Strong Examples and Fresh Research Released Around Tech Transfer and Fast-Track Green Patenting

Jessica Lewis describes strategies of the top wind power producers

Joanna Lewis describes approaches of top adopters of wind technology

Technology transfer and patenting are two vital points of interest in Qatar due to the country’s strong dedication to research and fast rate of development. How do these points look from a climate change mitigation perspective? The COP 18 side event Green Innovation: Examining Experiences in Low Carbon Technology Transfer and Green Patenting offered some strong examples.

China and India are outstanding examples of large-scale wind technology deployment, and Joanna Lewis, assistant professor of Science, Technology and International Affairs (STIA) at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, drew from the experience of prominent companies in each country to compare their circumstances and strategies.

Suzlon and Goldwin, she said, are each leading manufactures in India and China, respectively. They both began manufacturing wind turbines around the same time. To set up context for these companies, Lewis introduced one ideological model for technology transfer, which is “often used to mean a lot of different things in a lot of different contexts,” she said. Tech transfer, according to her approach to Suzlon and Goldwin, involves one or any combination of the following: lisencing, mergers and acquisitions, and joint development.

Licensing offers the advantage of ensuring that the technology is field tested, which ups the confidence of investors, yet the drawback is that the technology might be old and even already licensed, she explained.

Mergers and acquisitions give full control to the buyer over the intellectual property (IP) but this means they have to produce all of the money up front. She said mergers and acquisitions can also be problematic when the takeover company lacks the knowledge necessary to integrate the new facilities into their business and run them properly.

Joint development relieves concerns about competition and IP risks by the nature of the collaborative investment, but Lewis said that experience between the two investors might be polarized, e.g. one may have manufacturing expertise and the other design expertise but little overlap thus creating a gap.

“Both Suzlon and Goldwin started with the license model,” she said. “As they became more successful they moved into different models.”

She stressed the importance of access to a global learning network, saying that Suzlon networked extensively on the R&D front in terms of gaining manufacturing and development experience in other countries and bringing it back to India. Goldwin, she said, has been more limited but has looked into networking more extensively, realizing the power in this approach.

Lewis Networks

Lewis explains Suzlon’s approach to international technology transfer networking

When networks of technology transfer form, Lewis explained, they are all actually tied into a web of many companies and all of their collective IP.

As an alternative perspective, Lewis touched on the example of Hyundai, Doosan and Daewoo, mega-corporations that, when they moved into wind technology, adopted merger and acquisition and joint development models right away. They skipped licensing because they had funds and the sophisticated technology in house already. The supply for companies who can afford to take it on wholesale is there—Lewis said that a handful of companies, for example in the German design sector, have transferred IP (knowhow and experience) to companies in China and Eastern Europe.

China’s success story is punctuated by the fact that in 2004, the average size of their wind turbine fleet was 770 kilowatt hours, she said. Five years later, their average fleet size is 1.3 megawatts.

“China has become a success story in terms of size and magnitude, but also in terms of developing their own firms and their own IP,” she said.  “We are starting to see more and more wind turbines exported. While patents are not so applicable to China which has a different approach to innovation, it’s interesting to note that the country has filed the fifth most patents worldwide for wind technology.”

World Trade Organization implications—around licensing, royalties on IP and technology—are starting to come to the fore, Lewis said, and China has become a target. So this is a growing area to look at for all countries as they embark on technology transfer strategies.

“We are not talking about commercial technology transfer in terms of payments for royalties and licenses; payments for royalties and licenses have not been a barrier, although it is country specific, and government can help facilitate in the private sector in many ways with advanced and pre-commercial technology approaches,” she said.

Fast-track green patents: in demand and gaining traction

Ahmed Abdel Latif, Senior Programme Manager for Innovation, Technology and Intellectual Property at the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development, was part of a team who recently performed the first empirical analysis of green patenting and shared these findings at the side event.

“One thing we’ve learned in the last couple of years is that low carbon is a complex puzzle that requires different expertise to look at the companies and their strategies to acquire technology.”

The intellectual property aspect, although it gets extra emphasis, is only one part of the equation of technology transfer, he continued, emphasizing finance as another considerable factor.

Patent offices began implementing the fast-track patent program around green technology in 2009. These offices decided that, for green technology, they would reduce the time to process and thus grant patents so they could arrive at the market quicker, Latif explained.

“It’s interesting but was never analyzed in climate change context,” he said. “We commissioned analysis and empirical study on what the effects were of these schemes—were they working or not?”

Latif and his research colleague looked at the nine countries that have adopted a fast-track green patent approach, namely the UK, the US, Australia, Brazil, China, Canada, Australia, Japan and South Korea.

Patents according to the scheme can be accelerated if they fall under a coded classification. “How do you define green technology?” Latif asked. “This has been left to the discretion of the examiner or even the developer.”

The European patent office formally published special classification information around clean energy patents, available at, he added.

To the low rate of usage so far, Latif responded: “The rate isn’t bad—patent applicants have an interest, but it’s under specific circumstances.” These include: suspicion of infringement (when they want to quickly pass their idea through without scrutiny on whether or not it copies other technology too closely), capital-raising activity (when they want to use the patent to draw income faster), securing commercial partners (with a sense of confidence around a patent).

The analysis showed that the UK has the highest rate of participation in fast-track green patenting. It also showed that fast-track patents are of higher value in terms of  the extent to which they come together with other patents and are granted triadic patents, meaning that they are filed at the European Patent Office, the US Patent and Trademark Office and the Japan Patent Office.

Not only do fast-tracked patents usher technology into licensing and market sooner, but they also accelerate their publication and raise their visibility and citation rate among those who are analyzing R&D. In terms of knowledge diffusion, Latif said that fast-track patents draw twice as many citations in the same time period as other patents.

The fast-track scheme, according to the findings, draws mostly domestic applicants in the UK and US, “startups are also using fast-track a lot—they need funding and this is likely the motivating factor in most cases.”

In the end, Latif said, statistics in the UK show a demand for fast-track patenting and that the concern about these patents crowding others out should be weighed against the idea that many people and organizations choose to delay their patents rather than speed them up.

“These patents represent only a small share of overall green patents,” Latif said. “There is still lack of awareness about these schemes and how they can be used.”

Tangential to climate change, he mentioned that Brazil is looking to fast-track other patents from other sectors, such as biotechnology. He also noted that the European patent office doesn’t have a fast track system for green since they offer fast tracking for any sector, and any kind of technology, for no extra cost.

“Fast tracking is keeping up with its promises, with times to approval cut 42 to 75 percent,” he said. “This impacts innovation and, specifically, green energy innovation. It’s still at an early stage, but if anything it shows the need for a holistic view through examining different parts of it … finance and funding is quite important as a motivation in these schemes.”

Qatar-Based Researchers Respond to Climate Change

At Qatar’s Sustainability Expo today, the Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF) organized a talk by eight researchers working on QNRF-funded projects related directly to environment and climate change.

An executive at QNRF, Dr. Munir Tag gave a short introduction about the history of QNRF and highlighted the particular dedication of funds to climate change mitigation-related projects. In all US$ 55million has gone to such research, covering 174 projects across three of the Fund’s programs.

Dr. Munir Tag, of the Qatar National Research Fund

Dr. Munir Tag, of the Qatar National Research Fund

“The entire population is living at sea level,” Tag said, “this is why climate change is an integral part of the Qatar National Research Survey. Never before has there been such a demand for the population to act collectively against such a big challenge.”

Dr. Tag introduced speakers, including the following, who described their research to the audience.

Dr. Hazim Qiblawey, Qatar University
An assessment of present and future environmental impacts of major desalination plants under changing climate

The MENA region is considered the most water scarce region in the world, and the increasing population as well as changing weather conditions exacerbates water scarcity. The number of desalination plants in the region and worldwide is projected to go up significantly. Research into this area is plentiful and focused on efficiency as part of climate change mitigation efforts.

“To get fresh water, we need energy [for desalination]—this involves thermal or mechanical work—either way it means greenhouse gas emissions, and so we are contributing to climate change,” Dr. Qiblawey said.

Besides energy expenditure, brine and its impact on coastline environments is the other concern around desalination, especially in the Gulf where it is dumped directly into the surrounding sea. Brine not only spikes the salinity level of the water but also introduces a myriad of chemicals involved in the desalination process, including coagulants, antifoaming agents, biocides and general contaminants, Dr. Qiblawey said. The brine in GCC countries in particular is high in temperature due to the dependence on thermal desalination techniques.

Measures are being taken to manage brine, and MENA countries have started setting discharge limits on effluents and pollutants, Dr. Qiblawey said. Still, climate change is affecting the marine environment and so understanding the marine environment along the coast of Qatar is essential to designing further protective policy, he said.

His team is working to establish a center in Qatar to evaluate the environmental impacts of desalination. A lot of their work so far centers on a hydrodynamic models to measure the water movement and depths along the coastline. These incorporate wind, waves and other factors. He said that the water in the Gulf is shallow, 35 meters deep on average.

“In both GCC and non-GCC countries, desalination is a major component of socioeconomic evolution that we are expecting to deal with,” he said. “We have to be more careful when we deal with water consumption.”

Worldwid desalination projections according to

Forecast of desalination capacity according to Dr. Qiblawey’s presentation

Dr. Reza Sadr, Texas A&M University -Qatar 
Atmospheric surface layer study in the coastal region of Qatar

Around the world, teams of researchers have been looking at the activity of wind and waves, evaluating the local data over time as it impacts industry and serves now as a gauge for climate change. So far, nobody has looked at this activity around Qatar.

“The layer where we feel things in the atmosphere is very thin,” Dr. Sadr explained. “It’s called the atmospheric boundary layer, and it’s where you have all the activities, where dust and salt mix with the atmosphere. It’s also where everything destructive to the ozone happens.”

Dr. Sadr and his team are the first to have collected data using sophisticated sonic equipment mounted on a 50 meter pier jutting into the Gulf off the coastline of Qatar. Their measurements show slight differences in data given the unique atmosphere around Qatar. He’s anxious to make a case for establishing a permanent station to continue monitoring the conditions to a fine degree.

“Turbulence is the key to the atmospheric machine and we cannot understand the weather system if we don’t understand the connection between different parts of this machine. We want to understand the connection between turbulence in the atmosphere and the waves in the ocean. Our research promotes a global understanding of what is happening.”

Dr. Mohamed Ahmedna, Qatar University
Biochars from solid organic waste for soil quality enhancement and carbon sequestration

Dr. Ahmedna’s work addresses three key issues in Qatar: the need for fertile soil to enhance food production and security, the mitigation of GHGs, and the rapid economic growth and consumption that produce waste beyond what the small country can pack into landfills.

“Qatar generates 2.5 million metric tons of solid waste per year,” he explained. “Sixty percent of this is organic and that’s the target of this work.”

Organic waste can be processed at high temperatures (pyrolysis) into a useful substance called ‘biochar,’ and Dr. Ahmedna’s team is looking into ‘custom’ ways to do this. His team will evaluate the quality of the biochar produced by their methods from waste in Qatar and test how it interacts with—potentially enhances—the soil in Qatar as well as how it impacts soil fertility and plant growth.

The team will also explore how biochar could impact carbon sequestration in the soils where they are applied—a hot area of research still under investigation worldwide.

Dr. Anuj Gupta, Texas A&M University -Qatar
Feasibility of CO2 sequestration combined with enhanced gas recovery from depleted gas reservoirs

Carbon sequestration—taking carbon out of the atmosphere and using various geoengineering techniques to bury it in the ground—is a critical method, according to scientists around the world, for relieving both air and water of their roles as overtaxed CO2 sinks.

Dr. Gupta’s team is looking at reservoirs around Qatar that have been tapped almost completely. Their researching ways get the last bit of the usable fuel from the ground—“the motivation is that there are  900 gigatons of CO2 available for storage in depleted hydrocarbon reservoirs,” he said.

“Our objective is to study feasibility of enhancing recovery while storing CO2 in reservoirs that have been vacated by original oil and gas,” he said.

His team is evaluating pore space in the soil as well as different strategies for CO2 storage based on immediate or delayed application of the technology. The delay would allow for more capture of the last fuel underground, but the immediate start would greatly enhance the amount of CO2 relief provided to the environment.

“We calculated economic value through probabilistic analysis,” he said. “And the best economic value is to delay and build pressure until there is more extraction of fuel. But if we start right away, we can store a lot by the time we are done—purely from a point of storage, we can store more if we start immediately.”

In the end, the team seems to be looking at ways to enhance both processes for maximum gains. “This is an exciting opportunity to increase how much of the oil and gas can be recovered from the subsurface reservoirs.”

Dr. Michel Louge, Weill Cornell Medical College-Qatar
Understanding the link between moisture dynamics and microbial activity in mobile dunes

Sand dunes are alive—this according to the work by Dr. Louge and his team. It was suspected as much since they are powerful once on the move.

“Wind takes sand and pushes it around, creating dunes,” Louge said. “These can overtake roads and invade developed areas.”

Dunes can move anywhere between 15 and 150 meters per year, Louge said. Attempts to stop them by planting specific vegetation have failed and only caused more problems. As it is, some dunes are threatening the Mesaieed district of Qatar.

Through two years of study into the movement of the simplest form of sand dune, called the “barchan,” Louge’s team has discovered not only how the wind causes the sand particles to circulate and how physics causes them to continuously avalanche forward, but also how moisture retained in the dunes supports life. That life, in the form of tiny bacteria, is the focal point for remedying the situation, i.e., getting the dunes to sit still, he explained.

The living dune under study by the team has been named "Nadine"

The living dune under study by the team has been named “Nadine”

In previous research, Louge developed a probe that was “10,000 times more accurate” than others in measuring moisture in mountains. He adapted this technology to measuring moisture in the dunes, which was enough to lead his team to dig in and locate bacteria. The bacteria, he said, are highly specific and their DNA is under study by a partner lab in Qatar (involving Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar’s sequencing experts and facilities).

“The plan is to take bacteria native to Qatar and duplicate them,” he said. “We’ll inject these in the area to stop the motion of the dunes.”

He said the technology could be applied around the world once developed and proven effective.

Dr. Lewis Le Vay, Bangor University
Nutrient exchange between seagrasses and mangroves on the arid coast of the western Arabian Gulf

Mangroves represent a hugely diverse ecosystem that typically exists in the tropics. Qatar’s mangroves are an unusual example of the system setting up in an arid region, and scientists want to understand the implications of their unusual situation. Through studying the interplay between the mangroves and seagrass in the Al Khor area of Qatar, Dr. Le Vay and his team are contributing insight to the scientific bank of knowledge about mangroves as well as ecosystems around Qatar and the Gulf.

A biotope map of mangroves and seagrasses around Al Khor, Qatar

A biotope map, as presented by Dr. Le Vay, of mangroves and seagrasses around Al Khor, Qatar

“Seagrass beds are important and highly productive systems, particularly in the Gulf,” Dr. Levay explained. “They are important sources of organic material that act as filters for sediments.”

Mangroves, he said, serve as well as productive systems that filter sediments. They also serve as prominent habitats and nurseries for fish and seabirds.

An important concept when considering both mangroves and seagrass, he said, is that of “blue carbon.” According to the Bluecarbon Project website:

“One of the most promising new ideas to reduce atmospheric CO2 and other global climate change is to do so by conserving mangroes, seagrasses and salt marsh grasses. Such coastal vegetation, dubbed “blue carbon,” sequesters carbon far more effectively (up to 100 times faster) and more permanently than terrestrial forests.”

Dr. Le Vay and his team have produced detailed biotope maps of the mangrove and seagrass zones around Al Khor. They found that since these types of systems are situated in arid regions, they tend to constrain themselves and their byproducts very tightly.

More than anything, the team is focused on determining the finer points of nutrient exchange between the systems so that they can add this knowledge to what is known about mangroves and seagrass in similar, yet lesser studied, arid environments.

Fresh Insight on Social Media, Adaptation Technology, Renewable Energy, and Agriculture

Social media panel, Wiese (center to right), Keith and Thanki

The first side event of the day, Supporting climate policies through social media—opportunities and limits, drew its opening statements and overall inspiration from the Arab Spring movement as based largely on Twitter and social media tools. The panelists started with some remarks about technological tools and how to use them to affect climate change and then opened the floor to the audience, who were in large part users of social media and thus citizen journalists ready to get in on the discussion. The topic is not only relevant to the region because of its recent history but is also important to consider since Qatar is growing so fast with few traditional media outlets—and residents from too many backgrounds to call any of them traditional—to connect its people. It therefore relies heavily on social media for keeping people informed and any type of marketing.

Josh Wiese, COP18 coordinator of Adopt a Negotiator,  said that the huge transformations in the region relied on social media, which spread messaging and helped people organize. On other issues as well, like human rights, climate change and the anti-poverty movement, social media is useful and there are lots of innovative uses for it, he said.

Kelly Rigg, Executive Director of the GCCA, via Skype at the panel discussion

Social media provides for two critical roles in climate negotiations, said Iaian Keith, campaigner. The first is to inform—“mainstream media has turned its back on climate change and there is very little coverage except for a few outlets,” he said.

Social media tools like Twitter and Facebook have given ordinary people a voice where there wasn’t one before and this has lead to higher levels of accountability. “Now there are tweets to negotiators and environmental ministers; they know that people are watching and that in and of itself is a powerful thing,” he said.

The second role is negotiating. “When you get 197 ministers in a room for days, it’s a pressure cooker,” he said. “Social media is so powerful in the last hours—it doesn’t take long for a message to create more pressure on certain issues.”

Nathan Thanki of Earth in Brackets offered a different perspective saying that social media is frustrating to him–it has potential because it’s instantaneous, widespread and catchy but when applied to this process at the UNFCCC, it hasn’t been used to the fullest. “Social media combines the misinformation,” he said. “The UNFCCC is cryptic. While a good use of twitter is purely informational, in terms of dealing with the issues this space is trying to deal with, it means a forced simplicity.

“How do you summarize and provide in-depth or meaningful analysis about the most complicated and pressing issue that humans have ever faced? [Social media] creates an opportunity for misinformation … misinterpretation of what is going on,” he continued.

“The internet is like walking into a house party,” Keith said. “You’ve got all these people in groups having conversations and you’re trying to figure out what conversation you’re trying to join—what hits you?”

Humor and topics that hit on a deep, personal level draw people, he said, but the most important factor is ‘moment,’ he said.  “Moment is the most compelling tool—you have to speak to people where they are right now … campaigners often make the mistake of not hitting people where they are right now.”

Iaian Keith, AVAAZ campaigner, sums up effective social media strategies at COP18

The field of journalism is no longer separate from those of activism and relationship management, Wiese said. “We used to fit these things into boxes, we can’t fit them in anymore … it’s very much about what’s happening in real time now.”

The audience participation in this event was high. The question: “What is real and what is negotiation theatre here at COP 18?” prompted an intriguing responses from Thanki and Keith.

“Twitter has absolutely no context,” Thanki said. “We need to think about social media in context … Twitter can be good if it’s seen as a package of social media. Follow up with blogs; follow up with Vimeo or Youtube. It can’t just be about collectivism and the fact that I have no idea how to respond [quickly] to that question highlights the issue.”

“Let’s  go back to the idea of debate,” Keith added. “Real or not, none of the countries is happy with what’s on offer here. They are all using [COP 18] as an opportunity to exert their own national issues. The problem with media is its focus on conflict through debate.

“Debate is two sides battling it out,” he continued. “If you and I are having a political conversation, I’m trying to change your mind not reach a solution. Until they break out of this ecosystem of argument, we are not going to see a solution. Social media has not gotten us there yet , but it can create an environment like a dinner table rather than a debate, with people sitting down, ears wide open, ready to exchange ideas.”

The side event, Supporting institutional capacities for climate change research and training lessons-learned, featured discussion about technological tools being used worldwide to incorporate research findings into adaptation schemes used to deal with specific, localized impacts of climate change.

Netatua Pelesikoti, Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme, talked about disaster risk reduction and how that is being incorporated into education at the primary and secondary school level. She specifically talked about how programs are targeting young social and physical scientists in the Pacific region and encouraging them to push their research findings into peer review channels. “It’s important to capture the lessons learned on the part of small islands,” she said, explaining that her organization has entered into partnerships with several universities to achieve this. She said that climate change communication strategies  and knowledge management are important components in the effort to make sure that the discoveries make a real impact.

Chris Jack, of the Climate System Analysis Groupe, University of Cape Town, spoke of information coming out of climate models, saying it is useful for large and long time scales, but misses the mark for many. “We are trying to adjust information to smaller scale shorter term,” he said. “Climate is complex, and local feedback and context is not captured by climate projection models. We are trying to work with people at local scale and communities to provide them with information that  is relevant as we learn about their local environments.”

He said that his organization’s work is increasingly focused on understanding historical trends of the weather. A big red flag on the ground these days, he said, is that people are depending on one, single climate change model to inform decision making for variegated environmental conditions. “Maladaptation is a big concern for us,” he said.

His sentiments echoed yesterday’s agricultural discussion in which panelists promoted forms of agriculture more sensitive to local conditions and realities.

Referring to the Climate Information Portal, or CIP, Jack said that initially the focus was on disseminating data, but they soon came to realize that people were downloading without understanding it. “We’ve developed more guidance information to help people use the information better,” he said. “We’re trying to understand how people are using data, how we are presenting it and this is it’s also useful for training … a platform where people can engage with data, and we can work with them to help them use it.

“The most important thing is that it’s allowed us to provide feedback to scientists about what is useful and who is being represented, misrepresented and how it can be improved.”

Tahia Devisscher, of the Stockholm Environment Institute,  spoke of the weADAPT platform, an interactive database in use around the world, which depends on links to knowledge partners.

“We strongly believe in collaboration and collective action to tackle learning and adaptation,” she said. “No single tool or method fits all purposes.”

Devisscher describing the weADAPT platform

weADAPT runs on semantic technology, and links people and organizations that work with climate adaptation around the world. “You can let people know your interests and connect with people who are doing work that is similar to yours,” she said.

People can share findings as case studies and that all of the information is organized around initiatives. “Topics are managed by our knowledge partners—they play the roll of editors of the initiatives, ensuring high quality and credible content,” she said.

The system has recently developed a new interface that allows people to create profiles, like they would on Facebook. Users select information that reflects their circumstances, and the system responds with personalized information so that the user sees what the system can offer them, personally. “The system learns about you, and the semantic technology allows suggestion of what you can read and people you can link with … it’s a new way to attract people to a system,” Devisscher said.

Gifty Ampomah, Environnement et Developpement du Tiers Monde, spoke of community-based risk screening tool and capacity building work she is involved with in several African countries. She described workshop that included local scientists an NGO and a national organization, coming together for a training on vulnerability assessment and adaptation planning. The training relied on “toolkits” involving conceptual mapping and assessment of community perceptions about climate change; resources and institutions. “When you talk to the people who have gained this capacity, they are happy because they find information they are looking for,” she said. “They used CIP to get the information and were happy to know the existence of this tool.”

Anne Hammill, of the International Institute for Sustainable Development, spoke of CRiSTAL, a tool that provides guidance to project planners in designing and adjusting community based activities to support adaptation, which was developed about eight years ago to help users integrate adaptation activities into their projects. “This is an analytical framework provided to users that helps them identify resources critical to livelihood,” she said.

Hammill describing the CRiSTAL interface

Through the characterization of livelihood and resources in specific locations, she said adaptation strategies might be more feasible.

Libasse Ba, of Environmet et Developpement du Tiers-Monde, said  coaching needs to be looked at.  “The problem we are facing is the lack of coaching and the lack of institutional framework to replicate this kind of training at a different level. We are talking in terms of support—we need to develop experience with journalists from the local community, to simplify and transfer knowledge to the local level.”

Insights from the Special report on renewable energy sources and climate change proved engaging reminders of the need for consideration around where renewable energy technology is now in terms of capability and financial impacts.

Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Vice-Chair kicked off the discussion of the special report by saying that the demand for energy is only going to increase, so if the international community wants to stabilize the temperature, global emissions must peek soon.

“Potential emissions from remaining fossil resources could result in concentration levels far above 600ppm,” he said. “If we want to protect climate according to the consensus of the international community and keep levels low enough to do this, we cannot use the energy sources that are being used today.”

Jean-Pascal van Ypersele discussing the rising use of renewable energy as measured against a low starting point

He said what has become a repeated theme at these side events, that renewable energy is increasingly in use around the world. Yet, he cautioned resting on laurels by qualifying this rate against a small usage to begin with, worldwide.

Looking at the types of energy demand, specifically electricity, heat and primary energy, van Ypersele said that alternatives sources as studied would provide well enough for the energy demands in place today, and findings of the report show that there are no technical blocks to their usage.  Deployment of renewable energy technology leads to stabilization of GHG and lowering of levels over time.

John Christensen, Head of the UN Riso Centre, talked about how to view renewable energy in a broader sustainability context, particularly in terms of combined benefits. In light of growing development, growing consumption and growing GHGs, he said renewable energy can make a contribution. He called on data sets and projections in slides from the IPCC. Graphs showed the well-known fact that with high income comes high energy consumption, yet he noted how some industrialized countries with similar GDPs have different consumption levels.

Strong efforts were made, he said, to link sustainable development assessment with the technical and policy chapters used in high-level negotiations. He said their report was among the last to be submitted because they took time to ensure that the sustainability ideas considered ran in parallel with the concepts of sustainability in the policy chapter.

Christensen outlines policy points that were heavily considered in the design of the report

Renewable energy can accelerate access to energy, Christensen said. It also serves as a buffer against supply disruption and changing market conditions.

“1.3 billion people in the world have no access to electricity,” he said, “2.5 to 2.7 billion people don’t have electricity to cook with. Access for all is one of the targets. Renewables can make a dedicated contribution.”

The initiative defines different levels of access according to social services, from general lighting, to healthcare facility access, to school access. The improvements, he said, offer a lot of benefits, including sustains economic development. To really make progress, he said access must foster a focus on productive uses, i.e., agriculture, commercial and transport-related endeavors. “Different technologies contribute to the different levels of access,” he said.

Blocks to wider use of renewable energy, Christensen said, involve misperceptions around its capability and costs. “It’s quite outdated actually the information that’s out there,” he said. “It’s an uphill battle to tell people that ‘what you are reading is not necessarily true.’ We need to take [renewable energy] seriously and put it in development strategy at secondary or top level, to look broader at it than just at the direct cost—the life-cycle aspects are basically beneficial.”

Hugo Lucas, Director of Policy Advisory Services and Capacity Building, International Renewable Energy Agency IRENA, said, “today there are 5 million people working with renewable energy based on US$ 250billion worth of investment. What is IRENA trying to do is develop a renewable energy learning platoform because it demands qualified human skills. People in Europe are suffering to get people with these skills and we want to address their lack with online academic resources.”

Christensen ended on a poignant note to say “[renewable energy] is not a small niche, this is multibillions of dollars and it’s not the kind of backyard operation it was years ago.”

Agricultural in the Climate Talks and the Food Security Imperative: Which way to Just Solutions?

Varikottil (second left to right), Schroeder and Singh

Dr. Haridas  Varikottil, Scientific Advisor on Agriculture and farmer, began this panel discussion with an example of how local farmers adjusted their strategies according to local-specific recommendations based on sound methods that increased their income substantially. “If you are in favor of poor people, people should support independent agriculture,” he said. “We should support farmers directly and we need policy at the national and international level. In developing nations, 75 percent of people are dependent on agriculture … we should help them.”

Anika Schroeder, Policy Officer Climate Change and Development, asked if climate smart agriculture is a blessing or curse. “What I have learned is that once you give power to the people, and once they start to believe in themselves, they are able to perform better than corporates I have seen,” she said. “We are looking into forms of agriculture that brings people, nature, climate, survival together again.”

The big argument on the table, Schroeder explained, is that between mitigation and adaptation. Policy makers promote and fund mitigation strategies that are one-size-fits all, and the panelists called for funding to adaptation strategies that reflect localized realities. “Farmers keep getting money for mitigation but are not getting funds for adaptation,” Schroeder said. “They call it ‘climate smart agriculture’ but the problem with this term is that everything is included—GMOs, pesticides, nitrogen fertilizers.”

She said that mitigation claims around carbon sequestration are not proven by science. Nitrous oxide reduction claims are only partially qualified by scientific findings that show that it takes ten years and can only occur in humid soil types. Claims around reduced CO2 and NO2 with the lessened use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer are only backed when legume crops are rotated into the land-use strategy.

“It is difficult to measure how much carbon is being sequestered,” Schroeder said. “How can you relate unclear sequestration to carbon fuel emissions?”

According to mitigation strategies, Schroeder said that farmers are forced to adopt inappropriate technology at the expense of finding technology that is area specific and possibly less expensive with the potential to produce better outcomes.

She argued that money spent to set up mitigation-based climate smart agriculture amounts to $US 17million. “This is just to set up the climate smart agricultural system, and none of it reaches the grounds that are farmed.”

Harjeet Singh, International Coordinator: Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Adaptation, ActionAid, said that the impact is greatest on small farms. They are the worst hit. “Rising emissions and temperatures means things will go from bad to worse.”

Policy makers are reluctant to promote adaptation as a strategy, he said. Only when it was forced onto the table and into documentation did they discuss it and only in terms of resilient synergies. Agriculture is a natural priority but the prioritization of it is artificially inflated, he explained.

“The emphasis [instead] should rather be on adaptation.”

The work program being promoted at high levels, he said, is being used like a trojan horse to bring mitigation discussions back to the forefront and overshadow the need for investment in adaptation strategies at the local levels.

“They are telling us to use climate-ready seeds. Stop using indigenous knowledge. Stop using adaptation as a strategy.”

The intention is clear that policy makers are using the UNFCCC to push for agro-business strategies, he said. “We should be demanding a focus on adaptation. We don’t need a work program.

“We need to show how agriculture is ruining the quality of soil and water and how market-based solutions and soil carbon sequestration don’t work. Another thing being pushed through is climate smart agriculture—people don’t want to change the way they are doing things so they market agriculture strategies and hand it over saying ‘here’s a package, do it for us.’”

Harjeet Singh gives his view on why adaptation to climate change should not be privatized

New Look at Agriculture, REDD and Incorporating Islam into Climate Change Mitigation

Panelists and audience members at a side event

The big draws at COP18 these initial days are side events. These offer a stage to observer organizations where they can go deeper on issues related to climate change. The events are 90 minutes long and feature a panel of experts—usually from various countries and organizations—speaking and answering questions posed by the audience at the session’s end.  The events “provide opportunities for information dissemination, capacity building, policy discussions and legitimizing global governance,” according to the UNFCCC.

Attending a few of these events makes one realize their importance, because the concerns of people around the world and perspectives upon which they are based are staggering in number. Today, I attended a few events to get a sense of agricultural concerns related to climate change, the latest findings around Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (REDD), policy approaches and carbon capture policy, and how Islam factors into climate change mitigation strategies. From Norway to Chad to Mongolia, panelists discussed these issues and how they fit into the COP agenda.

Alexander Muller, Assistant Director General of the Natural Resources and Management Department of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, chaired an event today entitled: “Sustainable Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change—How Can Climate-Smart Approaches Help Build Resilience in Food Security and Agriculture?”

According to the latest statistics, there are 870 million people going hungry at the moment, Muller said. The number, for the entire world, has dropped while the number of those going hungry in Sub-Saharan Africa has risen, he added. The panel was formed around the idea that climate change mitigation strategies go hand-in-hand with sustainable agriculture, to the point that Muller said that “climate change adaptation must be incorporated … there is no distinction between agricultural development and mitigation.”

“Climate smart agriculture” as it is termed in policy documents, has three pillars: sustainable increase in productivity, strength and resilience of crops and an increase in the mitigation of emissions. Yet, while in the past, agricultural models have depended on increased use of fertilizer, engineered seeds and increased irrigation to produce high yields, these methods are not climate smart, Muller said.

Alexander Muller, Assistant Director General of the Natural Resources and Management Department of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and panelists at side event

Incorporating mitigation into agricultural planning strategies means thinking in terms of broader ecosystems. “We know that climate change will have an impact on ecosystems and ecosystems are what agriculture relies upon,” he said.

A panelist from Malawi, Austin Tibu, Senior Conservation Officer, Department of Land Resources Conservation, Ministry of Agriculture and  Irrigation Development, Government of Malawi, discussed the issue being faced there, particularly drought and flooding as well as yields that do not meet the needs of a growing population—the problem facing most Sub-Saharan African countries.

Damdin Dagvadorj, Special Envoy on Climate Change, Ministry of Environment and Green Development, Government of Mongolia, explained the problem of overgrazing therein and the fact that climate change is affecting the lives of people there due to harsh weather conditions. The winter of 2008/2009, in particular, he said, lead to the loss of a large percentage of livestock.

Agnes Otzelberger, Africa Climate Adaptation/Global Gender Adviser, CARE International-Poverty, Environment and Climate Change Network (PECCN), spoke of approaches her organization has developed to work with smaller farmers. She explained the importance of technology transfer as opposed to simply applying methodology and leaving the farmers to cope. “[Agricultural] innovation should be done together, through social learning, farmer-to-farmer learning approaches that are flexible and forward-thinking.”

Agricultural approaches must be flexible, she said, since decisions must be made in the face of uncertainty in terms of how the climate is changing from year to year. She spoke of a scenario in Africa where farmers said had they had access to more information about climate, they would have made better decisions in response to this information.

James Kinyangi, CCAFS Regional Program Leader East Africa, ILRI, East Africa, asked if the poor and most vulnerable will benefit from climate-smart approaches. “Are they benefiting? Will they benefit? We don’t know,” he said. It’s time to ask: Where is the missing link that prevents us from answering these questions?

“One of the things we can do is target and create a critical mass of practitioners of climate-smart practices to address the need for food security,” he said citing the current negative correlation between food security and the inability of farmers to innovate. “Farmers can’t make changes and thus nobody can see what would happen if they did, and nobody will get out of poverty.”

A lot of people in Africa today, he said, are participating in small-scale farms, micro-industry and small businesses, actively working to get out of poverty. “We are doing things to be able to transfer from that stage,” he said, “we can engage decision makers to invest in places where the results will be most effective.”

Humans are increasingly dealing with conflict and crisis as well as competition for resources, he said. “We are moving more into a place where we are seeing different nutrition patents, moving into a world where the private sector is expanding in terms of the profit motive. These are external drivers, and you have to think of the poor and vulnerable.”

He stressed the importance of multidisciplinary and information-rich approach to innovation, saying it’s important to work in partnerships—“not just farmers, but experts, policy makers, funders and experts to make sure that the poor and the vulnerable benefit.”

“We want to present sustainable agriculture as part of the solution … climate smart agriculture can move people out of poverty, feed people and help mitigate climate concerns.”

Muller brought the concept of Fair Trade into the discussion (as it was a part in COP 17), calling on Carlos Vargas, a producer representative from Costa Rica, to describe the methodologies of this approach. Vargas explained that Fair Trade as a concept implies working with vulnerable people and giving them the opportunity to reach high production levels on smaller plots of land using sustainable methodology, including soil management and protection techniques, planting forest cover in order to prevent erosion and keep humidity in the soil, and the use of natural pest control, organic fertilizer and, whenever possible, organic production methods.

Muller reminded the audience that while the number of hungry has reduced worldwide, that number is on the rise in Africa as well as Asia—lands that have dense populations and yet face impacts of climate change and a reduced ability to produce food for themselves. While the number is rising in Africa, Asia, he said, comprises the highest number of hungry on the planet.

Side event: What Doha and the Durban Platform need to do about REDD and LULUCF?

Discussion here revolved around adapting policy to what is being discovered through research of natural systems.

Nils Hermann Ranum, Head of Policy and Campaigns at Regneskogfondet, said that REDD strategies must incorporate incentives that reward beyond carbon and reward for the long term.  He said that REDD has gained traction at these conferences because it is a “win-win-win” strategy protecting forests and natural ecosystems, securing rights and livelihoods of forest-dependent peoples and reducing carbon emissions. But this is not enough to drive change at the rate and to the degree that’s needed, he argued.

He said there needs to be focus actions that have been tested to work and incentives around these, such as emissions reductions based on simplified measurements.

“There’s a lot of consensus about how we can do this,” he said. “Good governance to address drivers of deforestation and degradation, protect natural forests, strengthen land tenure.”

He argued further that system establishment takes so many resources and that land tenure reforms are still not given a high priority. Furthermore, he said that discoveries since Bali necessitate another look at where policy efforts should be directed now. “We need a wider set of parameters around governance issues, social and environment issues.”

Professor, Dr. Hans Joosten, Greifswald University, spoke of a compelling source of carbon emissions that deserves consideration because of its perpetual nature.  Peat soils, which are damp soils in healthy forests that supply nutrients to the flora therein, become atmospheric carbon sources when the forest is removed and the land is drained of its moisture. Peat soils from tropical soils, especially, contain and emit many times more carbon. “When drained, these soils become vigorous and long-lasting sources of carbon dioxide,” he said. “Peatland changes the scale of carbon emissions because the leaching of peat soils creates an annual CO2 rise. Decreasing the area of deforestation is the only way to reduce this rate.”

“We need a moratorium for peat soils,” he continued. “Reducing tree biomass, drainage and fire all increase emissions and this is an important consideration. Peatlands are forest carbon pools that emit because of what happened to their forest. These are long-term effects of deforestation and must be counted in deforestation initiative and mitigation strategies.

“Peatland conversion is rapid and irreversible,” he continued, “it is persistent and increases emissions. Conserve, reforest, rewet.”

Islamic Values and Traditional Knowledge in Drylands

Dr. Crawhill, center, and panelists

Dr. Nigel Crawhall, Director of the Secretariat for the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee (IPACC), discussed the concept of incorporating Islam as well as traditional knowledge into policy around land use.

“We are looking at a different approach to climate—right now we are locked into a pattern whereby ‘if one gains, the other loses,’” he said.

A shift in emphasis on religion and traditional values results in a duty-driven approach and a responsible approach. The strategy at IPACC, Crawhill said, involves a traditional-knowledge system that is value driven and ecosystem specific. “How do you take an oral knowledge system in indigenous languages and bring it into an international framework?”

The Holy Quran was born and spread in dryland regions, he said, so this is a great opportunity to have a dialogue between African peoples and the people of West Asia about traditional approaches to climate change mitigation. With the theme of Quranic teachings we are responding to the risk in approaching these issues competitively instead of collaboratively.

An expert from Bahrain joined on the panel to give context to the Islamic perspective. “People say we are in a clash with nature,” he said. “We should not be in a clash with nature. In the Quran, we learn that many things we as humans learn is through the observation of nature. Any Muslim that plants a tree, for instance, is blessed because they have given alms. They will get the benefit because others will use that tree.

“Nature is the greatest gift to mankind and the Quran is the user’s guide for this gift. We are to explore nature and this lively Earth. The Quran is a culture, and God manifests in every creature and everything in nature. When you give water to a dog, you are saying a prayer, you are being subservient to God.”

The panel consisted of those involved–as filmmakers and participants–in a social research project in Chad. They continually mentioned Ramadan as a unifying factor among participants, whereby people from various ethnic groups joined together in prayer five times a day and this produced an air of solidarity around the project and the mission. They said this enhanced collaboration among the people.

Crawhill introduced a video about the Chad project, which involved the M’bororo indigenous people, of Baïbokoum, Logone Oriental, in southern Chad, who are pastoralists. They participated in a 3D mapping project in August of 2012 (during the Holy Month of Ramadan) whereby around 40 stakeholders—not to be confused with land owners since they graze their livestock on shared land—used GPS data and cartographic tools to map out and negotiated terms around every part of a zone of land that they depend on.

They employed a system that’s over 500 years old, he said, to negotiate terms around the land and then to present these terms to policy makers who oversee the land from Chad’s modern, central government. The argument on the table is that this old system is more intelligent because everything is carefully discussed and every single decision involves the perspectives of all involved. In the end, the map that was produced gave the participants a sense of power and clarity around the arguments they presented to the government officials.

The project results demonstrated what happens when there is a merging of local and scientific knowledge systems because aerial photos of the land were superimposed on the map. Through the use of science and technology, the deep traditional system was ushered into the modern scheme.

The project, as described, also displayed an ability to preserve the old tradition that is under threat of disappearing because it doesn’t tap into modern presentation or communication systems. The technology and science used in this experiment can be employed in any social system around the world where indigenous knowledge is under threat. Qatar being a perfect example since the rate of development here is so fast.

Naturally, Islamic values would have room for discussion and incorporation into any schemes that result from such activities.

Takeaway: The striking need for a link between research findings and policy

What I’m seeing in these sessions is an effort on the part of experts to voice findings from on the ground and convey these findings in a way that policy-makers can leverage as important in the grander scheme of socio-economic realities. Now, more than ever, the transparency around these findings is critically important. Experts from an array of disciplines join together on individual side event panels and share knowledge with each other and other experts. The rooms are jam-packed. Knowledge around these issues, underpinned by (social and physical) scientific discovery, is of the essence.

Hikma Hours Highlight Qatar’s Response to Climate Change

(L to R) Chris Silva, Sheikha Athba Al Thani, Nasser Al Khori, Arend Kuster, Rudiger Tscherning, and Nadia Aboul Hosn

Members of various organizations around Qatar* have formed an NGO alliance around climate change initiatives known as Qatar Sustainability Network (QSN). Today saw QSN executives leading a discussion about Qatar’s specific responses to climate change in terms of adaptation, mitigation and capacity building. The discussion was the first of what will be daily side events at COP 18, called Hikma Hours (Hikma translating most closely to the English word wisdom). 

Today’s discussion, moderated by Arend Kuster, Managing Director at and board member of QSN, presented a general overview of proactive capacity-building efforts underway across a range of sectors in Qatar. In introducing the panel of QSN representatives, Kuster added that sustainability is at the heart of the agenda and the Qatar National Vision 2030 and that “Qatar Foundation and QSN are working together to build capacity and raise standards on how we use food and water resources while being mindful and aware of impacts on the environment.”

Panelist, Sheikha Athba Al Thani, Chief Services Support Officer and Sustainable Development Manager at Qatar Diar Vinci Construction (QDVC) spoke about outreach initiatives throughout Qatar schools and how these are carefully monitored to ensure that the information is impacting youth and their approach to the environment. She also spoke of collaborations with QTel (Qatar’s main telecommunications company) to enhance recycling initiatives and broaden the scope of these over time.

Nasser Al Khori, Programs Associate for Qatar Foundation International, spoke about  programs aimed at raising awareness and creating global citizens. He spoke specifically about an initiative called Mapping the Mangroves, which is dedicated to heightening awareness and fostering conversations and protective action around the important ecosystems found in Mangrove forests around the world. At the heart of this project is scientific investigation, as it depends on a collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar, which supplied technology to remotely monitor factors like temperature and use these figures for research. Al Khori describes the project here:

Nadia Aboul Hosn, the Science and Outreach Expert at Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute (QEERI) spoke about initiatives QEERI has undertaken to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of Qatar’s response to climate-change-related issues. She said that while many exciting and highly-sophisticated projects are underway, especially given the great capacity-building effort around research in Qatar, there is a gap between organizations, causing efforts to be made in silos when collaboration would be favorable. She said that QEERI is actively looking into ways to bridge this gap and bring together various proactive organizations so that initiatives based on shared expertise and experience can be formed.

Christopher Silva, Sustainability Education Coordinator at Hamad Bin Khalifa University (part of Qatar Foundation), spoke about how Qatar is employing knowledge from various sectors–including social sciences–to ensure that green building technology is not only a part of people’s lives but a factor in raising awareness and changing behavior. For one example, green buildings can be equipped with monitors that inform residents when the temperature outside is favorable to that indoors so that they switch off the air conditioner and open windows. For another, residents use a key card to activate electricity, but bearing a likeness to a hotel room key, he said this card also stores information about how much electricity was used so that the resident understands their impact immediately and in relation to the time spent with lights or devices on. The immediacy of this information, he said, is what makes it effective.

Director of the Energy and Environmental Law Forum at Qatar University, Rudiger Tscherning spoke about how Qatar is working to establish laws and regulations around environmental initiatives. He said that in terms of capacity building for the nation, Qatar University’s environmental law program is focused on both research and education: “We work with lawyers at all levels and government employees and the issue is ‘where are the environmental laws; where are we at?'”

This idea builds into the vision of the country. The vision document itself “shows what the country of Qatar wants to be, where it’s going and how it’s going to get there,” he said.

The message from the environmental field in Qatar is that of a sustainable and diversified economy as part of social development, he continued. “We embrace the industry and engage them,” he said. “We are strong on lobbying and finding ways of alternative energy her in Qatar–water consumption, hydrocarbon use for desalination and energy generation, themes we are highly aware of.”

Tscherning emphasized the concept of transmission, i.e., sharing expertise as a form of capacity building. “This is something that is at the heart of what we are doing … we can get expertise from overseas, yet there is a lot of expertise hidden in Qatar, that’s why QSN is brilliant–get the expertise that is already here and spread it through collaboration.”

Kuster tied the discussion together with a look forward: “We need to validate what we are doing here against the future generations. We know what went wrong in the past—it’s the future we need to look at to know what we are to do here.”

*Members of QSN: Averda, Doha Oasis, Eco-Q, Friends of the Environment Center, Msheireb Properties, Hamad Bin Khalifa University, Qatar Energy and Environment Research Institute, Qatar Green Building Council, Qatar National Research Fund, Qatar Natural History Group, Qatar Science and Technology Park, Qatar Foundation, Qatar Solar Technologies, QScience, Qur’anic Gardens, Sprout, Sustainable Qatar, TCE QSTP-LLC. Government agencies participate as observers.

COP 18: An Unprecedented Opportunity

Middle: President Elect of the Conference of Parties at the 18th session and CMP 8, H.E. Abdullah Bin Hamad Al-Attiyah. (Photo courtesy Arend Kuster)

This first day of the 18th Conference of Parties drew representatives from government and non-government organizations as well as media to the Qatar National Convention Center. Many attended the opening ceremony—a series of statements from UNFCCC leadership and Qatar’s President Elect of COP 18. These brief statements and motions set the tone for the next two weeks of negotiations.

On the table and noted repeatedly was the fact that Kyoto is at a critical juncture (for background on the Kyoto Protocol, click here for yesterday’s introductory blog post).

Before the official announcements began, a video aired featuring Qatari nationals commenting on climate change as a critical issue affecting everyone, each one saying in the end “count me in” (in reference to the discussion and action around all things related). It’s no secret that Qatar is drawing criticism by hosting this event, and yet it is an extremely bold and proactive move on the part of this country. Through hosting COP 18, Qatar has invited high-level executives and media representatives from all over the world to take a first-hand look. What nobody can deny in the end is Qatar’s openness, just by hosting such an event, to playing a more publicized role in climate change policy and negotiations.

This is all not to mention COP 18’s exposure of the advances the Qatar is making in its education and research initiatives. Nascent as they may be, they represent substantial progress in a short period of time and a continued and strong commitment to science and knowledge as the keys to the future and what are fundamental to solving the issues on the table at the moment.

Ms. Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, Minister of International Relations and Co-operation of the Republic of South Africa and COP 17/CMP 7 President, expressed this in other words when she said that this COP will be remembered for many years to come as a shining example of what multilateralism can achieve. She moreover mentioned it as a demonstration of “respect for inclusiveness and the need for mutual reassurances.”

As a “great opportunity for multilateralism,” Nkoana-Mashabane said the outcomes of COP 18 would reach beyond the climate change issue. “There’s an African proverb that goes: If you want to walk fast, walk alone; if you want to walk far, walk with others. We have walked a long way from Durban to Doha. Let us resolve to tackle climate change together,” she continued,  inviting continued dedication to build on past COPs to ensure an “effective policy framework for mitigation now up to 2020 and beyond.”

Nkoana-Mashabane then introduced President Elect of the Conference of Parties at the 18th session and CMP 8, H.E. Abdullah Bin Hamad Al-Attiyah. He commented on the fact that COP 18 is an historic conference of vital importance considering the items on the agenda. “It’s a turning point in the negotiation on climate change … with seven working groups on climate change involved, this is the most in [COP] history and is an additional challenge to manage,” he said.

Al-Attiyah said he would work closely with colleagues and chairs as well as ad-hoc working groups during his presidency in order to achieve results. “The negotiators are the main pillars to ensure progress in the works of the convention,” he said. “In order to achieve objectives, we have to participate in many sessions and listen to various viewpoints. I stand, and I listen to you … waiting to see what we can do to achieve the desired results … In unity, there is strength. Therefore, I look forward and count on your support.”

Ms. Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary, UNFCCC, then spoke, first mentioning the “tireless, detailed and thorough preparation made by respective teams to ensure that the conference came together.”

She welcomed participants to the COP and said that while each one is unique, this one is especially so because of Doha’s geopolitical position. She mentioned that the location of this COP makes it at once a Gulf event and an Asian-Pacific conference. She proposed that it will specifically move forward initiatives from two previous Asian-Pacific COPs—Kyoto and Bali.

Her final, hopeful, statement, though, drew the most tweets and excitement: “Much of this can be accomplished before the high-level segment … this could happen not on Sunday, not on Saturday, but make history and finish on a Friday.”

COP 18—What is it, and why is climate change science important?

Doha is abuzz with excitement around the biggest event it’s ever hosted. And yet most people I’ve spoken with didn’t know about it or why it’s such a big deal. What keeps COP a bit of a mystery to the general public is, among other things, a dazzling array of acronyms. This blog post invites you to know the fundamental terminology and its context. Posts over the next two weeks, in kind, invite you to understand scientific underpinnings of the issues at play during COP and how these relate to Qatar, which is poised to become a sophisticated and receptive research hub.

Convention of Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meetings have been happening in cities around the world for the past 17 years. The meetings involve active participation by representatives from virtually every country (a.k.a. party) in the world in talks about climate change. The first such meeting, COP1, was held in Berlin in 1995. Shortly thereafter, in 1997, at COP3 in Kyoto, Japan, the parties put forth the Kyoto Protocol, which laid out a strategy to legally bind specific countries to reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions targets. Countries are classified as follows:

Industrialized/developed nations are termed Annex 1 countries and include countries that are in transition from centralized to free market economies. Those countries that are developed but have fully made the transition to free market economies are termed Annex 2 and are bound to assist developing countries in adapting to climate change. Non-Annex countries—Qatar being among them—are mostly developing countries at high risk of being affected by climate change, and 49 parties fall under the Least Developed Countries (LDC) classification.

All countries that signed on to the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 are classified as Annex 1 and were listed under Kyoto’s Annex B. Annex B countries agreed to specific targets based on reducing emissions to levels (6-8 percent) below those seen in 1990. It’s hoped that curbing emissions to below those in 1990 on the part of the biggest GHG producers will contribute to stabilizing the amount of these gases in the atmosphere, thus curbing the trend of them spiking upward due to industrial activities. To reach the targets, each party was legally bound to an assigned amount (i.e. limited amount) of emissions.

This 18th COP meeting is a noteworthy one for several reasons. It’s the first of such meetings to be hosted by an Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) member. It’s also a critical COP for the Kyoto Protocol, for 2012 is the end of the first commitment period for parties. Those not making their emissions targets this year will be subject to a 130 percent target rate over the next commitment period. This is also the COP where the parties must decide when new Kyoto targets must be met.

The debate around climate change involves a highly charged tangle of perspectives on climate change science. Countless organizations, like Climate Action Network (CAN), stand behind the idea that emissions must be drastically cut within the next ten years in order to avoid irreversible environmental and social consequences.

These consequences include an increasing number of ‘climate refugees’ who are forced off low-lying island states due to extreme flooding. Additional consequences include changes in overall sea currents due to drops in salinity level near melting zones and the changed course seawater makes to balance the situation out.  Presented statistics are alarming, and yet, they are highly contested and filtered through a myriad of social and economic realities.

Over the past 17 years, UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol negotiations have lead to the formation of the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) as well as ad-hoc groups (AGs) and ad-hoc working groups (AWGs), which represent specific priorities and perspectives as decisions move forward. In addition these groups are those dedicated specifically to the evaluation of the latest science and technology: the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which was established in 1998 “to survey world-wide scientific and technical literature [and] publish assessment reports.”

Because of the great variety of concerns and priorities at play, COP, while representing a meeting of the minds at the highest international government level, notoriously produces few groundbreaking results (a quick look at the history of the 17 prior meeting outcomes offers a solid idea). On the other hand, it does draw focus back, again and again, to the notion of industrial impacts on the natural environment and increasingly relies on science and technology as the guideposts and way forward, respectively.

As an academic journals platform,, is proactively participating in the buzz around COP18 and inviting you to do so as well. With its all-digital, open access platform, QScience has stepped forward to collect, publicize and preserve research vitally related to the COP climate change talks, including that based on carbon capture science, global governance strategies, environmentally-focused interfaith dialogue, and energy and food security challenges. The QScience COP18 Collection is live (, free to access and open for discussion and sharing via the latest social networking tools.

This segment of the blog serves as a partner to the collection. It’s aim being to get the science out to the wider public in an accessible, engaging and empowering format. Watch out for posts every day, right here, reflecting carefully selected COP18 talks on the science—be it social physical, life or interdisciplinary—directly related to Qatar and the region. Through this coverage, we hope to engage the wider public in a way that empowers and heightens awareness around climate change issues and action, and the science that is increasingly emerging as the focal point of this fundamental and ubiquitous debate.

~Emily Alp