Monday, December 13, 2010

The Party is Over

Cancun-messy (a play on the name of the Cancunmesse conference center where the official side events where held), and Climate chaos were some of the colorful phrases used to describe the COP 16. The talks have ended, delegates and dignitaries have returned to their homelands, Canún left messy, what is there to show for it?

At the end of the opening statement for the COP16, IPCC chairman Dr. Rajendra Pachauri hoped, " We hope Cancun signifies a major step in action to deal with the challenge of climate change. The available scientific knowledge in this field justifies it and the global community rightly expects it."

What do we have to walk away with from this?

The UN aimed low and got what it wanted, a non-binding, non-specific, "Cancun Agreement". The UN process is admittedly slow and not designed for sweeping changes, and because of this, several are heralding the Agreement as a success and proof that multilateralism is still relevant. The Agreement touches on a few aspects of climate change mitigation, but looks away from any real language of how these would work:
Green Climate Fund - a mechanism of transferring money from rich nations to developing ones. This would be to finance alternative energy, or other clean development mechanisms (as in the Kyoto Protocol)
REDD+ a UN program designed to reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation by reducing the rate of deforestation. Industries or countries would use REDD+ payments as offsets to allow them to continue to emit greenhouse gases with the knowledge that forests elsewhere would suck up that carbon. HIGHLY contentious.
Science-based Emission Cuts - this is the big one. All countries acknowledged the need for science based targets, however the emissions reductions as determined by scientists would require that the world reduce emissions up to 40% by 2020 in order to prevent mean global temperature rise over 2 degrees celsius.

That's the rub. Kyoto, the world's first platform for making reductions in greenhouse gases, was ratified in 1997 and since then - 13 years later - we still don't have a multilateral agreement for making real reductions in GHG emissions. With Cancún touted as a "success", without any tangible outcome, it is merely a "stepping stone", putting off action until maybe 2013 in Durban, South Africa (where COP 17 will be). If essentially nothing has been done over the past 13 years, how can we expect to make science-based reductions in 10? Especially if, according to the IPCC, emissions should be peaking by 2015.

Cancún, was a success - according to its own measures, but at the cost taking action. Though the Cancún Agreement was ratified by consensus (in contrast to Copenhagen's political elitism), Bolivia claimed that the Agreement would allow global temperatures to rise 4 degrees celsius (this increase in global temperature would result in 40 - 70% species extinction), and showed the UN's preference for commercial solutions over humanitarian focused listening and action. Large corporate players including Walmart and the World Bank, were invited to high-level talks and played integral roles in developing markets not only for carbon, but also biodiversity. Contrast this to the systematic silencing of youth and indigenous groups by the UN as well as federal police. Indigenous delegates were denied previously-granted access to negotiation spaces and youth activists were evicted from the regal Moon Palace - home of the negotiation space.

These two important, yet systematically marginalized groups need to be given more clout and a stronger voice in future negotiations if we're to pave the way for a truly sustainable society. \

Beyond social equity issues, two major questions are left from Cancún: 1) Where will the promised $100 Billion come from for the Climate Green Fund? and 2) What will be the real emission reduction targets and strategies?
These issues will hopefully be addressed at COP-17 in Durban, South Africa.

With that, I'd like to close this chapter of climate investigation with two quotes from the IPCC AR4 Synthesis Report,

"Unmitigated climate change would, in the long term, be likely to exceed the capacity of natural, managed and human systems to adapt. Reliance on adaptation alone could eventually lead to a mag- nitude of climate change to which effective adaptation is not pos- sible, or will only be available at very high social, environmental and economic costs."

and more important to keep in mind come elections, local energy and ag decisions, or global catastrophes from resource mining and energy procurement,

" Delayed emission reductions significantly constrain the opportunities to achieve lower stabilisation levels and increase the risk of more severe climate change impacts."

Chilling. Inspiring.

Thank you once again to Cornell for being concerned with climate change and wanting to be part of the solution, as well as giving so many students the opportunity to take part and experience this.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Tour through Cancunmese

After spending a long day of processing audio files, digital pictures, and pages of notes from the previous day's activities, I took a little self-guided walking tour of the Cancunmesse conference center to see "the bigger picture".

Inside Halll D was a large room filled with nationally sponsored rooms or wall-less spacious "enclosures" that used art and aesthetics to convey countries' commitment to climate change and to enumerate their actions to deal with it.

A particularly beautiful exhibit was from Brazil and was vey much like an exhibit out the Natural History Museum. With sounds of the rainforest creatures, pictures of rainforest biodiversity including humans, and installments of facts about the Brazilian rainforest in terms of human impact and greenhouse gas emissions. Take the tour for yourself:

After that I strolled through the main concourse of the conference center, recording the general buzz, even at 8pm, and I was even swift enough to get an interview with


Klimaforum: Bio-intensive, Animal-integrated, Perennial-based, Organic Regional Food Systems as the Climate's Saving Grace

Quite a lofty title, but that's the main message given by Ronnie Cummins - founder and director of the Organic Consumers Association as well as coordinator of Via Organica, which is an organic farmers association in the states of northern Mexico.

In short Ronnie harped on "organic agriculture" as the only real way forward. Not only as a means of adapting to a weirder climate, but also as a means of mitigating climate change - sequestering excess green house gases and reducing their emissions from foodscapes.

Now, I'm "educated" (educated, meaning schooled) in agriculture, I know and believe that organic (at least the way its described in North America) has many flaws and in certain applications, like monoculture Earthbound brand lettuce, organic isn't any better than "conventional" agriculture. I pressed Ronnie on this issue, that some organic uses excessive tillage for weed control, spray and pray mentality with organic analogues, and extensive land ares under monoculture. He agreed and further qualified his vision of organic to be bio-intensive (meaning growing more food in smaller land areas), based in perennial plants, free of tillage (to preserve soil structure, function, and capacity to store carbon), necessarily incorporating animals, and ultimately being designed in the likes of the natural ecosystems that the farm is part of. This sounds a lot like conversations I hear in the permaculture and sustainable agriculture circles here in Ithaca. I felt lucky to have been immersing myself in the food revolution that is happening in the Finger Lakes (in Ronnie's words), where there so much activity to build a local food and fiber system. But there are still unanswered questions about food security and sovereignty, food production capacity, and local and national political agendas to ensure the success of agriculture in a new climate.

Ronnie identified a number of current issues, or problems, including the need for better Life- Cycle Analyses in the calculation of the proportion of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from agriculture. Some provocative new measurements that need to be included are GHG emissions from land clearing for industrial scale biofuels. Another new metric to include is the energy that goes into cooking and processing foods for industrial food systems, and methane generated from improper disposal (i.e. not composting organic matter) of organic food "waste". Ronnie argues that once these calculations are included industrial monoculture based agriculture will be shown for its true nature: a climate criminal. He contends that under the new calculations agriculture will be shown to contribute to 50% of global GHG emissions, compared to the 10-12% that the IPCC AR4 came up with. If you check out the outline for the upcoming AR5 (Assessment Report 5), which is slated to come out in 2014 issues such as food security and other socio-economic issues will be covered.

In addition to addressing issues of GHG contributions of ag, he also pointed out the very important and frustrating issue that agriculture hasn't really been invited to the negotiating tables, despite our role not only in contributing to anthropogenic GHG emissions, but our role as part of the solution too.

Hear Ronnie speak about this (I apologize for the wind noise, I left the windscreen in Ithaca):
Video thumbnail. Click to play

In addition to GHG emissions, Ronnie stresses the importance of consumer participation in the food revolution, but not without the help of labeling and regulations associations. Ronnie says that current labels such as "All Natural" are deceiving and make foods that are climate adversaries seem OK and healthy choices. A favorite rant of mine that Ronnie goes on is one about vegtarianism and veganism. As a former vegetarian of 40 years, Ronnie couldn't see how ranchers on the one hand loved their animals and on the other sent them off for sluaghter. However, in his new vision for agriculture Ronnie sees the integral function of animals - how even nature doesn't farm with animals. Even further, vegetarian and vegan soy and corn based products are climate offenders due to massive deforestation for soy plantations (as well as unsustainable beef cattle pastures). Click here for a great article enumerating the many causes and trends of Amazonian deforestation, or listen to Ronnie:

What I really appreciated about Ronnie's was his call for abandoning "doom and gloom" perspectives. He really sees this bio-intensive, animal-integrated, perennial-based agriculture as the predominant way to reduce GHG emissions as well a sequester excess CO2.

However, Ronnie self-admitantly is not a scientist, though he does believe in using science to guide action. Though some of his number claims may be spurious, I think that his conceptual ideas are right on target. He cites methods such as carbon sequestration in the soil as the major contribution to climate change mitigation and while he is discouraged by the political and economic follies that have emerged around carbon credits and markets, he sees the value in paying farmers for "a better way to farm". I agree, we should be offering incentives for growers to be maximizing ecosystem benefits, the atmosphere included. Currently, we offer incentives for growing fertilizer loving (but inefficient user) crops like corn and soy, and value only one thing: yield. This incentive structure encourages land clearing for crops, poor management and stewardship of the land, export commodity economic agendas, corn and soy byproducts ubiquitously found in our processed foods, and a devaluation of food that people can eat. Another important point that Ronnie makes is the need for scientists, activist scientists (like the world famous climatologist James Hansen ), citizens, and farmers to come together "under the same tent" to enable more action the positive transition agriculture needs if it is to part of the solution.

Ronnie, sums up with two important sentiments. One is that climate change is not just about the atmosphere, or carbon dioxide. Its about the whole earth, its about changing our economic and political systems and our scientific priorities. He mentions a climate conference in Bolivia, (there are many UN COP like conferences that lead up to the main COP. They are more focused and held in different countries throughout the year in order to prepare for the main negotiations), where the rights of Mother Earth were spelled out into an official document. His second important sentiment is that of a fierce, but uplifting and radical message. "We have 1800 days" Ronnie states, referring to that some scientists are saying that we have 6 years (though his calculation come out to just under 5) left to make our carbon emissions negative, other wise we're cooked. While that itself isn't very uplifting and quite ominous he argues that we are fighting for a new food system that is rejuvenation, rejuvenation of the atmosphere, soil, and ecology - including the socio-politico-economic ecology of humans:

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Klimaforum found

Going off word of mouth directions, we were looking for a 7-11 in Puertos Morelos. The only 7-11 we had so far encountered was one off the highway which seemed to be the center of exchange for ADO buses from the airport to the taxis and local route bus lines. After asking some shop owners in downtown Puertos Morelos, it turned out that was the only 7-11 in town. 20 pesos and a 5 minute cab ride later, we were waiting on the side of the 7-11 in front of a Klimaforum sign for some to-be known vehicle to pick us up.

About 30 minutes later our ride arrived – a dusty silver astrovan blasting conscious hip-hop from the states, and out came three people heading back to wherever. We got in with two Spanish speakers and a woman named Justine from an NGO in Brooklyn who was documenting the spread of industrial agriculture in the developing world. I was intrigued and excited for what was to come.

2.5 km from an ecopark boasting caves, ziplines, and crystal clear pools of natural springs was El Rey, which is a polo club. Ironically, the Klimaforum was hosted in the latter. We registered our names and emails, paid 10 pesos for the shuttle and began to explore the modest and seemingly quiet counter-UN event. On the gate entrance was the schedule for the day. It was about to be lunch and after that we decided to hear a presentation about how organic farming is, and should be, the saving grace for climate change mitigation as well as adaptation.

The feeling of the event was worlds away from the COP. The entire event was open air, side-events or workshops held in party tents on a large turf field, open-air café and stage that doubled as blogger’s post with wifi up until 5:00pm. The energy slower friendlier, and more communal; every one ate the same 40 peso ($3.50 USD) meal of rice, kidney beans, roast potatoes with veggi-sausage, and cilantro lime shredded carrots. English and Spanish mingled in the air and people of all walks, including young children, talked and ate together or ran around the field.

Simone and I walked around the inner perimeter of the field listening to the sounds of birds and we checked out the Meshwork:

The Meshwork is an interactive diagram that places important epicenters of change needed to prevent the destructive forces of climate change. Next to those epicenters were cards that described specific actions needed to see those changes. The idea then is that the connections made can be taken home with you by registering at the website which will connect you to similar people in your local area.

All in all it was quiet, calm and free spirited. Though not dull, there were many vibrant people who were looking for alternative roots to enacting changes, ones were they had more of a voice. Ironically though, it didn’t have a format all that different to the COP. There were some more spiritual activities like drum circles and dances for the earth, but the bulk of the experience was simultaneous hour and a half presentations.

I had later learned that the alternative forum experienced a rift as those from the Klimaforum received government funding for their event, those wanting a process completely exterior to the state formed the People’s Dialogue, though equally as elusive to find, but apparently more radical.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


Questions from the Cornell community answered...

Q: I'm teaching a course next semester on "The Politics of Slow Moving Crises" on the difficulties political systems have in interpreting and responding to risks with long time horizons, like climate change. I'd be particularly curious in learning more about how participants at climate change negotiations evaluate the politics of addressing climate change, and if they view states' responses to climate change negatively, then what do they see as the alternative avenues to coordinating responses?

A: I can give an overview of how several developing countries are approaching REDD from attending the side event titled, "Souther Civil Society, Local Community and Indigenous Peoples Perspectives on REDD". Simone Lovera of the Global Forest Coalition and Friends of the Earth International advocates heavily against REDD for the reasons that governments that enact REDD are also involved with pre-existing conflicts of interest such as mining, logging, and biofuel concessions. Valuation of the forests, in her argument, comes from the indigenous's understanding and intimate connection with forest benefits, i.e. it s non market. She argued that there are several pre-existing frameworks that should be strengthened instead of ignored, pointing primarily to the UN Convention on Biodiversity and the UN Declaration of Indigenous Rights. Other countries represented in the panel are less skeptical about REDD due to their involvement of indigenous peoples and small communities. Cited examples were a pilot project in Tanzania, a very successful, full-integration of indigenous rights in Paraguay with CAPI. Examples from Cameroon and Indonesia felt that much more work needed to be done to ensure indigenous rights as well as deforestation rather than just reduced emissions.

Q: I hope that the delegation can give us a better idea how economically feasible geologic carbon sequestration will be in the future given the view of the conference presentations and attendees on some alternatives to encourage or force atmospheric CO2 reductions (like carbon tax, cap and trade, and legislative regulation of CO2 emissions).

A: From IEA sponsored side event I learned of an in depth report of the techno-economic aspects of CCS refer to IEA GHG Report 2008/2009 by Foster Wheeler Italy.

In dedicated CCS facilities energy efficiency goes down, capital costs increase, and the cost of electricity increase compared to Biomass CCS. In current carbon markets there is no clear language of how biomass CCS or CCS in general will fit in. It is unclear and currently being debated if CCS at all can be included in CDMs. CCS was however acknowledged in the IPCC GHG Guidelines (2006) Chapter 5.3 as being a reportable negative emission. The technical potential of Biomass CCS is 10 Gt in the power sector (33% of global electricity demand) and 5 Gt in biofuel sector (31% of global fuel demand), more realistic estimates tally out to 3 Gt. With the caveat that biomass supply is the largest limiting factor.

Q:I’m also interested in what they have to say about and risk analysis for geologic carbon sequestration for the supply of uncontaminated water. It is my impression that international concern about potable water supplies is growing, perhaps almost to the level of concerns about energy shortages. Is that a correct impression and what group or region is driving that change? I have worked on water resources for years. In the last decade it seemed that there was not all that much interest in water. What has changed now and why? Is population growth the driver or is it water needs associated with energy development (including water to grow ethanol) ? What do people see as the solution?

A: By 2050 65% of CCS projects will occur in developing countries and 45% of the projects will be associated with coal burning plants (the rest occurring in the sectors of nuclear, natural gas, and biofules primarily). I asked about the possible threat to potable water, especially considering the high occurrence of these projects in developing countries. A panelest from the IEA (International Energy Agency) acknowledged that there has been no official analysis and conceded that there may negative impacts on water, but there has been no quantification done yet. Other panelists remarked that CCS used in exhausted oil fields or into saline aquifers do not impact drinking water. A panelist from Chevron mentioned that in the US there is legislation to make sure that all steps in CCS are controlled. A panelist from Canada further clarified earlier points by saying that ground water is generally found 300 - 500ft below the surface and that these wells were at about 6,000ft below. An informed audience member told me later that no water is used in compressing CO2, however no one mentioned issues during drilling etc.

Population pressure and water was not discussed

Indigenous Perspectives on REDD

This side event presented 5 perspectives on REDD from developing countries with large indigenous populations, who are for the most part inseparable from the forests. These perspectives were based off of actual experience with REDD programs and reflected on how they integrated the needs of the native people. Two of them had found great success when involving indigenous peoples and local communities at every stage of the REDD process, this occurred in Paraguay and Tanzania. Efforts in the Congo Basin and Indonesia were mired by government corruption, conflicting interests with mining and logging concessions, and excluding local input.

Simone Lovera from the Global Forest Coalition (GFC) and Friends of the Earth International gave a very impassioned argument as to why REDD programs are often in direct conflict with the goal of reducing deforestation. The GFC is a group of 50 NGOs and Indigenous Peoples Organization which followall of the major intergovernmental forest negotiations, but they specifically address the underlying causes of deforestation. The causes she identified were: 1) Demand for wood. Governments are increasing demand by subsidizing wood fuel as a move away from coal. 2) Demand for land. Bioenergy programs promote expansion of land use, she argues to the point where if we derived all of our fuel from biomass there would be no unmanaged forest remaining, and further that bioenergy is promoted under REDD.

3) Conflict over land tenure. Ownership rights vs indigenous territories have plagued state-indigenous relations for centuries. 4) Industrialization, urbanizationm infrastructure. Institutions like the World Bank should not be promoting on the one hand reducing deforestation and on the other development of “under-utilized” land. 5) Poor central planning lack of political will, inadequate capacity. 6) Economic poverty, no alternative livelihood. 7) Climate change. 8) Neoliberal economic policies, unsustainable consumption and poverty.

There are however, uplifting cases of non-REDD forest conservation. These are based off of a non-market appreciation of forest ecosystem services such as clean and abundant water, food, and shelter. Those living in the forest consider themselves custodians of mother earth.

Her conclusions made in Q&A section of the panel, I feel said it best. To summarize, some existing programs are already sufficient to achieve reduced deforestation, but they need to given more strength (which goes back to point #5 above), such as the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which provide enough rationale to protect forests for other reasons. To Simone, the UN and COP16 are the wrong place to discuss the issues of forests because those who live in the forests are not invited to negotiating table like they are in more local processes.

The panelists who described success had differing views. In 2009, Tanzania began "pro-poor" REDD pilot project . Norway has invested $75 million USD into an MRV program as well as 7 NGO projects, further the UN is investing $4.2 million USD. In Tanzania REDD can work because the villages and communities own the forest and therefore the money from emissions reductions will reach them. The locals welcome the opportunity for more income, to move away from slash and burn agriculture, and to funnel new monies towards schools and clinics.

In Paraguay, the organization CAPI was instrumental in involving indigenous cultures into the REDD negotiations which started in 2008. By keeping indigenous interests at the forefront through the whole process, the entire rights of these peoples have been incorporated for the first time in the UN-REDD Programme. More information can be found at (in spanish).

Indonesia and Cameroon/Congo Basin have not seen such similar success, mostly due to ambiguous legal language, nebulous land tenure, and absent local voices at process meetings. Major challenges have been 1) Political framework. There is disharmony between policy and forest protection due mining, plantations, etc. 2) Fulfillment of rights. The forest and its peoples are inseparable, there have been no real strides to make right on this. 3) Financing and $ flows. Political corruption has made this a critical issue. 4) Technical aspects such as MRV. Giogio Budi of the Indonesian Civil Society on REDD showed a slide that illustrates the inherent conflift REDD and true deforestation by biofuels per se:

Indonesia has made two statements that make REDD projects more promising 1) Forests will become a focus of the president's decisions, and 2) there will be a 2-year suspension on new contracts for converting natural forests and peatlands. However an analysis of this, shows this may be more of the same corruption. Giorgio Budi calls for a reversal of the REDD logic: REDD fails (i.e. is over burdened) because it is focused on reducing emissions, if it were focused on reducing deforestation then REDD could be very successful at reducing the emissions associated.

In conclusion, REDD still seems to be a quagmire given that monetary and financing aspects of the program are worlds away from the equity issues felt in the host countries. From this panel it would seem that REDD has the tendency to permit corruption and crimes against human rights. Where success has been found, it has been as a result careful, free and prior informed consent and consultation with indigenous peoples has led to the integration of their needs, generating synergies. This is what Samuel Noah from Cameroon pleads:

And impassioned closing remarks from Simone Lovera on irrelevance of the UN processes to discuss forests and indigenous rights:

UN Efforts aimed at Capacity Development

This panel discussion was presented by several UN organizations and surveyed several places where the UN is working to improve the capacity to deal with preparedness for climate change related challenges at the nation level.

Maria of UN-HABITAT spoke of urban measures for adaptation and mitigation in the Philipines, where a 1 m sea level rise will affect 80% of the municipalities.

Julia Jules of CD4CDM (Capacity Development for Clean Development Mechanisms) in Peru spoke at length at how Peru was doing everything imaginable to be carbon finance friendly. This mostly dealt with government and finance level organization and of course capacity development, which would be building Peru’s ability to accept these CDM funds by insuring financeable projects, as well as having all of their ducks in line in the way of eligibility, money distribution, money sourcing, etc. This paid off for them though, through partnerships with Scotia Bank, Banco Continental, and Banco de Credito Peru has welcomed $11 billion in new investments. This money will fund 45 new CDM projects. Peru is also heavily promoting their CDM efforts and have been noted in May 2008 as “country of the month” by CDM Highlights magazine and is currently 6th best host country for CDM investments by Point Carbon magazine. As of now, in 2010, there are 147 CDM projects in the energy sector totaling in 25,783 tons of CO2 per year reduced and in 2011 there will be 152 projects estimated to reduce emissions by 250,000 tons of CO2. More information can be found at

Peter Holmgren of UN-REDD spoke of current REDD projects going on in Tanzania. He indicated the largest barrier to implementing REDD on a large scale were the transaction costs of training personnel to learn new technologies and to carry out the actual inventories of emissions in forests. This is also known as MRV, which stands for Monitoring, Recordkeeping, and Verification. MRV is currently the largest barrier for any terrestrial carbon management project looking to get funding from REDD and CDMs. The issue lies in the imperative to accurately measure emissions and sequestrations over huge areas of land with heterogeneous management, structure (topographically as well as in the vegetation), and soil, and then to track those measurements over time. To quote Holmgren “Forest MRV, without it, we can’t do anything”.

In order for participating, or interested countries to receive the compensation generated by REDD programs, the countries need to build their capacity to do MRV in order to submit a report. Not only capacity of states limited, but on the international level, Holmgren told us, there are not enough experts and implementers.

Tanzania represented an interesting case study where the FAO, UNDP, and UNEP have been working extensively with the Tanzanian National Forestry Program through longstanding work with the Forestry and Beekeeping Commission. This helps with capacity building, but the Brazilian Space Institute has been very instrumental by providing training workers to use remotely sensed data, like satellite images, as well as some technology transfer. In summary, REDD has much to offer, but also many demands. Costs need to be brought down, remote sensing needs to become available at the local level, training and training support is essential for the states to sustainably carry out REDD requirements as these projects can last up to a century or more. Holmgren also called for more Global South-to-Global South government collaboration as well as Global North-to-Global-North academic collaboration.

I asked the panel about how they felt food security and food sovereignty fit into capacity building, in the scope of the projects they reported on, my question went unanswered. It was clear to me that these UN efforts are tailored towards building capacity to generate CDM derived incomes for states, not necessarily building capacity of the people of those countries to adapt to the challenges that climate change presents.