite possibly pass legislation before the negotiations in Copenhagen. During this briefing Heather Coleman also stressed that climate change legislation does not have to be “signed, sealed, and delivered” in order to facilitate U.S. negotiation in Copenhagen.