Archive for November 2021

Day 5: Al Gore is speaking, I’m listening (and writing)   Leave a comment

So very challenging keeping up with events at COP26. But let me focus on where I am right now: in a giant plenary room watching Vice President Al Gore speak. I want his slides–they’re awesome! The election in which George W. Bush eventually was declared the winner over Gore was 21 years ago. “An inconvenient truth” was 15 years ago. Would the world be different if Gore had become president? Would it be different if the US had heeded Gore’s message? I don’t know, but I think so. Gore detailed some of the climate shocks of the past several years: Haiti, India, Hurricane Eta and Iota in Central America, Tonrnados and 17″ of rain in Tennessee USA, and on and on. He also cited the heat dome in the Pacific Northwest US and British Columbia. I was actually there for that shocking event. 4 days in a row of record breaking temperatures, with a high of 116.1 deg F. About 200 people died as a result in Oregon and Washington. An estimated one billion marine animals (from clams to mammals) died. (My wife, Sarah Sloane, did her part in documenting such impacts, finding that 50% of the nestling clutches in Bushtit — a tiny and very social bird — nests died during the heat dome.)

Here’s a short video of Vice President Gore below, every bit as impassioned and angry as he was 15 years ago.

By the way, I want to thank the Ecological Society of America for granting me an invitation (a “badge”) for attending COP26 for one week. Organizations wishing to garner invitations to COPs must have official United Nations observer status, requiring a complicated application process. These organizations then receive and can distributed invitations to their members. While I am “sponsored” by ESA, I don’t speak for the organization. The opinions expressed in my blog are mine alone. Thanks again to ESA for making it possible for me to attend COP26.

Much of the audience in Gore’s presentation knows the story he is telling. But everyone is engaged, I think because we all know that it will take powerful presentations such as his to warn and persuade. Remarkable photos and videos documenting what’s happening around the world. I’d be curious to see whether climate change communicators feel that it’s too much doom and gloom — at least in this part of his presentation.

While I listen, I want to try to convey a thought/feeling that I fear will seem trivial, because many will say, “duh”, and because it’s somewhat simplistic I’ll try anyway. Imagine that governments truly embrace a serious shift from our current climate trajectory, by establishing regulations, investing in solutions, creating funds that will allow less developed countries to transition, etc. A nice thought, right. Here’s a question. Would we then have the capacity to implement such change, not just in terms of low carbon energy, nature-based climate solutions (e.g., better agriculture and forestry, indigenous land management), etc. but also in a way that promotes true global climate justice?

I think so. We have a long way to go, but on display at COP26 are hundreds, thousands of emerging solutions to energy efficiency, low carbon energy generation, and on and on. Equally heartening are efforts at finally valuing what local and indigenous communities have been doing for millennia, listening to youth voices, recognizing the human rights dimensions of climate change, and on and on. Again, we have a very, very long way to go, and much (but not all) of the messaging from developed countries and corporations seems to be more slogan than reality. On view here is only a beginning. I make this argument to emphasize a point. The chief impediment to big progress on climate change is international governmental change.

Wow! Al Gore is searing the World Bank and global development organizations! Huge applause. Gore is arguing that we can’t solve this one country at a time, one problem at a time. By the way, he just told us that Norway just changed its schedule for no more fossil fuel vehicles from 2030 to 2022. He’s talked for more than an hour! The latter part of his presentation focuses on solutions that are already underway and how much these could be amplified by international agreements. I like that he is NOT missing the role of inequality within and among countries on the threat of climate change and how crucial it is to address climate justice in lockstep with climate solutions.

Posted November 5, 2021 by changingnatureofthemainewoods in Uncategorized

Day 3 and 4: Island Nations are Angry and Science Update   Leave a comment

Day 3 was “Finance Day”: how does the world pay for the necessary changes both to reduce emissions (“mitigation”) and to adapt to climate change (“adaptation”). The chief topic across dozens and dozens of venues was how do less developed countries afford transitions and climate shocks.

The photo above is from a session specifically on funding for less developed countries. At a previous COP, more developed countries promised $100 billion for a fund for such progress. The main COP representative from Fiji gave a forceful, eloquent, and straightforward description how this fund has not yet lived up to its promises, both in terms of amount and implementation. He emphasized how vital it was that more development countries live up to their promises…and promptly. He stated that every typhoon is an economic setback in Fiji. Below are just a few of his comments.

Again, a common theme on day 3 was the need for massive funding to less developed countries for specific mechanisms for making the transition to a new energy system and a climate system. At the country and non-governmental organization pavilion, there were many forums working toward such solutions–not just talking about it, but developing plans. Some hope there. I expect to hear a formal announcement at some point on actual delivery on the $100 billion promise.

The theme of Day 4 is “Energy.” One thing about these themes is that they are emphases and not limiting in terms of forums. So, today there are many dozens of events today that are not directly related to energy. Right now, I’m attending an update from the IPCC. Recall that the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) is the huge group of experts from around the world who develop a report every 5-7 years on the state of climate change. They are divided into three working groups. Working Group 1 focuses on the physical basis of climate change. Working Group 2 focuses on the vulnerability of socioeconomic and natural systems to climate change. Working Group 3 focuses on mitigating climate change. For 2021-2022, Working Group 1 has published their very lengthy report; we’re still waiting for the others.

I’m attending updates from Working Group 1 right now. Those are some of the leaders of the IPCC Working Group 1 on the stage.

This is a long session, with lots of information, most of which can be accessed in the report (IPCC Sixth Assessment Report 1). Here are a few points that jump out at me…maybe I should say, that kind of knock me off my feet. But, first, here’s the IPCC co-chair, who is very clearly summarizing the update.

(1) The science of climate change has made amazing progress since the last report in 2013! We know so much more about how the climate has changed and how it is likely to change under different socioeconomic scenarios (i.e., the extent to which we reduce emissions). Here are a couple things that we know a lot more about.

(2) What is called “attribution” climate science has come a long way. It used to be that when some giant climate event occurred, such as a major heat wave killing many people, scientists would have to waffle, stating that, “although we can’t be sure whether climate change is responsible, we know that it increases the probability of such events.” No more! The science has advanced to the extent that we can now actually provide probabilities of an event being the result of climate science and even the percentage role of climate change.” This is important because it specifies the impacts and threats of climate change on people and ecosystems.

(3) We now can specify with much more reliability how a certain amount of emissions translates into more warming.

(4) Increased emissions and concentration of atmospheric greenhouse gases cause warming on land and water over relatively short periods of time (years, decades). In contrast, sea level rise from the melting of ice occurs much more slowly because it takes a while and it takes energy to melt the ice. The science has come a long way in understanding he past and future projections. Sea level has risen about 8″ since 1900, faster than in any century over the past 3000 years at least.The likely sea level rise is 1-5 feet by 2100, depending on how much we reduce emissions. If we do nothing, we’ll reach 3-5′, which would inundate major cities across the world. The science has been able to narrow the projections compared to previous reports, so that the much higher (and lower) possible projections from the past are now seen as unlikely. Important to note, however, that the report does present the low likelihood scenario of 7 feet by 2100!

(5) One other shocking finding is that sea levels will continue to rise because of our activities for centuries and millennia, eventually (over 1000-10,000 years) rising so much that it will wipe out most coastal human communities. Read that previous sentence again! Here’s a key take home point about this. This is a call to arms to slow warming so that we give future generations more time to adapt to such large sea level rise. What we do now and over the next several decades will have huge impacts on the future.

Questions from countries and non-governmental organizations have been very interesting. I can’t report them all, but the rep from India questioned how helpful it is to present low-likely worst-case scenarios, given that we’re trying to create hope and action. Island nations have been very vocal and eloquent in asking for clarification for better understanding their predicament. We heard from Antigua a few mins ago. Photo of Antigua and Barbados rep below.

Coming up next is how a summary of how much we need to limit emissions to achieve better outcomes. I’ll be back later with more on that.

Posted November 4, 2021 by changingnatureofthemainewoods in Uncategorized

COP26 Day 2: Progress   Leave a comment

NYTimes, November 3, 2021

I won’t be surprised if this is news to you. These two deals have the potential to improve conditions on Earth much more than anything in the rest of the NYT combined, but I had to dig to find it, because of other political events.

These two agreements, forged at COP26, over the past two days, are extremely important, and they sent hopeful ripples through the thousands of people at the conference. Methane is a greenhouse gas that has more heat-trapping power than CO2, although it also clears out of the atmosphere much faster than does CO2. Controlling the methane emissions, some of it from wasteful accidental release at natural gas wells, is critical for controlling global warming. The deforestation accord is especially encouraging because it has so many side benefits. Yes, it would reduce CO2 emissions when forests are cut down and, yes, it will increase the amount of forests that are taking CO2 out of the air through photosynthesis. But it will also help protect species and will provide indigenous communities with vital resources that they have sustainably tended for thousands of years (thank you very much!).

The question now is the rest of the deal. Will countries agree to make serious new cuts in their carbon emissions from fossil fuel burning? Will we leave COP26 joyful or will we leave with a mixed bag? Will we agree with the cover illustration below? Hopefully not.

Much of the news regarding COP26 is about major agreements or lack thereof. “Top-down” solutions (e.g., countries agreeing to limit fossil fuel CO2 emissions) are obviously absolutely critical to staving off climate disaster for the planet. What the news doesn’t focus on, however, is “bottom-up” solutions. Let me give you a few examples.

I attend a panel talk/discussion on a project in Costa Rica that uses story telling and personal engagement to help people process, envision, and help with local solutions to climate change. A remarkable project!

I went to another two-hour panel presentation, sponsored by South Korea, that described an emerging project, supported by multiple countries, companies, and environmental groups (mainly the Environmental Defense Fund) that will reduce deforestation, support local community use of forests, and provide money for technical assistance and scientific research. The companies involved also pledged to cut their emissions as part of this initiative.

World map showing projects involved in this large-scale initiative

There are hundreds — yes hundreds — of projects like these on display at COP26, from all parts of the world and with a wide range of emphases from energy efficiency, to forest protection, to indigenous rights…on and on. Although, the international agreements are crucial, these more “bottom-up” projects are heartening. In particular, it’s hopeful to see so many people, countries, organizations, and countries working on solving climate change. And there’s a lot of money flowing into these efforts. I attended a fascinating panel with world indigenous peoples leaders and the current president of COP26 (and the UN Framework on Climate Change). Finally…finally…the voices of indigenous people are beginning to be heard and supported (at least at COP26), and a great deal of money is flowing into the initiatives of these communities. Of course, as the leaders pointed out repeatedly, this is the kind of work they’ve been doing for centuries, for millennia.

So, I arrive at Wednesday Day 3 of COP26 a little more hopeful.

Posted November 3, 2021 by changingnatureofthemainewoods in Uncategorized

COP26 Day 1   2 comments

Yesterday was the first full day of COP26 in Glasgow. Scary statistics about a hotter and increasingly precarious Earth, but also hope and excitement.

Maybe one day, my great grandchildren will see this and exclaim, “wow! COVID and COP26”

I came looking for reasons to be hopeful and found it pretty quickly. First, I passed by several demonstrations by people longing for change.

While entering the grounds of COP26

And then inside, I watched, on a giant screen in the “action center,” a searing speech from this world leader (I can’t find her name or from which country she comes — help me here, if you know), punctuated by wild cheering.

What was it like inside COP26? There are two main zones. (1) The blue zone, which requires a “badge” that you had to apply for long before the conference. In the blue zone are held the formal negotiations and exhibitions, discussions, press conferences, and more. Many countries and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), such as environmental groups have fascinating exhibits in this zone. (2) The green zone, where anyone can go, which is the forum for all kinds of protests, music, protests, and much more. That’s where I’m going today. I’ll report on that zone another time.

There are three main areas in the blue zone: (1) the exhibition center building, called the “action space,” for interviews, broadcasting events, TV programs, and general networking; (2) the side events pavilion (counties and NGOs, which feature many panel discussions and press conferences…and free espresso!), and (3) the deliberations area (off limits to almost all “observers,” like me, the first two days. Still looking for my special invitation to that, but nothing so far.

The exhibition building – “action space”

I learned quickly to be prepared for three things. First, being overwhelmed: the size of the forum, the number of events, and the cacophony are impressive. Second, one might be interviewed at anytime, which happened to me despite my insignificance. Third, you need to be prepared to say funny things or listen to funny things when you meet famous people. The Archbishop of Canterbury was next me in the food line. He ordered the venison sausage roll. Not kidding. I appreciate that the Archbishop was out in public, mingling with everyone, having his photo taken with many people, and speaking with everyone and anyone avidly about why change is so important. Other world leaders were pretty much sequestered in their negotiations, accessible the first two days to only a select audience — mainly I think for security and COVID reasons. By the way, every person who enters the Blue Zone must take and register online a lateral flow (antigen) COVID test.

Highlights for me?

The fiery introduction I witnessed when I first approach and entered the COP26 grounds. My goodness, a heating planet requires a fiery response, doesn’t it!

Second, the in person Q&A session on the scientific report by the IPCC. First, each country representative had a chance to ask questions or make comments. Some very probing and illuminating Q&As. Island nations, of course, wanted to know more about the degree to which progress would actually slow sea level rise. Good updates on methane and how important controlling methane release is, which was well-timed given Biden’s announcement of US measures to control this. A wonderfully pointed question/comment from the rep from India about the importance of including past emissions in calculations of fair share of future emissions by each country — a coded and important commentary about countries like the US having already used up the lion’s share of acceptable emissions.

Third, meeting people from all over the world committed to change. Dinner with folks from Sri Lanka, Denmark, and Mexico. Aurora Uribe Camalich is a college student from Mexico City, who is part of her country’s official negotiating party. She said that this is the first year the Mexican government has included young people on their team. 4 this year, all women.

I’ll leave you with the photo below, from an artist’s exhibit in the pavilion.

Posted November 2, 2021 by changingnatureofthemainewoods in Uncategorized