Friday, December 28, 2012

SES and ASD at COP 18

As a fitting postscript to our experiences at COP 18, Jenica, an ASD COP 18 delegate, has put together  this video of our time at the conference during Week One.  It provides an excellent window into the daily activities at the conference and documents the work and involvement of the SESEF delegates.  Thanks Jenica!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Final Reflection

After our two weeks in Qatar we've taken some time to reflect upon on our experiences. At the conference each of us attended different side events, focused on different organizations, and had conversations with individuals from around the world. It's difficult to synthesize each of our individual experiences but we feel like we have gained some common insight at COP18.  First, we've learned that climate change is more than just political issue--it affects every aspect of people's lives. Second, observing the international decision-making process has reinforced our idea of transparency, political unwillingness to compromise, and the value of public opinion. Third, we've realized that climate change requires immediate action, because it's impacts are being felt at this moment. And fourth, we've learned that despite being a serious problem facing the entire world, there is hope that we can steer earth from its projected path of warming.

Climate change is more than just a change in the weather and temperature patterns on the planet. In fact, it's starting to be referred to by some as "global change", because the implications of a changing climate will alter the status quo of politics, social structures, and the economy. In our lives we tend to search for a fast fix. We are used to a straightforward, simple solution that requires little sacrifice. What is interesting about climate change is that there is no simple solution. If we are going to combat this crisis effectively we will need political compromise, financial aid from both public and private sectors, individual sacrifice, and unprecedented levels of cooperation-- from both individuals and governments. The reason solutions to climate change are this complex and difficult is because it affects all aspects of peoples lives.

Besides the content of the side events and plenary discussions themselves, we also occupied ourselves by keeping up with the international decision-making and developing an understanding of the process. As non-governmental observers, we have understood the importance of transparency in decision-making from the beginning. However, this understanding was furthered when we noticed discussions, meetings, and consultations becoming more private and open only to party members as negotiations drew on. We experienced and participated in many actions by youth at the conference, demonstrating to negotiators the issues that are important to civil society. We learned so much about the power of people determined to have their voices heard.

During our time at the conference it became apparent that the only option for our planet is to take action now. Right now there is flooding in Bangledesh, drought in Africa and the American West, record strength typhoons in the Philippines and record strength hurricanes in the US, all a result of a changing climate. In the past we have set goals to curb our GHG emissions and have all but failed to reach these goals. Not too long ago a decision was made to limit global temperature rise to 2 degrees centigrade. If we continue business as usual we are on track for a 4-6 degree rise. This would be a disaster for ecosystems and societies all over the globe.  These predictions are quite bleak and pessimistic. However science does provide an optimistic outlook for the future, it just requires immediate action. With current technology it is possible to become carbon neutral, the problem is that it will require sacrifice and substantial change. In order to ensure a future for our children and grandchildren we must begin to mitigate climate change now and assist the billions of our friends who are already in distress.

There is an overwhelming amount of concern for the future of the world. Often times, talk of the possibility of our “impending doom” is discouraging, but at the Conference we learned that there is always room for hope. It is often thought that in places such as Bangladesh, where the flooding of more than half of their country by 2050 is almost certain, there would be little hope or options other than complete evacuation. After attending COP18, we realized that this was not true at all. Evacuation  is  actually a last resort option for them. Bangladesh has come up with a variety of mechanisms which would allow them to continue on with their everyday lives even if a large portion of their country is flooded. For example, much of their country depends on farming for survival, so hearing that they had plans to create floating gardens so that they could continue growing crops was very hopeful. This is just one of the many examples of hope for the future that emerged at the Conference. Overall, it seems as though humanity will do whatever it takes to adapt to a changing climate.

I was able to see so many inspiring things during the two weeks I spent at the conference. One that particularly stuck out for me was the desire that adults had to hear the opinions of youth. I have never been involved in a situation that gave youth such a strong say in the issues that they wanted to be addressed. In one meeting with YOUNGO, the current head of the future Green Climate Fund held a reverse interview. Instead of having YOUNGO ask him questions, he asked us questions and took notes on what we had to say. This was very empowering because it showed that adults take an interest and care about the concerns of youth. At one point in his reverse interview, he said, “You will be the ones inheriting this world from us, so why shouldn’t you have a say in what we decide?” It was very validating to hear someone say this because those who will be dealing with the effects of climate change the most ultimately should have a say in the issues that are being decided upon. I was very pleased with how well all of the different organizations worked together throughout the COP in a way which gave everyone the opportunity to speak and have their voices heard.

I talked to many people at the conference and what I noticed is that climate change affects everyone differently, but everyone nonetheless. Developed countries and their citizens are so privileged and have freedom to do what they want. This isn't fair for poor developing countries because they are the ones that are impacted the most by climate change. We basically have the mind set that we can do whatever we want regardless of the consequences.

What I took away from the conference was that climate change affects everyone, especially those in less developed areas. I have used this quote before but it sums up how serious and immediate this issue is.: 

"A two degree temperature rise everywhere else would mean a four-six degree temperature rise here in South Africa. At those temperatures our crops cannot grow, our cattle will die and we will be forced to move. What we have held through genocide, apartheid, and colonization we will lose through climate change" 

- Yvette Abrahams

During Gender Day, I went to a panel discussion of UNFCCC women leaders, one of which was Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres. When asked why she is dedicated to climate and gender issues, she responded that she constantly thinks of the futures of her daughters and granddaughters, and that our actions today will affect women at least seven generations in the future. Then she began to cry, saying that she wants us to do everything we can to ensure a happy and healthy future for future generations. This stood out to me, because it exemplified the idea that climate change issues are deeply tied to our emotions and social issues in addition to science. Even someone as powerful and intelligent as Christiana has emotional investment in these issues. I think this is why her work and behavior are especially meaningful, and it also shows the importance of the social aspect of climate change.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

A Pictorial History of Week Two

 As our time in Doha comes to an end we decided to take a look at our pictures from the last week. Here are some of the highlights of week two!

The Pearl

The delegation on a day trip out to an island in the Doha harbor.

A view of the skyline from the island. The boat we took is in the foreground.

A youth action at the QNCC--Georgia and Siiri on the left! Making the point we are not happy with our delegates.

The Emir arrives and shakes hands with Christiana Figueres.

Our last dinner together at The Italian Job.

The full Week 2 delegation at QNCC

Saying "farewell" to our friend and mentor Siiri as she headed home after the first week.

Cale and Michael in front of downtown Doha, waiting for a bus to the Convention Centre.

A view some dhows from the Islamic Museum of Art in Doha.
Some of the modern architecture in Doha.

We met up with Ahmed, our friend from Soudan at the souq on our last night.  

Happy Holidays from the sand dunes!

Hope you enjoyed the photos from week two. Stay tuned for our final thoughts and reflections from our time in Doha and our experiences at the conference!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Climate Change Justice Movement

On Friday we had a group interview with a sociology professor from the University of California-Santa Barbara. It was a lot of fun - we would be asked a question and then each member of our group answered it. It was really cool to hear what everyone's thoughts were on the last day of the Conference and what we had all gathered and had to say about the previous two weeks. One of these questions that really made me think was what we thought about the justice aspect of climate change. 

When I hear climate change my first thought is the environment, not necessarily humanity, but unfortunately the environment isn't the only thing in danger. We need to realize the harm that climate change causes humans and find a just solution. Climate change affects everyone in the world but to different degrees and in different ways. For example in the US, an increase in global temperatures could lead to more extreme weather events like hurricanes and tornadoes, which means we would potentially have more casualties and have to spend money to repair and rebuild. However in a place like Bangladesh, a 2 degree Celsius atmospheric temperature rise could result in a 3 foot sea level rise which would overtake up to 50% of their land. Not only would they lose a lot of land but there would likely be an increase in already frequent typhoons. This is a serious problem for any country but especially for Bangladesh and smaller, less developed countries because they lack the financing and resources to combat the issue. This isn’t the only case where a slight change could result in tragedy. Similar outcomes are likely all over the world, especially in less developed countries. Unless the developed countries make an effort to do something about it, these countries have no choice but to sit and watch as their land, homes, and countries are dramatically impacted by climate change. 

The worst part is that their contribution to climate change, their carbon footprint, is minimal compared to developed countries. When one looks at the US, with such a good justice system, it is hard to understand how millions of people can just overlook the injustice behind what we are doing. Climate change is truly a matter of justice and we have the opportunity and the ability to provide justice worldwide. It’s just a matter of whether or not we take action.

Friday, December 7, 2012


Over the past two weeks, we have been attending informative events on many different facets of climate change. Thursday, I attended a session that was like no other. The event was a press conference with Lord Christopher Monckton of Brenchley. Lord Monckton is one of the world's most well known skeptics of climate change - specifically doubting the correlation between CO2 emissions and temperature change. Monckton sees climate change as something that would only need to be dealt with if something significant happened in the future, but he thinks that nothing needs to be done now to prevent disasters from happening. At the press conference, Monckton expressed his belief that the scientific statistics presented by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) were completely false. He pointed out "false" predictions on temperature increase in the world in an attempt to support his claims. One memorable moment from the press conference was when Monckton described how bad wind turbines are for the environment. He said that for the energy wind turbines are saving, they are actually destroying more valuable things. He said that wind turbines were killing birds left and right and would eventually wipe out great majorities of them. He described this as a "true environmental catastrophe".

Later on Thursday, we found out that Monckton had been removed from COP18. The UNFCCC said, "Lord Monckton has been debadged and escorted out of the COP18 venue for impersonating a Party Member and violating the UNFCCC code of conduct".

I, for one, was pleased that I was able to see someone that possessed such a high degree of skepticism. Our delegation as a whole did not believe what Monckton said but, nonetheless, he gave us an experience at COP18 that reminds us of the diverse range of opinions that exist regarding climate change.
Monckton at the press conference.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

High Level Side Event: Food Security in Dry Areas

The room in which the high level side event, “Sustainable Solutions for Climate Action: Food Security in Dry Lands under a Changing Climate,” took place was packed with about two hundred people and photographers. The high interest was not a surprise—the presentation was cohosted by the State of Qatar and the UN Secretary-General, meaning that COP18/CMP8 President Abdullah bin Hamad Al-Attiyah, Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, and a handful of other prominent figures spoke during the session.

Due to his busy schedule, Ban Ki-Moon came in several minutes after the side event began. He entered with a swarm of body guards and photographers, and not until well into his speech did the media dissipate. Rather than address specific mechanics of the negotiations he hoped to see during the week, Ki-Moon took a philosophical approach in his speech. He emphasized the importance of optimism, and urged member parties to set aside politics to come to agreement. He pointed out that combating climate change is the global and political responsibility we have towards the next generation. By avoiding skepticism and proving “doubters wrong,” he said that we could leave Doha with “a clear message: a sense of hope that this can be done.”

The Secretary-General was forced to leave the side event early for another appointment, and the mediator handed the floor over to Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of UNFCCC. Figueres addressed the issues of security in dry areas, saying that the need to provide food and water in the Gulf is "acute" but not unique to the region. She expressed her gratitude towards Qatar for spearheading food security programs in dry areas.

Fahad bin Mohammad Al-Attiya, the Chairman of the Qatar National Food Security Program, spoke next. He outlined Qatar’s challenges as a desert country, explaining that Qatar relied heavily on imported goods. He discussed the domestic and international programs that his country has launched to address the food security issues facing both Qatar and the other 60 dry land nations. Qatar has established the Qatar National Food Security Program, and is scheduled to launch an international program in several months.

Izabella Teixeira, the Brazilian Environment Minister, gave a fiery speech addressing the feasibility of improving populations’ standard of living while preserving the environment. She explained how her government has increased food production and pulled 40 million people out of poverty, all while working to protect the environment and restore Brazil’s forests. She emphasized “green growth,” and pointed out the importance of education in climate change mitigation.

The session then switched focus to dry areas in developing countries when Edna Molewa, the South African Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, presented a speech. She discussed the unique needs of Africa in which many countries have water but do not have food, the need for technological innovation, and at the same time predicted setbacks from disaster or upheaval in vulnerable countries. She ended on a heartfelt note, saying that we cannot live in a world where some countries excel while vulnerable countries are left to suffer.
Rachel Kyte, Vice President of Sustainable Development at the World Bank, then discussed the economics of green development in vulnerable countries. She stated that the key to this progress is establishing “a reliable financial safety net” for every country while “aggressively” tackling climate change. She emphasized the need to research and develop understanding about agricultural risk. She commended the current development of hardier genetically modified seeds.
Benedito Braga, President of the World Water Council, then addressed water availability issues. He believed that impacts of climate change manifest in water availability, and African countries are already experiencing the impacts of climate change. He suggested that countries must focus on efficient water processing and “more resilient hydrologic infrastructure”. He also noted that more water conservation measures must be put into place, and hydropower should be implemented more. He asked that negotiators focus on water issues during the conference.
Then next speaker also addressed water issues. Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Association, discussed how water stress will increase with climate change, and regions will receive too much or too little water. He stated that climate change increases volatility and vulnerability in countries. He suggested that our scientific understanding of climate change has improved, but this newfound knowledge has not translated into improved negotiations. He emphasized the importance of adaptation and mitigation.
Kieren Keke, Nauru’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, spoke on behalf of small island states. As an island state, Nauru is particularly vulnerable to climate change. Keke explained that his country no longer has predictable wet and dry seasons, and the island now endures long seasons of either too little or too much rain. With coral bleaching and tuna migration, many fish populations no longer exist as a reliable resource for the people. Nauru must work within its range of influence—no matter how small that may be—to combat environmental issues. He suggested that other countries must do the same. Larger issues that lie outside of individual countries' ranges of influence then require collaborative efforts between governments and organizations.
Several other speakers followed, as prominent leaders continued to address the issue of food security through a wide range of lenses.

The side event on food security exemplified of the kind of governmental collaboration that marks the high level segment of COP18. The secretary-generals, ministers, and organization presidents that spoke on Tuesday clearly expressed their approach to tackling climate change. Hopefully we will soon hear of ambitious pledges that bring us closer to climate change mitigation.

Wednesday's negotiations

With only two days left of the scheduled meetings, there is still a lot on the table up for negotiation. Although the negotiations have been proceeding slowly and all negotiating tracks are behind schedule, there has definitely been some notable progress which is necessary to work our way towards an international agreement. Yesterday, many of the discussions that took place dealt with tougher political issues, which meant that many meetings took place behind closed doors, so observer organizations like us weren’t allowed to observe. This caused a spike in observer organization actions in the hallways to get the attention of the negotiators and clarify their demands. Various actions in the hallways of the convention center showed negotiators that civil society:

-supports science and wants it to be further considered in terms of parties’ ambitions to contribute (if scientific advise is a reduction of emissions by 17%, by 2020, parties’ policies should reflect that)

-wants more demonstrated ambition (and pledges) by individual parties

-seeks solutions that match realities like gender imbalance and climate change health effects

-seek solutions that match the pace of climate change – The Philippines typhoon aftermath is devastating

-supports youth from the Arab World (Arab Youth Climate Movement) who are calling on their leaders to prepare for change and take the lead

-supports youth from the US who are pushing the Obama to consider his “#climatelegacy” – they are telling Obama that his legacy is shaped by his responses to climate change

As far as the actual negotiations, there is some positive news. Equity between parties in international policies was expected to be a highly contentious topic, and an especially sticky point for the US. However, yesterday the US publicly shifted its stance, which will now provide an opening for developing countries to encourage the idea that every country has “common but differentiated responsibility” depending on their circumstances. Also, three countries came forward with significant climate finance commitments (unconfirmed): Germany, France, and Sweden. They all have ambitious plans for providing financial support for climate change issues. Given the giant financial losses in recent events like Hurricane Sandy and the storms in the Philippines, the money from these commitments will not be enough, but it is absolutely crucial . The women’s SBI Item 21 (revised at the session I attended!) is still on the table, and the powerful women of the UNFCCC and countries around the world are really pushing it. Christiana Figueres referred to it as the “Doha miracle”, because it’s the first Item addressing gender issues in the history of the Convention. I’m looking forward to seeing the outcome of the discussion of this Item.
An update from today already: The US has been requested to describe in detail how its pledge to reduce emissions by 17% will be executed, but the US delegation has refused to do so...