COP Climate Action Studio 2021 and a visit to the Green Zone, Glasgow  

Helen Hooker h.hooker@pgr.reading.ac.uk 

Introduction 

SCENARIO DTP and the Walker Academy offered PhD students the opportunity to take part in the annual COP Climate Action Studio (COPCAS) 2021. COPCAS began with workshops on the background of COP, communication and interviewing skills and an understanding of the COP26 themes and the (massive!) schedule. James Fallon and Kerry Smith were ‘on the ground’ in the Blue Zone, Glasgow in week 1 of COP26, followed by Gwyn Matthews and Jo Herschan during week 2. Interviews were arranged between COP26 observers, and COPCAS participants back in Reading who were following COP26 events in small groups through livestream. Students summarised the varied and interesting findings by writing blog posts and engaging with social media.

Figure 1: COPCAS in action.   

Motivation, training and week 1 

Personally, I wanted to learn more about the COP process and to understand climate policy implementation and action (or lack thereof). I was also interested to learn more about anticipatory action and forecast based financing, which relate to my research. After spending 18 months working remotely in my kitchen, I wanted to meet other students and improve formulating and asking questions! I found the initial training reassuring in many ways, especially finding out that so many people have dedicated themselves to drive change and find solutions. During the first week of COP26 we heard about so many positive efforts to combat the climate crisis from personal actions to community schemes, and even country wide ambitious projects such as reforestation in Costa Rica. A momentum seemed to be building with pledges to stop deforestation and to reduce methane emissions.

Green Zone visit 

Figure 2: Green Zone visit included a weekend full of exhibitors, talks, films and panel discussions plus a giant inflatable extracting COvia bouncing!

During the middle weekend of COP26, some of us visited the Green Zone in Glasgow. This was a mini version of the Blue Zone open to the public and offered a wide variety of talks and panel discussions. Stand out moments for me: a photograph of indigenous children wearing bamboo raincoats, measuring the length of Judy Dench’s tree, the emotive youth speakers from Act4Food Act4Change and the climate research documentary Arctic Drift where hundreds of scientists onboard a ship carried out research whilst locked into the polar winter ice-flow.  

COPCAS Blog 

During COPCAS I wrote blogs about: a Green Zone event from Space4climate, an interview by Kerry Smith with SEAChange (a community-based project in Aberdeenshire aiming to decarbonise old stone buildings) and Sports for climate action. I also carried out an interview arranged by Jo with WWF on a food systems approach to tackling climate change.

Ultimately though, the elephant in the large COP26 Blue Zone room had been there all along…

Interview with Anne Olhoff, Emissions Gap Report (EGR) 2021 Chief scientific editor and Head of Strategy, Climate Planning and Policy, UNEP DTU Partnership.

Figure 3: Source: UNEP Emissions Gap Report 2021 updated midway through week two of COP26 accounting for new pledges. 

Time is running out, midway through the second week of COP26, the United Nations Environmental Partnership (UNEP) presented its assessment on the change to global temperature projections based on the updated pledges so far agreed in Glasgow.  

Pledges made prior to COP26 via Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) put the world on track to reach a temperature increase of 2.7C by the end of the century. To keep the Paris Agreement of keeping warming below 1.5C this century, global greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by 55% in the next eight years. At this point in COP26, updated pledges now account for just an 8% reduction – this is 7 times too small to keep to 1.5C and 4 times too small to keep to 2C. Updated projections based on COP26 so far now estimate a temperature rise of 2.4C by 2100. Net-zero pledges could reduce this by a further 0.5C, however plans are sketchy and not included in NDCs. So far just five of the G20 countries are on a pathway to net-zero.

Anne’s response regarding policy implementation in law: 

“Countries pledge targets for example for 2030 under the UN framework for climate change and there’s no international law to enforce them, at least not yet. Some countries have put net-zero policies into law, which has a much bigger impact as the government can be held accountable for the implementation of their pledges.” 

Following my own shock at the size of the emissions gap, I asked Anne if she feels there has been any positive changes in recent years: 

“I do think we have seen a lot of change, actually…the thing is, things are not moving as fast as they should. We have seen change in terms of the commitment of countries and the policy development and development in new technology needed to achieve the goals, these are all positive developments and here now, changing the whole narrative, just 2 years ago no one would have thought we’d have 70 countries setting net-zero emission targets…we are also seeing greater divergence between countries, between those making the effort to assist the green transition such as the UK, EU and others, and those further behind the curve such as China, Brazil and India. It’s important to help these countries transition very soon, peaking emissions and rapidly declining after that.”   

I asked Anne how countries on track can support others: 

“A lot of the great things here (at COP) is to strengthen that international collaboration and sharing of experiences, it’s an important function of the COP meeting, but we need to have the political will and leadership in the countries to drive this forward.” 

Summary 

The momentum that was apparent during the first week of COP26 seemed to have stalled with this update. Despite the monumental effort of so many scientists, NGOs, individuals and those seeking solutions from every conceivable angle, the pledges made on fossil fuel reduction are still so far from what is needed. And at the final hour (plus a day), the ambition to ‘phaseout’ burning coal was changed to ‘phasedown’ and the financial contributions from developed nations pledged to cover loss and damage to countries not responsible for, but impacted now by climate change, have not been realised. I think this is the first time I have really felt the true meaning of ‘climate justice’. Perhaps we do need a planet law, as it seems our political leaders, do not have the will.

Overall, the COPCAS experience has been enjoyable, slightly overwhelming and emotional! It has been great to work together and to share the experiences of those in the Blue zone. It was also an amazing learning experience; I think I have barely touched the surface of the entire COP process and I would still like to understand more.

Climate Science and Power 

Gabriel M P Perez – g.martinspalmaperez@pgr.reading.ac.uk 

Introduction  

Climate science, especially climate-change science, is increasingly becoming a source of power in society and integrating politics. As an academic in meteorology, I started realising how possibly other scientists and I rarely think about how our profession fits in the power networks that constitute politics; on the contrary, it seems that we often think about our scientific outputs as something detached from the wheels of history.  

In this essay, I paint a picture of how climate science relates to the main sources of power in the civic sphere by building upon some of my recent readings in history of ideas and philosophy. I also discuss a few past and recent instances where alleged “apolitical” scientific discourse was moulded to support politics of domination and exclusion. By better understanding the relationships of power surrounding our science, we can be more confident that our scientific outputs will contribute more positively to society at large.  

The participation of climate-change science in politics is not exactly new: it has existed for at least three or four decades. However, up until the early 2010s, the hypothesis of anthropogenic global warming still faced a few challenges in the scientific realm. Perhaps the last of these challenges was the alleged 1998-2014 warming hiatus – climate scientists had to answer to the public and come to an agreement as to why the increase in global temperatures appeared to halt. Now, in the second decade of the 21st century, anthropogenic warming is a consensus and the most relevant contenders of climate science are found in the political realm. 

Historical background

In the seminal text “A discourse on the method of correctly conducting one’s reason and seeking truth in sciences”, Descartes proposes a method of pure reason to conduct scientific research. He proposes that the inquisitive individual should start by forgetting everything he learned and start deriving basic truths from simple logical statements and build up from that to provide scientific answers to more complex questions using “pure reason”. This text was one of the starting points of a scientific revolution and helped build the bases of modern science. Although epistemology quickly moved on from the Cartesian thought, it still affects the way we do science. After years in academia, trained scientists grow to believe that their scientific outputs are disconnected from the other spheres of society and the networks of power. This “apolitical” mindset will then affect, for example, our ideas, hypotheses and communications regarding climate change.  

The historian of ideas Michel Foucault in his book “The Order of Things”, deconstructs the idea that the scientific discourse is independent of the surrounding socio-economic environment. He argues that the scientific discourse is inherently tied to the “lenses” by which scientists of a certain time are capable of analysing the physical world. Foucault calls these lenses “epistemes”. The epistemes are the ways of thinking in each stage of history that define what is acceptable scientific discourse. Let us take Descartes’ Discourse as an example of that: the author lived in a highly religious time, and, although in Parts 1 to 3 of the Discourse he describes his method of “pure reason”, in Part 4 he employs his method to argue for the existence of God: this would not be acceptable scientific discourse in the 21st century. Therefore, even the brightest minds are subject to having their scientific discourse shaped by the epistemes of their time. 

For some scientists, accepting that our science is shaped by factors outside of the realm of pure reason may be uncomfortable. However, embracing our episteme and the historical forces that drive scientific paradigm shifts may aid us in producing and communicating science in ways that are more likely to impact society positively; this could also help prevent distortions and misuses of the power stemming from our science.

For example, the scientific consensus has been distorted in the past to provide an intellectual background to the darkest side of environmentalism: “ecofascism”, a political model that, in the early 20th century, used environmentalism to justify white supremacy and genocide of indigenous peoples (see the New Yorker article “Environmentalism’s Racist History” by Jedediah Purdy). Sadly, such distortions of environmental sciences are not buried in the past, on the opposite, they are gaining popularity in certain extremist groups (Lawton, 2019; Taylor, 2019) and even influencing today’s politics: the Portuguese ecofascist party was an important early supporter of the current Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, whose policies are ironically accelerating the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest (Pereira, 2020). In United States politics, we have recently seen in the media the eco-fascist “shaman” invading the White House after Donal Trump’s defeat. 

The power relations of climate science 

Power can be defined as the ability to have others do as you would. Evoking Foucault one more time, there are two kinds of power: the repressive and normalising power. Repressive power is a second-rate type of power that requires the use of force to control the actions of others.  Normalising power, on the other hand, is silent, non-aggressive, and much more effective than repressive power. Normalising power controls what other people want. If you have normalising power over others, they will do as you would because you have succeeded in making them want the same as you. As climate researchers, our scientific output is a growing source of normalising power. More and more people and governments want to do what climate science says is better for life on Earth. Therefore, “power” hereafter refers to “normalising power”. 

Power is present in all spheres of human relations (e.g., family, workplace and institutions). Here we will discuss power in the civic sphere, i.e., the power of having groups of people or societies do as you would. The civics educator Eric Liu suggests that power emanates from six sources. Here, I list four of these sources that I deem most relevant to climate science and discuss some ways that they relate to it: 

  1. Ideas Ideas, hypotheses and theories about the physics, impacts, mitigation and adaptation of climate change emanate almost exclusively from academia.  This directly places climate scientists from top institutions as raw sources of power that shape how people and governments think, behave and act towards climate change.  Combining David Hume’s proposition that ideas come from the impressions one has had throughout their lives and Foucault’s theory of epistemes, we may come to the conclusion that this source of power (i.e., scientific ideas) might not be as purely rational as one might have hoped. 
  2. Wealth Since ideas stem from academia, it is important to remember that most top institutions are in the wealthy nations of the Global North. Moreover, most scientists in these institutions were born and raised in the same wealthy nations. Naturally, the bulk of scientific outputs, both in terms of results and communications, are tied to the episteme, or “ways of thinking”, of this particular set of scientists.    Wealth is also related to science through the sources of research funding. Decisions regarding the allocation of research funds are often made by boards composed by either: 
  • Scientists in wealthy countries or 
  • Influential individuals outside academia 

A controversial example of B is the influence that Bill and Melinda Gates, through their foundation, exert over the World Health Organisation, having a disproportionate influence on scientific and public health decisions (Wadman, 2007). The issue is that Bill and Melinda’s suggestions are often not aligned with the public’s best interest or the scientific consensus, but rather with the personal motivations of these individuals. The power of wealth in climate-related negotiations is further evidenced when we notice that ideas such as climate debt (Warlenius, 2018) are typically ignored by current and former imperialist nations. These ideas were advocated by Global South agents in the widely ignored “World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth” held in Bolivia in 2010. 

  1. Numbers Climate activists, when numerous enough, have the power to pressure or convince governments and individuals to act according their beliefs. These beliefs are largely based on climate-change scientific literature. Scientists sometimes also take a more direct approach and practise environmental activism of some sort. 
  2. State action Governments are themselves a source of civic power but also subject to the other sources of power (i.e., ideas, wealth and numbers). Democratic states, as representatives of the people, have the power to directly and indirectly influence climate change by reducing (or increasing) emissions, funding climate research, educating the future generations, and many others. The governmental action, in its turn, is constrained by law in states under “Rechtsstaat” (or “the rule of law”). This raises the question: are lawmakers, prosecutors, judges and other agents well equipped to make decisions around climate change? In the next decades, it is not hard to imagine climate scientists being consulted regarding climate-change litigation in national or international courts. A few weeks ago, for example, the Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro was accused of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court; his policies were said to be “directly connected to the negative impacts of climate change around the world”. 

Conclusion 

In this essay, I have outlined and attempted to disentangle a few existing and emerging power relations around climate change. I argue that as climate scientists we are sources of power in society. Therefore, we should be aware of our own “ways of thinking”, or “epistemes”, and remember that these are driven by external factors. Those external factors have the ability to shape our ideas, hypotheses and communications regarding climate change. Being aware of our role in the complex network of power known as politics could maximise the positive impact of the power stemming from our scientific outputs. Hopefully, this awareness could help prevent this power from being misdirected to support politics of domination and exclusion. Moreover, as the impacts of climate change are increasingly damaging to life on Earth, it is likely that in the next decade’s climate scientists involve themselves with litigation in national and international courts of justice. It is, therefore, timely for us to be aware of our roles in all levels of politics. 

References and further reading

Descartes, Rene. A discourse on the method of correctly conducting one’s reason and seeking truth in science. 1637

Foucault, Michel. The order of things. 1966.

Lawton, Graham. “The rise of real eco-fascism.” New Scientist 243.3243 (2019): 24.

Pereira, Eder Johnson de Area Leão, et al. “Brazilian policy and agribusiness damage the Amazon rainforest.” Land Use Policy 92 (2020): 104491.

Purdy, Jedediah. Environmentalism’s racist history. The New Yorker. 2015 https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/environmentalisms-racist-history

Taylor, Blair. “Alt-right ecology: Ecofascism and far-right environmentalism in the United States.” The Far Right and the Environment. Routledge, 2019. 275-292.

Wadman, Meredith. “Biomedical philanthropy: state of the donation.” Nature 447.7142 (2007): 248-251.

Warlenius, Rikard. “Decolonizing the atmosphere: The climate justice movement on climate debt.” The Journal of Environment & Development 27.2 (2018): 131-155.

Eric Liu Ted Talk about civic power: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cd0JH1AreDw

List of resources about climate debt: 

https://fascinated-soccer-ac0.notion.site/Climate-Debt-Resources-f7f24ce9a7344aa1a3e5290f853b6b4f

History of ecofascism: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FkhmP7yDWeY

Youth voices pick up the slack: MOCK COP 26

James Fallon – j.fallon@pgr.reading.ac.uk

This year’s Conference of the Parties (COP) should have taken place earlier in November, hosted by the UK in Glasgow and in partnership with Italy. Despite many global events successfully moving online this year, from film festivals to large conferences such as the EGU general assembly, the international climate talks were postponed until November 2021.

But young people around the world are more engaged than ever before with the urgent need for international cooperation in the face of the climate emergency. The Fridays for Future (FFF) movement has recorded participation since late 2018 of more than 13,000,000 young people, in 7500 cities from all continents. FFF has adapted to the covid-19 crisis, and on 25th September this year participants from over 150 countries took part both online and in the streets, highlighting the Most Affected People and Areas (MAPA).

Unimpressed by the delay of important climate talks and negotiations, students and youth activists from FFF and a multitude of groups and movements have initiated the MOCK COP26, a 2-week online global conference on climate change that mirrors the real COP.

“My country, the Philippines, is struggling. We don’t want more floods that rise up to 15 feet, winds that peel off roofs in seconds, the rain that drowns our pets and livestock, and storm surges that ravage coastal communities. We don’t want more people to die. We’re still a developing country that contributes so little to global carbon emissions yet we face the worst of its consequences. This is absurd! 

Angelo, Philippines
https://www.mockcop.org/why

Programme

Organisers have chosen five themes to focus on:

  1. Climate education
  2. Climate justice
  3. Climate resilient livelihoods
  4. Health and wellbeing
  5. Nationally Determined Contributions

Full programme here: https://www.mockcop.org/programme

Over a dozen academic support videos break down complicated topics such as “The Kyoto Protocol”, “Agriculture and Agribusiness”, and the “History of Climate Negotiation”. These videos are helping youth delegates and all participants to understand what happens at a COP summit.

Panel sessions have featured United Nations Youth Envoy Jayathma Wickramanayake, 9 year old Climate & Environmental Activist Licypriya Kangujam, and (actual) COP26 president Alok Sharma.

High Level Country Statements

A unique aspect of MOCK COP that I have been excitedly anticipating is the high level country statements; each a 3 minute speech given by youth climate activists representing their nation.

Mock COP26 is not dominated by big polluters as COP26 is. We believe that we need to amplify the people on the frontlines of climate change, which is why we will be aiming to, throughout Mock COP, uplift the voices of those from MAPA (Most Affected People and Areas) countries above those from the Global North. This is why Mock COP26 is special.

Jamie Burrell, UK
https://www.mockcop.org/today

Youth delegates have been encouraged to give speeches in whichever language they are most comfortable talking. At the time of writing, subtitles don’t appear to be fully functioning. However a large number of talks are given in English, and transcripts of all talks have been made available here: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1wnQUMt-rcD9XoKtg8YPWba_LZSf16qTD

I highly recommend setting some time aside to give these speeches a listen. Although the total number might put you off, it is very easy to jump in and out of talks. You can find videos embedded below, or on the official youtube channel.

Africa

Pick: Two youth delegates represent Morocco. Whilst Morocco has been ranked a role model for climate action, the reality of the country’s future is alarming. Globally the most affected are the least protected. It’s time for world leaders to protect everyone.

Americas

Pick: The delegate for Suriname explains risks faced as a Small Island Developing State (SIDS) with infrastructure near the coast. Suriname must implement climate adaptation whilst enhancing its legislation in forestry, mining, and agriculture.

Asia

Pick: Indonesia’s delegate opens with the stark warning that the country will lose 1500 of its islands due to rising sea levels by 2050. The high level statement includes calls to incorporate climate education into the national curriculum, and find ways to protect natural habitat. Indonesia has the 2nd biggest rainforest in the world, but currently has no agreed emissions reductions pathway.

Europe

Pick: Ireland’s youth delegates present a necessarily progressive 5 year plan to stick to the EU target of reducing emissions by at least 65% by 2030. The need for much stronger climate education, and providing access to affordable and sustainable energy, are among many other commitments.

Oceania

Pick: The year started with forest fires devastating large swathes of Australia’s natural habitats. Youth delegates want their nation to lead the world as a renewable energy exporter, and an overhaul of media rules to foster new diverse media outlets and prevent monopolies that currently stall climate action.

What is the hoped outcome?

With so many connected issues relating to the climate and ecological emergency, previous COPs have often seen negotiations stall and agreements postponed. The complexity of tackling this crisis is compounded by the vested interests of powerful governments and coal, oil, and gas profiteers.

But youth messages can be heard loud and clear at MOCK COP 26, reflecting the 5 themes of the conference.

We demand concrete action, not mere promises. It’s time for our leaders to wake up, prioritize the realization of the Green Deal, and cut carbon emissions. 

We won’t have more time to alter the effects of the climate crisis if we let this opportunity pass. The clock is ticking. The time for action is NOW. 

In the wake of covid-19 induced economic shocks, policy makers must ensure genuine green recovery that engages with ideas of global climate justice.

Youth delegate panels will continue over the weekend, working towards the creation of a final statement outlining their demands for world leaders. This will be presented to High Level Climate Action Champion for COP26 Nigel Topping, at the closing ceremony (12:00 GMT Tuesday 1st December)

PhD Visiting Scientist 2019: Prof. Cecilia Bitz

r.frew@pgr.reading.ac.uk

With thanks to all my helpers who enabled the week to go smoothly! Adam Bateson, Sally Woodhouse, Kaja Milczewska and Agnieszka Walenkiewicz

Each year PhD students in the Department of Meteorology invite a distinguished scientist to spend a week with us.  This year we invited Prof. Cecilia Bitz, who visited between the 28th-31st May. Cecilia is based at the University of Washington, Seattle. 

Cecilia’s research interests are the role of sea ice in the climate system, and high latitude climate and climate change. She has also done a lot of work on the predictability of Arctic sea ice, and is involved in the Sea Ice Prediction Network.

The week began with a welcome reception in the coffee area, introducing Cecilia to the department, followed by a seminar by Cecilia on ‘Polar Regions as Sentinels of Different Climate Change’. The seminar predominantly focused on Antarctic sea ice, and the possible reasons why Antarctic sea ice behaviour is so different to the Arctic. Whilst Arctic sea ice has steadily declined we have seen Antarctic sea ice expansion over the past four decades, with extreme Antarctic sea ice extent lows since 2016.

Throughout the week Cecilia visited a number of the research groups, including Mesoscale, HHH (dynamics) and Cryosphere, where PhD students from each group presented to her, giving a taste of the range of PhD research within our department. 

Cecilia gave a second seminar later in the week in the Climate and Ocean Dynamics (COD) group meeting, this time focusing on the other pole, ‘Arctic Amplification: Local Versus Remote Causes and Consequences’. Cecilia discussed her work quantifying the role of feedbacks in Arctic Amplification, how they compare with meridional heat transports, and what influence Arctic warming has on the rest of the globe.

cuteness_on_ice
Photo Credit: Cecilia Bitz

On Wednesday afternoon the normal PhD group slot consisted of a career discussion, with Cecilia. Cecilia shared some of her career highlights with us, including extra opportunities she has taken such as doing some fieldwork in Antarctica and working for the charity, Polar Bears International, her insights and advice from her own experiences, as well as about post-doctoral opportunities in the US. A few of my personal take-aways from this session were to try give yourself space to learn one new thing at a time in your career (e.g. teaching, writing proposals, supervising etc). Try to work on a range of problems, and keep your outlook broad and open to new ideas and approaches. Take opportunities when they appear, such as fieldwork or short projects/collaborations. 

A small group of PhDs also met with her on the Friday to have an informal discussion about climate policy. In particular about her experiences speaking to the US senate, being a part of the IPCC reports and about the role of scientists in speaking about climate change, and whether we have a responsibility to do so.

Thursday evening the PhDs took Cecilia to Zero Degrees (a very apt choice for a polar researcher!), and enjoyed a lovely evening chatting over pizza and beer. 

The week ended with a farewell coffee morning on Friday, where we gave Cecilia some gifts to thank her for giving us her time this week including some tea, chocolates, a climate stripes mug and a framed picture of us… 

All the PhDs had a great week. We hope Cecilia enjoyed her visit as much as we did!

GroupPhoto
PhD students with Cecilia Bitz before the Careers Discussion.

A week at COP23

From the 6th -17th of November the UNFCCC’s (United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change) annual meeting or “Conference of the Parties” – COP took place. This year was COP23 and was hosted by Bonn in the UN’s world conference centre with Fiji taking the presidency.

IMG_20171106_123155780

Heading into the Bonn Zone on the first day of the COP. The Bonn Zone was the part of the conference for NGO stands and side events.

As part of the Walker Institutes Climate Action Studio another SCENARIO PhD and I attended the first week of the COP while students back in Reading participated remotely via the UNFCCC’s YouTube channel and through interviews with other participants of the COP.

There are many different components to the COP, it is primarily the meeting of a number of different international Climate agreements with lots of work currently being done on the implementation on the Paris Agreement. However it is also a space where many different civil society groups doing work connected to or impacted by climate change come together, to make connections with other NGOs as well as governments. This is done in an official capacity within the “exhibition zone” of the conference and with a vast array of side events taking place throughout the two weeks. Outside of these official events there are also many demonstrations both inside and outside of the conference space.

Demonstrations in the Bonn Zone

As an observer I was able to watch some of the official negotiations. On the Wednesday I attended the SBSTA (Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice) informal consultation on research and systematic observations. It was an illuminating experience to see the negotiation process in action. At times it was frustrating to see how picky it feels like the negotiation teams can be, however over the week I did have a newfound appreciation for the complexity of the issues that are having to be resolved. This meeting was based on writing a short summary of the IPCC report and other scientific reports used by the COP, and so was less politically charged than a lot of the other meetings. However this didn’t stop an unexpected amount of debate over whether to include examples such as carbon-dioxide concentrations.

One of the most useful ways to learn about the COP was by talking to the different people and groups who we met at COP. It was interesting to see the different angles with which people were approaching the COP. From researchers who were observing the political process, to environmental and human rights NGO’s trying to get governments to engage with issues that they’re working on.

Interviewing other COP participants at the Walker Institutes stand

A particular highlight was the ex-leader of the Green Party Natalie Bennett, she spoke with us and the students back in Reading about a wide range of topics, from women’s involvement in the climate movement to discussing my PhD.

Kelly Stone from Action Aid provided a great insight into how charities operate at the COP. She spoke of making connections with other charities, often there are areas of overlap between their work but on other issues they had diverging opinions. However these differences have to be put aside to make progress on their shared interests. Kelly also discussed how it always amazes her that people are surprised that everyone who attends COP does not agree on everything, “we’re not deciding if climate change is real”. The issues being dealt with at the COP are complex dealing with human rights, economics, technology as well as climate change. Often serious compromises have to be made and this must be done by reaching a consensus between all 197 Parties to the UNFCCC.

To read more about the student experience of COP and summaries of specific talks and interviews you can view the COP CAS blog here. You can also read about last years COP on this blog here.

Clockwise from top left: The opening on the evening of Monday 6th November showed Fiji leaving its own mark as the President of the conference. The Norwegian Pavilion had a real Scandi feel, while the Fiji Pavilion transported visitors to a tropical island.

 

Innovating for Sustainable Development

Email: Rachael.Byrom@pgr.reading.ac.uk

In 2016 the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) officially came into force to tackle key global challenges under a sustainable framework.

The SDGs comprise 17 global goals and 169 targets to be achieved across the next 15 years. As part of the ‘2030 Agenda’ for sustainable development, these goals aim to address a range of important global environmental, social and economic issues such as climate change, poverty, hunger and inequality. Adopted by leaders across the world, these goals are a ‘call for action’ to ensure that no one is left behind. However, the SDGs are not legally binding. The success of goals will rely solely on the efforts of individual countries to establish and implement a national framework for achieving sustainable development.

UN SDGs
The United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals

As part of the NERC funded ‘Innovating for Sustainable Development’ programme, students here in the Department of Meteorology were given the opportunity to explore and find solutions to key environmental challenges as outlined in the UN’s SDGs.

Run by the SCENARIO and SSCP doctoral training partnerships, the programme challenged students from a variety of disciplines and institutions to re-frame the SDGs from a multi-disciplinary perspective and to develop tangible, innovative solutions for sustainable development.

The programme began with an ‘Interdisciplinary Challenges Workshop’ where students participated in activities and exercises to review the importance of the SDGs and to consider their multi-disciplinary nature. Students were encouraged to think creatively and discuss issues related to each of the goals, such as: ‘Is this SDG achievable?’, ‘Are the goals contradictory?’ and ‘How could I apply my research to help achieve the SDGs?’

SDGs
Visual representations of SDG 5 and SDG 7

Following this, three ‘Case Study’ days explored a handful of the SDGs in greater detail, with representatives from industry, start-ups and NGOs explaining how they are working to achieve a particular SDG, their current challenges and possible opportunities for further innovation.

The first Case Study day focused on both SDG 7 – Affordable and Clean Energy and SDG 12 – Responsible Consumption and Production. For SDG 7, insightful talks were given by the Moving Energy Initiative on the issue of delivering energy solutions to millions of displaced people, and BBOXX, on their work to produce and distribute off-grid solar power systems to rural communities in places such as Kenya and Rwanda. In the afternoon, presentations given by Climate-KIC start up NER and Waitrose showcased the efforts currently being taken to reduce wasteful food production and packaging, while Forum for the Future emphasised the importance of addressing sustainable nutrition.

The second Case Study day focused on SDG 6 – Clean Water and Sanitation. Experts from WaterAid, De-Solenator, Bear Valley Ventures, UKWIR and the International Institute for Environmental Development outlined the importance of confronting global sanitation and water challenges in both developing and developed nations. Alarmingly, it was highlighted that an estimated 40% of the global population are affected by water scarcity and 2.4 billion people still lack access to basic sanitation services, with more than 80% of human activity wastewater discharged into rivers without going through any stage of pollution removal (UN, 2016).

Case study
Participants discussing ideas during the second Case Study day

The last Case Study day explored SDG 9 – Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure and SDG 11 – Sustainable Cities and Communities. A range of talks on building technologies, carbon neutral buildings and sustainable solar technologies were given, along with a presentation by OPDC on the UK’s largest regeneration project. The day finished off with an overview from the Greater London Authority about the London Infrastructure Map and their new approach to sustainable planning and development across the city.

The programme finished off with a second workshop. Here students teamed up to develop innovative business ideas aimed at solving the SDG challenges presented throughout the Case Study events. Business coaches and experts were on hand to offer advice to help the teams develop ideas that could become commercially viable.

On the 16th March the teams presented their business ideas at the ‘Meet the Cleantech Pioneers’ networking event at Imperial’s new Translation and Innovation Hub (I-HUB). An overview of the projects can be found here. This event, partnered with the Climate-KIC accelerator programme, provided an excellent platform for participants to showcase and discuss their ideas with a mix of investors, entrepreneurs, NGOs and academics all interested in achieving sustainable development.

I-HUB
The final showcase event at Imperial’s I-HUB

Overall the programme provided a great opportunity to examine the importance of the SDGs and to work closely with PhD students from a range of backgrounds. Fundamentally the process emphasised the point that, in order for the world to meet the 2030 Agenda, many sustainable development challenges still need to be better understood and many solutions still need to be provided – and here scientific research can play a key role. Furthermore, it was made clear that a high level of interdisciplinary thinking, research and innovation is needed to achieve sustainable development.

Institutes

References:

UN, 2016: Clean Water and Sanitation – Why it matters, United Nations, Accessed 05 March 2017. [Available online at http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/6_Why-it-Matters_Sanitation_2p.pdf]

What is loss and damage from climate change?

Characterizing loss and damage from climate change
James et al., 2014. Nature Climate Change, 4, 938–939. doi:10.1038/nclimate2411

Email: h.r.young@pgr.reading.ac.uk

Under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), countries negotiate how to address the impacts of anthropogenic climate change through mitigation and adaptation. Despite these efforts, climate-related events still cause huge impacts across the globe every year. Impacts can be particularly  devastating in developing countries and this is what the relatively new area of ‘loss and damage’ in the negotiations aims to address.

In 2013, the UNFCCC established the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) to “address loss and damage associated with impacts of climate change, including extremes events and slow onset events, in developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change” (UNFCCC, 2013). Two decades of negotiating went into forming this mechanism, since the first calls from small island developing states in the early 1990s to address the effects of sea level rise.

vanuatu2
Island states such as Vanuatu in the South Pacific have been requesting support for the impacts of sea level rise since the early 1990s. Source: Meredith James/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The WIM states it will address the impacts of both extreme events (such as floods and heatwaves) and slow onset events (such as sea level rise). However, as yet, there is no official definition of what loss and damage will actually encompass. In our commentary in Nature Climate Change (James et al., 2014), we considered one aspect of defining loss and damage: whether loss and damage would need to be attributed to anthropogenic climate change. As the text of the WIM describes “loss and damage associated with the impacts of climate change” and the UNFCCC’s definition of climate change is that which is “attributed directly or indirectly to human activity” (UNFCCC, 1992), this could imply that there would need to be proof that impacts from events were caused by anthropogenic climate change.

If this were the case, impacts would first need to be attributed to particular events (e.g. the infrastructure damaged by a particular flood), and then the event would need to be attributed to anthropogenic climate change. For slow-onset events like sea level rise, the science attributing these to anthropogenic climate change is well-established. However for individual events it is much more challenging to say how climate change had an influence. Extreme event attribution can, for some types of events, estimate how anthropogenic climate change affected the probability of the particular event occurring. This generally relies on large ensembles of climate model simulations, which are necessary to estimate the probabilities of such rare events, and studies therefore rely on the ability of the models to represent the processes that produce the extreme event in question. Observations are also necessary to both to validate the model simulations and define the extreme event to be studied, which are not always available, particularly in developing countries. Up to now, studies attributing specific events have been carried out on an ad hoc basis in the aftermath of particularly extreme events, rather than more systematically. They have also mainly focussed on events in developed countries, rather than the developing countries the WIM aims to assist.

haiyan
Typhoon Haiyan caused devastation in November 2013 as the WIM was being negotiated. It was used as an example of loss and damage, but without any consideration of whether anthropogenic climate change played a role. Is this an important consideration? Source: DFID/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

While the attribution of events to anthropogenic climate change could be relevant to addressing loss and damage, it is controversial in negotiations. This is in part due to its perceived association with compensation claims. However we suggest that, somewhere along the line, the question of causality is likely to come up, to establish just what the loss and damage being addressed is. Attribution may or may not have a role to play here. What is key is that as event attribution science is continuing to develop, scientists and policymakers need to have opportunities for conversations about what information the science can provide and how this could be applied if it was deemed necessary for policy.

Since writing our commentary we have continued to research this science-policy interface. We have investigated what is understood about event attribution science by stakeholders associated with loss and damage negotiations and how they think it could be relevant (Parker et al., 2016). We have also investigated how policymakers and practitioners are defining ‘loss and damage’, as this still has no official definition and there are differing perspectives among those looking to address loss and damage. Our aim is that by better understanding this policy context, the science will be able to develop in ways that are most relevant to the needs of decision makers and, if deemed relevant, ultimately help to address loss and damage in vulnerable regions.

This work forms part of the ACE-Africa project, for more information see http://www.walker.ac.uk/projects/ace-africa-attributing-impacts-of-external-climate-drivers-on-extreme-weather-in-africa/ 

References

James, R., Otto, F., Parker, H., Boyd, E., Cornforth, R., Mitchell, D., & Allen, M. (2014). Characterizing loss and damage from climate change. Nature Climate Change, 4, 938-939, doi: 10.1038/nclimate2411.

Parker, H. R. , Boyd, E., Cornforth, R. J., James, R., Otto, F. E. L., & Allen, M. R. (2016). Stakeholder perceptions of event attribution in the loss and damage debate. Climate Policy, doi: 10.1080/14693062.2015.1124750.

UNFCCC (1992). Article 1: Definitions

UNFCCC (2013). Decision 2/CP.19: Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage Associated with Climate Change Impacts FCCC/CP/2013/10/Add.1

Discovering COP22

Email: j.f.talib@pgr.reading.ac.uk

Over the past two weeks 25,000 delegates have been gathering in Marrakech to discuss mitigation and adaptation for climate change. On the 4th November 2016 the Paris Agreement came into force and as a result discussions during the conference debated its implementation. The Walker Institute and the Department of Meteorology (University of Reading), with the support of the NERC SCENARIO doctoral training partnership and an UNFCCC partnership, supported two PhD students to be official UN observers at COP22, and enabled remote participation with students back at Reading University. To find out more about our work with COP22 continue reading this blog post and check out:

Today (18/11/16) the UK government are set to announce that the United Kingdom has ratified the Paris Agreement. Yesterday, Boris Johnson (UK foreign secretary) signed the Paris Agreement after no objections were raised by the House of Commons or House of Lords. The United Kingdom in accordance with the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) of the European Union, are set to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030 relative to 1990 emission levels. Today also marks the end of the 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP) for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and here are some quick summary points that PhD students took away from observing the process in Marrakech:

1) The significance of the Paris Agreement.

“Now that we have Paris, we need to take action immediately”

Teresa Anderson, ActionAid UK.

The Paris Agreement marks a change in the intentions during the COP process. Due to the success and ratification of the Paris Agreement more discussions can be based on the adaptation and mitigation against climate change, rather than negotiating global targets on climate change prevention. The Paris Agreement states that a global response is needed to respond to the threat of climate change and that global temperature rise should be kept well below 2°C and that efforts should be pursued to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5°C. COP22 Marrakech, began by stating that this is the “COP of Action”, and therefore the focus seen during side events, negotiations, dignitary speeches and press conferences was on the need for action.

“Countries have strongly supported the [Paris] Agreement because they realize their own national interest is best secured by pursuing the common good. Now we have to translate words into effective policies and actions.”

Mr Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations.

paris-agreement-signing

2) A continued effort is needed to concentrate on the individual.

As SCENARIO PhD students we were challenged to understand the process that takes place during a UNFCCC conference. To do this we interviewed many conference delegates including policymakers, research organisations, industry experts, entrepreneurs, environmental consultants and funding sources to name a few. A common theme that ran through most of our interviews is that action is needed to prioritise the individual as well as thinking in terms of national- and community-level. To ensure the successful mitigation and adaptation to climate change, strategies need to come into place that protect the rights of the individual. This poses a global challenge, stretching from protecting the livelihoods of indigenous cultures and those impacted by sea level rise on low-lying islands, to supporting workers who rely on the non-renewable energy industry. In terms of climate research we need to ensure that we make our scientific conclusions accessible on an individual-level so that our work has a greater impact.

“a key goal for us is making climate change research accessible to the user community”

Clare Kapp, WMO Press Office Communications Leader.

3) Action is needed now, however the Paris Agreement only implies action post-2020.

Throughout our attendance in plenary meetings and side events there was an emphasis that whilst the Paris Agreement is an important stepping stone to combatting climate change, action is needed before 2020 for the Paris Agreement to be reached. Currently INDCs are proposed for between 2021-2030, however for the intended global temperature targets to be achieved it was argued that action is needed now. Although, pre-2020 action raises much contention, with the most popular argument against pre-2020 action being that more time and effort is needed for negotiations to ensure that a better understanding of national efforts to climate change mitigation is determined.

“We need to take action before 2020. Working for action post-2020 is not going to be enough. We need to start acting now.”

Honduras Party Representative.

“We need more time to work on the rule book for the Paris Agreement. Discussions on this should continue.”

Switzerland Party Representative.

4) There is a difference in opinion on whether 1.5°C can be reached.

For me the most interesting question we asked conference delegates was “do you think the target of 1.5°C can be reached?” This question brought a difference of opinion including some party members arguing that the change in our non-renewable energy dependence is far too great for the target to be achieved. Meanwhile, other political representatives and NGO delegates argued that accepting the target is unachievable before even trying makes negotiations and discussions less successful. There was also anticipation for the future IPCC report titled, Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways.

“Of course we want to fight for 1.5°C, why fight for 2°C? It just makes sense to fight for 1.5°C”

Martina Duncan, Party Representative for Grenada.

COP22 has been a fantastic opportunity for PhD students in our department to interact and understand the process that takes place during a UNFCCC conference. Whilst the past couple of weeks have been dominated by the results of the US election and the associated uncertainties, there has been an increasing global recognition of climate change and that action should be taken. In the next few years the challenge to mitigate and adapt towards climate change will be an increasing priority, and let us hope that these annual UNFCCC conferences are key stepping stones for climate change action.

“This is a problem people are recognising, and that it is time to change”

Jonathan Pershing, US Climate Envoy

Thank you all those who have supported our work at COP22 this year. Thank you to the Walker Institute, NERC SCENARIO doctoral training partnership and UNFCCC for this brilliant opportunity. Thank you to all those who have supported us with publicity including NERC, Royal Meteorological Society, members of staff and PhD students at the University of Reading and Lucy Wallace who has ensured the appropriate communication of our project. Plus a huge thanks to all delegates and staff at COP22 who volunteered their time to talk to us.