Category Archives: For the World

COP25’s Move to Spain: Leaving Civil Society Out in the Cold?

On October 30th, the Chilean government announced it would no longer host COP25 which was to be held in Santiago, due to security concerns stemming from mass protests. The protests are a response to the country’s rising cost of living and increasing levels of inequality, which are some of the highest in the world. Protestors are demanding systemic change and better social conditions, including, among many other demands, higher pensions and wages, and affordable healthcare and education. After Chile’s withdrawal as a host for COP25, Madrid offered to host the event, with Chile still as the president-designate of COP25. This last-minute venue change to Madrid was a cause of serious concern for many Chilean environmentalists, scientists and NGOs. Many civil society groups, particularly Latin American groups, fear that this will mean that civil society won’t have an adequate platform at this year’s COP. What impact will this shift have, if any, on the role civil society are able to play at COP25 and the focus on issues of inequality?

“Chile woke up” has been the rallying call of protestors against the government and growing inequality. Cameramemories, Flickr

“Chile woke up” has been the rallying call of protestors against the government and growing inequality. Cameramemories, Flickr

Civil society groups, one type of non-state actor, have for some time played a significant role in the making and implementation of international environmental law, and in global level climate negotiations more generally. They have played a powerful role as observers, and have released analyses and reports that offer useful perspectives on the information governments have provided with respect to their contributions. This type of support has enabled stakeholders, including other parties, civil society organizations, and concerned citizens to form their own views on the level of ambitions parties claiming.

One of the main goals of COP25 was to ensure the open and transparent participation of civil society. A number of civil society organizations in Chile were included in the COP25 committee and helped design a civil society environmental summit space to be created in the “Green Zone” (which was to be open to everyone and located directly next to the official negotiating space). These groups, which included Climate Land Ambition and Rights Alliance, Climate Action Network Latin America, Asociacion Ambiente y Sociedad, and La Ruta del Clima, amongst others, stated that they were not consulted in the government’s decision to withdraw form hosting COP25. They view this decision as a “barrier to the effective participation of civil society organizations and indigenous peoples in climate change processes and actions,” one that completely disregarded the efforts, time and resources that local and regional civil society and non-profit organizations have invested in planning for this COP to make the international community aware of the socio-environmental impacts of climate change on Chile and the Latin American region.

These organizations are not alone in expressing their concerns. Greenpeace Chile’s national director also expressed similar concerns, indicating that Chile’s withdrawal from hosting COP25 expressed a reluctance to fully engage civil society organizations in the international climate dialogue. In the same press release, Chile also stated that the move of the COP from Chile to Madrid “must not stop the debate in Chilean society on environmental and social injustice.” Maisa Rojas, the director of Chile’s Center for Climate Science and Resilience and the COP25 scientific coordinator, also expressed similar concerns. She noted the importance of ensuring engagement of civil society, and highlighted the interlinked nature of issues of inequality and climate change. The director of the Chilean chapter of the World Wildlife Fund said that even though the Chilean delegation aims to still focus on equity in climate issues, he fears that the move will likely dampen the focus on inequality.  He stated that “we’re moving to an environment where we aren’t going to be subjected to any protesting of a significant nature…so essentially, we don’t get to see that reality of what inequality is triggering.”

The People's Summit 2019 brings together organizations and social articulations from various territories and sectors of the world, to share experiences and promote alternative solutions to the system and strengthen global organization and local action to stop the socio-environmental catastrophe.

The People’s Summit 2019 brings together organizations and social articulations from various territories and sectors of the world, to share experiences and promote alternative solutions to the system and strengthen global organization and local action to stop the socio-environmental catastrophe.

For these reasons, many civil society organizations will still be sending delegations to Santiago, in addition to the delegations they will be sending to Madrid. Organizations such as the Climate Justice Alliance, Friends of the Earth International, Grassroots Global Justice, Right to the City, and Indigenous Environmental Network will be joining Combre de los Pueblos, which is scheduled for Dec 2 to 7. An agenda is set to discuss climate justice issues including support for popular movements in the Americas, deep engagement with international allies, political education and leadership development, and just transition, in hopes to bridge the gap between the official COP25 in Madrid and the unofficial civil society COP events still taking place in Chile.

OK, Boomer: The Climate Crisis and the Generation Gap

Earlier this month, Chlöe Swarbrick, a 25-year-old member of New Zealand’s parliament, was giving a speech on her country’s proposed Zero Carbon Law when she was interrupted by an older male colleague – “OK, Boomer,” she retorted.

The gibe drew media attention from the U.S. to Canada, the UK, France, India, China, and beyond. What was it about those two words—“OK, Boomer,” offhand and nearly inaudible—that caught the world’s attention? The phrase is four years old, but on Nov. 7, it went viral, and seemed to have hit a nerve. Some conservatives called the expression ageist. One talk-show host even compared the phrase to the “n-word,” drawing a quick rebuke from Dictionary.com.

Media outlets leapt into the “OK, Boomer” debate. “Now it’s war,” declared an article in The New York Times, “Generation Z has finally snapped over climate change and financial inequality.”

Despite Swarbrick’s heckler, New Zealand’s Zero Carbon law passed nearly unanimously. Here in the U.S., our youngest-ever congresswoman made a “Green New Deal” her very first piece of legislation – even though the scope of the “green dream or whatever they call it” struck many senior Democrats as prohibitive. Why do young people seem so much more focused on climate change? What does “OK Boomer” have to do with the issue, anyway?

Last year, a Gallup poll uncovered a “global warming age gap.” Americans aged 18-34 were reported to be 75 percent more likely to see global warming as a serious threat than the 55-and-older demographic. They were also 36 percent more likely to believe in human-caused climate change, and more than 50 percent more likely to think global warming had been underrepresented in the news. (Although often used interchangeably, the term “climate change” was designed to include a broader variety of impacts than simple “global warming,” such as extreme weather patterns.)

This generation gap may be partly due to life expectancy. For example, an American born in 1960 can expect to live until about 2030, but the most extreme impacts of climate change may not be felt until 2050 or beyond. Members of Generation Z born after the year 2000 can expect to live beyond 2075, if global climate collapse doesn’t kill them first.

Responding to allegations of ageism from her older colleagues, Swarbrick, the New Zealand parliamentarian, was unapologetic: “Today I have learnt that responding succinctly and in perfect jest to somebody heckling you about *your age* as you speak about the impact of climate change…makes some people very mad. So I guess millennials ruined humour. That, or we just need to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and abstain from avocados.”

Whatever the cause of the generation gap, it has never been clearer that at its heart, the international climate movement is a youth movement. From the global climate strike and school walkout to the members of Extinction Rebellion, youths have been at the forefront of climate activism.

“OK, millennials. But we’re the people that actually have the money,” responded one AARP executive, without a hint of irony. But that may be why grassroots campaigns have begun to play such a large part in the global climate movement.

Much has been done through teen activist Greta Thunberg’s international campaign to raise awareness of the climate crisis. Thunberg recently visited the U.S. on her roundabout way to a relocated COP 25. The young Swede has become the literal figurehead of an international movement, but continues to draw expressions of venom and hate, particularly from middle-aged men.

But not all middle-aged men. On Nov. 7, former U.S. presidential candidate Jay Inslee tweeted, “I’m a Boomer and it’s time for our generation to do our part to defeat climate change. Ok, Boomers? (Did I do that right?)”

Yes, Jay, you did it right.

A study from N.C. State University recently found that climate education for children tends to rub off on parents, too. All the more remarkable was the fact that the change of opinion documented in the study was most pronounced in politically conservative male parents.

“There’s a robust body of work showing that kids can influence their parents’ behavior and positions on environmental and social issues, but this is the first experimental study demonstrating that climate education for children promotes parental concern about climate change,” said Danielle Lawson, lead author of the study.

“This study tells us that we can educate children about climate change and they’re willing to learn, which is exciting because studies find that many adults are resistant to climate education, because it runs counter to their personal identities,” Lawson said. “It also highlights that children share that information with their parents, particularly if they’re given tools to facilitate communication—and that parents are willing to listen.”

Maybe the ultimate solution to the climate crisis starts with finding fathers and daughters – or sisters, or brothers, or mothers – willing to listen and learn from the people they love.

Carbon Offsets Raise Needed Money For Climate Mitigation Projects, But Using Them To Excuse Emissions Raises Serious Doubts

Carbon credits, or offsets, have become such a familiar feature of the climate change response landscape that they’ve even earned a euphemism, “nature-based solutions.” The desire to speak of “solutions” rather than the unfashionable “offsets” betrays some of the controversy and criticism surrounding the practice. Indeed, the carbon credit concept has become a staple of climate action in three big areas: corporate responsibility/marketing, institutional emissions frameworks, and personal carbon footprint conscience-easing.

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Source: UNEP

In the corporate world, declaring a low carbon footprint is a common public relations strategy aimed at environmentally-minded customers, but the most common way companies are achieving “100% renewable” is through the purchase of offsets. After all, for a factory or a ski resort connected to the local power grid–running offices, large machinery, and other amenities–it would hardly be realistic to disconnect and quit drawing from the coal or natural gas plant that is yet to be retired. Companies count on consumers not thinking so critically, and pervasive advertising about their renewable power “use” may leave people with the impression, especially in the United States, that we don’t need to do more in investing in our renewable energy infrastructure than we really have. Many corporations certainly do have a climate consciousness in their leadership, and many invest in climate mitigation under theories that climate change affects their bottom line, too, but whether their particular credit scheme offers a true one-to-one tradeoff within the greenhouse effect warrants greater scrutiny.

In institutions like state and local governments–and even national governments and bodies of the UN–carbon credits are similarly an integral means of achieving “net zero” emissions targets on optimistic timelines. In this context and in the regulatory sphere, it is important to distinguish between carbon credits in an offset scheme and carbon credits in an industry regulated by a cap-and-trade scheme. For specific industries, like power plants, carbon dioxide emissions can be relatively easily quantified, and a reduction in emissions at one plant can be accurately equated to an identical increase in another. Carbon credits as offsets, however, are often much less certain, as in when a municipality plants trees in another part of the world in the hopes of compensating for its net transportation emissions month-to-month.

And personal carbon credit purchases also entered into vogue in the past decade or so. A guilt-ridden google search will lead fossil-fuel hungry folks to a smorgasbord of offerings from different marketers. Some more critical research can also lead one to a variety of outlets cautioning that these products may not be what they seem. The only truly sure-fire way to make up for a transatlantic flight’s worth of fuel would be for the couple-hundred passengers to buy up the seats but keep the plane on the ground.

With all the popularity of these conservation-oriented and ostensibly emissions-cutting models, there are reasons to be skeptical. This summer, for example, the UN Environment Programme noted the need for stronger real emissions reduction commitments and stressed that offsets are not a “get-out-of-jail-free card.” When it comes to substantially mitigating climate change, there is no substitute for actually cutting our own emissions, physically, today. The following five criticisms provide a decent summary of the caution with which we should consider claims about the benefits of carbon credit trading. The sixth and final point below, however, explains why we should do it anyway, just with a hefty dose of humility and equal or greater action at home.

(1) Nature can’t keep up. Anthropogenic fossil fuel emissions are simply entering the atmosphere at a much faster rate than natural carbon sinks can store them in the biosphere (and eventually lithosphere). As the UNEP notes, some 50 percent of the greenhouse gases we’ve sent into the atmosphere in our industrial history have arrived there only since 1990. And even with nature’s carbon sequestration mechanisms operating at full speed, our emissions still need to be cut by about 45 percent by 2030 to maintain a fighting chance of staying within globally-agreed warming targets.

(2) Verification varies. Not all carbon offset programs are created equal, and the process for determining the climate effect of the credit purchased is something to consider. There is a robust ecosystem of carbon credit verification programs, but these will vary in their criteria, thoroughness, and reach. Governments like California are exploring verification systems, and intergovernmental organisms like the UNFCCC are developing rigid accounting mechanisms. In a world chock-full of offset-based claims and disparate accountability schemes, however, it’s safe to say that we probably aren’t verifiably achieving all the carbon goodness everyone claims to be.

(3) Carbon sequestration projections are uncertain. Nature’s end of the greenhouse gas mitigation bargain simply isn’t as knowable as we might like to think. Scientific research can reasonably help a person estimate how much CO2 she sends into the atmosphere when she drives her truck 4000 miles. And for many ecosystems, science has a decent grasp of understanding how they grow and the rate at which biomass removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. But combining these two ideas compounds the uncertainty. The point of the offset purchase in the first instance is that there is no doubt that the truck is going to be driven 4000 miles. It’s already on the road, and those greenhouse gas molecules are as good as in the sky. Equivalent molecules being taken up by the driver’s offset program of choice, however, hinges on ecological systems far less straightforward than gasoline combustion. Assumptions must be made about precipitation patterns acting predictably, natural disasters staying at bay, growth occurring exactly as present science says it might, nutrients not becoming limiting, and a range of other factors. Add to this the lengthened timescale at which a natural system sequesters carbon relative to a truck belching it out, and it seems like certain emissions today are being traded for merely probable removal tomorrow.

(4) It’s tough to say what counts. Whether an offset program is used to finance renewable energy developments elsewhere, plant trees, or simply stop an area of forest from being cut down, a looming question is to what extent the offset program funds were the device that truly secured the alleged carbon dioxide reductions. How do we police the claiming of credits for other people’s conservation efforts that might have gone forward even in the absence of the additional funding? Another concern is that many carbon offsets are purchased for the prevention of deforestation; these has an extortionist element: “I was going to turn a blind eye to Chevron trampling an acre of the Amazon, but now that I haven’t, you must tolerate my factory doing equivalent climatic harm.”

 

 

 

People Displaced by Climate Change is a Worldwide Problem

Currently, people around the world are being forced from their homes by the man-made monster known as climate change. The Status of Climate Change Litigation, a UN report, estimates that anywhere from 25 million to 1 billion people will be displaced by 2050 due to Climate Change. The World Bank estimates that 148 million people will be displaced from Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America alone by 2050 due to climate change. At first glance, one may wonder why they should care if they do not currently reside in an area that will be severely affected by climate change. But you should. Displaced people will have to relocate somewhere, and this will have a large impact wherever they decide to relocate to.

This is becoming a more pressing problem in the United States.  The U.S. has entered into the Compact of Free Association with three small island nationals in the Pacific Ocean to allow their citizens to enter and leave the United States without a visa and provide financial assistance. In return for the ability to come and go, the U.S. may access the physical land and water surrounding the island as well as provide defense for the islands. These compact islands are the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federal State of Micronesia and Palau.

According to 2018 census estimates, there are currently more than 38,000 compact migrants currently residing in American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Hawaii, and Guam. Even though this number may seem small when it is compared to the total U.S. population of 327.2 million, the compact migrant population has a significant impact on the rest of the country. Congress now faces the challenge of funding for the growing number of migrants due to climate change.

A total of 4,325 migrants from the Marshall Islands now reside in Springdale, Arkansas.This creates 2 major problems. First, the city of Springdale is does not mimic the terrain of the Marshall Islands, so it is difficult for people to transition. Second, Arkansas must accommodate these displaced peoples. The state officials of Arkansas claimed that they have spent “around $51 million in costs for education, health and public safety services to compact migrants for 2004 to 2010.

Under the compact, the U.S. must allocate $30 million per year to areas highly affected by migration from the compact nations: Hawaii, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa. The $30M impact funding expires in 2023, which means that Congress will have to renegotiate the financial aspects of the compacts with each island nation. But in the meantime, some residents will have make up their mind on whether to migrate or remain in their home country.  We can expect more compacts with the growing number of people being displaced by climate change. This mass exodus has large effects on the countries that take in the migrants, and governments needs to be ready to support these people.

 

On Your Mark, Get Set, GO! Who Will Win the Race Between Sports and Climate Change

Everyone knows that climate change has impacted coastal living, contributes to extreme weather events, and is a threat to our water and food security.  But one impact that flies under the radar is the impact of climate change on sports and recreation.  There are about two hundred sports with international recognition and an estimated eight thousand sports played worldwide.  Everyone from children to Olympic athletes to fans are experiencing just how disruptive climate change can be on the sports they play and love.

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Figure 1: Runners in the women’s marathon at the Corniche during the IAAF World Athletics Championships

The increase in temperature is playing a vital role in the enjoyment of sports. Organizations, like the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), have already adapted to increased temperatures to protect athletes and spectators. During the 2019 World Athletics Championships in Qatar, races were scheduled at midnight to avoid the worst of the heat.  However, the later start could not avoid the humid, 105°F heat, causing 28 of the 68 runners to drop out and 30 runners to require medical assistance (one required brief hospitalization).  The temperature at midnight is about 15°F above the Qatar’s average nighttime temperature of 90°F. In response to what happened in Qatar, the IOC has moved the 2020 Olympic marathon from Tokyo to Sapporo.   Sapporo is located in the mountainous region of Northern Japan and is expected to have temperatures about FIFA has also moved the timing of the 2020 World Cup. To help mitigate the impact of heat on their athletes, for the first time since their inaugural season 92 years ago, the 2020 World Cup will be a winter, not summer event.     Because of the increased temperatures, winter sports are also at risk.  Higher temperatures decrease snowfall amounts and increase melting ice and snow.  The effects of climate change on sports are not only seen through increased temperatures.  In Britain, increased precipitation makes fields soggy and unplayable, affecting sports like golf, cricket, and soccer.  Droughts, heavy rains, increased temperatures, and sea level rise are limiting sporting venues worldwide.

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Figure 2: The Old Course at St. Andrews golf course in Scotland has been flooded because of sea level rise and stronger storms

In 2018, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the sports sector launched the Sports for Climate Action Framework at COP24 in Poland.   This collaborative framework unites sports organizations, athletes, teams, and fans to raise awareness and preform actions that meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.  The UN Sports for Climate Action Framework has two main goals; first, to create a clear pathway for the global sports community to combat climate change, and second, to use sports to facilitate global climate action.  The Sports for Climate Action plan lays out three steps for climate action: (1) to measure and understand, (2) take action, and (3) educate and inspire.

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Figure 33: Andy Hunt, CEO of the World Sailing Federation addresses the panel discussion ‘Sports for Climate Action’ at COP24 in Katowice

An organization’s actions need to focus on mitigating their impact on climate change.  To do this, organizations must plan to avoid creating GHG emissions, use less resources, find cleaner and efficient substitutions, and report their carbon footprint and related actions.  An organization must measure their carbon footprint to provide a baseline that shows how activities impact the climate.  Understanding their carbon footprint leads to better decision-making to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.  Most importantly, an organization needs to educate and inspire people to do their part to mitigate climate effects and raise awareness about sustainability.

Many organizations, like the IOC, have contributed to the climate crisis through GHG emissions from travel, energy use, venue construction, and other means. The IOC and the other sporting organizations that have signed onto the Sports for Climate Action initiative recognize that sports organizations have a responsibility to reduce impacts and take steps to adapt to the impacts of climate change.  The IOC has emerged as a leader in this initiative and plans to leverage the power of sports to support their efforts of incentivizing and supporting National Olympic Committees and international Olympic Committees of their tangible climate actions.  Also, with the help of their Official Carbon Partner Dow, during the Sochi 2014 and Rio 2016 Olympics, they have worked with industry and decision makers to adopt low carbon technologies through material selection and manufacturing that have led to sustainable changes after the games ended.

Compared to climate change’s more devastating effects, its impact on sports seem inconsequential. However, it is something that affects everyone in a noticeable way.  Sports connect people from different countries, social class, and backgrounds. Amassing millions of fans around the world, the loss of sports would be felt deeply.  But organizations like the IOC are recognizing that change is necessary, both to respond to the impacts of climate change on sporting events, and to lessen the industry’s role in contributing to this harm.

Sea Level Rise & Food Security

Today, nearly a third of the global population is food insecure.

The United Nations defines the four pillars of food security as:

  1. The availability of sufficient quantities of food of appropriate quality, supplied by domestic production or imports
  2. Access by individuals to adequate resources for acquiring appropriate foods for a nutritious diet
  3. Utilization of food through adequate diet, clean water, sanitation, and health care to reach a state of nutritional well-being where all physiological needs are met
  4. Stability, because to be food secure, a population, household or individual must have access to adequate food at all times
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350 year old Cornfield in the Chesapeake Bay submerged in salt water like never before. South Florida, North and South Carolina, and Louisiana have each reported that SLR has threatened wetlands in low lying areas and that SLR has disturbed groundwater and vegetation dynamics.

Climate change threatens each pillar of food security. Without immediate climate action, global food insecurity is only going to worsen. Food security, especially in low lying coastal areas and small islands, is intrinsically tied to climate change and sea level rise (SLR). Sea level rise serves as a threat amplifier, especially in regions of the world with dense coastal populations and heavy reliance on coastal agricultural infrastructure.

Global average SLR is the most confidently predicted climate change threat. Mainstream media tends to center its coverage and reporting on the impact of SLR on coastal inundation and extreme weather events. This is fair: entire communities face the threat of hurricanes, tidal waves, and erosion, and are rapidly being forced to consider their options to protect their resources, adapt to the threat, or retreat from the coast. By 2100, our world will watch many communities, even nations, disappear entirely. However, climate change and SLR threaten our world in another, systemic fashion: food security.

As the impacts associated with SLR worsen (e.g., erosion, land loss, flooding, salinization, extreme weather events, cascading impacts), and as patterns of tropical and extratropical cyclones, rising air and sea temperatures, and changing rainfall patterns continue, the stability of our food systems will crumble. Coastal communities who are highly vulnerable to SLR will see the greatest change in agricultural patterns— mainly, salt-water intrusion and increased soil salinity, coupled with floods and waterlogging from increased intensity and frequency of extreme weather events. Small farming communities in warming coastal regions will feel the greatest strain on food security.

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Caption: The global impact of climate change on crop productivity will be significant. This simulation demonstrates the change in yield of 11 crops by 2050 averaged across green house gas emissions scenarios.

According to the FAO, the Asia-Pacific region is especially vulnerable to impacts of SLR and severe weather events on food security—today the Asia Pacific region houses more than half of the world’s undernourished people (about half-a-billion). Studies project that Bangladesh will experience a 15.6% reduction in rice yield as a result of increased soil salinity in coastal areas. Vietnam has also reported a decrease in agricultural production stemming from the impact of strong storm surge, rising temperature, and variability in rainfall pattern.

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“Due to sea-level rise, salt water can intrude 30 to 40 kilometers inland, followed by high water levels in the riverbeds and increased sedimentation in canals and flooded plains”

Speaking specifically to small island nations, climate change and SLR will have an especially dire impact on local food security. Communities that rely on seafood as a primary source of protein will see adverse impacts as a result of sea warming and acidification. These changes impact the migratory and mating patterns of fish, threatening the viability of fisheries that communities have long depended on. Moreover, the most recent IPCC report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate predicts a significant reduction in the biomass of marine animals across the food web, as well as a reduction in maximum catch size potential of fisheries. The IPCC predicts that the decrease in seafood availability will have significant impact on Small Island Developing states.

SLR also poses the threat of saltwater incursion into existing agricultural lands in small islands and coastal communities. Changes in precipitation patterns combined with sea level rise will impact soil salinization and agricultural production, which will result in diminished food and water security. Wetlands are complex, eco-hydrological environments where ground and surface water interact with climate, tidal influence, topography and vegetation. SLR interrupts this relationship, resulting in abnormal soil salinity and vegetation shifts. Overall, studies have found that crop productivity is expected to decrease in low latitude and tropic regions with local land and sea temperature increases.

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In Southeast Asia, the issue of food security is crucial. The region expects the middle class to grow by 60 million people in just five years. Beyond Southeast Asia, to feed the growing population of the world, global food calorie yield will have to increase 50 % by 2030.

Combined, the impact of climate change and SLR on fishery viability and agricultural production will have dire social, economic, and ecological impacts on coastal and small island communities. Communities will face adverse impacts on nutritional health, small farm income, state sovereignty, ecosystem health, land tenure, food price and market stability, and fresh-water competition. Communities depending on small scale coastal agriculture will be forced to import food, at high cost. Overall, decreases in agricultural and fishery production will affect income, livelihood and food security of marine-resource dependent communities. The IPCC concluded that long-term loss and degradation of marine ecosystems compromises the ocean’s role in cultural, recreational, and intrinsic values important for human identity and well-being. These findings regarding food security only serve to increase the urgency with which the world must tackle carbon and GHG emissions, and pour funding into efforts to adapt to the impacts of climate change and SLR.

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Seagrass – The Unsung Hero

Seagrasses are found up and down the coast of the United States and in many other parts of the world. Together they form meadows that are productive ecosystems, providing food and shelter to a wide range of animals. One important, often overlooked, function of seagrasses relates to their impact on the world’s climate.

One of climate changes greatest challenges is limiting the amount of carbon that is in our atmosphere. One mitigation technique is to revitalize or create carbon sinks. Carbon sinks fight climate change by capturing and absorbing carbon dioxide and preventing it from being released into the atmosphere. Seagrasses act as a surprisingly efficient carbon sink.

Seagrass meadows, per square kilometer, are able to store up to 83,000 metric tons of carbon; whereas a typical terrestrial forest, per square kilometer, is only able to store about 30,000 metric tons of carbon. That means seagrass meadows can sequester over twice the amount of carbon a terrestrial forest can given the same amount of space.

Unfortunately, seagrass meadows only occupy less than 0.2% of the world’s oceans. Despite their underwhelming presence, they are still responsible for over 10% of all carbon sequestered in the ocean per year.

Seagrass meadows’ ability to act as a carbon sink are threatened in a couple different ways.

One major threat to seagrass meadows is over-exploitation. Sharks that routinely patrol these ecosystems are being unsustainably exploited for a number of reasons. Some fishermen catch sharks solely for their fins. The fins are then sold to make shark fin soup. Other times, sharks are incidentally the product of bycatch. Whatever the reason, shark populations are drastically declining, and are becoming more threatened with each take.

SharkSharks are important to the seagrass meadows because they feed on the animals below them in the food chain. As apex predators, they feed on animals that would otherwise eat the seagrass. The sharks maintain a healthy ecosystem by limiting the populations of their prey, thus allowing the meadows to remain at healthy levels.

Another major threat to seagrasses are heatwaves. Seagrasses are temperature sensitive, and a strong heatwave (which are becoming more abundant with the rise of extreme weather due to climate change) can seriously decimate an entire meadow. Once the seagrass density drastically dips, it is difficult for the meadow to recover because it creates increased competition for all the fish, dugong, and other animals that eat the seagrass.

The lack of sharks compounds the rebounding issues. Without the threat of sharks patrolling the meadows, animals are able to further decimate the seagrasses because there is no threat of predation.

One potential solution would be to follow in the footsteps of Palau. In 2009, Palau became the first country to create a shark sanctuary and ban shark fishing in its exclusive economic zone. This move protected about 240,000 square miles of ocean (about the size of France). The presence of sharks maintains the health of the ecosystem and allows the seagrasses to rebound in the event of a decline due to some climatic event, like a heat wave.

This will not provide the solution to climate change. However, protecting sharks, and thus protecting seagrasses, will hopefully allow for the expansion of an efficient carbon sink, creating a positive feedback cycle and increasing its positive effects.

How Renewable Energy Can Help Small Island Nations Like Palau Achieve Energy Access and Sustainable Development

Rising seas, intense storms, increased droughts, and fires are just some of the issues that people in small island nations worry about on a day-to-day basis; on top of just trying to survive in this world. Mothers must worry about whether their children will have food, shelter, proper satiation, and if the lights will turn on (if that’s even an option for them). Think about how different your own life would be without the electricity we have—if the lights didn’t work, your computer didn’t exist, or not being able to store your food in refrigerators. This is the reality for more than 1.2 billion people, who have little or no access to energy. When access to energy increases, so does access to clean water, education, and more reliable jobs, which improves the overall health of people.

Small island nations are trying to change the narrative when it comes to energy. Energy is vital to our survival in the 21st century. Traditional sources like coal, oil, and gas are not practical solutions to solve a small island nation’s need for energy because they put other critical sectors at risks, such as agriculture and fisheries, tourism, and other industries. Also, because islands are rather isolated, their markets would not benefit from affordable prices that traditional energy markets bring. The isolated market issue is one of the many constraints that small island nations face when it comes to energy access. Other constraints include limited natural resources, environmental vulnerability, and dependency on foreign sources of energy.

Countries like Palau have minimal natural resources compared to larger developing countries in Eastern Africa. As an alternative to using traditional sources of energy, many developing countries rely on biomass as their source of energy. Countries in Eastern Africa have access to a large amount of biomass, whereas small island nations’ biomass is not available as an alternative to oil and gas. Also, there is pressure on these countries to not use biomass because of the adverse effects on the environment. An alternative for small island nations is to enter the renewable energy market.

Small island nations generally have an abundance of renewable energy sources from rivers, waterfalls, wind, solar, wave power, and geothermal power. Now is the ideal time for small island nations to invest in renewable energy because the costs have dropped dramatically over the years. This allow small island nations to meet their electricity needs, reduce energy costs, create employment opportunities, broaden energy access, and set them on the path to energy self-sufficiency.

Palau is a small island nation in the Pacific who has been making noise in the headlines when it comes to renewable energy. The island nation’s population—a little over 20,000 people—currently rely on diesel fuel from other countries to meet their energy needs. The people of Palau pay twice as much per kilo-watthour ($0.24) than the average American when they only make an average of $5,000 per year. In 2018, the country announced it plans to upgrade their entire electrical grid to rely entirely on renewable energy. Palau has a current project with ENGIE and Gridmarket to build the world’s largest solar power-energy storage microgrid with 100 MW of power generation and distribution capacity without spending a dime of taxpayers’ money. Currently, Palau is on target to meet its 45% goal by 2025 renewable energy goal five years ahead of schedule. The second phase of the project is set to be completed by the end of 2019, allowing Palau to derive 100% of its electrical needs from renewables. This initiative has decreased the cost of energy to the lowest it has ever been in Palau’s history.

Overall, while small island nations have constraints to traditional energy sources and limited access to natural resources, renewable energy may be the perfect solution to meet their energy needs, while also creating a stable economy and development.

 

 

 

 

Pricing Carbon: The pitfalls of obligation.

Amidst rising temperatures around the globe, the United Nations (UN) warns that the world must reduce carbon dioxide emissions by ~50% by 2030 and reduce them to 0% by 2050 to keep Earth habitable. Furthermore, the Paris Agreement, negotiated at COP21, has an overall goal to limit the increase in global temperature to 1.5°C.

Carbon is one of the key culprits in global warming; it is one of the main components of fossil fuels that is released into the Earth’s atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide, which in turn traps heat and contributes to global warming. To mitigate the risk that carbon poses to the earth, a carbon tax has long been thought of as perhaps the most efficient way to charge for carbon. A tax on carbon would essentially charge a price for carbon, with the goal to disincentivize consumers from using so much carbon.

However, to be truly effective, a carbon tax needs to be implemented on a global scale—a challenging feat. The Paris Agreement only peripherally addressed this issue. Article 6.2 allows Parties to use “internationally transferred mitigation outcomes” to achieve their mitigation targets, which encourage the linking of carbon pricing approaches. However, the Agreement falls short because of its lack of specificity. The first challenge would be setting the price of carbon per metric ton; currently, there are many discrepancies in the price of carbon across the globe. The UN is currently attempting to come up with a global set price for carbon. The second challenge would be assigning an authority to enforce the tax, including assigning revenues from the tax. The UN could potentially administer a global carbon tax. Finally, a uniform price could mean that developing countries, which theoretically emit less carbon, will be more adversely affected than other, more developed countries.

Professor William Nordhaus, who recently won the Nobel Prize for Economics for his work on the economics of climate change, warns that the 1.5°C UN goal is nearly impossible at this point because of the enormous economic costs that such a reduction would require. It is unclear what the price of carbon should be. Norhouse calculates that in order to maintain the 2.5°C ceiling, the price of carbon would have to be near $300 per ton by 2025, and at an even higher price if the ceiling were 1.5°C. This is significantly higher than any other price proposed. He argues that implementing the “wrong” policy (a reduction of 1.5 °C) could actually be more costly than not doing anything at all.

Nordhaus instead proposes “a global climate club” where a majority of countries would join to set the price of carbon (~$30 per ton) and implement this price through taxes or a cap-and-trade system. There would also be a price to pay for not joining the club, which could include tariffs on goods from the country. Again, developing countries who simply cannot afford to join such a carbon club may be at a disadvantage. In any case, Nordhaus acknowledges that even this plan may be too little, too late.

Thus, determining a price for carbon is extremely complicated, because of the incentives involved, as well as the difficulty in assessing what price to put on the damage that carbon is doing (the social and environmental costs). What is more sure, is if we do set the right price for carbon, we have a good shot at achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement. What that price is, remains to be seen.

Naveed

Carbon Brief survey of impacts plays out globally, for 1.5°C v. 2°C