The “A” in USA Does Not Stand for “Accountability”

Or Action. Or Ambition. Or Admirable. Or.. well anything positive as far as I’m concerned.

The UN Climate Talks are approaching being the longest in history as we await the re-opening of the negotiations at 11pm in Lima. The spark seems to have left and the fear of having a “deal” that doesn’t take into account the rights of people already impacted by climate change is looming over the whole conference center. Unless something drastic happens in the next 24 hours, this COP will do more than fail. It will lead to a dramatic step backwards in addressing climate change in a fair and equitable way.

The Venue after 1am is not the most pleasant place to be.

The Venue after 1am is not the most pleasant place to be.

I’m running on less than 4 hours of sleep after having stayed at the conference space until almost 4am to watch a new draft proposal of the Durban Platform on Enhanced Action (ADP) being unleashed. Yes, unleashed, not revealed or unveiled. The draft was essentially written without the consent of parties other than those in the “Umbrella group” which can lovingly be defined as the stallers of progress… or:

The Umbrella Group A loose coalition of non-EU developed countries which formed following the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol. There is no formal list, but the Group is usually made up of Australia, Canada, Iceland, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, the Russian Federation, Ukraine and the US. The Umbrella Group evolved from the JUSSCANNZ (an acronym for Japan, the USA, Switzerland, Canada, Australia, Norway and New Zealand) group, which was active during the Kyoto Protocol negotiations.

Rihanna would definitely not want to take part in any of these groups despite her affection for umbrellas.

In the past week the United States has made one thing very clear: they do not want to be held accountable for Climate Change nor do they want to contribute what they are historically obligated to.

Our lead negotiator has said “I’m not a human rights man” when asked questions about equity, “We, the US, believe that Fair and Equitable mean the same thing so we would want to use one or the other. We prefer the use of Fair” in the more recent negotiations, and quite simply that “Climate Change is not the responsibility of just one country”.

Lead Negotiator Trigg Talley speaking in the ADP.

Lead Negotiator Trigg Talley speaking in the ADP.

As I sit here in the venue on what we all hope will be the last night of the COP, I’m stuck thinking of just how much this conference is smoke and mirrors. The draft ADP text, the deal that is supposed to emerge from Paris, is being written in a non-transparent manner and all vulnerable countries are crying foul. This can’t be real. How can a country that has been priding itself on being “ambitious” be the one keeping any action from happening?

This should invoke a feeling of impending doom.

This should invoke a feeling of impending doom.

Being from the US, I wish that I could make our negotiators understand that we have a historic responsibility that extends beyond our “historic emissions”. Our historical responsibility lies in the very existence of our “democracy” and the capitalist economy that continues the world’s development in the interest of the richest 1% and proceeds to steal the land of indigenous peoples everywhere while exploiting natural resources and polluting those that remain. The US has a historical responsibility for its oppression and hegemony that has hurled the world towards a 4 degree future, well beyond the limit defined by the best science.

The United States has to recognize and act on their responsibility to the world. Perhaps cutting fossil fuel subsidies and war spending might make it easier to follow through, huh?

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Speaking Truth to Power: Gender Day

The state of gender at the Conference of Parties(COP) is largely unchanged since I have been attending for the last 3 years since COP18 in Doha, Qatar. As countries are called upon to raise ambitions regarding emissions targets, Gender Day stands as a reminder that ambition must encompass more cross-cutting issues. Gender Day emerged at COP18 in Doha, Qatar and has since become an annual event. The day is filled with gender-themed side-events and high level sessions that serve as a vehicle for advancing conversations of gender equality within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Mary Robinson addresses the room at the high-level dialogue on Gender.

Mary Robinson addresses the room at the high-level dialogue on Gender.

The day started with the dedication of a tree planted in memory of Nobel Peace Prize winner, feminist, environmentalist, and human rights advocate Wangari Maathai. Gender Day at COP20 took a different tone than those of the past two years with Mary Robinson, UN Special Envoy for Climate Change, setting the mood at the high level panel for gender. Robinson acknowledged that gender equality has come a long way since the Beijing Declaration was adopted in 1995, but that there is still a long way to go. Robinson stated, “We need to continue to strengthen women’s rights and not let them backslide.” These remarks shortly followed the SBI decision on gender which was finalized on Friday, December 5th. The text denied the use of “gender equality” and instead utilizes the less impactful term “gender balance”. This means that low ambition for equitable gender participation will remain the norm within the UNFCCC in Lima and beyond. 

In the past two years, Gender Day has served as a platform for discussing women’s vulnerability to climate change without necessarily talking about how women contribute on an international scale. Although women are on the frontline of the impacts of climate change, there are not appropriate avenues for them to share their experiences and knowledge within the UNFCCC. Because of this, the side events and panels on Gender Day tend to be one of the few venues where women’s positive contributions can be heard within the conference. We need to re-center dialogue away from women as victims of climate change, but as key change and decision-makers. 

Side Event Panel discusses the impacts of energy extraction on communities in Georgia and the Amazon.

Side Event Panel discusses the impacts of energy extraction on communities in Georgia and the Amazon.

In order for Gender Day to fulfill its intended impact, the UNFCCC must fully recognize that gender equality is a human rights issue and address the institutional barriers that block progress. Gender Day must not only be about women, but should address the needs of all genders through gender responsive texts in the negotiations.

As Wangari Maathai said, “In the course of history, there comes a time when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness,” she said, “to reach a higher moral ground. A time when we have to shed our fear and give hope to each other. That time is now.”

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.

Drought, Earthquakes, and Corporations- Oh My!

Climate Change is Strictly Business

In the wake of the 6.0 magnitude earthquake that struck California’s wine country on August 24th, 2014 (the largest since the 1989 Loma Prieta quake with a magnitude of 6.9) it’s time for this drought-ridden state to wake up.

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I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. Some of my fondest memories are of exploring the river near my house and visiting my Aunt who lives up near Lake Tahoe and playing in the refreshingly cold water. With the current drought, the rivers and lakes of my childhood are nothing more than glorified puddles. I find myself wondering how this could happen.

As climate change has pushed the golden state to the brink of a full on water crisis, private corporations operating within the state have not been subject to lessening their water consumption. Just the other day, news broke that residents in the San Joaquin Valley have no tap water running from their faucets due to their wells coming up dry.

According to local news, “The situation has become so dire that the Tulare County Office of Emergency Services had 12-gallon-per person rations of bottled water delivered on Friday in the community of East Porterville, where at least 182 of the 1,400 households reported having no or not enough water… the supplies cost the county $30,000 and were designed to last about three weeks, but are only a temporary fix.” So- let me get this straight. Bottled water companies in California are aiding in emptying the aquifers at an undisclosed rate, contributing to the drought, AND making a profit off of it?

CA drought worsening from 2010 to 2014; over 80% of the state is now in “Exceptional Drought” http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/MapsAndData/WeeklyComparison.aspx

CA drought worsening from 2010 to 2014; over 80% of the state is now in “Exceptional Drought”

What could be worse than that?

Unfortunately, I have an answer to that rhetorical question: the drought is is putting pressure on our already active fault lines. According to the US Geological Survey (USGS) and recent research published in the journal Nature, the aquifers have become so empty that the surface has begun to cave in. As a result, the subsidence problem of buckling land is putting pressure on our fault lines which could result in some stronger quakes in our future.

If this wasn’t enough, the state is using what little water is leftover from daily use by California residents and sold for profit by corporations such as Nestle for a rapidly expanding natural gas industry. As such, the risks of more earthquakes and furthering the drought in California have entered a positive feedback loop. The more companies use the process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the less water there is. It requires over 4.4 million gallons of water to frack a drilling pad.

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Not only does fracking take more than its fair share of water, but the process contaminates the groundwater adjacent to the pads and the water sent down in the process becomes non-reusable. In a state where there isn’t even enough water for thirsty people, we should be seeking alternatives to water-intensive extraction projects. And let’s not forget about the positive feedback loop going on here. Hydraulic fracturing has been found to be possibly more detrimental to climate health than coal! And let’s not forget that fracking has also been found to cause earthquakes even in places that historically don’t feel them.

“All active fracking pads in the state”

All active fracking pads in the state

 

I don’t know about you, but I think it’s time that companies are held as accountable as private citizens. If corporations are people, shouldn’t they be fined for violating drought restrictions like everyone else?

  

What You Can Do:

  1. Get informed
  2. Actively conserve water
  3. Join the fight!

For more information about removing bottled water from your campus, you can read more here

To learn more about the drought and its impact on California you can read more here. 

Think I forgot about California’s Agribusinesses role in all of this? I didn’t! Read more here.

Still don’t think the drought is an issue? Check out these bad boys.

A Crash Course in Climate Change

New blog up by myself and fellow delegates. I’ll be sharing these here as they come up.

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Climate Change – it’s all the buzz these days. The phrase is filling up the airways, and with all the heated discussions, impassioned speeches, and downright arguments – it’s easy to lose track of what’s actually happening to our planet.

So let’s start with some facts:

  1.      Climate is not the same as weather. The eastern US may have gotten absurdly cold in 2014, but Alaska and Australia were having record heat waves. Climate is the long-term trend of weather patterns in an area, so a few hot or cold days does not indicate a change. Rather, more extreme weather events and a shift in average temperatures, rainfall, etc. are much stronger indicators of a shift in climate. For a great illustration of the difference, watch the brilliant Neil deGrasse Tyson explain it on his show Cosmos.

  2.      There is an immense scientific consensus (~97%) that climate change is occurring…

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State of the (Climate) Union

By 2015, the world must commit to new, stronger stances regarding action against climate change. The current platform for achieving this change is through the United Nations platform, called the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). In light of the recent carbon proposal from the White House, there is much that the environmental and larger American public can be excited about: an administration where mentioning climate change is no longer taboo. There is, however, a long way to go. The Green Climate Fund (GCF) that countries have committed to raising $100 billion per year leading up to 2020 remains empty. The U.S. is being one of the first and loudest countries at COP19 to justify why they stalled, trying to push blame elsewhere and divert attention from their inaction, and all the while the majority of the American public is oblivious of the work being done. 

So here’s my Climate Change “State of the Union”: 

  • Research has recently shown that in the U.S. people respond better to media discussing “Global Warming” over “Climate Change”
  • Less than half of U.S. citizens feels that climate change is an important national issue.
  • The government signed climate denial into action when the Department of Defense tried to allocate Pentagon money for adaptation for vulnerable military bases, and changing responses to resource conflicts and climate change altered disaster response.

In light of all of this denial, there is much work ahead of activists and policy makers alike in the United States. A new report highlights that the U.S. has already faced national climate change.

 

And for those of you who don’t know, most of what you heard through various media outlets about the current state of the climate from the newly released Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report was water down “half truth”. Much of the content of the full report was not included in the summary circulated a week prior to its release for general digestion. So, bad news. What you read in the past few months may not have told you the whole scoop

It’s pretty obvious to me that we have a long way to go, but with so little time. Perhaps if we had media that accurately and accessibly spoke about climate issue then we may see some progress- just a thought.

Until then… I’ll keep writing.