Sunday, November 27, 2016

COP22 in Marrakech, Morocco

The University Center for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) awarded me credentials to go to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change 22nd Conference of the Parties in Marrakech, Morocco as an observer.  With the help of my university, I was able to attend for a week.  I'd like to tell you a bit about the history behind the conference, the commentary I witnessed on concerns over Trump's impending presidency, what I took away from the conference, what it was like attending the conference, and a few images from the city of Marrakech.  Feel free to jump around to whatever interests you.

Trump and the U.S.

The conference was two weeks long.  The first week, November 8th, while I was still in Colorado teaching, the United States elected Donald Trump to be its new president.  While as a professor I try not to be political and make my classrooms comfortable spaces for all walks of life, I think it is perfectly within my purview as a Meteorology Professor with a PhD in Atmospheric and Oceanic Science who teaches climate change to comment on Trump with regard to his stance on global warming.  We have long known of Trump's ignorance on the topic.  When creating my Massive Open Online Course, Denial101x through Edx two years ago, I even put a Trump-like character (it was hard to find matching hair) in my video based off of his Tweets that every time it was cold outside, that proved global warming was a hoax.
Like most of the people in the United States (as proven by the popular vote, but also the record of polls leading up to the election), I was shocked that he had won, especially when my home state of Wisconsin was guilty of putting him over the top.  I was devastated that all of the hard work that had been done to move climate change solutions forward would potentially soon be undone and I was so sad that I would be flying across the world to attend a UN climate policy conference under these circumstances.

During the conference there was a variety of takes on a Trump presidency, from optimism that Obama has already set us off down the right path and no one can undo that, to anger that because of the selfishness of the American people, island nations will drown.  Some called him "He who shall not be named" and others called him out directly.  Others pinned their hopes on Trump's inconsistency, which we saw the week after when he said he had an open mind about climate change to the New York Times after earlier vowing to pull out of the Paris Agreement straight away.

My understanding of Paris under Trump:  If president-elect Trump wants to pull out of the UN Paris agreement to reduce emissions, he cannot do so immediately, it would take 3-4 years.  He can, as far as I understand it, fail to put money towards adaptation and recovery in the vulnerable countries, despite us promising to stand with the developed countries to give $100 billion a year between all of us developed countries.  (That number seems unattainable anyway).  He can also sit back and watch the goals go by without achieving them.  Although the agreement is binding, there are no penalties in place like there was with Kyoto that I am aware of.

Secretary of State John Kerry and Assistant to the President and Senior Advisor on climate, conservation and energy policy Brian Deese had some excellent commentary on this that left me feeling optimistic.  Jonathan Pershing, the U.S. delegate at the conference, also had some good things to say.

I sat in the 4th row center for John Kerry's hour long press conference and I was in tears by the end after hearing how this had been a life long commitment for him.  From John Kerry's speech:  Secretary Kerry is confident in the future regardless of whether U.S. policy is implemented because of the market.  The energy curve is bending toward sustainability.  What we do today matters.  We are not on a preordained path to disaster.  This is a test of willpower, not capacity.  No one should doubt the overwhelming majority of citizens of the United States who know climate change is happening and are determined to keep our commitment to the Paris Agreement.  As Kerry would know, issues look very different in office than they did on the campaign trail and he hopes Trump will consult with the climate scientists who have spent their entire lives studying this phenomena.  Climate change shouldn't be a partisan issue.  This agreement leaves no country to weather the storm of climate change alone.

Jonathan Pershing gave our 3-minute United States statement, which you should go read right now, here (we can play find the typo-- not for now).  He said that 2.5 million people are employed in clean energy in the U.S.  Our momentum is insurmountable, there is no stopping it.  Sub-national entities, states and cities, are committed to doing what they can to address climate change.

Brian Deese, representing the White House, was the most eloquent speaker of the week and he spelled out some very important, optimistic trends that you can find in this White House report on mid-century strategy for deep decarbonization.  He stated that economic growth and carbon emissions in the United States are decoupled, meaning we can grow without having carbon emissions go up.  He discussed how we are already in a new clean energy economy, but that Obama's clean power plan is now in question, but that leading states and cities will continue down the right path.

I'm taking Brian's comments and making them my own here.  Think of California, are they going to be affected by Trump's decisions?  No, they are going to continue decarbonizing and the market will follow.  We can learn from each other, there is a scaling benefit for collective action.  California is such a big market, why would car companies continue to make low mpg cars when they can sell us all the goodies they make for California?  Trump has claimed he will put the coal miners back to work, but you can't have new coal when the market has no demand for coal, we've started the switch away and we won't go back.  Governors and even cities are making pledges and have plans for implementation of Paris, regardless of national leadership.  Think of who voted for Hillary Clinton, they are in the cities and some very important states on the coasts.  They aren't just going to stop our forward momentum because of a change in national leadership, they are going to continue to make alliances with others to solve these problems.  Even Texas is filled with wind power.  That's not going to stop.  The head of Kellogg was there as well and talked about how private companies have gone green and are making it a priority.  They established the Midwest row crop collaborative, a way to work on soil health and rid ourselves of the dead zone in the Gulf.  They worked with farmers and never once had to mention climate change to get this rolling.  We can do this on the backs of good businesses.  The economic transition is underway.

Other countries when making their 3-minute statements, mentioned Trump without mentioning his name.  "A deal is a deal" said the representative from the Bahamas about the United States.  Other small island countries were very vocal as well.  Many offered condolences to Haiti who had just been hit weeks earlier by Hurricane Matthew.

On the final night, Fiji, who will be hosting the next COP in Bonn, Germany, because they cannot fit 20,000 people on their island, made some very bold comments about Trump.  After acknowledging the U.S. role in helping them in World War II, the prime minister of Fiji said, "I say to the American people:  you came to save us then and it is time for you to help save us now."  He said he will invite Trump to the island so he can see climate change impacts first hand as sea level rises.  To that I say, good luck to the Prime Minister of Fiji!

Background on UNFCCC COP22

Quick background on this conference, which I have embellished for the purpose of story telling.
The slow road to Paris-- slide from COP22, Kelly Gallagher from the Fletcher School

The UNFCCC met the first time in Rio in 1992, "The Earth Summit" where it was established that global warming was an issue worth studying at the United Nations level and they would strive for an international policy to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.  Since then my people, the scientists, have created thousands of pages of reports based on peer reviewed literature that show that there is no doubt that climate change since 1950 is caused by humans.  In 1997 the United Nations (UNFCCC) negotiated the Kyoto Protocol with the help of Al Gore, our vice president at the time under Bill Clinton, and known advocate for the environment.  This protocol would require nations to reduce emissions to below 1990 levels and for developed countries, there would be consequences of not achieving these emission reductions.  Vice President Gore came home and asked congress to support the U.S. ratification of the Kyoto Protocol and their answer was a collective, "Are you kidding me?"  They were upset that developing countries like India, China, and Brazil only had voluntary emissions reductions and Russia had probably already achieved pre-1990 levels just because of fall of the Soviet Union.  If the U.S. was going to reduce carbon emissions, we were going to do it on our own terms, not having to pay fines to the United Nations.  While I almost agree with their unanimous decision to leave Al high and dry, to this day they never followed through on their end of the bargain of solving the issue internally even though many bipartisan proposals existed.  I particularly liked the McCain Lieberman proposal back in the day.

After a few years of setting hottest year on record, record sea ice loss in the Arctic, and record melt on Greenland and now Antarctica, Obama showed up at COP 21 in Paris last year and signed us on to the Paris Agreement, an agreement very different from Kyoto.  Every country creates its own goals (INDCs) and there don't appear to be any formal ways of penalizing countries for not achieving these goals.  I imagine it was planned this way so that Obama didn't have to get his republican, largely climate-change-denying congress to approve of of his signature to the United Nations-binding agreement.  Obama had set his own climate change goals back in 2013 and we were already on our way towards achieving them through the Environmental Protection Agency and other means.  He also made agreements with the Chinese government that both of our countries will mutually reduce emissions.
This slide and slides below from Kelly Gallagher from the Fletcher School

INDCs are Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, basically each country's contribution to achieving the global goal of keeping temperatures below catastrophic warming levels.
Several country representatives joined on Earth Day 2016 in New York City to sign onto the Paris agreement.  
John Kerry signed for the U.S. and his daughter showed up with his granddaughter Isabelle, who joined him on stage for the historic signing.
Obama later signed his name to it and the U.S. ratified the agreement this fall 2016.

Surprisingly quickly, enough countries had signed onto the Paris agreement that they had reached the threshold needed and the Paris Agreement went into force on November 4th, 2016, less than a year after it was negotiated in Paris.  Kyoto had taken about seven years.  We now have 114 countries who have ratified the the agreement and that number continues to rise by the day.  

What was accomplished in Marrakech at COP 22, the COP of action

This proclamation summarizes what took place in Marrakech.
The conference took place in a temporary tent city outside of the walls of the city of Marrakech.  The King of Morocco attended the conference for a day on Tuesday along with several foreign dignitaries.   Each country made a 3-minute statement which usually went something like, "Congrats to the COP president on being president, thanks to the King of Morocco for his hospitality, good job on the Paris agreement, congrats again, thank you again."  When countries actually said something of substance, it was quite interesting!  Palestine, for example, used about 9 minutes to very brazenly ask for help in trying to overcome environmental indecencies put upon them by Israel.  I was excited to see a woman speaking for Iran claiming they had ratified the Paris agreement only three days ago and talked about dust storms.  Sweden boasted of being the largest per-capita contributor to the green climate fund.  The European Union said we are on the right side of history and that the biggest burden for the Paris Agreement should fall on the broadest shoulders.  The woman from The Gambia claimed much of its country is within 2.5 meters of sea level and needed help.
Iran's representative

Representative from The Gambia

Canada's representative and a native woman from Canada on indigenous peoples day.
This is me in front of the plenary Marrakech building (a temporary structure) where the King of Morocco and the foreign dignitaries gathered.  We watched many of the country statements here and attended the last day for the closing of the COP.
In the end, it became apparent that the "global south" or underdeveloped countries as well as island nations were disappointed that adaptation plans and funds hadn't been emphasized enough.  Bolivia and India kept the closing ceremony from moving forward due to this and they went into further negotiations, putting everything on hold yet again at 11:30pm Friday night.  They plead out of desperation for more action on this, and it was decided that no decision would be made that night, so it was noted for discussion at COP23 in Bonn hosted by Fiji.  
My fellow observer and I had been at the conference since a 9:00am meeting and we were totally exhausted.  We finally left the closing ceremony around 1:00 in the morning.  The closing ceremony finally let out at 3am.  My flight was at 7:30 the next morning, so I got a good two hours of sleep after packing.  It was quite the experience and I am still processing everything I learned and putting my notebook full of notes and videos into context.  We also went paperless by using this little high-five device called a poken, which is filled with all of the info from the booths I visited.

Wearing my translation headphones.
It was very different from anything I have ever attended.  As a scientist, I learned a ton about policy, but also found myself sometimes lost in what I'll call lawyer-speak.  I laughed out loud at one economist who had just explained his solution to the economics of the Paris Agreement when someone asked him how we could communicate that complex solution to the public.  He humbly explained that sometimes he has a hard enough time understanding these complexities himself, so he will leave the communication to others.  I'm used to AGU conferences where there is a light up front that keeps the schedule to the minute.  The talks are so tight that you can plan your entire day to a T and see everything you want if you walk fast enough.  This was nothing like that.  I'd plan my day to a T and then people would be delayed half an hour, press conferences would just be flat out cancelled, the schedule would come out the morning of, and some talks I was not able to get into (for parties, not observers).  It became frustrating at times, but in the end thanks to my fellow observers Jen and Aparna, we simply found it funny and made the most of it.  The very last day we arrived at 9am only to find out that the main part of the conference wasn't going to start until 3.  That turned into 5, which turned into 7:30, which was then delayed due to more negotiations after a short presentation.  This all kept me from doing much touristing, I only got into the city itself on the day I flew in (Sunday) and another few hours one afternoon when we knew there was a break, I think Thursday, it is a bit of a sleepless blur.  Marrakech was an interesting place!
Kousoubia Mosque at sunset at Jemaa Al Fnaa, Marrakech
Aparna and a local at the souk.
Enjoying some freshly squeezed OJ at the souk
Horse carriage ride from the souk to dinner.