Climate Science Becomes Even More Robust

A recent bulletin from the American Meteorological Association titled “Explaining Extreme Events from a Climate Perspective” is described as having the most certain language yet concerning the link between climate change and extreme events.

In the sixth edition, the authors point to three significant events, the 2016 record global heat, the heat across Asia, and the marine heat wave off the coast of Alaska.  This edition of the annual report finds that none of these extreme events could have occurred in a preindustrial climate.  The AMA asserts that these results were not unexpected and suggests that additional analysis of previous extreme events may lead to the discovery of more events that have certain links to climate change.  Below is an excerpt from the report;

“This sixth edition of explaining extreme events of the previous year (2016) from a climate perspective is the first of these reports to find that some extreme events were not possible in a preindustrial climate. The events were the 2016 record global heat, the heat across Asia, as well as a marine heat wave off the coast of Alaska. While these results are novel, they were not unexpected. Climate attribution scientists have been predicting that eventually the influence of human-caused climate change would become sufficiently strong as to push events beyond the bounds of natural variability alone. It was also predicted that we would first observe this phenomenon for heat events where the climate change influence is most pronounced. Additional retrospective analysis will reveal if, in fact, these are the first events of their kind or were simply some of the first to be discovered.“

Extreme events follow the climate science predictions of how our world will react to rising temperatures, and now climate scientists are proving that these predictions are quite accurate.  The time to act is now, we must wean the world off fossil fuels, and fast!

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We are All Connected from the Arctic to the Tropics

The recently released 2017 Arctic Report Card states that the Arctic shows no signs of returning to reliably frozen regions observed in prior decades.   “The average surface temperature for the year ending September 2017 [was] the 2nd warmest since 1900.”  My previous blog post showed an emaciated polar bear suffering from its extended summer fast.  Polar bears and other Arctic wildlife will need to adjust or perish as they confront a ‘new normal’ characterized by loss in the extent and thickness of sea ice cover.  The Report highlights greening of the Arctic tundra and record warming of the permafrost.

The Arctic is way up there in Santa Claus country.  So, who cares?  We have bigger problems down here.  Other than potential extinction of an iconic symbol, a warming Arctic has little impact on those of us in the lower latitudes.

I wish that were the case, but it’s not.

Our Earth System is intimately connected.  Driven primarily by energy from the sun, our Earth System encompasses the dynamic cycle of materials and energy within our thin veneer of atmosphere, water, and soil.  It’s all connected, from the Arctic to the tropics and from the depth of the oceans to the tips of trees.  Our Earth System is unified and self-regulating.  This means that the ‘new normal’ in the Arctic affects regions around the globe.

Consider the current wild fires in California.  The ‘new normal’ for droughts in California and throughout the southwest will continue.

Consider the increase in number and intensity of Atlantic hurricanes.  Harvey, Irma, and Maria ravaged Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and numerous islands.  We can expect this to be the ‘new normal’.

The Sun is the ultimate energy source that controls our climate.  The Sun shines most directly over the equatorial region creating warm moist low-density air that rises.  As this tropical air rises, it cools, condenses, and frequently rains giving rise to lush tropical rainforests.  Although there is significant vertical movement of air, there is little horizontal movement near the equator.  Mariners refereed to these calm, low-pressure, windless equatorial seas as the “doldrums” due to limited horizontal wind to fill their sails.

The vertical upward trajectory of tropical air splits at high elevation and flows toward the north and south poles.  The spinning Earth disrupts this poleward flow—the Coriolis effect—and the air cools enough to sink at about 30 degrees latitude both north and south.  The sinking cool dry air warms as it descends into a calm high-pressure zone forming many of world’s great desserts around the globe.  This is why regions in California and the southwest are so dry.

The descending air splits at the surface.  The surface air flowing toward the equator completes a continuous circulation pattern creating the tropical Hadley cell.  The surface air flowing toward the poles creates a mid-latitude cell.

There are three convection cells—Hadley, mid-latitude, and polar—in each hemisphere.

York County and the continental US lie in the mid-latitude cell.  In this middle cell, winds flowing along surface toward the poles are deflected by Earth’s rotation to form “prevailing westerlies.”  These winds blow from the southwest in the northern hemisphere and from northwest in the southern hemisphere.

Now, let’s go to the North Pole to see how the polar cell interacts with the mid-latitude cell.  Up there, it is cold year round.  This cell is anchored by a dense column of descending cold, dry, high-pressure air.  The cold polar air flows along the surface toward the lower latitudes.  This surface air flow is also deflected by Earth’s rotation forming “polar easterlies”.

The cold “polar easterlies” collide with warm “prevailing westerlies” from the mid-latitude cell at about 60 degrees northern latitude.  These converging air masses result in an uplifting zone known as the “polar front”, or in layman’s terms, the “storm track”.  Fronts can migrate.  Here in North America, we can observe how fronts are affected by topography, regional conditions, and seasonal contrasts.  As well, the high altitude fast moving jet stream snaking its way over the continent is a factor.  The resulting variable weather patterns give rise to periods of rain and sunshine that benefit agricultural production.

All three cells are linked.  The net effect is to pump energy via heat driven convection currents the entire way from the tropics to the polar regions.

I will be heading to the tropics in early January with a group of York College students to investigate impacts related to climate change.  We will trek over the Monteverde Cloud Forest where naturalists and scientists will explain dramatic impacts they are observing.  Decades of data show that the cloud forest region is getting hotter and colder and wetter and drier.  The first species level extinction linked to climate change reported in the scientific literature was the golden toad, endemic to the Monteverde Cloud Forest.

It’s not just Santa Claus who connects the elves in the polar north to children around the globe.  From starving polar bears to stressed tropical frogs & toads, from California forest fires to Atlantic hurricanes, from Inuit seal hunters to York County farmers, we are all connected.

Climate change is not “their problem”.  It is “our problem”.  Climate change is a civilization challenging issue.  It is THE global environmental issue of our time.  It is a global issue that will require global cooperation to solve.  Let’s work together.

Wishing you peace on Earth and good will toward all.

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Polar Bears Starve as Arctic Sea Ice Declines

Permanently frozen lands to the north surround the vast Arctic Ocean.  Much of the Arctic Ocean is frozen, reaching its maximum in mid-February to late-March.  During the summer months, the sea-ice recedes, typically reaching a minimum in September.  NASA reports the “September Artic sea ice is now declining at a rate of 13.2 percent per decade.”  It is possible that there will be a totally ice free Arctic Ocean by late in this century.

“Arctic” is the Greek word for “Bear”.  Fittingly, polar bears are distributed throughout the circumpolar Arctic.  As the bay melts in late spring, the bears are forced to shore where they must survive on their winter store of fat reserves.  During summer months, the bears laze about in a “walking hibernation” conserving their energy.  They do not actively hunt until the ice returns.

When conditions permit, the white, furry mammoths head back out on to the sea ice in search of their favorite prey—ringed seals.  They will lie in wait by the seals breathing hole.  When a seal pokes its head out for a breath of fresh air, it may be its last.

Due to changing climatic conditions, the bears are now forced to shore earlier in the spring where they must survive on their winter store of fat reserves.  They must now wait longer until the sea ice returns before they can eat again.

The graph below from the National Snow & Ice Data Center shows the extent of sea ice decline for November from 1978 – 2017.  It’s not a pretty image for polar bears.

In late October and November, the lumbering famished beasts pace along the water’s edge waiting for it to freeze over.  They’ve been fasting for months.  They are really hungry…or worse!  Here is a heart-wrenching video of a starving polar bear captured by National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklen.

Is this the world we want to leave for our children?

The only remaining political block of climate change deniers sits on Capitol Hill in Washington DC.  Every other nation understands and accepts the science.  Please demand that your legislator address climate change through legislation informed by the science.

 

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CAN really thinks we can save the planet through the Talanoa Dialogue

On the closing day of COP23 here in Bonn, Germany, The European Climate Action Network (CAN), a collective group of NGOs, provided a highly informative and extremely positive press conference. Mohamed Adow, the International Climate Lead from Christian Aid, Rajeli Nicole, Pacific regional Director from Oxfam, and Wendel Trio, Director from CAN Europe each provided opening statements that indicated there had been significant progress in three main areas: phasing out coal along with all fossil fuels; recognition of the extensive suffering of indigenous peoples effected by extreme weather; and a tremendously positive path forward through the Talanoa Dialogue.

Climate Action Network (CAN) Press Conference

All three of the representatives were highly encouraged by the developments that the Talanoa Dialogue represents.  The Talanoa Dialogue is the replacement for the facilitative dialogue established under the Paris Agreement.  The purpose of the dialogue is to create a process for implementing the goals established under the Paris Agreement.  Rajeli explained that a Talanoa dialogue is a Fijian tradition that must consider three basic principles throughout the dialogue;

  1. It must bring the right people into the room for discussion—those who are experiencing the impacts the most.
  2. It must establish a fair and balanced process.
  3. It must reach a fair and balanced outcome,

The Fijian people use the Talanoa Dialogue in their common dialogue as well as significant negotiations. Now the COP has established this as the process by which the discussion will continue up to COP24.  The dialogue can be described this way;

Talanoa is a generic term referring to a conversation, chat, sharing of ideas and talking with someone. It is a term that is shared by Tongans, Samoans, and Fijians. Talanoa can be formal, as between chiefs and his or her people, and it can be informal, as between friends in a kava circle. Talanoa is also used for different purposes; to teach a skill, to share ideas, to preach, to resolve problems, to build and maintain relationships, and to gather information.” – The Kakala Research Framework, Seu‘ula Johansson Fua

According to an official COP Agenda item from yesterday;

The Presidencies of COP 22 and COP 23 conducted extensive consultations on the Talanoa dialogue throughout 2017, which continued during the twenty-third session of the COP. This informal note has been prepared by the Presidencies of COP 22 and COP 23 on this basis. The President of COP 23 will announce the final approach at the final plenary meeting of the COP on Friday, 17 November.

Based on my experiences at eight previous COPs, the positive press conference from CAN is relatively unusual for a COP.  The tenor of this report provides cause for hope.  I had the opportunity to talk with Wendel after the conference.

Interview with Wendel Trio, Director from CAN Europe

I asked whether there was a mechanism for subnational stakeholders to be included in the negotiations.  We had a very informative conversation.  He explained that the Talanoa Dialogue establishes the Paris Agreement as a living document, one that will establish the official pathway forward for the entire world to keep the planet from rising more than 20C.  He continued to explain that the US sub-nationals are already playing a significant role in the negotiations by assuring other countries, particularly the European Union, that things are happening in the United States.  He also puts a lot of faith in the Talanoa Dialogue as the potential method for including the US and other sub-nationals in the official negotiations.

Talanoa Space at COP23

From the NGO perspective, this was a very positive COP indeed.  Leading to COP24 in Poland, the Talanoa Dialogue is a hopeful message to the world!

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German Government Points to Talanoa Dialogue for Achieving Purpose of COP23 in Bonn

The German government presented a summary press conference this afternoon on the final day of COP23 in Bonn.  Federal Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building, and Nuclear Safety Barbara Hendricks spoke on behalf of the four government representatives present.  Her summary message was that “the purpose of this conference was achieved.”  The highlight was the Talanoa Dialogue encouraged throughout 2017 and the negotiations here in Bonn by Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama who serves as COP23 President.

German government officials offer press conference on final day of COP23 in Bonn.

“Talanoa” is a Fijian concept in which people listen to each other, respect each other’s perspectives, and seek solutions that benefit everyone. The Talanoa Dialogue reflects a process of inclusion, process, and transparent dialog that will lead to the so called ‘rule book’ to be adopted at COP24 in Poland.

Hendricks opened the press conference with a statement touting Germany’s logistical prowess as the technical host.  It was informative for me to hear some of the metrics.  Hendricks stated, “Germany had only 11 months to organize the COP when countries typically have at least two years.”  The budget was 170 million Euro with 50 million Euro spent on temporary structures.  (note: COP23 is housed on the UN Campus in Bonn, but many additional structures were needed.)

The approximately 13,700 UN accredited participants included 11,000 delegates, 1,200 journalists, and 1,500 NGOs.  Hendricks acknowledged the vital contributions from the NGOs.  She stated that the German Pavilion served 20,000 cups of low-carbon coffee from Costa Rica.

German Pavilion at COP23 in Bonn.

The remainder of the press conference was more-or-less non-informative with respect to details. Hendricks said, “There are still some controversial items, including climate finance.”  The COP Presidency recognizes that the current NDCs [Nationally Determined Contributions] are still not sufficient to keep our planet below a 2oC rise above preindustrial temperatures.  She said, “COP23 was an intermediate step with respect to [the Paris Agreement].”

She said, “The three key questions going forth to COP24 in Poland next year are:

  • Where are we?
  • Where do we go from here?
  • How do we get there?”

Most of the press conference punted ambitions to COP24 where “we want to finalize this and set more aggressive goals.”

She noted that sub-national stakeholders and businesses are stepping in to achieve their countries’ declared NDCs.  She emphasized, “The US does not stop with Trump.  Everyone is contributing.”

Later in the press conference in response to a journalist’s question asking her impression on the official US delegation versus the unofficial US Climate Action Center, she responded, “Officials from the US are quite opposed [to the Paris Agreement].  But, [the US] remained neutral and didn’t try to block anything.”  She indicated that this is not “what we were expecting [from the US].  Their neutrality is to be respected.”

Concerning the unofficial US stakeholders, she said “they made it quite clear that the American people still want to [tackle] climate change.”

A number of journalists asked pointed questions about Germany’s continuing use of coal, while 20 countries announced here in Bonn that they will phase-out coal.  She responded, “Let’s be honest.  [Germany] cannot sign any new agreements [concerning coal].  Others use little coal, but favor nuclear.  Nuclear cannot be seen as a climate policy.”  Later, she stated, “Next year—[COP24 in Poland]—will define a roadmap to the elimination of fossil fuels.”  She indicated that this will include the “phase-out of coal.”

Hendrick’s emphasized that COP23 was not about lowering the NDCs.  It was about “how to implement the Paris Agreement”: how “to measure and to monitor” commitments.  “Data must be valid.”  She stated, “You have contradictory positions [from different countries].  Therefore, “you need to write down” pathway.  That pathway will be achieved through the Talanoa dialogue.

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US National Statement at COP23 in Bonn, Germany

Below is the statement delivered in Bonn, Germany today by U.S. Head of Delegation Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environment and Scientific Affairs Judith Garber.  This statement went live on the US Department of State web site at about 7:00 pm Bonn time (1:00 pm EST).  I do not know if this statement was delivered in a live news briefing at COP23 today or not. I do not believe it was.  The Statement was sent to me as an embargoed press release.  The only official visible presence I’ve observed from the US government here at Bonn is the coal-focus event on Tuesday evening.

President of COP 23, Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates. The United States is pleased to be engaging with other Parties here at the 23rd Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Let me extend my sincere appreciation to the Government of Fiji for its leadership in presiding over this COP, and to the Government of Germany and the City of Bonn for hosting this Conference.

President Trump has made clear the U.S. position with respect to the Paris Agreement. Although he indicated that the United States intends to withdraw at the earliest opportunity, we remain open to the possibility of rejoining at a later date under terms more favorable to the American people.

Irrespective of our views on the Paris Agreement, the United States will continue to be a leader in clean energy and innovation, and we understand the need for transforming energy systems.

President Trump made this clear when the United States joined other G-20 countries in the G-20 Leaders’ Declaration in stating that we remain collectively committed to mitigating greenhouse gas emissions through, among other things, increased innovation on sustainable energy and energy efficiency, and working towards low greenhouse gas emissions energy systems.

Our guiding principles are universal access to affordable and reliable energy, and open, competitive markets that promote efficiency and energy security, not only for the United States but around the globe.

The United States will continue supporting a balanced approach to climate mitigation, economic development, and energy security that takes into consideration the realities of the global energy mix.

Over the past 10 years, the United States has shown that it can reduce emissions while growing the economy and promoting energy security. Since 2005, the United States’ net greenhouse gas emissions have decreased 11.5 percent while the U.S. economy has grown 15 percent, adjusted for inflation.

A large portion of these reductions have come as a result of the adoption by the private sector of innovative energy technologies –fostered by early stage innovation by the public sector.

Collaborative U.S. public and private efforts over the past ten years have resulted in dramatic decreases in the cost of low-emissions technologies and fuels, including natural gas, solar, wind, energy storage, and energy efficiency. Natural gas prices have dropped to about a third of what they were in 2007 and the cost of utility-scale solar PV has dropped by more than 64 percent.

We want to work with other countries to continue advancing the development and deployment of a broad array of technologies that will ultimately enable us to achieve our climate and energy security goals.

Already, the United States is working bilaterally with countries such as China and India to advance power sector transformation and smart grid technologies, energy efficiency, and Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage.

We are also engaged in many multilateral initiatives.

Through the Clean Energy Ministerial, we are engaging our national laboratories to provide in-depth technical expertise to pursue new global opportunities to leverage the potential of advanced energy technologies including carbon capture, utilization, and storage, and nuclear energy.

Through our work with Power Africa, we have catalyzed some $60 billion in energy investments that will provide modern energy services for roughly 300 million citizens across Africa by 2030.

And through the Caribbean Energy Security Initiative, we are working with island states to identify cost-effective options for using advanced energy technologies to diversify and strengthen their power systems and increase energy access.

Of course, we know that each country will need to determine the appropriate energy mix based on its particular circumstances, taking into account the need for energy security, promotion of economic growth and environmental protection.

In that context, we want to support the cleanest, most efficient power generation, regardless of source.

Beyond energy, the United States will continue to help our partner countries reduce emissions from forests and other lands, to adapt to the impacts of climate change, and to respond to natural disasters.

Our Sustainable Landscapes programs are helping partners to protect well over 2 million square kilometers of forests and other landscapes, reducing more than 300 million tons of COequivalent emissions, while enhancing sustainable development, generating local livelihood opportunities, and protecting biodiversity and water resources.

U.S. government technical agencies also continue to help partners improve their capacities to monitor and report on terrestrial carbon through the SilvaCarbon program. SilvaCarbon has helped countries conduct forest inventories, develop maps of forests and other ecosystems, and worked to include forests and other landscapes in national greenhouse gas mitigation strategies and targets.

In sum, the United States intends to remain engaged with our many partners and allies around the world on these issues, here in the U.N. Framework Convention and everywhere else.

Thank you.

 

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“Keep It In The Ground!” Red Carpet Rolled-out Welcoming German Chancellor Angela Merkel to COP23 in Bonn

An 80 meter long “Keep It In The Ground!” Red Carpet was rolled-out earlier today by Pacific Climate Warriors welcoming German Chancellor Angela Merkel to the climate negotiations in Bonn (COP23).  This Red Carpet is less plush than ones typically rolled-out for dignitaries and celebrities.  But, its texture is rich in the diverse colors of multihued cultures while issues of social, economic, and environmental justice are deeply woven into its moral fabric.

“Keep It In The Ground” demands that the carbon in coal stay in the ground.

The Red Carpet rolled-out for Merkel is similar in purpose to the Red Line for Climate Justice unfurled down the Avenue de la Grande Armée at COP21 where leaders from around the globe adopted the Paris Agreement.  The moral Red Carpet in Bonn addresses dirty coal, imploring Merkel and negotiators to “Keep It In The Ground!”  The relentless transfer of carbon from coal to the atmosphere is a clear and present danger for Pacific Islanders.

George Nacewa, a Pacific Climate Warrior from Fiji said, “Germany’s coal poses a direct threat to Pacific Islands and our people. Germany needs to phase out coal immediately to keep global temperature rise below 1.5C and give us in the Pacific a fighting chance for survival!”  Fiji serves as the host country for COP23 while Germany provides the venues.  Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions from coal directly contribute to rising seas in the Pacific.  George said, “We’re not prepared to let the fate of the Pacific be determined by politicians that put profits and polluters before people.”

As the banner was being unraveled for the demonstration, the Global Director for 350.org—who hails from Egypt—told me, “This is a moral and political emergency.  Fiji is already impacted by the coal projects here in Germany.  There is no way to keep the Paris Agreement relevant except by keeping coal in the ground.  Our message for Merkel is to demand a coal free Germany.”

Maike Pilitati from the island nation Kilibati said, “We are here to send a message to the Chair of the negotiations. We are all from the Pacific Islands.  We need to keep fossil fuels in the ground, not to add more [carbon to the atmosphere].”

I ask her what she would like to share about her country.

“Kilibati is a wonderful country,” she stated with pride.  But, she expressed deep concern, “It is only two to three meters above the sea.  We are so vulnerable to sea level rise.  When the king tides come, they are very strong.  When disasters [like hurricanes] happen to our neighbors [in other parts of the world], we living in the islands [feel the impacts].”

Maike talked about being battered by “big waves and strong winds like I’ve never experienced before.  We have our own westerly winds.  Today we are witnessing [changes].  They just wash over the islands.”

A Pacific Islander form Tonga, Joseph Sikely said, “The Red Carpet represents a Red Line we cannot cross.  Many politicians are coming here.  [They must work to] phase out coal.  We need leadership.  Our life [in Tonga] has pretty much changed; the weather, coral reef bleaching, acidifying the ocean waters.  Food security is our biggest problem.  Waters are our living.”

Joseph Sikely is from Tonga.

He too expressed deep concern that “My village Nuku’alofa will be gone in 50 years.  Our island is only 2 meters high in parts, 10 meters on other parts.”

Latia Maiava from Tokelau said he is from “the smallest island in the world.  We have only corral, no mountains.  He informed me, “Tokelau was the first nation in the world to move to 100% renewable energy in 2014.  Every home is solar powered.  Our total population is only 1,500 people on 3 small islands.”

Latia Maiava is from Tokelau

Latia told me a “Very sad story.”  He said, “In 2005 was the first time I experienced a hurricane.  It almost took the life of my mother.  Fortunately, I was able to save her.”  Like all of the others, he voiced deep concern for the rising waters.  In the case of Tokelau, it is a grave situation.  “We will be the first nation to go under water.”

He talked about the situation of becoming a climate refugee.  “Our island is wonderful for us.  They tell us that we can move to New Zealand or Australia.  We don’t want to become climate refuges.”

Pacific Climate Warriors is a collation of 15 island nations fighting for their survival as island nations.

Tokelau is one of the 15 island nations that form the Pacific Warriors.  Latia said, “Climate change effects our life, our food, everything.  My question to big nations is, if Tokelau, the smallest island in the world is the first nation to go 100% renewable, why can’t the whole world do the same like us.  Why can’t they move to 100% renewables?”

Latia’s comments speak pointedly to all of the negotiators gathered in the closed meeting rooms above, “If Tokelau can do it, why can’t they?”

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There is SO Much More to Leadership than Words or Tweets

Here at COP23 in Bonn, French President Emmanual Macron delivered his opening remarks where he “told the delegates that not only is Europe leading the way in efforts to fight climate change, it can also make up for the impending withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Agreement.  “I propose that Europe replaces America,” he said. “And France will meet that challenge.” DW .

President Macron is clearly stating that he is ready to fill the void left by the United States following the announced US intention to withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.  These are the words of a World Leader.  However, what President Macron did after his speech showed his true leadership and character.

President Emmanuel Macron greeting COP23 volunteers

Pictured above is the French President greeting the many COP23 volunteers who waited patiently for almost an hour until he emerged from one of the meeting rooms.  A true world leader inspires people around the globe and appreciates their efforts.  In the vacuum created by the US President, a real world leader has stepped on to the international stage.

A view of the crowd waiting for a chance to see President Macron

 

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Trump Administration Leadership Change and “Unchanged” Position on Withdraw from the Paris Agreement

If you are following this blog, you likely are interested in the happenings at COP23 in Bonn.  Following is a verbatim media email I just received from the US Department of State a few minutes ago.  This lays out not just the logistics of a leadership change, but also the administrations “unchanged” position with respect to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.

Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs Judith Garber will travel to Bonn, Germany, November 15-17. In the absence of Under Secretary for Political Affairs, Ambassador Thomas A. Shannon, who is unable to attend due to a family emergency, Acting Assistant Secretary Garber will serve as the head of U.S. delegation to the 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP-23) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change during the High-Level Segment.

The Administration’s position on the Paris Agreement remains unchanged. The United States intends to withdraw from the Paris Agreement as soon as it is eligible to do so, unless the President can identify terms for engagement that are more favorable to American businesses, workers, and taxpayers.

The United States remains a Party in good standing to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change and is participating in ongoing negotiations under the Framework Convention as well as the Paris Agreement, in order to ensure a level playing field that benefits and protects U.S. interests.

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US Government Is Out, But “We Are Still In”

Up a flight of stairs, back a long hallway, and around the corner, you will find the door to the US delegation office.  It’s lonely up there.  A little bit like getting the last room at a two-star hotel that nobody wants.  “It’s sad” would be the likely response of the person responsible for lack of US visibility and engagement here at the UN climate negotiations in Bonn, Germany (COP23).

US Delegation Office at COP23 in Bonn.

I’ve participated in the annual UNFCCC Conference of Parties (COP) for the past nine years.  This is the first time that the official US presence is so apparent by its obvious absence.  In all previous COPs, a large, impressive US pavilion has served as a magnet for foreign delegates and members of civil society from around the globe.  The NASA Hyperwall highlighted our leadership in air and space science.    Ever-present free coffee and special events sponsored throughout the day showcased our nation.  Not this year.

The US Pavilion at the 2015 COP21 in Paris. US Pavilion is missing at COP23 in Bonn.

At COP21 in Paris, NASA’s Hyperwall visualized examples of world changes. The NASA Hyperwall is missing at COP23 in Bonn.

Two happenings yesterday seared my soul.  The first was mid-day when I decided to seek out our US delegation office.  It wasn’t easy to find, hidden in the back nook of the building.  As I stood outside the door and was ready to snap a photo of the contact information taped to the door, a suited-person rounded the corner.  I asked if he was a US delegate.  He grumbled an incoherent phrase and without pausing slipped in the office slamming the door behind him.  Whoa!  Is this who we are?

I subsequently emailed the contact on the door.  The response from the US Department of State Public Affairs Officer read, “We currently aren’t planning to do interviews at the COP, but I will take note of your request in case this changes.”

The second disheartening event occurred in the UN zone open to all civil society.  There are two zones at the COPs.  One requires UN accreditation (Bula Zone).  The other is open to all (Bonn Zone).  This is where NGOs, businesses, and others share information and promote their causes.

Last evening, the Trump administration hosted a coal-focused event titled, “The Role of Cleaner and More Efficient Fossil Fuels and Nuclear Power in Climate Mitigation” in the Bonn Zone.  Former NY mayor Michael Bloomberg, a UN special envoy for cities and climate change, stated, ““Promoting coal at a climate summit is like promoting tobacco at a cancer summit.”

I decided to pop over to the Bonn Zone to see first-hand what and why the US government was promoting an in-your-face divisive coal-focused event at a global UN summit aimed at arresting the relentless rise in carbon emissions.  What I found was a large crowd of demonstrators outside the venue.  The demonstrators chanted and sang in an attempt to drown out the fossil fuel promoters within.  This event underscored the growing international antipathy toward our US government.  A large roped security area prevented me from entering the event—I wanted to witness the proceedings.  Eventually, my press credentials served as an entry-visa.  The five-person panel included a “Whitehouse Special Assistant”, a representative from the “Office of the Vice-President”, and three fossil fuel advocates.

Demonstration outside Trump administration sponsored coal-focused event.

It is challenging to reconcile the purpose of this singular official US government sponsored coal-focused event in the face of President Trump’s announced declaration to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.

However, there is hope.  ‘We Are Still In’!

‘We Are Still In’ serves as a non-governmental US Climate Action Center.

We Are Still In’ represents a cross-section of 2500 leaders form city halls to boardrooms who support climate-action in the US.  ‘We Are Still In’ includes more than 230 cities, 9 states, 1700+ businesses, and 320 colleges & universities who pledge to meet our Paris Agreement commitment.  Collectively, ‘We Are Still In’ would form the third largest country in terms of GDP.

In response to federal government inaction, it is heartening to see businesses, sub-national governments, and academic institutions filling the leadership void.

California Governor Jerry Brown (D) and former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) speak at a Governor’s Panel. Schwarzenegger said, “Bringing back coal is like bringing back Blockbuster.”

As California Governor Jerry Brown said yesterday at a non-governmental US Climate Alliance panel discussion, “The rest of the world has got to carry the ball while [the US government] sits on the sidelines.”

Posted in climate change, COP21, COP23, politics | Comments Off on US Government Is Out, But “We Are Still In”