DISPATCH #13 NOV.11

THE NUCLEAR

QUESTION

By Scott Manning

Nuclear energy is a big question at COP26. Everyone is aware of it, and many have an opinion about it. But nuclear has an ambiguous role at the conference. Take the events on November 4—Energy Day at COP26—when the conference held two presidency events focused on transitioning the energy sector away from coal for countries and companies across the globe. Countries listed off a variety of energy transition plans, but nuclear energy was hardly mentioned at the two events. 

Yet nuclear activism is present at COP26, and people are talking. Stand Up for Nuclear, a pro-nuclear organization, has an information booth in the climate pavilion. November 8 was also “Clean Nuclear Energy Day” at COP26, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has supported nuclear events at COP26. And one can’t walk far in the conference halls without seeing a nuclear advocate wearing a teal blue shirt: the shirt says a gummy bear of uranium has the same energy output as an entire railcar of coal.

According to Paris Ortiz-Wines, global organizer for Stand Up for Nuclear, countries around the world are considering nuclear or already adding nuclear energy to their energy mix. In particular, China plans to build 150 nuclear reactors over the next decade and a half.

The arguments for and against nuclear energy are well-worn. Advocates for nuclear energy argue that nuclear is an essential energy source for a carbon-free energy sector. Whereas solar and wind energy are dependent on environmental factors outside of our control, nuclear is a reliable energy source that would provide a stable energy baseline. In addition, with developing countries projected to greatly increase their energy needs in the coming decades, nuclear can provide that global energy growth. Nuclear also has some benefits over solar and wind power. Advocates argue that nuclear power requires the least amount of raw material per gigawatt power produced of all the renewable energy sources, making nuclear resource efficient; nuclear would also require much less physical space to generate the same amount of energy as wind or solar. 

Advocates against nuclear energy argue that nuclear suffers from a series of logistical and economic issues. Solar and wind energy are now extremely affordable, and they take less time to install. This makes nuclear the slower and more expensive option. Also, new nuclear technologies are still in the research and development phase with limited application, and some doubt if the technology can be brought to scale and implemented soon enough to reduce global emissions by the desired deadlines in the coming decades. By this thinking, countries should focus on installing wind and solar with an emphasis on improving electrification and efficiency across the economy. 

Then there is the controversy over nuclear waste. Advocates for nuclear waste claim that the amount of waste is minimal and that effective storage is already happening. But as the stalled Yucca Mountain project demonstrates (as the Corrales Comment has previously reported this year), there is tremendous difficulty in determining waste disposal sites for nuclear waste.  This waste issue is one manifestation of a persistent public distrust in nuclear energy. 

Nuclear is on the move. But COP26 is unlikely to be the conference that settles the nuclear debate. 

DISPATCH #12 NOV.10

HOW TO BETTER BUILD

INITIATIVES

By Scott Manning

At COP26, delegates and activists are talking about improving action and impact. People recognize that United Nations goals and platforms must result in measurable impacts so that communities, regions, and countries can better respond to and adapt to the climate crisis. 

This recognition has led to a more careful evaluation of how exactly people are served by their governments and institutions and what can be done to better coordinate climate knowledge, solutions, and innovations across different groups and through different levels of government.

The first meeting about this issue framed the discussion around the question of “vertical integration.” Vertical integration in this context refers to the linkages between national and subnational actors working to provide a common service. 

This first meeting focused on National Adaptation Plans (NAPs), which countries develop to anticipate climate challenges and to implement measures for climate adaptation. Vertical integration is important in adaptation building because national and local authorities need to coordinate their efforts with effective communication. In this way, communities are given relevant and accurate information about climate change and the resources they need to best anticipate and respond to climate concerns. Vertical integration is challenging because the many state and nonstate actors involved at national and subnational levels of authority must work together in ways that help people and activists on the ground. 

At this first meeting, three speakers gave their input on vertical integration. The three activists quickly reached a consensus about the major challenges facing better on-the-ground responses and how better vertical integration could be achieved.

First, governmental structures may lack institutional clarity. The speakers emphasized the importance of developing national and local climate strategies with clearly defined roles for local and national authorities. Without these clear expectations of duties, authorities can be stymied by uncertainty and take on unnecessary burdens in planning their responses.

Second, incomplete decentralization of power can harm climate responses. In this case, local authorities may be expected to design climate action plans, but they do not then have the power to enact these policies. This kind of inconsistent engagement can again be remedied by clearly defining responsibilities and by giving authorities the power they need to fulfill their responsibilities.

Third, greater engagement at the local level must inform national and local climate strategies. The speakers mentioned that national strategies may contain significant oversights if local people are not involved in the design process. Local communities best understand the challenges facing their areas, and they need to have a voice in the political process. The speakers suggested that action plans can benefit when governments involve young people and indigenous people in the solution-building process.

Fourth, there are gaps in access to data about climate, planning, and science, meaning that authorities and local communities may be poorly informed in how best to approach the climate crisis. Here, one speaker suggested that activists need not necessarily reinvent the wheel and create new institutions to communicate data to local communities. Instead, the speaker argued that many local communities may already have institutions or practices in place that facilitate community knowledge sharing. Advocates and responders should use these traditional institutions where they can because they are tried and tested. For example, a village may have a village court where local matters are discussed. Climate responders could participate in the village court to spread awareness about the situation with climate change and to share adaptation and mitigation solutions. This solution fits with the trend of making solutions more informed and responsive to local needs and realities. 

And when pressed by an audience member about the role of government in restricting access to data, the speakers provided a nuanced response. Open-source data exchange should be supported, they argued, but some degree of governmental oversight may also be needed to ensure data quality and security. The speakers also pointed out that data transfer can be improved by considering the ways in which both state and nonstate middlemen in data exchanges could be better engaged. 

A similar conversation about bridging knowledge gaps came up during a later event on deploying innovative solutions in the field. The Results-Oriented Adaptation Research (ROAR) alliance announced the creation of the Adaptation Research Alliance (ARA), an alliance aimed at bridging the gap between scientific climate solutions and the needs of local communities. 

A major limitation to the deployment of new solutions in the field is the knowledge gap: communities may be unaware of innovative solutions from the science community that could help their climate adaptation response, and scientists may fail to tailor their work to the needs of local communities. Professor Mizan Khan, the Program Director for the Least Developed Countries University Consortium on Climate Change (LUCCC), drew a distinction between wisdom and technical knowledge. Local peoples have wisdom, which is knowledge about and familiarity with the local region that accumulates over time by living on the land. Technical knowledge, on the other hand, can been developed and refined in laboratories but lacks local context. 

The solution to this knowledge gap must be collaboration in which local communities are tightly integrated into and at the forefront of scientific climate innovation and discovery. The ARA aims to bridge this gap by funding microgrants that support adaptation research and by encouraging consultation and collaboration so that scientific work has real impact. 

COP26 has had plenty of discussion about action on the ground. Now it is time for that action to take place.

DISPATCH #11 NOV.10

SCIENTIST REBELLION

DEMANDS MORE

THAN COP26 OFFERS

By Scott Manning

While protests and marches were going on around Glasgow this past Saturday, the group Scientists Rebellion linked together along the King George V Bridge to block off traffic. From their Twitter page, the group announced that the failures at COP26 had pushed them to engage in civil resistance. When police tried to break up the blockade, they discovered that they would need bolt-cutters: the activists on the bridge reinforced their blockade by chaining each other together. The reinforced blockade lasted for over four hours, and Scientist Rebellion celebrated the power of people taking nonviolent direct action. 

In a day of marching and rallies across Glasglow, Scientist Rebellion made the news for their more unorthodox approach to demonstration that ended in the arrests of 21 activists. But varieties of civil resistance rose throughout Europe: Extinction Rebellion was active in Brussels and Copenhagen to protest the failing of COP26 as well. 

Scientist Rebellion is an organization of academics who engage in civil resistance to protest climate change and to demand for greater action. The group argues that academics have failed to use their resources and connections to adequately wage rebellion against the climate crisis: “Scientists have spent decades writing papers, advising governments, briefing the press: all have failed. What is the point in documenting in ever greater detail the catastrophe we face, if we are not willing to do anything about it?” 

Simply put, academics can no longer live comfortably with their usual means of engagement. They must, according to Scientist Rebellion, take bolder action to make a difference. 

Now, these scientists are taking their teaching to the streets. On Monday, the Scientist Rebellion activists again returned to an area just south of King George V Bridge—even after having been banned from the bridge—to teach observers about the fallacies of COP26 messaging. The academics worked to dispel what they saw as the four greatest myths of the COP program: first, that planting trillions of trees will save human civilization; second, that carbon capture and innovation will save us from climate catastrophe; third, that green growth more broadly is a solution; and fourth, that governments will save civilization from climate change.

Scientist Rebellion is open about its membership with pictures, biographies, and quotes on the group’s Twitter account. The group has astrophysicists, ecologists, other kinds of scientists, and liberal and performing arts academics in their ranks.  And that transparency extends to their messaging. The group advocates for systemic change and the building of a thoroughly different world. In dismissing the United Nations summit, environmental scientist Kyle Topfer is frank: “COP is a pacifying tool that serves to bail out the existing power structure and prevent the radical change that is necessary.” 

Two types of advocacies for climate action  have emerged during the COP26 Glasgow conference. 

The first kind of advocacy is common at the United Nations COP26 process. The United Nations is procedural, and at the conference this procedure has been reviewed through the process of platform and action plan drafting. The United Nations strategy is also reformist in its attempts to facilitate changes from established actors. For example, representatives from governments, NGOs, and corporations appear at the United Nations presentation events to promise changes in government and business practices that will reduce carbon emissions. An emphasis is placed on working within established institutions or else building complementary institutions to make a framework that progresses collaborative change. 

The second kind of advocacy was shown with Scientist Rebellion’s civil resistance. This advocacy centers people in the process of taking direct action that can be disruptive and challenging to existing institutions. Scientist Rebellion and Extinction Rebellion offer a more radical vision of climate action based in people power. The idea is that COP26 has been a failure, and given the magnitude and severity of the crisis, greater action must be taken to promote systematic change. This people power movement was echoed in the Glasgow Green rally on the same day when speakers called for solidarity and united coalitions to fight climate change in place of a failed United Nations conference. 

Scientist Rebellion and rally speakers are all pointing to the inadequate action taken by governments and businesses in the COP26 conference. It remains to be seen if greater action emerges from COP in its last few days. 

DISPATCH #10 NOV.9

ACTION ON DEFORESTATION

Although admonishments come from all sides about the world’s governments failing to meet the challenges of climate change, COP-26 has at least yielded consensus that wholesale destruction of forests must end. An early product of the meeting was “The Glasgow Declaration on Preserving Forests,” signed by 130 leaders of national governments, which if reliably implemented, would protect 85 percent of the planet’s forests.

Among those signatories to the Glasgow Declaration are, notably, Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, The Republic of Congo, Angola, Mozambique, Uganda, Belize, Ecuador, Peru, Canada, the United States and Indonesia. Doubts arise immediately about some of those governments’ sincerity, given the rampant de-forestation that has occurred  with official approval in recent years. They pledged to “halt and reverse forest loss by 2050,”accompanied by aggressive tree-planting programs. There’s talk here about an all-out effort to plant a trillion trees to begin to restore the loss of biological balance created by massive logging and clearing for agriculture.

As schoolchildren all over the world now know, the world’s forests are vital to their own futures; trees take carbon dioxide out of the air in exchange for oxygen they give to us. Cutting down the trees means they cannot continue to take carbon out of the air, and when they are burned after land is cleared, the smoke from those fires adds tons more carbon to the atmosphere.

Lip service, to pledge platitudes to end destruction of forests is no longer sufficient to stave off condemnation because satellite imagery is revealing day by day the ongoing deforestation occurring in Brazil, chiefly to grow cattle, and in Indonesia, chiefly for palm oil production, and other forests around the world. At COP-26, yet another international collaboration debuted, the Forest Data Partnership, which records, analyzes and publicizes high-resolution maps from space that show precisely where the destruction is happening in almost real time. But as persuasive and graphic as that imagery may be, it will only really count if it stops the destruction. As one of the presenters at the session on deforestation wryly remarked, “We don’t want to be writing the obituary for the planet in high resolution.”

Most of the loss of forest globally is due to conversion of land to agriculture, and usually those crops are for export to the more developed, richer parts of the world. Primarily those exported commodities are palm oil, beef and wood. In recognition of that fact, some of the major food chain suppliers, such as Unilever, pledged at COP-26 to better track where ingredients for their consumer products come from and to assure sources are managed sustainably. Nominally at least, they pledged to assure that the agribusinesses in the supply chains are not contributing to illegal deforestation. Presenters in COP-26 panels on deforestation singled out officials in Indonesia for successes in reducing forest conversion to cropland.

One of those presenters, Tanya Steele of the World Wildlife Federation, noted that new initiatives have finally gotten commodity producers and consumer groups around the same table to work on solutions. Steele vowed to hold the entire retail sector accountable for further deforestation. A representative of the Network of Indigenous and Local Populations from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, reiterated why the the people in the Congo Basin are best prepared to assure that deforestation ends quickly.  He said the Congo’s rainforests have many uses beyond those that are most obvious. “Forests have economic functions, sure, but they also have identity and cultural functions.” He said the identity of the Congolese people is inextricably linked to the forest that covers most of their nation.  The appropriation of land for economic gain threatens the lives of indigenous people and their ways of life.

Norway’s minister of climate and environment largely concurred with the Congo’s representative. “We are nature, we live in nature, we depend on nature and we are to look after nature if we are to continue living.”  Indigenous knowledge should be central to the new-found urgency to halt deforestation, he insisted. 

Half-way back around the world, in Corrales, another project is scheduled to begin before spring to cut down a large swath of trees in the Bosque Preserve, between the levee and the river. The proposal by the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, which owns the land, the N.M. Forestry Division which will fund the work, and the Corrales Fire Department, would clear all non-native species of trees and shrubs within 15 feet of the base of the levee’s east side; cottonwoods and some Russian Olives would be spared. Over protests from villagers who have tried to protect the riparian forest as a “municipal protected area” since  the early 1980s, the mayor and Village Council have concurred with the latest clearing. The rationale: to reduce the fuel load in the bosque to counter the increasing threat of wildfire caused by climate change. 

DISPATCH #9 NOV.9

OBAMA DELIVERS FRANK

CALL TO ACTION

By Scott Manning

Barack Obama delivered a frank speech about the state of climate change and the need for our frustrations to lead to meaningful action.

On Monday, the main conference hall at COP26 was abuzz with the arrival of former U.S. President Barack Obama. John Kerry, former secretary of state, sat in the audience as Obama spoke, and during the speech the two communicated as longtime political partners. Along with Al Gore visiting COP26 on Saturday, a full force team of U.S. politicians have shared their advocacy at COP26. Coupled with President Biden’s efforts at home, the United States appears eager to signal to the world that they are again engaged in creating climate solutions.

President Obama began his speech by going over the good news from recent climate efforts. He started with the Paris conference that established the climate framework based on the input of over 200 countries. He mentioned that at the time the Paris conference had been proof that the world could come together to address a common threat. 

But the past few years have complicated that narrative. With the Trump administration pulling the United States out of the Paris climate accords and countries around the globe failing to meet their climate commitments, the goal to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius remained out of reach. 

Obama remained hopeful and gave praise where it was due. He noted that important progress had been made since Paris, and that the work being done in Glasgow was promising: in particular, the efforts promised by countries to reduce methane emissions and to restrict deforestation are incredibly important developments to come out of the conference. He referred to efforts done by some banks and corporations to reduce emissions, and he celebrated the job creation that renewables have already provided to Americans and the eventual passage of Biden’s Build Back Better plan, which will almost certainly contain some funding for climate initiatives.

However, Obama reminded the audience, we are still collectively and individually falling short of the action we need to take to combat climate change. 

He admitted to occasionally feeling cynical about the entire process and unsure of how to solve these immense problems. But he suggested that such cynicism was not the answer: “I remind myself that cynicism is the recourse of cowards. We can’t afford hopelessness.” 

Instead, Obama suggests we enter a politics of greater civic engagement. 

Obama focused on the ways in which people who care about climate change can change the conversation and generate more political will. He started by asserting that climate change, of all issues, should transcend partisanship exactly because the climate and environment are so crucial to all of our lives. He was disappointed that Russian and Chinese leaders were not present at COP26 in a greater capacity because they too are needed in these deliberations. And he was disappointed that politics in the United States had turned climate change into such a divisive issue. 

But moving forward, Obama called on those concerned about climate change to listen deeply to the opposition and to use this listening to better communicate and advocate for climate initiatives. Obama suggested that some people, for one ideological reason or another, would not be persuaded. But that plenty of people could be drawn into a broader climate coalition. Obama also asked that activists recognize that some people may have reason to be skeptical about promises of climate action. Take a mining town that relies on coal mining for survival. The prospects of a clean energy transition may appear threatening to these families. By recognizing that other people have reservations about climate action, activists can better share their message and advocate for their causes. 

Then, in a gratifying turn, Obama shifted his talk to address young people directly. He started by acknowledging young people’s frustrations: the world has enormous climate concerns, and the adults in power so often appear unwilling or unable to act. Then, Obama asked young people to continue to channel their frustration into action and leadership: “Don’t sulk. Get busy. Get to work and change what needs to be changed.” Obama recognized the many young people already getting involved and pleaded that others would follow.  

As part of this action, Obama implored young people to participate in politics by voting. Through voting pressure, young people could signal to governments that change needed to occur. And Obama also encouraged young people to continue to be sophisticated consumers to pressure companies to adopt greener policies. Finally, he asked that young people continue to educate their families, friends, and communities about the risks of climate change. This kind of outreach will be essential to building broad climate coalitions. 

Obama concluded by appealing to Shakespeare: “What wound did ever heal but by degrees?” Obama explained that the world environment and climate are wounded, and that healing will take time. This healing process will involve the hard and persistent work of engaged people working to better the world. 

DISPATCH #8 NOV.8

NORWAY PLANS FOR

RENEWABLE GROWTH

At the COP26 Pavilion, country governments and other organizations set up booths with information and sessions about how their specific regions and programs are developing solutions to the climate crisis.

As we explored the pavilion for the first time, we stumbled across a meeting held by the International Energy Agency that discussed how Norway was intending to improve its renewable commitment. Given Norway’s already impressive track record with climate solutions, including their investments in hydroelectric power and wind energy as well as a robust electric car market in the country, we were interested to see what representatives from Norway had to say.

In the meeting, the three representatives discussed strategies for encouraging climate solution growth in Norway. Different strategies emerged from the conversation.

The first major idea was to replicate the success seen in Germany and China by using the government to build a framework to create a market. The idea is that markets can emerge from structures that encourage their development. Therefore, by creating a renewable energy regulatory and legal structure the Norwegian government could facilitate the growth of a large renewable market in the country that would drive innovation and renewable adoption. 

The second major idea involved the development of public and private partnerships. This collaborative approach involves the creation of multistakeholder agreements that produce renewable projects. This multistakeholder approach would work to ensure that many relevant parties would be actively involved in the creation of climate solutions. The advocate gave examples of the electric bus and offshore wind farm programs in Norway. 

Both ideas grapple with the difficulties of involving various parties in the development of climate solutions, and the discussion is valuable in generating plans to implement ambitious climate reforms. The meeting was refreshing because it focused directly on the political and economic considerations involved in facilitating the transition to a greener society. 

DISPATCH #7 NOV. 7

YOUTH POWER AT SATURDAY

MARCH IN GLASGOW

Saturday, November 6 was the Global Day of Action for the Climate 2021, and throughout the cities of the United Kingdom, activists were on the march. They were marching for climate action and for social justice amidst the backdrop of a COP26 conference that, in the words of Greta Thunberg, has amounted to whole lot of “blah, blah, blah.” 

In Glasgow alone, tens of thousands of protesters marched from Kelvingrove Park through downtown Glasgow to the finishing rally at Glasgow Green. The march took place over the course of several hours in the wind and rain, but the sun shone as marchers arrived to Glasgow Green at the end of their journey.  

The rally at Glasgow Green immediately positioned itself not as a complement to COP26, but as a challenge. The first speakers and performers were members of an indigenous tribe from Canada. The speakers issued their statement of purpose to cheers: “We are not here to offer our indigenous solutions to your climate problem that colonialism created. We are not here to fix your COP agenda, we are here in spite of it, we are here to disrupt it.” They then sang and danced to the song of the woman warrior, an outright display of indigenous power and representation that had been largely missing from COP26. 

Other speakers at the rally continued with this kind of messaging. There were calls for the building of new coalitions through people-power that would challenge the status quo, emblematized by a call to climate action: “The seas are rising and so are we.” The message was a universal one, an embrace of solidarity that included support from the indigenous peoples and labor movements. 

The rally reached its crescendo when Vanessa Nakate, a Ugandan climate activist, stepped up onto the podium. She discussed the destruction of a school from her home due to a storm disaster. She asked the audience frankly how she was supposed to explain to the head teacher at the school that strong winds and heavy rains from storms will not stop when leaders do not act. And she asked how she was supposed to explain to girls who are dropping out of schools that their leaders are making decisions that will make their lives even harder. Her point is that the climate crisis is about so much more than just net zero targets: “The climate and ecological crisis is about people, real people… like you and me. And it is not taking place in some distant point in time. It is happening right now.” People need to be a central consideration in addressing the climate because it is people who live with the climate and who rely on the climate. Nakate offered a poignant message about the importance of action to help people, and that this action must take precedence. 

Nakate’s message was also one of solidarity and of people-driven action: “The climate and ecological crises are already here. But so are citizens from around the globe. Leaders rarely have the courage to lead. It takes citizens, people like you and me, to rise up and demand action. And when we do that in great enough numbers, our leaders will move. Until then, we must demand that our leaders treat the climate crisis like a crisis. We must demand that our leaders stop holding meaningless summits and start taking meaningful action.” Nakate argues that citizens of the world must act and hold their leaders accountable to enact meaningful change.

The rally supported the language and ideas of growing climate solidarity. And the event was filled with young people, meaning that this is the language of the youth climate movements. Young people are demanding greater action be taken as stewards of the world, and they demand that such actions are taken through the solidarity and collaboration of diverse peoples working to make the world a better place. This is a call to build a world of greater reciprocity and justice for both people and the climate. 

DISPATCH #6 NOV. 7

A FIGHT WE CANNOT

AFFORD TO LOSE

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham joined four other Democrat and Republican governors attending COP-26 in setting goals for moving toward net zero carbon emissions next year. She is among the sub-national leaders at COP-26 in the “U.S. Climate Alliance” who have vowed to “keep 1.5 alive” amid growing concerns that governments everywhere are failing to do what’s needed to slow the relentless increase in global worming.

Lujan Grisham met with Governors Jay Inslee of Washington State, J.B. Pritzker of Illinois, David Ige of Hawaii and Kate Brown of Oregon to “demonstrate a critical mass of high ambition states” intent on moving just as relentless toward keeping global temperatures from rising above 1.5 degrees Centigrade compared to the pre-Industrial Era climate. Together, the five states represent 55 percent of the U.S. population and 60 percent of the U.S. economy as expressed in gross domestic product (GDP). They said they are committed to achieving the goals of the 2015 Paris Climate Accord.

But the name of their nascent club, the “Under 2 Coalition,” seems a little less ambitious. A two degree Celsius average increase would engulf the world in devastations to crops, wildlife and scarcely habitable human living conditions. 

On the governors’ Sunday, November 7 schedule was a “Net Zero Futures Initiative” that would “set the 2030 agenda for transformative climate action... starting with objectives for action in 2022.” Lujan Grisham has been an active participant in several side meetings and panel discussions here in Glasgow. Those have included sessions with John Kerry and Gina McCarthy, President Joe Biden’s envoys to the UN conference, although she was a no-show at an earlier session on “Making the Transition to Clean Power a Reality” where the plenary hall's overhead big-screen electronic billboards displayed her photo and name. A chair on the podium where she would have been seated was vacant; the moderator gave no explanation.

Among other announcements that day, November 4, more than 20 nations and 15 major institutions had committed to ending financing for more fossil fuel projects. As Denmark’s Minister of Foreign Affairs chimed in “Luckily renewable energy is realistic as a replacement. The coal phase-out is affordable. Let’s together consign coal to history.” U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm called for even more ambitious measures to end the use of coal in the United States and around the world, saying that renewables could “leap frog over coal.”

During a panel discussion later that day, Norway’s minister of international development offered the welcomed news that 80 percent of her country’s new automobiles are now electric, rather than gasoline powered. Norway has also launched the world’s first zero emissions ship, and is erecting the world’s biggest floating wind farm.  Minister Anne Beathe Tvinnereim ended on a cheerleading note that “Either we break through together or we break down separately.”

The UN’s Assistant Secretary-General for Climate Action, Selwin Hart, warned that “keeping 1.5 alive” is necessary, the world is now on a path for global temperature to rise to 2.7 degrees C. “This is a fight we cannot afford to lose,” he stressed.

DISPATCH #5 NOV. 7

A COLLABORATIVE APPROACH TO

REDUCING ENERGY EMISSIONS

By Scott Manning

The transition to clean energy is a major consideration at COP26, and on November 4 two presidential events were hosted at the conference to consider how to reduce green house gas emissions through a shift to clean energy.

The United Nations Energy Transition Council (ETC) took center stage during the discussion. The ETC began as a council to encourage dialogue between states and other international actors to support the energy transition from fossil fuel dependence to renewable energy driven power grids. The ETC has been well received by its members and will persist as a council at least through COP30 in 2025. 

Looking to the future, the ETC developed a list of eight long-term priorities. These priorities include ambitious tasks such as integrated energy planning, which involves the considerations of cost, efficiency, and carbon reductions in energy delivery. The priorities also include the promotion of green grids and renewable energy utility-scale projects, both of which would require adequate regulatory frameworks, financial investment, and technology sharing to implement. 

These goals are extremely ambitious, and ETC has developed a list of shorter term 2022 priorities to set the process in motion. A key priority is the broader deployment of the Rapid Response Facility (RRF), an organization that coordinates efforts and resources between existing programs and groups to quickly respond to clean energy transition needs of countries around the world. 

A key takeaway from the ETC and the associated RRF is the emphasis on collaboration and multistakeholder partnerships to facilitate the transition to clean energy and the reduction of carbon emissions. At the energy transition events, speakers repeatedly highlighted the importance of collaboration between governments, civil society organizations, and private sector actors in the development of more sustainable energy solutions.

Damilola Ogunbiyi, the CEO and special representative of the UN Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All and co-chair of UN-Energy, offered an early address that outlined the general points that would be reiterated throughout the day. Ogunbiyi declared the international commitment to the reduction of fossil fuel usage by transitioning to clean energy. She announced that developed nations must transition away from coal by 2030 and encouraged consultation with developing countries to support their needs so that they too could transition away from coal by 2040. More broadly, Ogunbiyi provided a collaborative multistakeholder and market-driven vision to the energy transition in which the transition would create new jobs, promote economic prosperity, and be just and equitable for energy workers.

Later in the event, CEO of Climate Investment Funds (CIF) Mafalda Duarte expanded on this vision by detailing the three major challenges facing the energy transition: first, the world needs to build more renewable energy generation capacity; second, power systems need to be expanded and modernized for clean energy integration; and third, countries and investors must phase out coal power production. 

Then Jennifer Granholm, the U.S. Secretary of Energy, provided another piece of the puzzle by emphasizing that clean energy growth and innovation had to accompany the energy transition. Energy produced by renewable means would be stored in improved and more extensive battery storage systems. Adding that other technologies, like clean hydrogen and carbon capture, are also worth considering in creating diverse energy solutions. 

This approach to the energy transition was widely supported by governments and nonprofit organizations (NGOs). Governments from Norway and Kenya, for example, offered visions for the energy transition. 

Kenya, a developing country, identified clean energy as an essential part of the infrastructure development needed to emerge as a major industrial and technological power. Kenya intends to build on its already impressive renewable capacity and achieve almost all power production from renewable energy sources by 2030. And the Kenyan government advocates for African countries to be more deeply integrated into global energy chains and climate conversations so that they can better participate in the energy transition. 

Norway, a developed country, sees enormous potential for improved prosperity and gender parity through the clean energy transition. Most newly purchased cars in the country are electric, and Norway is investing in the development of electric sea vessels by 2030. In addition, Norway has invested in building offshore floating wind farms and carbon capture systems. Norway’s Anne Beathe Tvinnereim, Minister of International Development, also set out a collaborative vision for development based on both the private sector and the public sector by suggesting that the market would be pushed to desired outcomes with “sticks and carrots.”

The support extended beyond governments as well. Dr. Kevin Karuiki, the Vice-President of the African Development Bank Group, suggested that technical assistance, private capital, and sustainable energy funding would support renewable development and carbon emissions reduction in Africa. Then Dr. Rajiv Shah, President of the Rockefeller Foundation, urged leaders to increase the pace of the energy transition by improving regulatory structures, increasing clean energy production, and creating clean energy jobs. 

Finally, private companies also expressed support for the general framework for reducing emissions and transitioning to renewable energy. Celine Herweijer, the Group Chief Sustainability Officer at HSBC Bank, discussed the actions HSBC had taken to limit and prohibit bank investment in the development of new coal energy production. She argued that the financial sector has an important role to play in facilitating the energy transition, and she asked governments to assist in the process by enhancing investments. Then Ignacio G. Galán, the CEO of Spanish utility company Iberdrola, offered his input into the transition away from coal. After discussing his company’s transition into more renewable energy services, he advocated for the development of stable and modern regulatory frameworks and an end to fossil fuel subsidies. 

These events demonstrated a coalition of governments, NGOs, and private companies who mostly shared a common vision for a lower carbon energy future. This development may be cause for optimism, but much action and work remain to make this energy transition a reality. 

DISPATCH #4 NOV. 7 

On a not-bright nor sunny Sunday morning around 8:15 a.m. on Glasgow’s West End, from my perch in the bay window of a short-term rented apartment, I counted vehicles parked along the street below. Forty out of 42 of the vehicles lining residential Crow Road were small, presumably energy-efficient cars. Zero big pickups, zero trucks of any kind and two small delivery van-sized vehicles.

Although Corrales has zero comparable residential streets, with nearly identical four-story apartment buildings along both sides of the road, I would probably see more than two dozen large, gas-guzzling pickups. Granted, probably none of these apartment dwellers need to haul hay for horses, and its also true that I see no roof-mounted solar collectors.

Closer to the Scottish Event Centre where COP-26 has just ended its first week of negotiating, cajoling, bickering and promising to reduce greenhouse gases, a public building does sport a large, impressive photovoltaic array. And on the green, rolling hills outside Glasgow, I counted 25 large wind turbines and there were many more out of sight.

Scotland gets 97.4 percent of its electric power from renewables, primarily wind, with hydro-electric dams, natural gas and solar contributing the rest. Whitelee Wind Farm, about 15 kilometers from Glasgow, is one of the biggest in Europe. It began generating in mid-2009 with 140 turbines, enough to power 200,000 homes. Scotland closed its last coal-fired power plant in 2016. It has a target of reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2045.

 DISPATCH #3 NOV. 6

INDIGENOUS PEOPLE

SEEK PARTICIPATION

By Scott Manning

At COP26, The indigenous people in the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform (LCIPP) keep up their momentum in their aim to elevate indigenous voices and share indigenous knowledge in combating climate change. The LCIPP have engaged in negotiations to determine the future of the platform and efforts to include indigenous voices in the climate change conversation. 

The efforts to involve indigenous people in the climate crisis work are a recent development: the LCIPP platform was first created at the Paris COP21 World Climate Summit in 2015. The platform was established to support three primary principles. First, the platform supports the collection, sharing, and distribution of indigenous knowledge to help create climate solutions. Second, the platform builds indigenous capacity for engagement so that indigenous peoples and communities can better participate in the United Nations (UN) and in contributing solutions to the climate crisis. Third, the platform aims to integrate indigenous knowledge into climate change policies and actions.

Following the establishment of the platform, the platform founded the Facilitative Working Group (FWG) at the Poland COP24 Climate Change Conference in 2018. The FWG was created to operationalize the LCIPP platform through the development and implementation of action items. 

The first major test for the FWG came with the adoption of the initial two-year workplan for the 2020-2021 period. This workplan put forward twelve action items for the FWG to fulfill, including goals to disseminate indigenous knowledge, promote the LCIPP, and host regular cultural and strategic workshops.

The initial two-year workplan was a big success: eleven out of twelve action goals were reached. In the past few years, the LCIPP has worked on developing an indigenous people web portal to facilitate the sharing of indigenous knowledge and to build connections across the globe. The working group has also hosted a series of webinars in which members considered indigenous knowledge and how best to communicate with one another. And some participants in the platform are working more closely on combating climate change. One example is Maria Angélica Rondó, a platform member who has worked to facilitate climate solutions in Peru. 

Given the success of the first workplan, the LCIPP arrived to COP26 eager to continue their progress. As a first order of business, LCIPP intends to establish a second workplan, this time for a three-year period. As the talks began, there was quite a bit of consensus about the second work plan and the need to expand indigenous perspectives and activism in the solution building process. But there were a couple of sticking points. 

First, there was the issue of indigenous knowledge and to what extent it should be emphasized in the second work plan. Indigenous knowledge includes the ways in which indigenous people live sustainably on the land and their intimate understanding of the regions in which they live. At an early meeting, representatives from Bolivia sent in a request to add in three additional action items to the proposed second workplan. These action items would seek to achieve greater parity between scientific knowledge and indigenous knowledge and practices. The hope for greater integration and appreciation of indigenous knowledge was echoed by other members of the platform at another LCIPP meeting. This signals that the LCIPP aims to expand indigenous peoples’ involvement and voices in building solutions to climate change. 

Second, LCIPP delegates clashed on the role of the platform in structuring international rights for indigenous peoples and local communities. At the early meeting, the delegate from the United States shifted the direction of the meeting by asking that the new LCIPP materials contain a qualification that they do not create a new category of international rights for indigenous peoples and local communities. The delegate was on orders to qualify the statement, likely to avoid concerns about what new rights described in the LCIPP materials would entail. By a later meeting, the United States had softened their stance and simply asked for a footnote. Norway pushed back against the United States and advocated against the inclusion of the qualification, suggesting that the UN Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples already provided the United States with the assurances it desired. The issue demonstrates the tricky problem of describing and adjudicating rights in an international assembly.

Finally, there was a brief conflict in the later meeting about how best to proceed with the LCIPP going forward. After the Russian Federation delegate suggested a change to language designed in Paris, the European Union delegate came out strongly against the suggestion. The EU delegate argued that the platform should refrain from touching the precise language developed over many negotiations in Paris. Instead, the delegate wanted to use the established language as a foundation to move forward. 

These disagreements are all part of the negotiation process, but these negotiations do not immediately or directly entail action. This point was brought up at an LCIPP presentation event by a spectator who advised the platform to take more action. But with the LCIPP leaving the COP26 conference with a new three-year workplan and the FWG ready to implement the plan, prospects continue to brighten for indigenous participation in solving the climate crisis. 

DISPATCH #2 NOV. 6

The most famous Swede in the world, teenager Greta Thunberg, led a protest march in Glasgow’s City Centre today that drew a crowd estimated at 30,000, ahead of this country’s celebrations commemorating the protest of Guy Fawkes, the man who almost blew up the British Parliament in 1605.

She blasted nearly all the world’s governments for blatantly failing to take the planet’s climate crisis seriously.

There will be fireworks galore in the night sky this evening, but Parliament will remain standing, as will the U.S. Congress, the Kremlin and thousands of other seats of government around the globe, including the Roundhouse in Santa Fe. Thunberg will lead an even bigger protest tomorrow, Saturday,  when she resumes an all-out drive to persuade leaders such as Congress’ Nancy Pelosi, who is expected to arrive at COP- 26 the same day.

It is Thunberg who animates this 26th meeting of the UN's “conference of the parties” which set out more than a quarter-century ago to address what was even then foreseen, an unfolding planetary disaster. Governments have made not-so-bold pronouncements about the need for concerted action, but Thunberg (and really many of the negotiators here) are thoroughly frustrated that the ongoing conferences are more “blah, blah, blah.” The Swede referred to COP26 as a “global north greenwash festival.

Since the modest commitments governments have made will not bring down greenhouse emissions to keep earth’s climate nearly as habitable as it is now, “It should be obvious that this crisis cannot be solved with the same methods that got us into it in the first place.” She pointed out that the best chance for keeping the biosphere’s temperature below 2.7 degrees F compared to pre-industrial age temperatures will be gone by 2030.

The other major attraction —one might say, star— of COP-26 is 73 year old Al Gore, who moved up and down the plenary stage today while presenting his up-to-date slide show on climate change… so current that one of his slides focused on an event earlier the same day. Wearing a diplomatic dark gray suit and blue tie, the former US vice-president and nearly-elected president started slow, remarking on the projected image of the first color photo of planet earth. But he got wound up, really wound up, demonstrating a near-anger as he lambasted world leaders for their tardiness in addressing the threat to life on earth.  He took a hard jab at the World Bank for continuing to finance fossil fuel development, and called for the president of the World Bank to resign. “It’s not up to me, but we need to have new leadership at the World Bank.” He pointed out that nearly all of the financing for energy projects continues to go to fossil fuel while a minuscule portion goes to renewables.

At another point in his talk, which concluded with thunderous applause,  Gore nearly flew into a rage when he denounced continued de-forestation around the world. Showing one of his now famous graphics, he raised his voice, saying “The tree loss in Brazil is off the charts.” The Brazilian government has passed laws making wholesale de-forestation illegal, but it continues basically unabated. “If it’s illegal, why don’t you stop it?!” he shouted.

Twice, he recounted a series of climate-damaging outrages and declared official inaction to be insane. “Do we all have a blind spot about this? It is insane to allow this to continue!”

Particularly compelling were his videos of scared residents in homes flooded by extraordinarily severe “rain bombs” which are growing more frequent and more intense from global warming. Several showed people in their homes with floodwaters rising to their shoulders. “There will be more of these and they will be worse until we begin to act decisively.”

To press the point, he included a photo of a large octopus swimming in a Florida parking garage.

SEE BELOW

Gore also stressed the ingenuity and resiliency of human beings. He offered reassuring data on the predominance of renewable energy projects, especially solar power. “Ninety percent of all new generating capacity around the world now is from renewables, chiefly solar.” He said that is projected to rise to 95 percent by 2025. “This is a revolution,” he declared.

DISPATCH #1 NOV. 3

Representatives of most of the world’s governments —and thousands of earnest, if not angry citizens of those countries— have convened at a less than convenient place at a less than convenient time.

The United Nations’ 26th meeting of the “conference of the parties" (referred to as COP-26) in Glasgow, Scotland began with dire predictions for the fate of civilization as we have known it. In the plenary hall of the Scottish Events Centre, many of the planet’s most important national leaders echoed one another’s deep concerns about global warming with a sense of urgency that a decade ago would have been discounted as alarmist. Tut-tut.

Upstanding, decorum-minded diplomats, presidents, prime ministers and other heads of state nearly sobbed about stultifying inaction in the face of impending planetary doom. Although still in its early days, the plan of action emerging from this 13-day gathering is more of the same: nations urging one another to “increase ambition” to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) —especially from the burning of fossil fuels— but no treaty to sign, no threats of financial retaliation against those governments that blatantly refuse to reduce and even dramatically  increase coal burning, and not even direct condemnations of major offenders.

The sense of outrage is not heard nor felt in COP-26’s Blue Zone where government officials, invited participants and news media (including two reporters for Corrales Comment) bustle and mingle and mostly talk. Blah, blah, blah, as the citizen face of of the climate change movement, Greta Thunberg, summed up days before COP-26. But in the Green Zone, denunciations are rampant.

On the second day of the conference, one of the hundreds of citizen groups, Citizen Action Network (CAN) with 1,500 member non-governmental organizations worldwide, condemned the government of Norway, which usually has been considered a leading environmental good guy. “Norway likes to play the climate champion, but behind closed doors, new Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store is gaining a reputation as a fossil fuel cheerleader.... As if that wasn’t enough, not a single Norwegian climate target has ever been met, the petroleum industry is the largest source of domestic emissions, and exported emissions of Norway’s petroleum are around ten times higher than its national emissions. Mind boggling.”

But CAN was generous with praise as well. “India has re-defined itself as a COP-26 climate champion... after it made bold ‘near-term commitments’ to meet 50 percent of its energy requirements from renewables by 2030. And that’s not all folks. A staggering reduction of one billion tons of CO2 emissions by 2030 and reduction of carbon intensity by 45 percent have also been announced by Prime Minister Marenda Modi.”

John Kerry, former U.S. Senator, former almost-president of the United States, former Secretary of State and now special envoy to COP-26, is probably the most important player in the international effort to drive down GHG emissions that have been proven to be the primary cause of runaway global warming. He has been working almost exclusively, non-stop, on COP-26 for the past ten months. Among many other engagements, he cajoled leaders in China, Russia, Mexico and Saudi Arabia in days before they departed for Glasgow. “The United States is heading to a post-2035 future where our power sector will be carbon-free. That is not a small step,” Kerry told an interviewer for The Guardian of London last month. “Will it be that every country has signed on and locked in? The answer is no.”

The reason is pretty clear, and New Mexico offers a good explanation why.

New Mexico is just as dependent on production of fossil fuels as Norway. And no matter how fervently Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham professes her love of renewables, oil and gas revenues will continue to pay the State’s bills. And then there’s methane. In a recent assessment of methane releases to the earth’s atmosphere, New Mexico ranked number one nationwide. Methane is 30 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide although it breaks down in the atmosphere relatively quickly and does not remain a long-term GHG. That’s why a lot of attention is being focused on taking steps now to reduce methane; it’s a quick way to make a significant dent in the problem which, it is hoped, will demonstrate that maybe, just maybe, a habitable planet can be achieved for future generations. A COP-26 session was devoted to methane and the need to stop it quickly. Of course, the reason New Mexico ranks so high is that it is an unwanted byproduct of oil and gas extraction.

On November 2, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed new rules to reduce methane releases... but the new policy still allows routine flaring at well sites and natural gas plants which will remain the primary points of release. Still, it was a positive development. As former New Mexico Environmental Improvement Secretary Jon Goldstein (now the Environmental Defense Fund director for regulatory and legislative affairs) put it “For the first time, EPA has proposed regulations that would apply to the hundreds of thousands of existing oil and gas well sites across the United States."

What happens in New Mexico matters.

As the Union of Concerned Scientists said in the days leading up to COP-26,”No matter how quickly we reduce emissions, the reality is that certain climate impacts are inevitable. The seas are rising.Temperatures break records every year. Droughts, floods and extreme weather are damaging communities today.... The best policy ideas in the world aren’t worth much if we don’t have activists, experts and everyday people fighting for change. From school groups to churches, from corporate boardrooms to mayors and local leaders, we need action."

 

 

 

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