COP21 Green-washed Logo is a Tonne of Hot Air

Literally. Does this logo just released by the UNFCCC remind you of anything? Something that is touted as green but in reality is leading to Tonnes of methane emissions and ruining air, water, and human health around the world? 

“Natural” Gas company and project logos, perhaps? You know- that ones that make this dangerous and dirty form of energy look like it’s a clean energy source? That’s what I thought, too.

 

And of course the color scheme looks like a more infamously green-washed icon: 

 

I personally prefer more honest logos… like this one:

More on Green-washing in a bit. Just let these images sink in for a bit.

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We Said We’d Be Back #volveremos

But are we really? We have been so limited that I wonder if we really are here. The first three days of the conference can be described in a few words:

Inaction, Redundancy, and Frustration.

And yet…

Here we are. Civil Society, the people supposed to be represented by our negotiators, fighting to be heard. While the opening sessions of the conference have been extremely lackluster, we know that there is much to be explored behind closed doors. This is my third United Nations Climate Change Negotiations, also called the Conference of Parties (COP) and this is the first time that I have been denied access to smaller text negotiations out right the first week of the conference. The norm, though not much better, is that since the close-editing of text is done in smaller rooms is that members of negotiating parties are allowed to go into the rooms first and then civil society is allowed to filter in as space is available. In the past two years, this has led to many hours of sitting on the floor outside of meetings rooms with other members of civil society talking, scheming, dreaming of just being on the other side of the walls we’re leaning on and taking the mic to tell the room what they need to do. This year- we are downright turned away and sometimes even told to leave rooms that we are waiting in.

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All of the action happens in B,C,D,E… and civil society is over in G.. by the exit…

To my understanding, constituencies have been radically restructured by the Secretariat (the governing body of the UNFCCC) over the past few years. This change is to the point where unless you have a good relationship with them or you don’t ruffle their feathers, you will not be granted the privilege to have your assigned 2 minutes to speak in negotiations (called interventions) or to do an action (which must be sanctioned and all messages on banners and signs approved or you will be ejected from the conference).

This is a space where our voices, as the constituents of our representatives, are supposed to be heard. Instead, we are put into boxes (our meeting spaces) that are out of the way (near the exit, I might add). There needs to be a way to change how we operate in the space.

So- if nothing is happening then why are we here? Well, we have to be is the simple answer. If we do not go the conference then we will not know what is actually happening. We all know how the media slants what is happening in the world and by having civil society on the ground then we are able to counter those narratives. The main reason, in my opinion, that I keep coming back is that this is the only place we currently have to talk about global agreements to address climate change.   

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But, just because it is the only space we haven’t doesn’t mean that it’s functional (which has been made very apparent the lack of progress since 1992). We are increasingly focusing our time on how we need to change the way we work within the conference space instead of how to make change in the world. The way things work in this space it is essentially the same thing, though. If we don’t iron out how to get things done in the COP, then we cannot bring our voices to the international level.

We, as civil society, need to stop being formed into mini-negotiators who are so worried about pleasing the secretariat. We need to unite and do more like the civil society walk out in Warsaw. Nothing has gotten better since then and yet we’re still sitting here watching the negotiations unfold without our consent.

We need to follow through with #volveremos.  #estamosaqui needs to resound through all of the meeting rooms. 

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Why I’m Not Convinced by U.S. & China Climate Announcements

Is approaching the news that the U.S. and China have both come to an agreement to reduce carbon emissions with fierce skepticism an indicator that neither of these countries have proven to be trustworthy? Yes. Just because neither of these countries have shown ambition or commitment in the past does not mean that the minimal targets that have been established should be celebrated as “ambitious” or even acceptable.

I fear that this is a distraction from moving our work further. Sure,  two of the world’s largest emitters finally had a heart to heart that seemed to produce something more positive is a good start, but what is the hidden cost? Just because they have agreed to set some reduction targets (which, by the way, should not be confused with “ambition” given that they are anything but that) does not mean that this is enough to get these two countries off the hook for their contributions to climate change.

My informed guess is that they are fronting this notion of lower-emissions without factoring in the damages caused by extraction meaning that (you-know-where-I’m-going-with-this) hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, is likely to take the lead in energy development in both countries.

It’s no secret that both countries are already exploring the options of becoming more reliant on natural gas as a new “clean” alternative to oil and coal. In the past few years we’ve heard Obama touting gas as a way to lead into a cleaner energy future while admonishing our attachment to fossil fuels. Methinks our president is a tad confused (you’re right, that’s giving him too much leeway).

To top it off, China has been signing deals with other countries to supply the country with exports. So far they have signed a $20billion deal with British Petroleum (BP) and a $400 billion deal with Russia. So far this has prompted analysts to say that Canada, Australia, and the United States need to step up their gas export game.

All this is to say that Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) is becoming the new paradigm in global energy demand. This is the opposite of progress. This is alarming, to say the least. Following the most expensive mid-term elections of all time in the United States where industry poured over $6 billion dollars in to one California county alone to stop a fracking ban and Texas’ government overturning a democratically voted fracking moratorium, natural gas is showing that it is becoming the new big oil.

Why am I concerned about LNG? First off, natural gas may technically “burn cleaner” than coal, but that does not mean that the overall emission are less. Second, the process of exporting LNG is dangerous. Third, Fracking as a practice is ruining our lands and public health through contamination of air and water with over 600 types of carcinogenic chemicals. Fourth, the American public is being lied to by our “leaders.” They commonly speak of how natural gas production will make the U.S. more energy independent and create make energy more affordable and yet here they are wanting to export this resource and prices of gas are projected to increase dramatically(see graphic below).

 

 

P.S. Anyone heard of a little thing called the Trans-Pacific Partnership(TPP)?

TL;DR: In sum this new emission agreement is a guide for a full-on international gas (LNG)  production arms race and we need to be cautious about letting the excitement about something being called “ambitious” get in the way of our critical thinking.

I’ll close with the last sentence of the widely circulated article from the New York Times: “The announcement on Wednesday did not have the details of the projected makeup of renewable energy sources by 2030.”

Want to read more? Check out this resource.