At Klimaforum09, I attended a discussion-style meeting in which a short presentation was made for introductory purposes and then the floor was opened up to discussion from the audience. I really enjoyed this style of meeting. I believe it is a very effective way for people to not only share their ideas, but also for people to collaborate and negotiate. Members of the audience were able to listen to each other’s ideas, expand on or challenge other’s ideas, and share their own. I feel like more progress was made in this talk than in the negotiations that I observed taking place at COP15.
The floor was opened with the following four questions leading the discussion:
1. What is the current state of the talks?
2. Do we want them to succeed or to fail?
3. What would a good climate agreement look like?
4. Assuming they fail, how do we get what we want next year?
Not many people in the audience were able to answer the first question, but the last three questions sparked much debate. The room seemed to be relatively split on the issue of wanting the negotiations to succeed or fail. The people who want them to fail argue that in the next few days, they will not be able to come up with the policy they wanted, and anything less will not suffice. They do not want people to get comfortable believing that COP15 put forth an agreement that will solve everything if in reality it does nothing. They do not want people to become complacent in thinking that as long as they came up with something in the negotiations, then it is good enough. On the other side, many people wanted the negotiations to succeed to provide hope for the people. They also argued that if we throw away everything we have accomplished at COP15, as little as it might be, then we lose any progress that was developed.
For what a good climate agreement would look like, they said that a nonbinding declaration of intent would be better than a legally binding agreement because then at least there is hope to keep going with the negotiating, otherwise we will not have any promise from the government. They argue it is better to have a nonbinding declaration of intent rather than rush into a legally binding agreement. However, some people argued that many governments need the pressure of being legally bound in order to act. Many people also said they want to just get rid of everything accomplished at COP15 because they believe it is all written based on economical interests and not in the best interest of the planet and the people and places most affected by climate change.
In response to the last question, many people said that demonstrations and protests are some of the most effective ways to get their voices heard. Others said that people need to come up with their own policies and agreements, complete with everything they want their governments to do, and present them to anyone who will listen. That way they will not only get their word out, but it will also at some point make its way to the ears of the representatives of their countries. Another way for them to get what they want for next year is to educate others on the subject of climate change. If more and more people understand the science and the importance of the issue, more people will be willing to act and apply pressure to their governmental officials.
Since I am no longer allowed access into COP15, I decided to continue my observations of climate change talks at the Klimaforum09 also going on in Copenhagen. This is a “People’s Climate Summit” going on parallel to COP15, where NGOs and other people can have an opportunity to make their voices heard. I attended a talk today titled, “Are you getting the deal you came for?” The description explained that there were going to be Heads of State present and they were going to discuss if they feel they are getting the climate change deal they came for. The announcer said that a governor of a providence in Argentina, the only providence to live up to the Kyoto Protocol, was supposed to speak as well as a possible appearance by Hugo Chavez, but neither delegate showed up. Instead, a lawyer who specializes in planetary rights, Polly Higgins, gave a brief presentation about why the planet needs its own rights, similar to human rights.
Polly Higgins made a very effective comparison between climate change effects on the planet and slavery. In her presentation, she showed that 200 years ago, human slavery was used for human energy. Today, planet slavery is used for fossil fuel energy. Instead of enslaving humans, we have enslaved the planet. She explained that industries are talking about climate change the same way they talked about slavery, the only difference is that slavery was outlawed and climate change continues. She argued that when they discussed slavery, they proposed self-regulation, using it less or using it more efficiently, limiting the numbers – all the same proposals made by industries today about climate change. Just as you cannot ask a slaveholder, “Do you mind using your slave a little less?” you cannot ask industries, “Do you mind cutting your emissions a little bit?” Even if we cut emissions a little, it is still wrong to be emitting – the harm is still being done. Higgins made the point that sixty years ago we set up human rights as law after the humanitarian crisis of the second world war. Now we have a planetary crisis and need laws to protect the planet. It should be the Earth’s right not to be polluted.
Another example Higgins used for why the planet needs rights involved comparing it to children’s rights. If you hear a child getting beat up, you can tell the police and they will help the child because the child has rights. But if you replace the beat up child with a section of forest being cut down, no one will come to help because the forest does not have rights. It is an interesting concept, one I have never considered. I always just assumed that people should understand that it is wrong to damage forests, and if someone does damage a forest, they should be punished. However, hearing it from this legal perspective made me realize that my assumptions are not true. It seems like such a simple concept, but the planet needs rights, just as humans do. This would aid in urging governments to setup policies that the people will actually follow because if they do not, they could face legal punishment.
In a side event presented by the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) about climate change and its effects on coral reefs, I not only learned about the devastating fate of coral reefs due to global warming, but also the fate of the countries that depend on the reefs. We have already lost about one-fifth of the world’s coral reefs from climate change, and about half of the coral reefs that have been lost occurred in the past forty years. Only 0.1% of Earth’s surface is coral reefs. Further climate change will only make it worse. The ICRI representative gave some examples of factors that are causing coral reefs to die. Some local factors he mentioned include deteriorating water quality due to coastal land use and urbanization, over-exploitation of marine species, and physical destruction of the reefs. Some global factors he gave are warming of the seawater and acidification. Another problem that aids in the decrease of the coral reefs is bleaching. It is triggered by a 1°C increase in sea temperature above the long-term maxima summer maximum for at least four weeks. Bleaching naturally occurs every time there is an El Nino, but over time, as global warming increases and annual average temperatures rise, the temperature will always be above the bleaching level so that year round sea temperatures will be high enough for bleaching to occur. The world is already in conditions which do not support coral reef life, and it will only get worse with more warming.
After the ICRI representative’s speech, a UN Ambassador from a small island nation gave a very effective speech. The island he is from is surrounded by a fringing reef that protects the island from flooding and coastal erosion. Without the protection the coral reef provides, the entire island will be underwater. The reef also supports most of their economy through fishing and tourism. Tourism alone accounts for 1/3 of employment on the island. In 1998, up to 90% of the coral reef surrounding the island was bleached. This caused an increase of waves over the reef which lead to an increase in coastal erosion. The increase in waves also aided in the rapid decline of the reef. He ended his speech with this very compelling phrase: “If the reef dies, so do we.”
There is much debate over how much rise in temperature will be okay and how much rise will be manageable across the planet. One important fact to keep in mind when contemplating this is that if sea temperatures rise over 1.5°C-2°C, most of the coral reefs will not survive.
Last night, December 8th, I attended a side event at COP15 presented by Greenpeace. The main topic of this event was to inform the audience that there is hope for President Obama to get legislation passed to set higher targets for carbon emissions reductions. The mere title of the event really captures it well, “Yes, he can! How Obama can deliver stronger emissions reductions”. The panel began with an introduction from a representative of Greenpeace International. Following his opener was a speech from Kyle Ash who was representing Greenpeace USA, and Kassie Siegel, a biological diversity researcher who spoke about Obama’s option of executive agreement in forming a climate policy. These speeches were informative, but I thought the most enlightening speech of the night was from Marcelo Furtado, a representative from Greenpeace Brazil.
Furtado’s speech put a positive spin on the topic using Brazil as an example. He explained Brazil’s history of how they transformed into better recognizing the importance of protecting the environment. Everyone said they would never be able to do it – never be able to decrease deforestation and never sign on to increase reduction targets. This doubt was due to the opinion from many Brazilians at the time that environmental protection was not important when they were just trying to protect themselves and boost their economy. However, as Furtado pointed out, Brazil has been able to decrease deforestation and they have passed climate legislation in which they set specific emissions targets. Brazil is a prime example of how public opinions can be changed for the better and shows that even a nation which no one believes will show any action in combating climate change will take action. This relates to the topic of Obama and US involvement in climate action because the U.S. is a nation full of people who do not want to do anything about climate change, and many people around the world believe the U.S. will do just that – nothing.
One of the reasons the U.S. has so much trouble with taking part in climate action is because much of the U.S. is not educated on the topic. In a meeting I attended today in the U.S. Center presented by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) about climate literacy, some statistics and graphs were presented about how much people know about climate change. They said that 40% of people worldwide have never even heard of the climate change issue. This translates to 1.9 billion people worldwide having not a clue about global warming. Even though this is a world statistic, many of their graphs showed the U.S. as not being very climate literate. According to their surveys, many people in the U.S. have heard of global warming, but do not think it is due to human activities. One of their graphs showed that 25% of Americans do not see climate change as a personal threat. I see these figures as an obvious example that the general population in the U.S. needs to be informed about climate change. Once everyone knows and understands the importance of climate change, I think there will be a much greater push for action in Congress.
With the recent release of his newest book about climate change, Al Gore needs positive media focus to better his book sales, not negative focus. However, he has brought the negativity upon himself with an abrupt cancellation of his planned lecture at the conference in Copenhagen. His cancellation has come as a disappointment to the more than 3,000 people scheduled to attend his lecture. According to The Washington Times, VIP tickets were sold at DKK 5,999 which converts to $1,209. With a VIP ticket, one was promised a chance to shake hands with Gore, along with a photo with him and a copy of his latest book, Our Choice. This lecture was going to be a chance for Gore to not only speak to an eager crowd about his plans and hopes for climate action, but also a great way for him to promote his book. As far as I can read, it is yet unclear as to what his reasons are for cancelling.
Thankfully, that is not the end to U.S. involvement in Copenhagen. President Obama still plans on attending the conference on December 9th. As The Washington Post stated in an article, “Meet Al Gore at Copenhagen, for $1,209”, Obama will bring with him a group of respectable delegates including Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley, and Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change Carol Browner. This delegation core should bring some positive focus to the U.S. representation in Copenhagen despite Gore’s cancellation.
On November 13th, WWF posted an article on their website titled, “Falling Amazon deforestation rates create opportunity for other damaged forests.” The article points out that according to data from the Brazilian government, deforestation rates in the Amazon have decreased since the previous year. It states, “Overall, the deforested region is 45 percent smaller than Amazon land cleared the previous year, or between August 2007 and July 2008,” which is the lowest recorded rate of deforestation in the Amazon. The WWF is saying that this brings hope to other areas subject to deforestation. If deforestation can be slowed down in the Amazon, one of the most deforested regions in the world, then it should be able to be controlled in other areas as well.
The WWF states that it is due to government efforts and policies that deforestation is being better controlled, but it is still not enough. Not only does the Brazilian government need to develop further action in saving the Amazon, they also need to take action in other deforested areas. The article quotes WWF-Brazil’s CEO, Denise Hamú saying, “Deforestation needs to continue falling in a sustainable manner and must take place in other Brazilian biomes in addition to the Amazon, such as the Cerrado.”
Hamú goes further to explain that with their deforestation rates decreasing, Brazil should be able to “lead the climate negotiations and take the forefront in building a new development model for the world that respects the environment and the people.” The conference in Copenhagen will be a good chance for Brazil to present their information and ideas. They will hopefully be able to persuade developers to follow new sustainable practices that would minimize the amount of deforestation. Brazil will also have the opportunity to speak out to other countries and get them to have a better control on deforestation. An astounding fact pointed out in the article demonstrates the importance of combating deforestation around the world, “Despite conservation efforts, global deforestation continues at an alarming rate – 13 million hectares per year, or 36 football fields a minute.” This shows how crucial it is for nations to share ideas and reach an agreement in Copenhagen on how they will combat deforestation.