Copenhagen Blog

Tribute to a “Climate Warrior” – Stephen Schneider dies at 65

July 20th, 2010

Stephen Schneider,  a leading climate expert from Stanford University, is dead at 65.

by Erin Loury, Science Communication Intern

The world of climate change science mourns the loss of a great spokesman. Stephen Schneider, a leading climatologist, died July 19th at the age of 65.

Schneider, a professor at Stanford University, served on the international research panel on global warming that received the 2007 Nobel Prize along with former Vice President Al Gore.  He also worked closely with Center for Ocean Solutions staff during the 2009 climate negotiations in Copenhagen.  According to his wife, Stanford professor Terry Root, Schneider suffered a heart attack while onboard a plane as it landed in London.

Dubbed a “climate warrior” on the New York Times Dot Eath blog, Schneider spent his active career shining the spotlight on the causes and consequences of climate change.  He was the founder and editor of the journal Climatic Change, and authored or co-authored over 450 scientific papers and other publications.  In recent years, he battled with mantle cell lymphoma, a rare form of cancer, and in 2005 published a book on his ordeal called The Patient from Hell.

During his decades-long career to advance climate science, Schneider wrote a number of books charting the effects of climate change on wildlife and ecosystems in the United States, and later chronicled its effect on the nation’s politics and policy. He advised every presidential administration from Nixon to Obama.  In 1992, he received a “genius grant” from the MacArthur Foundation for his research.

During his lifetime, Schneider made great strides in communicating directly with the public, such as his recent book Science as a Contact Sport: Inside the Battle to Save Earth’s Climate. He appeared on news and science television programs, wrote books and articles, blogged, and maintained a website called Mediarology to give scientists advice for engaging with the public.  His strong voice and scientific
conviction in the climate change discussion will be sorely missed.

Stephen Schneider speaks at America's Climate Choices Summit in March 2009 (photo: Patricia Pooladi, National Academy of Sciences)

Wall Street Journal – Editorial Nonsense?

December 19th, 2009

My emotions and response to this COP will follow in another post, but for now I just want to respond to some of the drivel that’s coming out in the media. This morning, The Wall Street Journal printed an editorial called “Copenhagen’s Lesson in Limits“. If you read this piece, it is misleading, utterly inaccurate and devoid of meaning. It’s just a political potshot that has no basis for its claims. There are major problems with this editorial. For example:

“We can’t wait to hear Mr. Obama tell Americans that he wants them to pay higher taxes so the U.S. can pay China to become more energy efficient and thus more economically competitive.”

What is the WSJ talking about? This is just ludicrous!

1) Pricing carbon is a way for AMERICA to get more energy efficient and competitive. Our industries are inefficient, sluggish and polluting (though carbon intensity is trending downward). Instead of continuing to subsidize dirty, inefficient production (by feeding them cheap coal), putting a price on carbon is a way to encourage our industry to get leaner and more fuel efficient/energy efficient. Let’s accelerate the transformation. We can develop cleaner, greener jobs! Furthermore, in addition to ramping up efficiency of our manufacturing, the US should be getting into a leadership position on clean technology developing innovative new industries.

2) China is most likely not even going to get funding from the United States; the primary recipients of assistance are the LDCs. The American delegation was pretty clear on this throughout the COP15 negotiations. (Even though China was not very happy about it — they called the US lead negotiator some names. However, they eventually admitted this would probably be true and agreed that funds should be focused on the most needy.)

3) A carbon market is where China is more likely to participate and receive international funds. I thought the Wall Street Journal loved markets!

4) Some funding will be used for mitigation activities, but a lot more will be used for adaptation and forest management. See Clinton’s speech at COP15 on Thursday.

5) China already stated its intention to go ahead unilaterally with its carbon intensity target regardless of the outcome at Copenhagen. It doesn’t need U.S. aid to retool its industries and get even more competitive. It doesn’t even particularly want U.S. aid, because that would come with MRV stipulations. China’s not counting on American funds, since it knows it’s not the likely recipient, and because increasing efficiency is a smart move for their own industry, so they’re willing to go for it on their own.

6) As Thomas Friedman said on the CNN+YouTube debate on Wednesday, “WE’RE ALREADY PAYING A TAX!”

Watch the clip here (start at: 6:00):

We are funneling money to the Saudis and Russians and all manner of authoritarian regimes overseas that don’t like us very much, because of our addiction to fossil fuels. So in terms of taxes — we’re already paying one, and it’s just a matter of which treasury it goes to. Friedman says he’d prefer paying it to our own American treasury, to fund U.S. schools, hospitals, roads and research, as opposed to unfriendly governments.

Another paragraph that is extremely problematic:

“No doubt under the agreement China will continue to get a free climate pass despite its role as the world’s No. 1 emitter. At Copenhagen the emerging economies nonetheless proved skilled at exploiting the West’s carbon guilt, and in exchange for the nonconcession of continuing to negotiate next year, or the year after that, they’ll receive up to $100 billion in foreign aid by 2020, with the U.S. contributing the lion’s share.”

1) The United States ALWAYS got a free climate pass “despite its role as the world’s No. 1 emitter.” We aren’t even covered in the Kyoto Protocol! We have no commitments under Kyoto, which is why there was a scramble in the COP process to find a way for the US to also make commitments to reduce emissions outside the KP track, while the rest of the Annex I countries made commitments in an extension of Kyoto.

2) “Carbon guilt”?
Uh … if you were even paying attention to the negotiations, the US delegation repeatedly insisted that the funding was NOT for reparations, but for assistance. The US categorically REJECTED the notion of carbon guilt. (This position was a source of tension and made many other delegations angry, since people thought the West should take on more historical responsibility and pay for it.)

U.S. sees robust climate talks, no “reparations”

3) Aid of $100 billion through 2020.

Er… what’s wrong with that? The low-lying coastal countries, small-island states, and LDCs are the most vulnerable to the damages caused by climate change. We are essentially screwing them over. This money is for help with adaptation, as well as mitigation and forest management. So yes, they SHOULD be getting this money, because we are going to continue to pollute and emit and not change our ways. Nature will not be so kind while we dither. Oh, and is the US *really* going to take up the lion’s share? We’ve been extremely stingy so far. The EU has been ponying up a lot more cash. Anyway, rest easy, Wall Street Journal, it will be from public and private sources of finance, so you’ll get your cow to milk.

The WSJ needs to get out of the way, and let American industry rise up to meet the challenge of becoming more efficient; cut its emissions and resource usage; and pursue opportunities in new industries. The SAME OLD WAY is unsustainable and headed for failure. Why do we want to preside over the old economy of the 20th century when we could be leading the new economy of the 21st? Take it from someone who lives in Silicon Valley; being on the cutting edge and innovating is actually a good thing.

– Posted by Kevin Hsu, Atmosphere/Energy Program, Stanford University

Eli from Copenhagen

December 19th, 2009

Let’s start with the gut feeling. To be honest its a little hard to write an update when you feel like nothing productive has happened over the last two weeks. Watching the plenary / negotiation sessions for the last three days has amounted to watching countries’ repeat their positions (and the intractable differences between them) on repeat. Sort of like that bad dream that you keep having over and over. You just want to scream “I get it – you all disagree. Now pull yourselves together and protect the future.” It’s a perfect example of a time when the politics of the possible fail worse than miserably to do what is necessary.

(Photo: Scanpix/AFP via UNFCCC)

(Photo: Scanpix/AFP via UNFCCC)

I’m not exactly sure what I was hoping for coming into the conference. As a “dedicated realist” I had given up hope of a real deal months ago yet somehow somewhere in my heart I thought that maybe the grown-ups had something up their collective sleeves to protect our future. Seems like they didn’t. The mood during Obama’s long-awaited speech summed it up. Obama came on, said more or less exactly what he has been saying for months, and then left. I can’t tell you what I wish he had said but I can tell you I wish it had been something different. I love and trust the guy but but I couldn’t help but feel let down.

The hope all along for me has been that despite the mindless bullshit in the public negotiations, negotiators might be paving a real way forward in private. That the US and China might announce a new agreement today (Friday). That countries might announce a breakthrough on MRV. That some country somewhere might step up to the plate. So far … just silence. Maybe I’ll wake up tomorrow to news that makes this post seem silly. Hope so.

This week has been sort of a crisis of ideals for me. On one hand I always do my best to be reasonable – I’m the guy in touch with the politics who firmly understands why Obama’s hands are tied by the Senate. The guy who appreciates that he is trying but understands why he can’t offer anything remotely in line with the international community (let alone the science). On the other hand I can’t help but wonder why the science doesn’t even seem to matter. Why the fact that our failure to act is (literally) going to destroy entire countries (see AOSIS) doesn’t even seem to matter. Why the fact that Yemen’s best option may simply be to relocate its entire capitol due to lack of water doesn’t even seem to matter. I can’t help but feel sick to my stomach in spite of the fact that I “understand the political realities.”

I’ll put something more coherent together once I have some time to think, but for now I can’t help but just feel cold, tired, and demoralized.

One thought on the bright side: A huge shout out to Rep. Jay Inslee, Rep. Tim Ryan, and Rep. Steny Hoyer for being true champions. They took time away from the Bella Center to have dinner with a group of US youth, and I have to admit that I left feeling much better. Not only did they take the time to talk to us – Inslee actually reached out to invite us to meet and talk strategy. A Congressman inviting a group of youth to dinner? And they say we can’t change the world. Inslee is the kind of guy who makes me feel okay about our Congress. To quote my friend Ben, “The real question for our organizing in 2010 is how we make 100 more Jay Inslees.”

- reposted from Students for a Sustainable Stanford
by Eli Pollack, student
Stanford University

Divided (and United) Until the Bitter End

December 18th, 2009

Photo courtesy UNFCCC

Photo courtesy UNFCCC

Copenhagen, Denmark. As I write this, I am sitting in a central Copenhagen facility called the Øksnehallen.  It has become a refugee camp of sorts for all of the non-governmentals now ousted from the Bella Center.  Originally a side venue of the KlimaForum and a meeting ground for demonstrations among the more public action-oriented groups, it has now become a shelter, place of work and window into the negotiations for all of civil society – from universities to activist groups.   The feeling here is one of family and camaraderie, with a great sense of pride in the mass gathering of nations that have united here to address this issue.  Yet, as we sit and watch the plenaries on giant screens, there is also a feeling of despair.

Is any chance of a real deal now lost?

Meanwhile, inside the Bella Center, negotiations are tense and potential outcomes unclear.  If you’ve read the last two posts, you’ll understand that one of the main sticking points appears to be between the U.S. and China in terms of monitoring emission reductions.  The long-awaited speech from President Obama was met with mediocre reception, although he did offer a strong call to action and supplied a considerable financial incentive to come to an agreement today. But not everyone is convinced, namely China and Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez, who followed President Obama and waxed philosophic on America’s role in the climate change crisis.  Pointing out that Americans represent only 5% of the world’s population, but consume 25% of it’s energy, he also asserted that Latin America is in the predicament it is in today because America coerced them into buying cars and abandoning much needed railways (paraphrased).   Take a look at President Obama’s speech below and decide for yourself whether this call to action will be enough to save Copenhagen from failure.

- posted by Arlo Hemphill Arlo Hemphill

Two Cents (0.136 RMB) on China + Some Analysis

December 18th, 2009

cop15_logo_imgWhile negotiations seemed deadlocked earlier yesterday, measures taken in the afternoon may have revived hopes for an agreement in Copenhagen.

Copenhagen, Denmark. Two of the major stumbling blocks to reaching an agreement at COP15 have been the positions of the United States and China. The general feeling from both developing countries and our European friends (see here and here) is that the U.S. offer to reduce emissions is underwhelming. (The U.S. proposed reducing GHG emissions 17% below 2005 levels by 2020, equivalent to reducing 3-4% below 1990 levels). Its suggestions of $10 billion in funding to developing countries through 2012 have also been criticized as inadequate.

Conversely, the refusal of the Chinese to accept MRV requirements — measuring, reporting, and verification — claiming that it violates national sovereignty, is a major sticking point with the Americans. It’s been cleverly couched by the Chinese as, You aren’t paying for any of these projects, so no MRV. Or as Wen Jiabao said on Thursday:

“For developing countries, only those mitigation actions supported internationally will be subject to the MRV.” Any “voluntary mitigation actions [that China takes on by itself] should not be subject to international MRV.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. (Photo: Scanpix/EPA via UNFCCC)

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. (Photo: Scanpix/EPA via UNFCCC)

China has indicated that its 2020 carbon intensity goal counts as a voluntary action at the international level, though it will be legally required at the domestic level. These points of contention have held up negotiations for several days, with a pretty pessimistic outlook this morning.

However, by late this afternoon, things just might have shifted. At an event in the evening put on by the BlueGreen Alliance (a uniting of workers and environmental groups to further the agenda for “good jobs, clean environment, green economy”), I ran into Barbara Finamore, the head of NRDC’s China program, who has decades of experience working in the country and who has contacts well-positioned to know how the Chinese delegation operates at international negotiations. (See her quote in the New York Times on December 15. By the way, for transparency’s sake, I should note she was my boss when I worked in NRDC’s Beijing office in 2007.)

Barbara felt that Secretary of State Clinton’s announcement — that the U.S. will help raise funding of $100 billion for developing countries to deal with climate change — could break the logjam. Since the U.S. has made a move, it is now up to China, which has been asking for more concrete steps from the Americans all along, to reciprocate.

According to Clinton (transcript of speech and related article):

“the United States is prepared to work with other countries toward a goal of jointly mobilizing 100 billion dollars a year by 2020 to address the climate change needs” of developing nations.

However, this must be done “in the context of a strong accord in which all major economies stand behind meaningful mitigation actions and provide full transparency as to their implementation.”

In other words, this effort to mobilize funding (”from a wide variety of sources, public and private, bilateral and multilateral, including alternative sources of finance”) will commence only if (1) a deal is reached, and (2) the deal must include measures that ensure “transparency” and the ability to conduct MRV. The funding will have a “significant focus on forestry and adaptation” and is “particularly … for the poorest and most vulnerable” countries.

Several members of the G77 have already sent messages to the Chinese indicating that they are amenable to this plan because they truly need and want the funding, and have asked the Chinese to make a deal possible (this group includes the Maldives, Ethiopia and Bangladesh. See here.) This is not to say all G77 countries are convinced. Lumumba di-Aping of Sudan, who also acts as head of the G77, said, “This is a good signal, but it’s still insufficient. We need more money.” (Quoted here.)

On the Chinese side, some leaders are worried that that MRV could mean intrusive actions, such as factory-level inspections, with foreign experts entering individual facilities to ascertain whether China is living up to its carbon intensity goals. They feel this is a major affront to sovereignty. Beijing says that it will make its efforts transparent, and compliant with national laws and regulations, and this should be good enough. Or as He Yafei, vice-foreign minister and head of delegation put it, China’s laws would guarantee compliance. (Mentioned in NYTimes article from December 15. Don’t get me started on this.

Finamore and others have been attempting to convince parties on both sides that intrusive inspections of this sort are not what MRV is about, and such drastic measures are, in fact, not needed to verify that the Chinese are meeting their commitments. For one, China publishes data about its electricity generation, fuel use and energy use every year. The data are publicly available, and other international institutions (including multilateral lending institutions like the Asian Development Bank) make full use of it.

If the Chinese can continue working toward transparency and publicizing their actions, there is enough information in these and other reports to track progress in emissions reductions. The Chinese can feel that respect for their sovereignty is upheld, while the Americans (the Senate in particular) can be confident that the Chinese are not only taking on some of the global burden, but that the international community can verify progress.

Some of you will ask, How do we know China will actually publish accurate statistics? What if officials fudge the numbers? For example, in the last Five-year Plan that runs through 2010, there was an energy intensity target, which would work much the same way this new carbon intensity target is supposed to work. Provincial leaders are evaluated in part based on whether they meet this target or not. Don’t they have an incentive to lie?

While there are many examples of this problem in China, and it remains an ongoing concern, there are also several factors that can mitigate the problem, at least when it comes to energy and GHG emissions reporting:

1. The Chinese government needs these statistics, too. As Lily Cheng pointed out, Beijing wants accurate data to work with.

2. A revision to the Statistics Law (more details here) was passed this year and comes into effect in January 2010. It imposes severe penalties (potentially even jail time) for leaders that fake or alter statistics. This should be a big deterrent.

3. Increasing energy efficiency and reducing emissions are things many local leaders want to do voluntarily. According to Finamore, mayors and other officials understand that these measures make enterprises more competitive and that it saves them money.

So the incentives line up in a way that should make energy statistics more believable and accurate. China, of course, can continue to make its domestic situation more transparent and potentially allow more independent auditing. But the measures wouldn’t have to be as intrusive as people think.

So the incentives line up in a way that should make energy statistics more believable and accurate. China, of course, can continue to make its domestic situation more transparent and potentially allow more independent auditing. But the measures wouldn’t have to be as intrusive as people think.


Additional points:

1. This situation could potentially further fracture the unity of the G77 + China grouping. As noted above, Bangladesh, the Maldives and Ethiopia, among others, have contacted the Chinese to express their support for an agreement in the wake of this announcement. Furthermore, in a televised debate, the president of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, even criticized the idea being floated by some of the G77 and China that “no deal is better than making a bad deal.” According to The Australian, Nasheed said that “we are in the G77 and we want an agreement from Copenhagen. We do not agree with that viewpoint at all [that failing to make a deal would be better than a bad deal]. We have to have an agreement.”

In addition to Sudan/G77 head Lumumba’s intonation for “more money,” Brazil has also raised concerns about “intrusive verification,” while Ecuador’s foreign minister noted that “What we really need are firm mechanisms to reduce emissions from industrialized countries. Financial mechanisms are useful, but not central, not a solution.” (Quoted in the New York Times).

This kind of split is probably not something China wants to preside over. It also wants to avoid the even worse position of being seen as the cause of failure at COP15. This all adds up to more impetus for the Chinese to respond. Since Chinese premier Wen Jiabao arrived on Wednesday, he has met with Brazil, Bangladesh, Trinidad, Ethiopia and Sudan. The U.S. in turn, has been meeting with India (among other G77 members) and may be reaching an agreement. Jairam Ramesh, India’s minister of the environment and forestry says that they agree on about 75% of things, and the last 25% is on … you guessed it, MRV

2. See this piece about the varying interpretations of when MRV can/should be applied. It dates back to the Bali Action Plan and much of the debate centers around the placement of a comma.

3. If worse comes to worse, another NRDC expert said that a bilateral statement by the US and China to jointly combat climate change might be the next best option. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

4. Associated Press has a good article on the implications of the U.S. offer on aid.

5. Barbara Finamore has a blog at NRDC’s website with commentary on Copenhagen, as well as China’s environment and its energy situation.

– Posted by Kevin Hsu
M.Sc. Candidate Atmosphere/Energy Program, Stanford University

The Audacity of Hope

December 17th, 2009

I wish all Americans could travel to the streets of Copenhagen and the halls of Bella Center to hear the excitement about President Obama and the hope that he brings.  Many people from around the world – I’ve spoken with people from Nmibia, Kiribati, Denmark, Copenhagen, Australia, Dominican Republic, etc. – think Obama can help seal some kind of deal.

IMG_0126I envy this optimism.  I struggle to find it on  this chilly, wintry morning.  Yesterday the hope buoyed protesters and concerned citizens to demand entrance to the Bella Center  (a limited number of observer organizations were allowed inside, and even fewer today), but inside where heads of state and negotiators sat it was relatively calm.  As the High-Level Segment (HLS) began, the first of 130 heads of state spoke the will of their country at three minute intervals.  Only a handful of leaders spoke on Wednesday, but the divide that was prominent earlier in the week remains.  Developing countries want a two-track process, and demanded Annex I countries under the Kyoto Protocol reduce their emissions by 40% or more by 2020, in addition to providing billions of dollars of funding annually for developing countries to adapt and transfer to renewable energies.  Developed countries reiterated the desire to limit warming to 2 degrees C (above preindustrial levels) but that a new inclusive agreement that forces commitments from the U.S. and China were necessary to reach that goal.  Connie Hedegaard stepped down as President of the COP in order to continue with one on one negotiations in order to help reach an agreement by tomorrow.  The Prime Minister of Denmark now resides over the HLS proceedings.  There is still no specific deal to seal.

So what can Obama say or do, in his allotted three minutes,  that will bring this conference to a close?  His hands are tied by a Congress that was unable to pass a climate and energy bill prior to Copenhagen, and he can’t commit to greenhouse gas emissions more than what is in the current draft of the climate bill (17% reducations below 2005 levels by 2020, corresponding to a 3% reduction below 1990 levels).  He has, however, in the last week sent members of his cabinet and leaders in his administration to Copenhagen to show that the US is committed to change and has other means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar spoke to audiences in Copenhagen to discuss energy and climate policies.  The US EPA announced last week that greenhouse gases are a danger to human health and could therefore be regulated, sending a message to Copenhagen that the Obama administration has the power to address emissions without new legislation from Congress.  Obama is clearly showing his dedication to combating climate change by using current laws and administrative powers to do so, as he waits for Congress to send him a bill to sign.

On November 19th, 1863, in less than three minutes, Abraham Lincoln gave the Gettysburg address to a warring nation.  His  remarks helped to end the civil war by reminding those fighting of the original, unifying intent of the creation of the United States – a government of the people, by the people and for the people.  Perhaps Obama can use his three minutes to unite and inspire the fractioned parties to the conference, reminding them of the original,  unifying goal of the United Framework Convention on Climate Change – the stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.  In other words – limiting climate change to a level that will provide a healthy planet for future generations.

“Hope in the face of difficulty. Hope in the face of uncertainty. The audacity of hope” – President Barack Obama.

- posted by Adina Abeles

It’s a Tough Game

December 16th, 2009

51bsKYTqQHL._SS500_Copenhagen, Denmark. Last week at this time, Nobel Laureate and Stanford scientist Dr. Stephen Schneider held a press event at COP15 to launch his new book Science as a Contact Sport.  What started as typical presentation of academic material, quickly spiraled into a hostile game of accusations, online attacks and outright lies.  Not of great coincidence, this also happens to be the topic of Dr. Schneider’s new book.  The book outlines the politics, debates and ideological warfare that has become part of everyday life for researchers whose scientific findings have obligated them to speak out on the daunting probable impacts of climate change.  This has been the story of Dr. Schneider’s life as a climate scientist and pivotal member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).  Originally a proponent of global cooling, Schneider, by his own admission (and pride) retracted this hypothesis when his data began to clearly show that atmospheric CO2 was more probably resulting in a warming effect.  He has since been one of the leading voices for global warming and climate change, with a track record that spans decades.

In the case of this particular book launch, the contact sport came into play when documentary filmmaker and climate change denier, Phelim McAleer, took center stage, essentially commandeering the event away from Schneider and the other journalists present.  Having had a negative history with this individual, Schneider responded directly and forcefully, escalating the exchange into a heated debate.  In response to McAleer’s provocations, UN security showed up on the scene and, following the press event, escorted him away from the premises and demanded his camera be turned off.

A lively moment at the Bella Center, but now it’s over, right?  Wrong.  The following day, McAleer released a highly altered YouTube version of the incident, edited to appear that he was a victim to a global conspiracy of UN domination fueled by a climate change myth.  He asserted that Schneider had refused to answer questions in regards to “Climategate” (which had nothing to do with the book event, but he did in fact answer), and that Schneider himself had called “his” UN thugs on McAleer to suppress his journalism.   The YouTube video quickly spread through extreme right wing and conspiracy theory-based blogs, all lambasting Schneider for his role in “UN global domination”.  In the end, the incident is a comic footnote on the pages of this historical meeting.  Schneider launched a great book that you should read.  But as the book suggests, science indeed can be a contact sport…

Please enjoy the following series of videos. Posted below are:

1. The complete, unedited, version of the question and answer period – including the Schneider-McAleer exchange.

2. Phelim McAleer’s YouTube version of the same press event.

3. The full presentation made by Schneider, inclusive of the question and answer period in #2

4. And, just for fun – a clip of Schneider discussing climate change some 30 years ago.  It’s amazing that most of us have waited so long to hear this message!

- posted by Arlo Hemphill Arlo Hemphill

Don’t Forget the Acid

December 16th, 2009

Ocean acidification makes it difficult for marine life - such as corals - to build their calcium carbonate shells. At increased levels of acidity, these shells will actually begin to dissolve. Photo: Jiangang Luo/Marine Photobank

Copenhagen, Denmark. Wow! What a whirlwind couple of days here in Copenhagen. COS participated in the COP-15 “Oceans Day” events and I spoke to the assembled group about ocean acidification as part of a panel of international scientists and policy experts. One issue at hand is “what should the target limit be?”. For the atmosphere, people talk about 450 ppm greenhouse gas equivalents as a target maximum. The term “equivalents” is a nod to the fact that other gases have much greater specific greenhouse effects that carbon dioxide. Methane is a good example of this. So in fact, if we add up the effects of the other gases, we are now at an equivalent CO2 level in the atmosphere of about 420 ppm. So, 450 ppm isn’t very far away – less than 10 years in fact. Can we stay below 450 ppm? Doesn’t seem likely. Should we strive to do so? Absolutely.

But does this work for the ocean? Not at all. We have good reason to believe that the oceans and life in the sea will suffer serious and negative consequences if carbon dioxide levels are maintained above 350 ppm. In fact, modern marine life has evolved and adapted to natural levels of average CO2 in the ocean’s surface waters that range from 180 ppm to 280 ppm, so even 350 ppm represents an adaption challenge. The challenge comes from ocean acidification –the changing pH and carbonate saturation state of the sea as a result of the uptake of excess CO2 from the atmosphere. So even though there is much focus here at COP-15 on specifying a maximum permissible rise in temperature (some say 2 degrees; others, like small island states, argue for 1.5 degrees C), a better metric to use for the future of the ocean and all people that depend on it is the actual concentration of carbon dioxide. 350 ppm actual CO2 is a good clear target and we are already way beyond it. Nevertheless we should aspire to bring the ocean back down to 350 ppm as soon as possible. And this is just for CO2. The concept of greenhouse gas equivalents doesn’t easily apply here, at least insofar as ocean acidification is concerned. We need to sort out a way of getting this target inserted into the negotiation process.


Dunbar and Adina Abeles (COS Planning Director) inspect the "Copenhagen Ice Bear"

We ran into Holmes Hummel today, a former Stanford ES and IPER student, now a lead negotiator for the US Department of Energy. She pointed out that unless we have a way to scrub CO2 out of the atmosphere, it will be a long time before we can get back to 350 ppm. Models support her view. It could take over 100 years for oceanic CO2 levels to drop back to 350 ppm, even if we do embark on dramatic emissions reductions today. This means that mitigation against most ocean acidification effects is an intergenerational issue, a point made eloquently by Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg in our conversation with Holmes. Can we get people behind the notion that they must act now in order to save the oceans 50 years or 100 years out? It seems like we should be able too but it’s a tough sell in fact, and again, the community here is mostly focused on temperature rise targets on land. The ocean must play a more prominent role in future climate change meetings.

- posted by Dr. Rob Dunbar, Professor of Earth Sciences at Stanford University


Rob Dunbar finds an agreeable sign at a Copenhagen train station

A Climate for Chaos

December 16th, 2009

Photo courtesy UNFCCC

Copenhagen, Denmark. Leaders of the world are currently huddled around in the Bella Center, but I’m back at the hotel.  Not because I don’t want to be in the Bella Center with them, but because I couldn’t get in today.  Protesters have been assaulting the Conference since early morning and the surrounding area has turned into a virtual warzone.  All of the carefully planned city-wide shuttles have stopped service and, as of about noon, no one has been allowed to enter or leave the Bella Center.   The outskirts of the center have transformed from a pleasant transportation depot, to a maze of fencing and rioting demonstrators.  Armed guards are employing water cannons, dogs and even tear gas.  The last report I heard (from CNN) stated that 250 had been arrested.   I did attempt to make it to the Center midday today, but was abandoned by my bus midway and left stranded on the now snowy and quite frigid streets of Copenhagen.  With no empty taxis in sight, I ended up walking more than an hour to get back home.

Meanwhile, inside the Bella Center, things seem equally chaotic.  Now referred to as one of the biggest summits in world history, governments seem to unable to come to anything close to consensus.  NGOs (non-governmental organizations) are being roughly expelled from the main plenary, the Kyoto Protocol seems to be in perpetual limbo and Connie Hedegaard, the former Conference Chair, has resigned.  The official line is that this was a matter of protocol, allowing for the Prime Minister of Denmark to precede over the COP with world leaders present. However, with comments from her such as “in the end, you cannot make the deal in that plenary”, the true motive of her resignation remains in question.

For now, I’m warm and cozy again, off the siren-filled streets of Copenhagen.  We’ll see what tomorrow brings as I try to make it back over to Bella Center.

- posted by Arlo Hemphill Arlo Hemphill

The World is Watching

December 16th, 2009

Copenhagen, Denmark.  Yesterday was the first day of the high level proceedings at COP15.  Leaders from around the world  - including Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California and Prince Charles – have congregated to make final decisions on climate agreement.  Here are a few highlights from yesterday.