The Science of Urgency–Reflections on COP 18

Outcomes of COP meetings are usually discussed in terms of policy and international buy-in to agreements. By this definition, COP 18 results were less than what were expected yet still a step forward. The Kyoto Protocol will continue on for a second commitment period, eight years on, yet it only legally binds a 15 percent reduction of emissions.  And while stocking the green climate fund by 2020 with the US$ 100bn promised is still high on the to-do list, it seems a tall order from developed nations still watching the dust settle on the financial crisis of last decade.

Yet, as Wael Hmaiden, Director of Climate Action Network International–the largest climate change organization of more than 700 NGOs–explained early in the proceedings: action taken at the policy level is one thing and the attention COP draws to the issues at hand is another.

In Doha, especially, this notion proved important as the meeting took place for the first time in an OPEC nation. Specifically, having a COP in a country that is deeply entrenched in a carbon-based economy did much to foster an information highway to the region, encouraging knowledge transfer on topics like energy subsidization, incentivizing renewables and designing smart cities as well as best practices for carbon capture. What’s more, it drew attention to the fact that residents in this region—with its low-lying populated areas, tapped water reserves and intensely-hot climate—are all-too familiar with the effects of climate change. It’s clear that people across the Gulf are eager to get involved and are starting get a hold of information that can help them assess the situation and do something about it.

Candid discussions around fossil fuel subsidization reform, renewable energy initiatives (namely Saudi Arabia’s unprecedented investment in solar energy production) and the release of the first ever ecological footprint assessment for the MENA region showed a solid effort on the part of the region to move swiftly on climate change. Yet side events (see previous posts) provided deep insight into how complicated this move is given local circumstances.

No matter where in the world you target, you first need to research and understand what exactly you’re looking at in terms of market viability, need for external funding, feasibility of setup and maintenance of any technologies, need for capacity building, issues of equity, and a myriad of other factors, not the least of which would be political makeup. Only then can you design an intelligent and workable plan of action. The types of events and discussions taking place under the UNFCCC are beginning to reflect the dire need for such R&D and knowledge transfer. But will this issue—of adapting climate change strategies—move far and fast enough from behind the shadow of the mitigation strategies and debates that have dominated discussions so far?

Adaptation vs. Mitigation

A debate around adaptation and mitigation has emerged as a key to understanding some of proposed strategies as well as the gridlock at policy level. Adaptation implies ground-level approaches to preparing for effects of climate change. Examples include shifting economies toward renewable resources, basing farming practices on more sustainable methods—including working more closely with meteorologists to plan crops and tapping into time-tested traditional land-use practices—and generally overhauling at every level to reduce climate impacts and prepare everyone for unpredictable conditions. Mitigation, on the other hand, implies directly targeting carbon emissions with policy to incentivize a reduction in fossil fuel use and carbon emissions (creating a side-effect shift toward renewables), as well as the promotion of techniques like carbon capture and storage.

Mitigation and adaptation measures overlap, especially when you consider that mitigation-based taxation and subsidization policies shed more attractive lighting on the renewable market. Yet the call for adaptation, to change the trajectory of developing countries toward a more sustainable one—vs. a follow-the-polluting leaders approach—is emerging as vital, because as more and more people move out of rural poverty and into the urban middle class, energy demands are only projected to rise, markedly.

Policy is now forming around terms of climate change funding for countries that can’t afford the R&D, implementation and maintenance of renewable strategies that work in their environments. These developing countries have so far depended on and suffered the brunt of effects from polluting technologies. For this reason, a UNFCCC  work program on loss and damage has formed, and the Green Climate Fund is under negotiation as a support mechanism for capacity building as well as technology development and transfer.

This COP resulted in continued support of the Technology Executive Committee, which is the newest initiative in UNFCCC aimed at chartering a way forward in terms of implementing effective and climate-friendly technology based on location. Key aims of this committee include developing strong communications with ground-level administrators in developing countries and devising ways to make investment in renewables attractive to private investors based on a long-term prediction of economic success in any given location. Part of this effort hinges on location-specific R&D. For instance, in Qatar, solar energy poses a technology challenge due to the scarcity of water and the amount of it needed to cool the units under unusually hot conditions. Alternative solar-based solutions and cooling technologies must be considered as research targets.

Adaptation technology platforms (as discussed in this post) have popped up to address the incredibly complex conditions on the ground. These data-rich, web-based portals allow access to information not only on the technology in use today but also on the important location-specific information that helps decision makers and investors see the feasibility of implementing any given strategy based on localized conditions—current market drivers, natural resource availability, economy, population, weather, capacity building requirements, etc.

Knowledge transfer has emerged as an essential and pressing concern around adaptation approaches and mitigation approaches alike. At COP 18, experts called repeatedly for more investment in research and publication of findings from developing countries. And now more than ever it has become obvious, the need for open access and open source databases to share findings and minimize duplicate efforts. Similarly, the green patent approach would make technology specs available in a third of the time.

On the mitigation front, the degree of investment into carbon sequestration methods depends directly on knowledge acquisition and transfer related to the most effective strategies to both store maximum carbon and clear out hard-to-reach oil and gas patches. This is not to mention the legal considerations around carbon leakage over time, the potential for which demands focused research and investment therein.

Research in Qatar is addressing many of the issues on the table at COP, some of which were covered here. And a partnership announcement with the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research marked a strong step forward and commitment on the part of the host country.

The Science of Urgency

The issues on the table are the greatest humankind has ever faced and, while self evident in countless cases, are most provocative when backed by scientific research. Yet some government officials at COP and much of the general public are ill equipped, information-wise, to to comprehend the full extent of climate change, Hmaiden said.

“Climate change has been here for 20 years,” he explained. “So why didn’t everyone know about it 20 years ago. I am an environmental activist, and it took me seven years as in this role to fully understand what climate change is. Imagine the general public who are even farther away from this information. It’s very complex scientific information that doesn’t trickle easily to the public.”

This combined with the fact that climate change is not an attractive issue complicates the sense of urgency that needs to build around climate change, fast. In Sweden, Hmaiden said, the government has considered naming their ministry of climate change “The Ministry of Existence,” to raise awareness about the seriousness of climate change.

“It’s like cancer in your body; you have to treat it,” he said. “But if you fall down and you have a cut on your head and your head is bleeding, you’re definitely going to treat this more urgently than going to get chemotherapy to cure cancer. Cancer is more important than a cut, more serious than a cut on your forehead. But a cut on the forehead you prioritize in terms of action.

“And what’s happening in the world is that we’re facing one cut after another. We are in a constant state of stitching but we are forgetting that the cancer needs to be treated and that it’s growing. The more we delay, the more it will spread. At some point, whatever chemotherapy you do, it’s not going to be enough. So at some point we’re going to have to say I have to treat this cancer.”

Achim Steiner’s talk at the high-level panel on food security is worth a listen as he headlines with the fact that the UNFCCC’s role in part is to bring science to the policy arena. The UNEP Executive Director and Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, Steiner’s urgent appeal for effective application of science and technology, to steer humans away from destructive and highly-entrenched modes of operation, is palpable.

Toward Greener Business Practices in MENA

MainA fast pace of development in the Gulf has taken its toll according to environmental experts. The region’s first ever ecological footprint atlas, put out by the Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED), prompted authors to formally name it a “Survival Report.”

“Since 1979, Arab regions have experienced huge ecological deficit and it is increasing,” said Najib Saab, Secretary General of AFED, as he introduced a panel of representatives from companies who participated in a sustainability program.

“We cannot do this forever—use oil income to buy imports,” he continued. “The other consideration is the over-exploitation of natural resources. We are robbing future generations of their right to live.”

Saab explained that since ... every country in the region except Mauritania is at a resource deficit

Saab explained that from 1961-2008, every country in the region except Mauritania developed itself into resource deficit, according to findings through the Arab Forum for Environmental Development

Saab chaired the side event entitled The Role of Arab Business in the Transition to a Low-Carbon Economy, wherein representatives of big business and resources in the region spoke about their participation in a program designed to raise awareness and reduce environmental impacts–120 companies participated. The program entailed periodical sustainability reports specifically outlining mitigation programs and results.

“A lot of information needs to be addressed,” said Rashid Bin Fahed, the UAE’s Minister of Environment and Water, who provided more context on the region. “We need data to arrive at a better assessment of what we have.”

The UAE’s figures were initially off, Fahed explained, because unlike more closed systems where consumption is easier to track, the UAE is a trade hub for the entire region, and 90 percent of goods are re-exported, i.e., in transit rather than consumed or simply traded. Adjustments revealed actual consumption patterns, however.

“We found that 80 percent of our footprint is from carbon,” Fahed said. “We and other Gulf countries rely on carbon to generate energy … we initially lacked the means to develop sustainable sources for such commodities.”

Fahed said that the UAE is counting on Masdar City to test and customize renewable technologies, with an aim of deriving a significant amount (around 8 percent) of energy from renewable sources.

“Conservation is not a choice anymore,” he said. “We have to do it according to a standard, and a lot of awareness campaigns are underway. We believe that the green growth strategy will be the umbrella for the development of the UAE. We have the means to achieve it. We’ve already done a lot in the energy and transport sector.”

Steer describes the migration pattern of people, worldwide, to the city

Steer describes the migration pattern of people, worldwide, to the city

When the World Resources Institute (WRI) surveyed citizens around the world, asking if climate change was an urgent matter that demanded an immediate response, 50 percent of US residents, 60 percent of Europeans and 90 percent of Arabs said yes, Andrew Steer, WRI’s President and CEO said, mentioning that, unsurprisingly, 99 percent of small island state residents think along these lines as well.

“We’ve moved from an empty world to a full world,” he said, “and we are pushing the barriers … with a massive increase in the middle class, 800 million vehicles on the road today that could increase to 3 billion by 2050.”

With 70 percent of the human population projected to live in cities by 2050, Steer said urban environments have potential to be part of the solution or part of the problem. He cited Beijing as an example where the footprint of city residents is higher on average than that of those in rural China. In contrast, he said, the footprint of New Yorkers is smaller than that of residents living outside the city.

The topic of electricity and fuel subsidization echoed repeatedly throughout the side event rooms

The topic of electricity and fuel subsidization echoed repeatedly throughout the side event rooms; Steer suggested an overhaul of subsidies schemes to push demand and funding into renewables

In addition to suggesting a shift in taxation schemes to create a shift toward renewable development and a stop to subsidies on fossil fuel-based energy, Steer suggested an overhaul of business as usual at large companies in terms of assessing their impacts.

“We need to reset the compass in terms of measuring progress … it’s better to cut down quarterly reports so people have a longer-term view,” he said.

In the end, he echoed a common sentiment throughout these events calling for more investment in technology and collaboration. “It’s nice to stay up all night and argue [referring to the final days of COP, featuring round-the-clock policy negotiation], but we need to see something happen; we need to stop this zero-sum game.”

Raji Hattar, Chief Sustainability Compliance Officer at Aramex, an Arab-based provider of logistics, transportation and shipping services, spoke about sustainability measures the company has taken to cut down on resource consumption. The company–which involves more than 66,000 employees based out of more than 12,000 offices and operates in more than 240 countries, with a fleet of around 33,000 vehicles–has implemented many eco-friendly programs at every level of its operation, he said.

In addition to the regular generation of footprint reports, Hattar said the company has adopted strict standards around everything from vehicles (based on low emissions ratings) and printers (double-sided only).  He said that the ISO 14000 standards of environmental management and mitigation strategies are exercised from training to high levels of operation. Recycling and smart (degradeable and recycled/reclyclable) packaging are standard as well, he said.

Salabi describes the impact of awareness campaigns in addition to sustainable policies company-wide

Salabi highlighted the potential impact of awareness campaigns in addition to sustainable policies region-wide

Alain Saliba, speaking on behalf of Kharafi National, Kuwait, described measures the company is taking to reduce their environmental footprint, placing emphasis on awareness campaigns. As business development manager at Kharafi—which  specializes in infrastructure development around water, wastewater treatment, reclamation, solid waste management, oil recovery as well as facilities management across the MENA region—Saliba described an e-mail campaign based on repeated messages to all employees encouraging energy-saving practices around the office and home.

“You have to hit repeatedly with the information,” he said. “It’s as if you are tapping on someone’s shoulder, at first they are bothered but don’t turn around, but eventually, they will turn around and ask ‘why are you tapping me with this?’  That’s when the message gets through.”

Michael Nates, Director of Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability at ACWA Power International, Saudi Arabia, gave an overview of the impact of subsidizing electricity across the MENA region (highlighting that every country in the MENA region is subsidized) and offered an alternate financial model wherein payment for electricity could be channeled toward solar power in Saudi Arabia. The goal, he explained, is to understand the impact of subsidies and then minimize them so that the system is tight and the market can decide the value of power, no matter the source. With this scheme, over time, renewables would prove advantageous.

Nates discusses an approach to subsidization that would drive development in the renewable market

Nates discusses an approach to subsidization that would drive development in the renewable market

Nates outlined the compelling case for renewable across the MENA region—if electricity becomes a paid commodity—stressing the financial viability of setting up the technology and implementing it through both public-private partnership and independent providers so that the cost is competitive. Saudi Arabia plans to invest US$ 109billion in solar energy systems—plans to finalize in 2013 and first farm to be operational in 2015 with a goal of covering 30 percent of its energy needs by 2030.

Considering that US$ 136billion was invested worldwide in solar in 2011, this move toward independence in the energy sector could potentially “spur the next wave of innovation and local capacity building in the region in terms of renewable energy,” according to Nate’s presentation. This is not to mention skilled and semi-skilled job market such an investment will create.

Climate Change Through Religious Lenses

Distribution of world religions. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Distribution of world religions. Source: Wikimedia Commons

According to the CIA World Factbook, more than 88 percent of the world population subscribes to a religion.* And the amount of social research around climate change in this area is growing.

At the World Council of Churches (WCC) side event Ethical and religious insights on the climate crisis, religious leaders from various denominations formed a panel to discuss perspectives on climate change through the lenses of different belief systems.

The WCC is composed of 349 churches and denominations and has been working on climate change since 1988, Reverend William Somplatsky-Jarman, representing the Presbyterian Church in the US, explained, saying that the organization participated in every COP meeting since its first in 1995. “Climate change is a deeply moral and ethical issue as well as scientific, economical and political,” he said, as he lauded the panel for being multi-denominational and expressed regret that the expert on Islam was unable to attend.**

Somplatsky introduced the video: “Have you seen the Rainbow: Climate Change, Faith and Hope in Tuvalu,” a short film which featured perspectives of a religious leader, children and a climate scientists on an island midway between Australia and Hawaii that’s said to be shrinking at a rate of 2 mm per year.

Perspectives of the panelists provided insights from completely different angles on an issue facing all of humanity that until this point in the COP had been explored almost exclusively through the lenses of science, development, policy and economics. Their worthwhile insights follow:

Father John T. Brinkman, Japan, of the Catholic Church

Ecology does not function within economics; economics must function within ecology. (Q&A response:) Revelation of the natural world according to the scriptures is described as absolutely equal [to humankind] … if there is anyone who denies climate change in the Catholic church, they do it against their own theology. ~Father Brinkman

Sister Jayanti Kirpalani, UK, of Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University 

If there is this awareness of the human family, then surely our compassion and generosity of spirit and heart would allow us to make simple changes within our lives, to be able to help them protect their country and their environment.~Sister Kirpalani


Archbishop Seraphim Kykotis, Zimbabwe and Angola, of the Orthodox Church

It’s better not to call this climate change … we should call it climate crisis … there are 6 billion people who claim a faith and we have to be strong.~Archbishop Kykotis

* Global population estimated (as of 2009) distribution of religions follow: Christian 33.35% (of which Roman Catholic 16.83%, Protestant 6.08%, Orthodox 4.03%, Anglican 1.26%), Muslim 22.43%, Hindu 13.78%, Buddhist 7.13%, Sikh 0.36%, Jewish 0.21%, Baha’i 0.11%, other religions 11.17%, non-religious 9.42%, atheists 2.04%.

**Scholarly insight into Islam and the environment can be found in our QScience COP18 Collection.


As we are on the finishing day for COP18/CMP8 the science around climate change is yet again taking centre stage. The evidence from the science community is compelling and clear, and partnership between countries will probably be able to advance the agenda even further.

As an observer with Qatar Sustainability Network, I was allowed into an informal ministerial session on Wednesday. The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon in his keynote made clear again that to fight the global climate crisis, partnerships are needed. They are multidimensional and expected to address the full spectrum of agendas climate change prompts. “Climate change is not an environmental issue for ministers only; it poses a challenge for all policy makers including [those overseeing issues like] transport and finance,” he said.

There are clear country-wide challenges to take care of. The French co-chair of the session mentioned the Philippines who are again tackled by another typhoon and spend around 5% of their GDP to repair damages. Later that night, the negotiator from the Philippines made a powerful statement on behalf of his country which is widely covered.

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We really need to “abandon silos” (Ki-moon)

There is interesting and exciting work going on between China and the USA with the Centre of Climate Strategies, but I was really exited to learn about the latest research links forming between the developed and the developing world.

Qatar Foundation earlier that day singed with the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and will provide a research bridge between the east and west, the north and south, and the developing and the developed world. The institute was founded with great foresight in 1991.

Shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, people shared in the enthusiasm and joined hands in believing the east-west conflict might be over and free resources to tackle climate change. “In 1992, people thought about the entire planet, not the east-west conflict,” Professor Schellnhuber, founder of the PIK, said at the signing press conference today.

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(l-r)H.E. Abdullah bin Hamad Al-Attiyah, Mr. Faisal Al-Suwaidi, H.H. Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, Ban Ki-moon, Professor Chellnhuber and Christiana Figueres

The centre aims to take a 360 degree view, focusing on science, technology and policy, dealing with all aspects of climate change, from eteorology to policy (and I would guess that this would include finance as well since it underscored virtually every issue at the conference).

Qatar is located in an arid region, and the centre aims to internationalise the research and bring PIK’s renowned analytical capacity to contribute to global solutions.

Professor Schellnhuber is firmly rooted in fundamental sciences, and the centre shall be set up with the principles of best scientific practices and could lead to the creation of other thinktanks. If the evidence is there, he believes they will be transformed into action. And in applying these principles, I believe that both regions can learn from each other.

This new centre–which has the support of Ban Ki-moon, Christiana Figueres and, last but not least, the leadership of Qatar Foundation, represented in the meeting by Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser and QF president of research, Faisal Al Suwaidi–could contribute substantially to the challenges we are facing. Al Suwaidi believes that they are transforming research in bringing the cooperation together.

Communication and the integration of leading climate change research into the global research community will be as important as bringing the best science. We have to act quickly, and the entire Qscience Team is hoping to work together with the new research centre to help advise on scholarly communication strategies and ensure that the research world will connect quickly and transparently into the development in this region.

Innovative partnerships are needed to advance us all on the global stage. On Friday speaking on behalf of the Qatar Sustainability Network, Noor Jassim al-Thani summed it up perfectly in her closing statement of the high level segment:

Noor Jassim al-Thani speaking at the High Level segment

Noor Jassim al-Thani

“We need partnerships between east and west, north and south, developed and developing world, arid and and non-arid regions–partnerships involving governments, industry, financial institutions, education, research and science. Partnerships which help us here to bridge the knowledge gap.”

The rising importance of technology transfer in the UNFCCC

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Mark Radka (second left), Chief, Energy Branch, UNEP’s Division of Technology, Industry and Economics (DTIE), discusses the proposed structure of the newest body in the UNFCCC, the Climate Technology Centre (CTC)

A new area of focus for the UNFCCC is that of technology transfer. Referred to as the ‘baby’ of mechanisms, technology transfer has gained considerable traction since its establishment as a priority at the 2010 Cancun COP. The reasons behind this involve a pulled focus on ground-level infrastructural work to mitigate and adapt to climate change. This movement is seen as a refreshing complement to the relatively slow push toward carbon emissions pricing and mitigation strategies around established systems. With the developing world eager to move forward, the UNFCCC has grown increasingly aware of the need to research and develop technologies that pull away from systems proven outdated given the climate change science that has been embraced.

Gabriel Blanco, Chair of the Technology Executive Committee, kicked off the high-level side event Experience and Outlook on Climate Technology Transfer saying “since we established the technology mechanism back in Cancun, something new happened under the convention regarding the technology transfer process; for the first time, we opened the door for participation of relevant stakeholders in this field.”

Blanco especially addressed business and private sector members of the audience citing the big opportunity to engage in a UNFCCC process like technology transfer and development—“the door is open now within this tech mechanism,” he said.

The technical arm, he said, gathers and analyzes information in order to provide recommendations to the COP about technology transfer. He said that this arm has been working actively for a year and a half, participating in constructive discussions with committee members, experts and institutions. He said that observers have also sent their views through forms. He said the conversations revolved around creating enabling environments for technology transfer and implementation as well as assessment of barriers to technology in specific cases.

“Through workshops and dialogues on this issue,” he explained, “we were able to draw some key messages related to the importance of the committee–these key messages may be obvious, but you have to think about this in terms of process.” (His description of the key messages follows:)

Blanco said that the challenge is largely directed at the private sector, specifically regarding adaptation and looking closely at the entire cycle of technology development and transfer. The committee needs the private sector on board, not only for mitigation but also for activities in developing countries, he said.

Through technology needs assessments (TNAs), the committee gathered information related to agriculture, forestry and transport sectors among others. “We can identify from the TNA process the main barriers to transfer and development of technology in developing countries. There are several we see so far including institutional capacity, technical capabilities and, of course, finance,” Blanco said.

The most critical concept to consider, he said, is how investors think about the technology cycle given the need for adaptation. The “research development and demonstration” (RD&D), presents significant challenge because of the lack of financial investment around demonstration—yet this is what is needed to ensure that the technology works in any given location. “There’s a lot of risk in the demonstration of the technology,” Blanco said, “that’s why they call it the ‘valley of death.’”

He finished by touching on intellectual property rights (IPR), saying that the message the committee is delivering to COP regarding IPR is that it’s an issue that would benefit from more clarity and attention on a case-by-case basis. “It is difficult to generalize the discussion on IPRs—it’s not closed and we will continue to work and in this topic depending on where the IPR are located.”

Mark Radka, Chief, Energy Branch, UNEP’s Division of Technology, Industry and Economics (DTIE), based his panel presentation on three images of how the technology committee has taken shape as a mechanism over the past year since the parties approved it.

“We had some good partners, and we assembled a consortium of institutions and put in a proposal that was ranked first by an evaluation committee,” he explained. “It’s a mechanism requiring reporting on how the technology is working—at an operational level, we put into place a core—UNEP and United Nations Industrial Development Organization.”

Surrounding this core, Radka described a technical resource pool of 11 institutions in developing and developed countries. These comprise engineers, scientists, lawyers and policy experts who provide, in addition to their expertise, regional understanding and language capabilities.

Beyond the institutional level exists “the real operational arm,” Radka said. “It’s the intention of the parties, and it’s our intention as well, to build on existing networks of institutions with the help of individuals who can contribute to the faster diffusion of climate change mitigation and adaptation technology. We will use this network to provide support to developing countries.”

In the end, Radka stressed that the UN and the Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN) will need to figure out how to work closely together. “It’s apparent that there is an amount of expertise that exists in UN programs, that bits of the UN system have capabilities depending on their mission … we have collectively a great deal of experience. I’m convinced that we need to tap it within the local context, with a link to national priorities, a link to national strategies and plans.”

Key will be identifying and coaching nationally designated entities (NDEs), he said, making sure everyone is on the same page so that the transfer of information between the NDEs and the Climate Technology Centre (CTC) will flow smoothly.

Fatima Denton, Program Leader for Climate Change Adaptation in Africa, spoke about challenges in least developing countries which are “quite well known but we can’t overstate them,” she said.

The first challenge, she said, is how to scale technology up in the midst of weak economies, particularly where government architecture is still in transition. “Many countries are poorly equipped to deal with these issues; their institutions are 20 to 30 years old and there’s a certain degree of complexity that we haven’t seen before related to the need for institutional renewal in some cases.”

Radka touched on how the CTCN will work with nationally designated entities (NDEs)

Radka touched on how the CTCN will work with nationally designated entities (NDEs) to evaluate technology needs and best fits as well as how to effectively draw investment and based on sound plans and capacity building over the long-term

She said the cost of the transition is high, and that the lack of incentives for governments in least developed countries precludes a move forward in terms of the overall energy transition.

“Many countries in Africa are still firmly gridlocked and are unable to move forward,” she said. “Many countries that were able to use cleaner energy have now moved back because the subsidies are no longer there. We all know about the story related to the Climate Development Mechanism (CDM); many countries have taken advantage of this—China has 70 percent of the finance available so far … Africa has had less than 2 percent.”

Denton emphasized policy-level issues and a need for regulatory bodies that would help developing countries to sustain technologies over time. “There are no institutions firmly rooted to accompany these countries. The problems in Africa in the area of technology are so big, and there is no one country that could really go it alone—an extended family is how you bring this countries together to take advantage of the technologies in place. We need to make sure that the pool of tech is open to a set of countries that have identified their needs.”

Denton concluded that R&D is a particularly big challenge in Africa since countries therein don’t tend to invest a lot in this area. She stressed a need to create more incentives around R&D investment, continent wide.

Joe Bradley, Counselor at the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). Touched on the need for intellectual property (IP) systems solutions, saying that the access to technical information is key for the CTCN to function.

This involves making patent information available and he said WIPO offers a number of services to make the information available. He described a database called “Patent Scope” that involves 11 billion patents on technoloiges.

“You can go in and look into these databases and identify all the technology that’s already out there,” he explained.

The next step, he explained, would be analyzing the technology, a service which WIPO addresses with services like patent landscape reports that analyze particular technology areas.

“One recent report was on alternative energy use for desalination,” he said. “Where  it’s being done, who is using it and how it’s working—it’s extremely useful to know what the state-of-the-art is.

“We look forward to contributing to CTCN,” he continued, describing WIPO’s partnerships with the scientific publishing sector and how the organization is making scientific findings available to developing countries. He said WIPO is a “one stop shop” that offers training on how to access patent data and non-patent scientific literature. Of high relevance was his description of WIPO Green, a project specifically designed to assist developing countries through training and access to information on the latest technology available related to climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Dr. Jean-Yves Caneill, Head of Climate Policy at the Environmental Defense Fund focused on the demand for electricity worldwide and how that demand is growing rapidly as countries develop. Looking out over the next 50 years, he said the challenge is huge and investments must be made everywhere to offset the dependency on coal

“Coal is not climate friendly, other technologies must come on board and this is the challenge,” he said. “We have different stages of tech and different levels of maturity and we have to address this so as not to make mistakes around policies, so that the technologies can be employed on the ground.”

Interestingly, he said that the technology prospectus report features technologies that, if implemented effectively and globally, would allow for the successful reduction of carbon to 450 ppm levels called for.

“This could be done with the technology available today,” he said. “You face the different barriers that have been explained before—institutional frameworks, market reform, capacity building reform—these are essential if you want to  institutional framework, market reform, capacity building reform address the diffusion and deployment of electricity everywhere. It’s important to develop an enabling environment everywhere.

He stressed that the CTCN will need to look at ways to develop enabling environments so that the private sector invests, worldwide.

“It can be done … we know the conditions where we [the private sector] are making the investments. Working with the CTCN we will be able to bring the real information on the ground and identifiy what will be needed to move from 30 percent [green technology] to 70 percent of the technology onto the ground.”

In the end, Caneill stressed the need to link the CTCN with other bodies in the UNFCCC and with the private entities. The link to the Green Climate Fund (GFC), he said, will be particularly important and linked to nationally appropriate mitigation actions (NAMAs) that show countries are going in a low-carbon direction. He concluded that NAMAs, the GFC and technology transfer are three parts of a triangle dynamic triangle that could potentially lead to effective green technology implementation.

High-level perspectives on climate change and food security

Fahad Al-Attiya, Chairman at Qatar National Food Security Programme, and Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General

Fahad Al-Attiya, Chairman at Qatar National Food Security Programme, and Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General

At the Sustainable Solutions for Climate Action: Food Security in Dry Lands under a Changing Climate high-level side event, top executives shared their insights and vision for the merging of ground-level findings with policy.

Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the UN, began the discussion saying that filling the “empty shell” of the Green Climate Fund will say something to the developing world about the UN’s accountability as much as it offers a sense of hope about climate change. Before the event, he said he attended a number of informal meetings—brainstorming with ministers, community leaders and civil society—that showcased the myriad of options “in the hands of the member states.”

“In Doha, we have to come out with strong commitment on Kyoto period two, a legally binding agreement for climate change by 2015 and mobilization of this 100 billion dollars [for the Green Climate Fund],” he said. “There are [sentiments]: optimism or pessimism. But we have to work on optimism. If there is no optimism, there is no result. The UN is very committed.”

He said that climate change is approaching “faster than we know,” and that Doha is an important milestone going toward 2015, when a climate agreement is expected to be made between larger member states.

“As secretary general, my mandate is not to negotiate,” he said, “I have a broad mandate to talk about sustainable development, peace and security. I’m going to continually press members. With President Al-Attiyah’s, leadership we will have a very good outcome. I am going to meet the major groups of countries to see how [this will happen]. As ministers and leaders you have a responsibility to our future generation.

“Let us avoid all skepticism. Let us prove wrong all these doubters on climate change. Let us avoid the obstructions by a certain group of people … we are in the middle of this process, so it’s important that we come out of Doha with a clear message, with a sense of hope that this can be done by 2015. I depend on your leadership and strong commitment and I will add my voice to your voices.”

Perspectives from Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC: 

In Brazil, we are dealing with equity and environmental justice,” Ms. Isabella Teixeira, Brazilian Minister of Environment and high-level panelist, said. “We have the lowest rate of deforestation since we went into all of this, and we have high cost for this society. We are delivering, we need the developed countries to deliver, we need action, we need a pragmatic approach at the political level, because if we want to change we can change.”

She outlined a need to look at the special circumstances of each country as well as how they are connected. “What are the scenarios of food production around the world? You have all the countries linked—Qatar needs to import, and we need not only to plant and restore the forest but also to increase productivity,” she explained, citing the mandate to restore forests in Brazil while developing biofuels, agriculture and other policies related to the UN’s Green Growth campaign.

To highlight the issues faced by developing countries like Brazil, she said: “We need to discuss financing strategies to deal with all of this, because this vision is really something new. We are discussing the new vision post 2015. You have new plans and visions, and you need to discuss renewables. I come a from a country that removed 40 million people from poverty—how can we maintain them as middle class? We need to consider vulnerability as we evaluate the risk of climate change.”

Perspectives from Fahad Al-Attiya, Chairman at Qatar National Food Security Programme:

Rachel Kite, VP of sustainable development at the World Bank, and high-level panelist, offered perspective on climate change and strategies needed to move forward, saying “leadership is important on this point … we need financing and we need to couple that with the ‘how to,’ and we need to couple these with solutions at the local level.”

The WHO, PricewaterhouseCoopers and UNEP, all released reports in the last week saying that climate change is becoming more urgent, she said. “We put our arms around the science, and what the science is telling us about the trajectory … a 4 degree [hotter] world, and we do not want to be there … it’s going to be impossible to bring the number of poor and hungry down to zero if we go toward a 4 degree world—30 percent of the land available for agriculture in sub Saharan Africa will be out of use; we are making it impossible to live in certain areas with this kind of change.”

Kite discussed the volatility of food prices that is expected to continue for another dcade. “For countries with less resources, managing volatility will be important … Green Growth is a transition toward a resource efficient economy. We need to pay more attention to the things that are happing in Doha and things that are happening outside the convention, such as removing subsidies and long-term risk action plans.”

To manage the volatility, Kite said the first thing parties need to do is figure out how to form “viable, functioning social safety nets” to foster risk management at the household and community level. These are needed, she said, “in order to let the populations withstand what is happening to them as we mitigate take measures to do this.”

She praised agricultural research that has procured drought and heat-resistant crops and allowed dryland countries to produce at higher yields with higher nutritional outcomes. She said it’s important also to get women involved in climate change initiatives, as they are responsible for most of the food production in developing countries, and to think in terms of modernizing traditional development schemes and scaling them up.

She concluded that national development strategies will require the multilateral combined efforts of banks, research centers, policy makers and civil society coming together in an innovative way.

Sai Navoti, lead negotiator for the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), and high-level panelist, said that Qatar and its member islands share many of the challenges in terms of water security, and that climate is making these worse.

“Climate change is already here,” he said. “We’re at the front line of climate change, coasts are eroding, whole islands are already disappearing and the effects of climate patterns are already impacting our people. The concern we have is that without an increased emphasis on mitigation, our adaptation is going to be extremely difficult.”

The ability to adapt is going to be a global issue, he said, in particular to small island states, which have limited land for food production that is now affected by sea level rise, salt intrusion and the changes in the weather patterns.

“Our ability to produce food domestically is greatly reduced,” he said. “Weather patterns on the islands were predictable annually and multi-year and people learned how to manage those cycles—it’s already an experience common to most states now that this pattern no longer exists. We see prolonged years of drought which we’ve never experienced before in terms of duration and periods of wet that have gone on and on … this affects people’s ability to plan and manage resources.”

Navoti also stressed the island nations’ reliance on the sea for food, saying that coral bleaching is affecting the food web and the migration of fish, particularly tuna.  In the end, he alluded to the fact that the examples are many and enough to warrant immediate action.

“We can talk a lot about what we are seeing and what is expected to come, but we want to know what we can do,” he said. “It’s hard to see the big picture when you see these immense challenges and try to figure out what do we do. A lot of exciting initiatives were discussed today. We can conserve our tuna population and this will have broader impacts given the global demand on fish. Every community and organization needs to do their bit. One can’t do everything, that would be overwhelming. Our aim at AOSIS is to do what we have influence over and work with other organizations on initiatives.”

Finally, Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director and Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, spoke about sustainable solutions and the urgent need for the merging of scientific findings with policy. “We have also defined over the decades the role of an environment program in the United Nations, which in part is to bring the science of what is happening on the planet to the policy arena,” he said. “In the world of environmentalism, we said there is a scientific fact of life, the pollution pathway is unsustainable.”

His speech featured example after example of how this must happen and how specific countries are taking the lead. It can be listened to in full here:

Toward regenerative cities in the Gulf

At the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF’s) side event on sustainable cities, experts presented information on the ecological footprint of the Gulf and ways to regenerate cities in the hopes that region, with its resources and great potential to develop rapidly, will choose a path of development that is sustainable. Members of the panel agreed that, with the numbers of urban dwellers projected to rise rapidly, worldwide, the urban environment is a critical focal point in the context of climate change discussions. They stressed that terminology must shift so that cities are not only viewed as sustainable but have a regenerative element to them and that the Gulf has the potential to lead the way in this new approach to urban development.

Samantha Smith, leader of WWF’s Global Climate Initiative, moderated the side event summed up the perspectives here: 

An architect by training, Najib Saab, Editor-in-Chief of Al-Bia Wal-Tanmia (Environment & Development), the leading pan-Arab magazine on sustainable development and Secretary General of Arab Forum for Environment & Development (AFED), presented findings of two reports—one on the impact of climate change in Arab world, and the other, a survival report. The information in these reports is from an independent, credible group of experts and leaders in the environmental field in the region, he said.

Saab discussed how sea level rise will impact many populated areas and said the challenges facing the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) are the same as those faced in the Gulf and MENA region at large.

“What we have found is that even if we experience only a half meter of sea level rise, the consequences will be great because most of the electricity plants are on the shore and are no higher than one meter,” he said.

In terms of land area, sea level rise of one meter will impact between 1 and 3 percent of the land area in Qatar, the UAE, Kuwait and Tunisia. In Egypt, he said, the same level of rise will mean a loss of 6 percent of GDP as it puts 12 percent of the agricultural land there at risk.

He said AFED’s survival report caused him to wonder if the figures were real or imagined. The study found that in the past 50 years, the GDP in the Gulf has increased four times but the biodiversity has decreased by half, and water available per capita has decreased by one quarter of what it was.

Najib Saab points to hope amidst the challenges of resource degradation in the Gulf

Najib Saab points to hope amidst the challenges of resource degradation in the Gulf

“Just in terms of GDP, Arabs have done very well,” he said, “but they have lost their natural habitat. In 1961, most of the region had ecological surplus; in 2008, the only place that had ecological surplus was Mauritania and Sudan. This represents one of the biggest drops in the world,” he said.

The ecological footprint has increased in many places but he ecological deficit has not decreased to this extent elsewhere, he continued. “If the whole world lived like an average Arab, we’d need 1.2 planets. Like an average Qatari, we’d need 6.6 planets. Like an average Morrocan, ¾ of a planet.”

Stefan Schurig, Climate Energy Director at World Future Council, talked about urban environments in the context of climate change, saying that the way cities run now deserves a critical look since they contribute to a perpetual cycle of increased GHG emissions as more people move into this lifestyle.

“We have to learn how to manage cities or we will be in trouble,” he said. “We’re on track for 2/3 of people living in urban environments. Cities are 100 percent linked to combustion of fossil fuels.”

Pointing to a map of cities around the world, he pointed to the obvious challenge that most are close to the sea and at risk in the cases of hurricanes and tropical storms. “Cities are both causing and most exposed to the problem—even in the US, people know that storms [like hurricane Sandy] are linked to global warming.”

Schurig emphasized that since cities have proceeded to suck a lot of resources and create a lot of waste, the idea of sustainability is not aggressive enough to tackle the issue of climate change to the degree that’s warranted—“It’s not just about sustainable cities but regenerative cities. These cities will regenerate the same amount of resources they absorb … positively enhance ecosystems rather than undermine the ecosystem … they’ll require strategic choices  and long-term planning.

A basic image of development and resource use presented by Schurig

A basic image of development and resource use presented by Schurig and the World Future Council

He said that understanding the different needs of each place is critical to establishing regenerative cities, and he listed six key steps toward making them happen, anywhere:

*Explore factors for individual strategies that are location specific;

*explore energy efficiency from within the context of each individual location;

*address the lifestyle and consumption patterns of the location;

*create carbon sinks, like parks and green campaigns, which also increase life quality;

*make the economic case;

*identify the political mandate—“many cities do want change, but they don’t have the political will.”

The co-founder of the World Future Council, author of ten books on sustainability and sustainable cities, and recipient of the UN 500 award for outstanding environmental achievement, Herbert Girardet, picked up the discussion with the local context and some visionary suggestions about where to the Gulf is heading and how the region might step forward in the field of sustainable development.

“This is an area people used to emigrate from rather than settle in,” he said of the Gulf. “You had fishing, pearl diving and date palms—the urban environment rose out of a need for coping with the climate and experienced a dramatic transformation with the discovery of oil.”

To draw contrast to the way locals used to live in the Gulf, and to emphasize the disconnect now at play between people and the energy they use and waste they produce, he asked “how does sustainability and regenerative thinking fit into a shopping center like Dubai?”

The picture of waste in cities is hidden, he said, and this precludes the measurement of energy resources and how they are used. He cited the Masdar project in Abu Dhabi as an example of how architects and planners learned from traditional urban forms in the region, based on compact design, shading from other buildings and narrow lanes—all hallmarks of traditional development zones in the region.

With the surge in wealth, some Gulf countries have tapped and expended resources in a way that proved impractical for the long term. Girardet spoke of the “extraordinary dependence on fossil fuel energy supplies,” citing a desert-based, irrigated food production system in Saudi Arabia.

“Until 1998, Saudi was exporting wheat to Russia,” he said. “This stopped by 2008—water was running out.”

In the Gulf, he said, 120 desalination plants demand 25 percent of the energy used. Yet he emphasized the region as one at a crossroads: “It’s important to realize that there’s a change of mind beginning to take place here. Prince Turki of Saudi Arabia has made large investments in renewables, and important intellectual and financial initiatives are well underway.”

Girardet explains that just by designing the urban scape with buildings closer together, as was tradition in the Gulf, the radiating ground temperature can be reduced significantly

Girardet explains that just by designing the urban scape with buildings closer together, as was tradition in the Gulf, the radiating ground temperature can be reduced significantly–in this case study from 57 to 33 degrees C

As a model regenerative city, Girardet spoke of Adelaide Green City in Australia, which gave a functional picture of solar bus transportation, the recycling of biological nutrients–waste sorting and replenishing soils with organic waste materials–based on models found in nature, as well as the separation of biological and technical (synthetic) cycles so that reuse and recycling could occur most efficiently in both.

“Organic waste is dumped into holes in the ground in the Gulf … in Adelaide, organic waste is used for food production,” he said. “Plastics are long-living material and they can be turned into furniture, fence posts—we have seen this in Australia, in Adelaide … it’s a fundamental transformation of a city, and that is really relevant here.”

Highlighting the speed of information and knowledge transfer made possible by the internet, Girardet concluded: “We can learn from each other about how to make regenerative cities.”