Reflections from COP23: Areas of hope

thegreenrock.ca's project coordinator Perla Hernandez at COP23

Perla Hernandez, representative for the Young Liberals of Canada as part of the International Federation of Liberal Youth at the UN Climate Negotiations in Bonn Germany (COP23), November 2017.  

by Perla Hernandez

Last November I attended the United Nations climate negotiations in Bonn Germany (COP23), where some of the topics were on the connection between local and global, and leveraging points for climate action.

Almost two years after the  Paris Agreement was signed, world leaders convened at the Bonn negotiations to work on the guidelines and tools to implement the Agreement. Over 19,000 participants, including government delegates, scientists, academics, business leaders and members of civil society were in attendance.

We are moving forward to tackle climate change, but not fast enough and not at the rate that it is needed on a global scale. Heavy carbon emission cuts are necessary to keep the temperature increase below 2° C,  let alone the 1.5°C target stipulated in the Paris Agreement as a safer line of defense for vulnerable populations (see previous article on why  the 1.5° C mark is important for NL).

The silver lining is that there is much we can do to help ramp-up climate action. Cities, municipalities, businesses and regions can help support national and global efforts to tackle climate change.

Local governments have a role to play

Climate change requires international cooperation, which can be challenging as nations have differing national interests and policy agendas. At COP23, there was an emphasis on the need to increase subnational levels – provincial (or state), regional, municipal, and local government involvement.

I attended a side event with Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretariat to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) where she said: “There is no single solution to climate change. All must take action: countries, cities and regions.”

Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretariat for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change at COP23

Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretariat for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change at COP23 – photo by Perla Hernandez

A bottom-up approach including communities, cities, regions and provinces can help complement national efforts while providing strategies that are appropriate to different geopolitical contexts, and inclusive to the needs of different populations.

Institutions, civil society and businesses can reinforce and ramp up climate commitments. For instance, in the aftermath of the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, subnational governments, institutions, civil society and businesses  reassured their commitment to the Paris Agreement and they’re planning to submit their greenhouse gas targets as part of the US targets.  Over 100 US mayors, governors, business leaders, university presidents, and civil society members formed a We Are Still In contingent, and attended COP23.

Climate change offers a unique opportunity for businesses

Businesses have a role to play in the transition to a decarbonized economy and can also benefit from embracing the green economy.  The COP23 Finance Day focused on the climate change impacts and opportunities from a finance perspective.

At the session: Mobilizing Investment to Support Nationally Determined Contributions Implementation and Increased Ambition, one of the underlying messages was that climate change and the decarbonization of the economy should not be seen as a problem, but as an opportunity.

COP23 Finance Day - Event: Mobilizing investment to support NDC implementation and increased ambition. Featuring Maurice Tulloch, Aviva; José Ignacio Sánchez Galán, Iberdrola; Keiko Honda, Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency; Brune Poirson, Secretary of State for an Ecological and Inclusive Transition, France; Abyd Karmali, Bank of America
COP23 Finance Day – Mobilizing investment to support NDC implementation and increased ambition. Maurice Tulloch, Aviva; Brune Poirson, Secretary of State for an Ecological and Inclusive Transition, France; Nicolas Stern Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change, LSE;  José Ignacio Sánchez Galán, Iberdrola; Abyd Karmali, Bank of America; Keiko Honda, Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency;  

Panelists agreed that carbon pricing is an effective tool for emissions reduction and talked about Corporate Social Responsibility, the need for technology transfer to developing countries, as well as the need to increase investment in low carbon technologies and infrastructure.  They also talked about the growing projections of renewable energy and green infrastructure as the business opportunity of the 21st Century compared to the diminishing projections of fossils – calling out for divestment.

thegreenrock-er Perla Hernandez with the International Federation of Liberal Youth delegation talking to Maurice Tulloch, Chief Executive Officer, International Insurance, Aviva

International Federation of Liberal Youth delegation talking to Maurice Tulloch, Chief Executive Officer, Aviva, -Jonas Lembeck (right), Perla Hernandez (middle) and Simon Kran Christensen (left)

In order to achieve the significant cut in greenhouse gas emissions we need to think differently as a society and we need to be fair and equitable to everyone.

 

 

Equity and climate change are inexorably linked. The work to reduce GHG emissions must address economic and social inequities.  Technology can bring solutions that bridge climate and social challenges. At COP23 I attended a press conference by Solar Cookers International a US nonprofit that advocates and provides education on solar cooking. Solar box cookers can provide hot food, safe drinkable water (boiled water) with minimal impact on the environment.  I was impressed by all the  projects  that Solar Cookers have  started worldwide in refugee camps in Kenya, Ethiopia, Congo, Burundi, Eritrea, Rwanda, Uganda and more.

Connecting the dots and getting everyone on board

As part of the International Federation of Liberal Youth delegation, I had the opportunity to meet with  Canada’s Ambassador to Germany, and Special Envoy to the EU. Ambassador Stéphane Dion has held several positions – among them Minister of Environment overseeing Kyoto Protocol’s implementation and previous President of COP11 in Montreal.

International Federation of Liberal Youth meeting with Canada’s Ambassador to Germany, and Special Envoy to the EU, Stephane Dion

Meeting with Canada’s Ambassador to Germany, and Special EU Envoy, Stephane Dion, Jonas Lembeck (right),  Perla Hernandez (middle), and Simon Kran Christensen (left)

Ambassador  Dion provided some insights regarding the need for a paradigm shift in governance to a collaborative holistic model that integrates sustainability across sectors throughout the government structure and percolating to society. “Sustainability should be integrated in every department: finance, global affairs, department of health and so forth” said Mr. Dion.

Ambassador Dion stressed the importance of getting society on board with this sustainability paradigm – both the converted and the non-converted – and to transfer knowledge on climate change’s challenges and opportunities so that this model stops being an abstraction for many and becomes a reality.

Final thoughts

A lot of work remains. We need to make sure that our local efforts match the global level of action that is needed to tackle climate change – emissions reduction, finance, innovation and technology. We need to work together, bring everyone on board, and look at complex problems from all angles – business as usual won’t cut it.

Climate Change: Staying below 1.5ºC, why it’s important for NL

Ferryland Iceberg photo credit: by Perla Hernandez

Ferryland Iceberg – photo credit:  Perla Hernandez

By Perla Hernandez

Climate change is a hot topic. In the aftermath of the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, cities and states have vowed to step up.    Perla Hernandez checks in on what climate change means to us here in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Earth’s average temperature has risen by 1º C since 1850 as a result of increased greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. According to a NASA report, most of this warming has happened in the past 35 years with 2016 being the warmest year on record — due in part to El Niño, which changes weather patterns in the short term.

In the 2015 Paris Agreement, 195 nations agreed to limit the rise in global temperatures this century “well below 2 degrees Celsius and to drive efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels”. The 1.5 mark is considered to be a safer defense line against the effects of climate change.

Meeting the Paris Agreement aspirational mark of 1.5 degrees matters to Newfoundland and Labrador.   Between the island and Labrador, the province has 29,000 k of coastline and is vulnerable to damages caused by coastal erosion, sea-level rise, and increased storms as well as adaptation challenges among communities.

In Newfoundland and Labrador climate change means rising sea-levels, more storms and coastal erosion

Canada’s warming rate is twice the global rate.  According to Environment Canada, since 1948,  Canada’s North has been hit by an increase in temperatures of 3 degrees Celsius, while other regions like the East Coast have warmed by 1 degree Celsius. An increase of 2 degrees in global temperatures could mean for Canada a temperature increase of  3 to 4 degrees.

According to Turn Back the Tide, Newfoundland and Labrador has already warmed by 1.5°C  degrees, and some areas in the province could warm between 2.2°C and 4.0°C by mid-century.  A warmer climate will bring longer tourism and growing seasons for the province, but also stormier, wetter weather, coastal erosion and sea level rise.

According to a 2010 study by the Geological Survey of Newfoundland and Labrador, sea level rise could be as high as 40 centimetres by 2050 and 100 centimetres by 2100 (see below).

FIgure 1 - Rise in Sea level predictions for NL

Figure 1 – Sea level rise predictions for Newfoundland and Labrador . Source: Turn Back the Tide  http://www.turnbackthetide.ca/impacts-of-climate-change/slr-overview.shtml

Although Newfoundland and Labrador has a high rocky rugged coast area, rising sea levels and coastal erosion pose challenges for coastal communities.

Nationally-recognized climatologist, Dr. Joel Finnis from Memorial University’s Department of Geography completed a study on 50-year climate projections for the province.  Finnis explains:  “We do have a lot of sea front but one of the things that helps us even though we are on the water is our rocky rugged coastline. However, you are still going to see that erosion is going to pick up as sea level rises.  All the storms that pass by throw a lot of waves at the coast lines causing damage.  There are also indications that we might get more strong storms, and the more storms we experience, the more damage we’ll get. A rugged coastline partially protects us, but there will still be impacts and costs to the province.

This is consistent with the findings from a 2016 report by Natural Resources Canada pointing that as a climate change consequence, sea ice cover, increased storms and sea-level rise are likely to increase coastal erosion rate in Canada’s East Coast.

Storm events can cause flooding, wind damage and coastal erosion which ultimately have negative impacts in coastal communities, infrastructure, and ecosystems.  For instance,  tropical storm Igor in Newfoundland caused $51,000,000 in damages, isolated approximately 90 communities due to road closures, and put 22 communities in a state of emergency (see below).

“Canada’s Marine Coast in a Changing Climate” report by Natural Resources Canada

Figure 2- Canada’s Marine Coast in a Changing Climate. Source: Natural Resources www.nrcan.gc.ca/sites/www.nrcan.gc.ca/files/earthsciences/files/pdf/NRCAN_fullBook%20%20accessible.pdf

Finnis says, “Think about the winter storms that we had the last few years here, we had some big ones. If you have a strong sea ice presence, say for example on the coast of Labrador, and you have strong winds come along, that sea ice can help buffer and prevent the erosion. But if you have loose pack of ice, like we had at the harbour this spring, and you throw a big storm at it then the ice is going to start to move with the waves.  It is not necessarily going to dampen the waves so much but it is going to cause some damage to the boats, the infrastructure and the coastlines as well. It is not just water anymore, but loose and very heavy chunks of ice being battered against things”.

From an insurance perspective, it is estimated that by 2020, the annual economic damages to Canada’s coasts from sea-level rise and storm surges could reach between $2.6 – $5.4 billion increasing to an estimated $48.1 billion by 2080.

Climate change also poses the biggest challenges to the most vulnerable. According to a study by the Director of Labrador Institute of Memorial University, Ashlee Cunsolo, climate change is causing tremendous pain and distress in Inuit communities in northern Labrador.  Their relation to sea ice and cold is part of their cultural identity, and it’s under threat. According to the study, this changing environment is intensifying already complex mental health issues derived from intergenerational trauma of colonization, forced relocation and the impact of residential schools.

Global implications: climate-driven migrations

Climate displacement is becoming one of the world’s most powerful and destabilizing geopolitical forces. A recent study looks at how climate change played a role in the Syrian war that has destabilized European countries. Since 2015, Canada has welcomed 40,081 Syrian Refugees, but the UN still estimates that there are 13.5 million refugees requiring humanitarian assistance. Climate change will destabilize borders and increase humanitarian crises.  From droughts in the East Africa region, to unusually heavy rains pre-monsoon season in Bangladesh, the climate change impacts on people, economies and environments around the world will also have repercussions for Canada and for our province.  Finnis says, “We need to keep in mind that drought is going to increase food insecurity, and new insect pests could create all kinds of problems and health issues. And then you start thinking: What’s going to happen when people start getting displaced as a consequence of climate change?”

Although climate change is a global issue, the solution lies in sustained collaborative action at all levels: the international, national and local levels.

For instance, on average Canadians contribute to about 15 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year which is about three times the world average. In order to reduce emissions at home, Canada’s is taking action at the federal and the provincial level.  This May,  Environment Minister Catherine McKenna unveiled a technical document on the federal government’s carbon pricing plan which will be implemented across provinces by 2018.  The carbon tax will start at $10 per tone, rising $10 each year until reaching $50 in 2022. The carbon pricing is central to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Pan-Canadian Framework for Clean Growth and Climate Change which includes measures to achieve emissions reductions across all sectors while driving innovation and growth in a low-carbon economy.

From a provincial front, the government of Newfoundland and Labrador is taking steps to cut emissions and promote renewable energy in the province. A net metering plan has just been approved by the Public Utilities Board, and as of July 1st of this year, net metering with Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro and Newfoundland Power is possible. This allows customers to offset energy costs by generating their own power using renewable energy like solar, wind and geothermal. This also allows customers to feed surplus power back into the distribution system so it can be used later or sell it to neighbours and other businesses in the area.

Ferryland Windmils.jpg

Fermeuse wind farm –  photo credit: Perla Hernandez

The effects of climate change will continue to grow and scale as temperature increases in Canada and in the rest of the world. The closer we stay within the 1.5 degrees Celsius goal, the less challenging it will be to adapt and to mitigate. In order to keep earth’s climate from moving into unchartered and more unpredictable scenarios, action is also needed from municipalities, businesses, people and others.

Something to be learned from the set of events that followed on from the US withdrawal on the Paris Agreement is that even with the US government withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, there is US climate commitment.  Climate response will continue globally and within the US as non-state actors step up and become climate leaders.  Shortly after the US announced its decision to withdraw, mayors from 30 cities, 3 governors, 80 universities, and more than 100 businesses in the United States stepped-up by reassuring their commitment to the Paris Agreement and they’re in negotiations with the UN to submit their contributions as part of the US.

In the same way, people, communities and institutions here in the province can all step up to take action.  Be it through putting up solar panels to generate your own electricity at home, or by composting, recycling and reducing waste in order to cut down methane emissions, we are all part of the solution.

 

Perla Hernandez thegreenrock.ca project coordinator

Perla Hernandez is thegreenrock.ca’s project coordinator. She has a B.A. in political science and environmental studies from Memorial University. She attended the U.N. Climate change negotiations in Doha Qatar (COP18) as a Canadian youth delegate. Perla collaborated with the Climate Tracker and was a climate  columnist  for the Independent.  She is interested in the intersections between local and global climate change actions and solutions.

 

 

 

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UNCOP21 101: basics of the Paris Conference

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lots of buzz about UNCOP21 today.   I’ve been following, but needed to brush up on the basics to get the big picture.

For starters, UNCOP is United Nations Conference of Parties – the almost 200 ‘parties’ (countries) who are part of it.

the 21 is the 21st Conference.  (It was in Montreal in 2005.  Dates and overviews here.)

the big goal of the UNCOP21, is to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on managing climate change.  the aim was to keeping global warming below 2°C, but Canada supports that the goal be updated to 1.5°C

this is the document they’re working on.

whether 1.5 is enough is a question from some countries, and how it’s going to happen is another.  this bit from grist.org gives some more insight to the goings-on.

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Weather & Climate Change in black and white

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weather / climate change

when people grumble about the weather here in Newfoundland and Labrador, as they sometimes do, the standard conclusion (redemption?) is ‘we don’t live here for the weather’.

talk of global warming and climate change can seem like a problem far far away.  climate change is normal, right?  hot days in Newfoundland and Labrador are good, right?  icebergs are fabulous for tourism, right?   yes yes yes, but there is the biggest kind of a butt to it:  the hottting up too fast is not going to go well for us in the big picture.  not well at all.

This vid isn’t about doom, it’s about understanding what is happening all around us. music and animation by Jeff Smyth, produced by David Maher, voice of Megan Stuckless (Senior Public Education and Outreach Officer of Conservation Corps NL).  Neat, sweet in black and white.  (first of a series – keep an eye out for the next vid!).

in July and August 2014 thegreenrock.ca Conservation Corps Green Team – Tamara Segura, Chris Ball, David Maher and Team Lead Jeff Smyth talked and taped, walked in the sun, swung on the swings, got out there and got inspired by the great green good going on in the Northeast Avalon.  Over the coming months their work will be released on thegreenrock.ca.

thegreenrock.ca Conservation Corps Green Team 2014 was sponsored by Junior Forest Wardens NL.  (thank you!)

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I spy a dandelion! citizen scientists Plantwatch

waiting to be!The sun was shining there for a while, and the grass is green, mostly, in the greater St. John’s metro area. Can the dandelion be far behind?  Keep an eye out!  Your observations from your favorite field, trail, patch by your workplace or even your own backyard can help track climate change.  Works well for classrooms and groups too.  And it will give you one more good reason to get out.

PlantWatch is part of the national NatureWatch program – a series of volunteer monitoring programs that help identify ecological changes.  Local people, no matter where local is all across Canada, can play.   This is an opportunity to help scientists discover how, and why, our natural environment is changing.  It will bring the lofty and intimidating phrase ‘climate change’ down to the soft patch underneath your feet.  

MUN Botanical Garden is the coordination centre for Plantwatch in Newfoundland and Labrador.  There are 18 excellent, common, maybe-in-your-garden plants in NL’s Plantwatch roster including the brave and sweet dandelion, the stalwart rhododendron, the stately lilac and more!  All you have to do is pick a spot with the right plant, register, watch and record the timing of blooming dates (phenology).

The data collected provincially and nationally can be used as indicators of environmental changes in the areas where the plants are growing.  And just being out there will make you feel happy.