Archive for the ‘ COP-15 Negotiations ’ Category

Panel Discussion on Scripps Science Presented at COP15

Click to view a panel discussion featuring presentations from Scripps researchers present at the COP15 climate summit in Copenhagen filmed at the Hub Culture Pavilion Dec. 11. The discussion features an overview of topics Scripps sought to highlight during the conference.

Heading home…

I’ll be heading home in a couple hours since that is when the science ends and the political firestorm takes off. I don’t totally regret that I’m going home for the really interesting part though since I wouldn’t be able to see it if I were here anyway.  Denmark seems to have underestimated the number of delegates that this conference would draw while overestimating the size of their facility. The Bella center, as beautiful as it is, has a capacity of 15,000. With 5,000 members of the press and an influx of many thousands of party delegates inbound in the coming days, there is very little room for the ~20,000 NGO delegates. Each delegation is being given a small handful of secondary badges that will be needed from today on. Connie Hedegaard met with all of the NGO delegates yesterday and first asked us to not let up on the pressure, and then qualified that in response to a question with the apology that it’ll be so much harder to do that once the NGO delegate allotment vanishes in response. Again, a question answered so tactfully that I forgot the main reason people are grumpy is that we’ve been put in too small of a facility.

That said, I do wish there were a way I could sit in on the 16th of December speeches. They’ll go from noon to roughly 2 a.m. on the 17th… but how awesome would it be to hear a litany of speeches on climate change from some of the most powerful and controversial people of our era.  The speaker list seems to change every day, but right now it includes Hugo Chavez, Jose Manuel Barroso, Saad Harriri, Felipe Calderon, Kevin Rudd, Wen Jiabao, Hosny Mubarak, Prince Albert II of Monaco (winner of the Roger Revelle Prize at Scripps and advocate of ocean acidification research), Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Luiz da Silva, Myung-bak Lee, Zapatero, Nicolas Sarkozy, Silvio Berlusconi, Hsien Loong Lee, and Gloria Arroyo. The number of other heads of state speaking are really too numerous to count… these are just the names that I recognize from listening to NPR too much… I’m not sure if Berlusconi is on the list still and I didn’t check yesterday.

Yesterday saw the walkout of the G77 and a bizarre hoax played on Canada.

Also I was lucky enough to be present when two people from countries that don’t officially exist had a conversation over lunch. A girl from the British Virgin Islands was talking to me, Grant, and another girl from Taiwan about how her country was in a tough spot… as part of Britain they are an “Annex 1,” or rich, country, but as a developing island region they hardly have the resources to battle sea level rise much less reduce their own emissions. The assumption under Kyoto was that Britain would help, but, if I understood correctly, her region has so far seen 20,000 pounds from the mainland on this issue.  The girl from Taiwan then pointed out that she was in the equal and opposite situation… as a developed region that was lumped officially into China under Kyoto her region had no emission reduction responsibility under Kyoto.

Ok, I’m headed home now.  Good luck Copenhagen!

–Brendan Carter, Scripps Oceanography graduate student

Week Two

Delegation seating in main plenary hall, Bella Center.

Delegation seating in main plenary hall, Bella Center.

Week two of a COP conference is when the advance teams and assistants give way to world leaders, who lock the doors behind them and work out the deals that become a protocol. So far the prospects look dim for COP15: African and island state delegations boycotted the talks yesterday, arguing that developed nations needed to commit to deeper emissions cuts than had been offered. The U.S. and China have been trading accusations since the U.S. demanded that China submit to independent verification of its emissions.

So there may be a feeling of pessimism that this conference will produce anything solid, anything that will effect positive change. I see it a different way. I see progress coming from the periphery of this conference.  My hunch is that countries will come to embrace emissions reductions and alternatives to oil as a matter of domestic policy rather than as a means of compliance with international treaties. A China, for instance, might choose to stop investing its plentiful cash in U.S. bonds but instead put it into its own infrastructure. The global downturn could provide the breather the country needs to stop building coal-fired power plants at a weekly rate and raise the profile of wind and solar in its energy portfolio.

I see hope in the kinds of things that people ask questions about here at Bella Center. I’m thinking of the Kenyan researcher interested in the links between ocean acidification as a threat to tourism as coral reefs dissolve and die, becoming uninteresting to sport divers. No need to convince him that it pays to go green.

The issues that our scientists brought to COP15 — from the need to verify emissions to make carbon markets work to the rising threat of ocean acidification— gained traction among the media and high-ranking delegates. During COP15, NOAA Adminstrator Jane Lubchenco and London’s Sunday Times used the same term — “climate change’s evil twin” — to describe ocean acidification. Fresh from his time at COP15, our Veerabhadran Ramanathan attended the annual American Geophyscial Union meeting in San Francisco. His description of his Project Surya drew a packed audience.

Today, Tuesday, most of the Scripps delegation left town. The departed were fortunate to avoid a confusing United Nations scheme to address overcrowding that will progressively scale back the numbers of NGO members allowed at Bella Center. They are doing this to deal with an apparently unforeseen onslaught of press and delegates Even holders of the prized “secondary passes” issued this past weekend had to spend hours in bitter cold in queues outside the building before being separated from those awaiting basic credentialing. That was really the only downside of the event. Terrible planning.

COP15 Tourist

COP15 Tourist

But as the science is winding down, the conference and Copenhagen itself are gearing up for a final act that will involve most of the world’s heads of state. Climate change events and demonstrations continue and the city is draped in advocacy-group slogans. One gets the impression, though, that only a portion of this activism is for the conference. Copenhagen seems like a city that lives green all the time, not just when the world is watching. The public transportation is advanced, everyone rides a bicycle (naturally the people are all the fitter for it), the country gets 21 percent of its power from wind. Somehow these people are happy even without using foreign oil. Mystifying.

The beautiful city’s remarkable commitment has made it a model during the conference. Can other cities be like this?

Of course — though I think Mexico City has its work cut out for it before it hosts the next Conference of the Parties.

Signing off from Copenhagen.

–Robert Monroe, Scripps public information officer and editor of explorations

Posturing and Small Victories

Predictably, the bulk of the conference that I have seen has been nations advocating theories and mechanisms that would either limit their own responsibility for controlling emissions (relative to everyone else’s) or make it easier for them to achieve a given amount of climate change mitigation equivalent under the law. I’m sure that there are substantive negotiations going on behind closed doors, but it seems clear that now is the time for posturing and small victories.

The US state department hosted speakers from several nations (and India made the case in the main forum discussion) that CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage: grabbing CO2 as it is being emitted and sticking it somewhere out of the atmosphere) technology should be included as a CDM (Clean Development Mechanism: a way for rich countries to cheaply invest in carbon mitigation in developing countries instead of adopting more costly measures at home). This is controversial since CCS is a collection of unproven methods for reducing long-term emissions. During Q and A for the U.S. forum a person from the crowd called the speakers out for focusing on unreliable CCS technology when they could be developing renewable energy. The speaker responded that as rich nations it is the responsibility of the U.S. and others to develop the technology and to give it to the less fortunate countries. He presented the argument so well that I almost didn’t notice that he didn’t answer why these rich nations should be given credit for reducing emissions with this method before the technology is shown to work.

China, for their part, hosted a special session where a group of their think tank representatives suggested a plan that figured out how much obligation each nation has for reducing emissions based upon the per-capita national emissions to date. I couldn’t tell from the presentation where they got their population numbers, but it was clear where this plan was headed…with their recent industrialization and tremendous modern population their emission reduction obligation would be essentially negligible relative to other large emitters’.

A central battle that has developed is over the future of Kyoto. Kyoto doesn’t contain emission obligations for the nations of the world that were developing back in 1997, so many of the developing nations, China, and India would like to see the continuation of Kyoto after the U.S. signs on. Canada and the U.S. have pointed out that the developed world now accounts for only ~35% of the total emissions, so a continuation of Kyoto is not a viable way forward. There is also a lot of talk about parallel plans. Perhaps this means extending and strengthening Kyoto while also adopting another simultaneous plan that requires emissions reductions for everyone.

I’ve read that the U.S. has explicitly ruled out signing on to a Kyoto-like deal…

The flyer on my chair is demanding “reparations for climate debt”…

And never the twain shall meet?  Hopefully this is just posturing.

–Brendan Carter, Scripps Oceanography graduate student

Ocean Acidification

Ocean Acidification is one of the three things that our delegation wanted to spread the word about at this conference. It has turned out to be a major theme among the scientists at the conference since the handful of other ocean science groups also realized that there was a need for outreach on this topic.

Ocean Acidification is also known as the “other CO2 problem.” It refers to the chemical reaction between water and carbon dioxide to form a weak acid. This is not quite the same thing as “acid rain” since that term generally refers to the creation of much stronger acids being formed in un-buffered rain water interacting with sulfur and nitrogen based compounds. The ocean is reasonably well buffered against (resistant to) changes in its pH from the addition of acids, but it is not immune to the effects.

There are layers of complexity, but the simplest picture is still fundamentally correct: more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere means more carbon dioxide in the oceans, more carbon dioxide in the oceans means more acid formation in the ocean, more acid formation means a lower ocean pH a.k.a. a more acidic ocean.

The extra CO2 that we’ve added to the atmosphere has made its way into the oceans already, and the pH has dropped by about 0.1 units already in response to our emissions. The pH scale is a little strange, so a drop of 0.1 units means that the water is actually about 30% more acidic. The ocean is slightly on the basic end of the scale on average (a bit over 8 at the surface, a bit over 7.5 at the bottom), so becoming a little more acidic isn’t going to melt the casual swimmer’s eyes or anything bizarre like that. However, as you might expect, life in the ocean has evolved to thrive in these higher pH conditions.

The main cause for concern comes from the reaction of this water-and-carbon-dioxide acid with a molecule in seawater called “carbonate” to form another common molecule in seawater called “bicarbonate.” This decreases the concentration of carbonate floating around. This is the same carbonate that could otherwise be used to form calcium carbonate, or the stuff found in chalk. Chalk and limestone are actually the calcium carbonate shells of tremendous numbers of dead microscopic plankton. Several very common varieties of modern plankton also make their shells out of calcium carbonate. When you consider that some of these plankton types are key components of the base of the food web in the ocean, the potential problem becomes apparent. Experimentation suggests that these organisms are increasingly going to make shells at a slower rate and with greater difficulty as carbonate becomes more scarce. Experiments using the carbon dioxide concentrations expected by the end of the century suggest that these shells will eventually dissolve in some surface seawater. Any ocean life that relies on a shell is also likely to have similar problems, and I understand that some oysters and clams show greatly reduced shell thicknesses already in modern conditions. Coral polyps also make their homes in calcium carbonate structures (the coral), and the reduced calcification rates are a likely additional threat to these species (along with warming induced bleaching, nutrient runoff, turbidity, dynamite fishing, and over fishing higher up in the food chain leading to over-predation…corals have it rough these days). Collectively acidification has a very real potential to rearrange the base of most ocean ecosystems. Ecosystems are known to adapt when change comes gradually but, as with global warming, this pH change is happening faster than any dramatic past ocean pH change we have record of. Naturally, past more-gradual acidification events also marked widespread mass-extinctions. It’s not definite that this will be large problem for humanity, but it is clear that it could be an enormous problem for the oceans and the ~50% of humanity that relies on the sea for its primary source of protein. We really need to take a closer look at how ocean ecosystems respond to the plight of it’s shell-formers. In the mean time, it is one heck of another big reason to stop dumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

As I alluded to in a past entry there was an interesting exchange regarding ocean acidification at an early meeting…sadly my notes are nigh-illegible so the italicized text from here on out is paraphrases of my tattered memories. First the IPCC scientists presented acidification in their briefing as something that is almost definitely going to be in the next IPCC report (AR5). Two scientists in the audience then asked whether any mention of ocean acidification has been made to the decision makers formally and, if not, why not. They responded that no, the mandate of the IPCC is to release the reports on a preset time table after the standard multi-year review process and that to go beyond that would be to overstep their bounds.

At the same Q and A the question was asked how can you claim to not be involved in advocacy and still say ‘urgent action is needed (with respect to climate change).’ Rajendra Pachauri (I think) then responded that the full sentence that the reporter was quoting was urgent action is needed if the temperature increase is to be limited to 2 degrees C and that that is one of several exact questions of science which the IPCC is charged with answering. I appreciate this guy for his ability to competently deal with attacks…this is the same guy that pointed out that the UAE scientist’s enemy’s work made it into the IPCC. My favorite bit from him came when asked if he is concerned that Saudi Arabia has been making such a big deal of the UAE leak…I would be concerned if they hadn’t! It is said that politics and oil mix well, but I’m not sure that oil and science mix so well. Yes, I’ll leave it at that.

–Brendan Carter, Scripps Oceanography graduate student

Getting the Word Out

It’s said that delegates to COP meetings come with their minds already made up, so the best we can do is raise awareness of our research topics through the media and interactions with other NGOs. It’s a good day when we can persuade journalists covering the conference to take interest in our topics as thousands of voices vie for attention. Our researchers have given interviews to outlets ranging from USA Today to Capital FM Radio in Malawi.

A chance encounter at dinner near our hotel eventually led to geochemistry Professor Ray Weiss’ live BBC Radio appearance Thursday morning. We hustled down to the BBC studio set up at the Bella Center where Ray was interviewed during the prime morning breakfast hour. He was also interviewed for the BBC World Service website.

Ray Weiss in the temporary BBC Radio studio at Bella Center

Ray Weiss in the temporary BBC Radio studio at Bella Center

Fellow Scripps researcher Veerabhadran Ramanathan, a professor of climate and atmospheric sciences, is no stranger to interviews and gave “man on the street” comments to a team from DR1, a Danish television network, from the exhibit being shared by Scripps Oceanography, POGO (the Partnership for Observation of the Global Oceans), Oceana and the Plymouth Marine Laboratory. Those comments will find their way into a documentary to be broadcast early next year.

Danish television outlet DR1 interviews Scripps researcher. V Ramanathan

Danish television outlet DR1 interviews Scripps researcher. V Ramanathan

–Robert Monroe, Scripps public information officer and editor of explorations

Connie Hedegaard

She’s the Dane who is in charge of making something happen in Copenhagen. She’s the Danish Minister for Climate and Energy, the President of COP15, and the host of this whole thing. The whole world is watching her. A quote: “If the whole world comes to Copenhagen and leaves without making the needed political agreement, then I think it’s a failure that is not just about climate. Then it’s the whole global democratic system not being able to deliver results in one of the defining challenges of our century. And that is and should not be a possibility. It’s not an option.”

This morning, I met her. I saw her in the hall, walked up to her, introduced myself, and told her that she is doing a great job. As she headed off to chair yet another stressful morning with little progress, I said, “Good luck.”

Actually, that’s not true. I did see her in the hall. I did walk past her, nearly brushing arms. I did think all of those things. But, I decided to leave her to her thoughts. She has more to worry about than meeting a grad student from California…even one with some encouraging words. She has a huge task. And with all the competing interests here, I really do want to wish her luck. I guess I missed my chance. Maybe I shouldn’t have passed up that opportunity…

–Grant Galland, Scripps graduate student

Opening Ceremonies

I missed the opening as that was my travel day, but I found an article about it with some links to a few videos. It looks like it was pretty awesome. A review of the comments on the opening movie is quite depressing and makes me wonder if we will ever get anything done. Man.

–Grant Galland, Scripps graduate student

Let the games begin!

This morning, I spent an hour watching the main negotiating body. It was fascinating. While it seemed to start out as mostly an informational session or a chance for the COP-15 President to make some announcements, it quickly turned into the start of the bricklaying that will lead to the major negotiations early next week. The announcement that several potential plans, frameworks, protocols have been submitted to the Secretariat triggered quite a response from several delegates. Tuvalu, a small island state that is one of those most threatened by climate change, spoke for five minutes in support of their submitted amendments to the Kyoto Protocol to strengthen it before its expiration in 2012 and proposed a new Copenhagen Protocol which would offer legally binding emission reductions; support of technology, science, and adaptation centers; and stable financing for developing states. Their speech was received with rousing applause and started a chain of events that was fun to watch and gave me an idea of just how difficult this is going to be. ALL of the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) lined up to support Tuvalu’s speech, plan, and general idea. Coastal African states came up next. Cape Verde was not subtle in their claims that climate change is a human rights issue and that folks will die. They went so far as to say that coastal and island people will not be the only to die, just the first. Cue second round of loud applause. Then, the other side started to line up against this plan. China, India, Venezuela, and the Middle East began giving statements to the contrary:

You are wasting our time…this is not the appropriate time to discuss this…we have a strong, existing protocol that should be implemented more fully.

No, the political will will never be higher than it is now…we must act…the time to act is now

We have a strong protocol in place now…this is not the time to try to start a new discussion…it’s the time to finish the ongoing one.

After rounds and rounds of objections, it seemed like the President almost did not know what to do. She suggested the body move on; continue giving announcements.

Tuvalu: We object.  These negotiations must be done with transparency. If all the negotiations will be behind closed doors between developed states, then we move to suspend COP-15.

A long pause…

President:  “We are moving on.”

110 heads of state will arrive next week.

–Grant Galland, Scripps graduate student

Day One

For 15,000 people jamming into a room, the first day of COP-15 was remarkably peaceful. During opening remarks, several world leaders called for negotiators to get the job done. IPCC Chairman and director general of Indian research institute TERI proclaimed that addressing climate change would scarcely stall global economic growth and would be far less expensive than inaction in the long run.

Scripps researchers took part in informal information sessions and panel discussions. After a screening of the film “A Sea Change,” which deals with the threat of ocean acidification, Scripps Oceanography Director Tony Haymet was among several researchers to field audience questions. Asked if he were optimistic about the conference’s prospects, he responded that he was. “I’m cautiously optimistic because we’re all here. More than 125 countries are at the table.”

Out in the streets, each of the central city’s stages seems to be hosting a concert stage where advocacy groups are firing up crowds. They’re half political rallies, half dance concerts. By far the largest is the Hopenhagen venue off the city town hall.

An enormous globe dominates the downtown Copenhagen skyline.

An enormous globe dominates the downtown Copenhagen skyline.

–Robert Monroe, Scripps public information officer and editor of explorations

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