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.

Partnerships

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.”

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.”

CCS: The Gulf’s perspective

Mr Saif Saed Al-Naimi, Director-HSE Regulations and Enforcement Directorate, Qatar Petroleum

Mr. Saif Saed Al-Naimi, Director-HSE Regulations and Enforcement Directorate, Qatar Petroleum

Carbon dioxide is the grandparent of all issues discussed at COP. With its long, lingering lifespan and deleterious effects in abundance, its buildup is attracting emergency levels of attention from scientists, activists, industry and policy makers alike. But there are many ways to look at how to reduce it.

Approaches to atmospheric carbon mitigation range from a strong push for renewable sources and emissions reductions plans around fossil fuels, to slowing down deforestation and creating natural urban sinks (reforestation and green projects). Since the Gulf is a producer of fossil fuels used the world over, its perspective is intimately tied to industry, and industry’s strategy today is increasingly based on technologies related to carbon capture and storage (CCS). This approach involves capturing CO2 from the air and, in most cases, driving it deep into the ground. It has attracted serious study—and is currently practiced in the United States, Canada, Algeria, Norway and other countries—due to its potential to enhance fuel recovery as well as alleviate the problem of carbon buildup in the environment.

In the Gulf, the opportunities to sink CO2 into the ground abound, yet the challenges to implementing it are many. In the side event Carbon capture and storage in the GCC region, the challenges took shape as a policy expert and several regional industry executives shared their perspectives.

Mr. Saif Saed Al-Naimi, Director-HSE Regulations and Enforcement Directorate, Qatar Petroleum, began the discussion by saying that “the Kyoto Protocol will enter its second commitment period, until either 2013 or 2017, with a goal of preventing a temperature rise of more than two degrees. We have to initiate. We are looking at a 28 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050.”

With CCS projects underway worldwide and many more in the making, Al-Naimi said Qatar is joining the movement. Shell, Qatar Petroleum, Qatar Science and Technology Park and Imperial College London are currently working with US$ 7million on a 10-year CCS R&D project, he said.

Beyond R&D, Al-Naimi said trans-boundary issues—where the carbon is sourced and sunk in any combination of border scenarios—are outlined in policy yet require deliberate discussion and review of international law and jurisdiction as well as definition of what constitutes a movement of waste.

“We need to look at the international convention of shared natural resources,” he said. “[Based on policy] we need to develop international related laws on this and a domestic legal framework for institutional boundaries as well as joint management approaches and bilateral agreements. This involves the coordination of different parties.”

Ali Al-Meshari, Overall Coordinator for Carbon Management in Saudi Aramco, described research and updates from a document put out by Saudi Aramco entitled “Current and future trends in carbon capture.”

“Saudi Arabia is engaged in UNFCCC discussion,” he said. “Our efforts are to be driven by technology and are to have minimum impact on the environment as well as the economy.”

He said plans are underway to capture CO2 and either “convert it to something useful or put it underground for permanent storage.”

Al presentation showing a gap in demand on EOR based on the fluctuating price of oil

Al-Meshari’s presentation highlighing a gap in focus on CCS methods based on the fluctuating price of oil

One part of this strategy involves enhanced oil recovery (EOR), he said, elaborating that this would allow the country to meet energy demands, sink CO2 and protect the environment all at once.

Under the umbrella of CCS techniques fall those that involve pressurizing the CO2 and adding certain components to it to break up oil reserves that are tucked into hard-to-reach places underground. These techniques, termed enhanced oil recovery (EOR), are of particular interest to Saudi Arabia, he explained. The recovery methods can involve different gases, but CO2 produces the best results and could be sequestered at the same time, according to proponents in the fuel industry.

Al-Meshari pointed to statistics showing significantly increased oil production by the US due to EOR and 300 active EOR projects worldwide outside of the US. With oil supply declining in Saudi Arabia, he said the need is increasing for EOR so that all remaining oil is accounted for. With 11 projects underway and four methods being developed, he stressed a need for ‘long lead time’ to ensure that expertise is developed around the techniques and that the number of projects and approaches expands.

Of importance, he said that price so far has traditionally dictated the demand on EOR, but the reduction in supply as well as environmental concerns are coming to the fore as factors. He emphasized the future potential saying “investment is needed to get the competency up; these are complex operations and they demand high capital investment, personnel and a long lead time. You can’t go to the field and implement directly, and you have to think about ultimate oil recovery compared to immediate oil recovery.”

He discussed the twin challenges of meeting energy demands while protecting the environment. And then there is cost. The most expensive part of CCS is capturing CO2 and “that’s why Saudi Aramco and Saudi Arabia are working on strategies to reduce the cost of the capture,” he said.

“Further, how can we sequester CO2, address primary risks and uncertainties? How much CO2 can be stored in these reservoirs? We face significant challenges. We have to start now to do the right experiments and simulations.”


Ali Al-Meshari speaks on behalf of Saudi Aramco about CCS

To add policy context to the discussion, Axel Michaelowa, Founding Partner of Perspectives Climate Change, gave a presentation on carbon markets and the related policy mechanisms under debate at recent COPs.

“Carbon market knowledge is scattered,” he said, explaining that the CCS issue has been discussed as a clean development mechanism (CDM) for about a decade. Over this time, agreement on terms has stalled and is still expected to face delays this meeting.

“It took until 2010 to get a decision that there should be a set of rules about CCS,” he said. “Crucial factors are based on the fact that CO2 would find its way back out into the air … leak out.”

Additionally, he spoke of boundary issues that were highlighted by Mr. Al-Naimi. These issues combined with the uncertainty around long-term storage present roadblocks to policy makers, he said.

On the table then are long-term responsibility measures related to monitoring and remediation that may be necessary after the end of the crediting period for recipient lands.

“Can one find criteria that are universally acceptable?” he asked.

Then there are the environmental impacts. He said that EU submission 2012 requires broader liability taking into account the damage to the ecosystem, material or injuries—“people consider it a type of nuclear waste,” he said.

Axel Michaelowa discusses the complex task of deciphering the carbon market and a pricing scheme at policy level

Axel Michaelowa discusses the complex task of deciphering the carbon market and a pricing scheme at policy level

“National authorities of the host countries need to provide vetting of the legislation to the UN,” he continued. “This means long discussion between different ministries … it’s important to see how here in the region this challenge can be addressed.”

He said CCS has become a focal point in mitigation efforts. “This is an issue where you would get global recognition … you can possibly get more money than classical CDM methods; however, due to the more pressing issues like Kyoto, new market mechanisms might fall to the wayside this COP.”

On behalf of the United Arab Emirates, Arafat Al Yafei, CO2/N2 Development Manager at Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), spoke about CCS related activities therein.

“We want to reach a 70 percent recovery factor [with EOR],” he said. “To do that we have to go for unconventional schemes and the best one is CO2, which has been implemented in the states, in Texas, since 1971.”

Al Yafei described an effort in the UAE marked by a range of projects, particularly in Abu Dhabi, that are “meeting reduction objectives in reducing CO2.” These projects involve collaboration with universities and are based on research into CCS,” he added.

“We face risk,” he said, “not like in the states. You have to get everything in place and convince funders that there won’t be a negative impact in your reservoir.”

Abu Dhabi was the first Middle Eastern country to inject CO2 as a pilot study, he said. “We have completed this pilot and are working toward commercial projects to begin in 2015. CCS is coming … particularly EOR. We needed to test first for return on investment. Now we are ready for CCS, and we want to meet the target of reducing greenhouse gases.”

He said that, in comparison to the US, the UAE doesn’t have a natural CO2 reservoir and they must capture it from industry or the power sector, which adds a factor of cost related to compression and transport—“we have CO2 but it’s not cheap CO2,” he said.


Arafat Al-Yefai speaks on behalf of the ADNOC on CCS

He mentioned 10 pilot studies involving academic experts and industry partners.

“We are going in phases. We don’t want to jump. We want to get the knowledge and work forward,” he said. “The long-term roadmap sees us capturing most of the CO2 and injecting it. You need leadership, vision and commitment to those projects or else they won’t become a reality in the near future. There are risks but we must overcome them.

All the parties should work together, he said, including industry, academia, policy makers, regulators, government and financers.

“Because of the urgency of this issue, we can’t tolerate working alone. Everybody should work together, even financers and banks,” he said. “It is our duty to supply the international market is with oil and gas. The best way to do this is to meet the demand of energy and reduce your carbon footprint.”

The issue of CCS may not see closure at the policy level this cop, but ground-level efforts are underway and will depend highly on the latest research findings around this technology. In this, and many other cases on the table at COP 18, access to research and the sharing of the information discovered will be critically important for industry experts, civil society, policy makers and the world at large. QScience’s open access COP 18 special edition contains an entire section on CCS.