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.

Industry makes a case for natural gas

(L to R) Mansar, Lee, Eik, unmentioned, Subedar

(L to R) Sabeur Mansar, Arthur Lee, Arne Eik, Afzal Subedar (second to right) and Laurent Fragu (right)

With COP 18 taking place on the grounds of the third largest natural gas reserve in the world, a side event addressing the industry’s approach was well in order. Organized by Petroleum Industry Environmental Conservation Association (IPIECA), a global association of natural gas companies and the industry’s main connection to the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), the side event served to “explore the expanding role of natural gas and make a link to climate change,” according to Sabeur Mansar, Vice President Commercial and NBD at Shell, Qatar.

“Qatar is the largest producer of liquefied natural gas, producing 77 million tons per annum,” he said, “there’s no better place or time to have this conversation.”

Arthur Lee, representing IPIECA, gave an overview of how natural gas is gradually taking a load off coal in projected estimates of fuel usage worldwide. He said that over the next ten years, the retirement of coal fired power plants will range anywhere from 11 to 22 percent depending on the price of natural gas rising or lowering, respectively, according to demand. With new exploratory techniques, however, the location and extraction of more natural gas from reserves worldwide has served to drive the cost down, he said.

“Natural gas has an enhanced role in power generation in scenarios that put a price on carbon emissions,” Lee said.

The industry has taken a great interest in understanding the precise GHG impact of natural gas systems, he added, with strategies in place to better manage emissions and compare the use of alternate technologies at every stage of its procurement and life cycle.

“In mitigation scenarios,” Lee said, “natural gas coupled with carbon capture and storage (CCS) plays an important role in the later half of this century, if and when there is an actual price on carbon.”

Since 2005, there’s been a decoupling of the price of oil and natural gas, with the later lowering significantly, again based on increased resource estimates. Natural gas has therefore experienced an increased level of usage in power generation and industry and is gaining interest as an export.

“It’s very well known that natural gas has half the carbon emissions as coal on a unit energy basis,” Lee said. “It’s a significantly better environmental performer than coal, and this has lead to US emissions reductions.”

Lee said that an independent body, the National Petroleum Council, comprised of experts from the petroleum industry, consultants, scientists and others, formed at the request of policy makers to evaluation natural gas technologies.

“We believe that gas is a not only a transition fuel but also a destination fuel,” Mansar said, beginning Shell’s portion of the event. “Science tells us that there is a cap to the amount of CO2 we can put in the atmosphere—as energy demand doubles, we have to halve CO2 emissions. There is no silver bullet. We need to manage the demand. We need input and to work together.”

Mansar spoke of the global energy mix predicted through 2050, with gas being a cornerstone since it is a cheap option among the alternatives. At the current rate of production, he said, there is enough natural gas to last 250 years.

Mansar explained halving of CO2 emissions must coincide with the projection of a doubling in global energy demand due to a future shift of many rural poor to urban and energy-intensive conditions

Mansar explains that halving of CO2 emissions must coincide with the projection of a doubling in global energy demand due to a future shift of many rural poor to urban and energy-intensive conditions

“We [Shell] see an interplay among renewable and natural gas,” Mansar said. “Renewables need gas, and the world needs both. Renewables need gas, because when wind is not blowing and sun is not shining, gas can fill the void.”

Mansar spoke of Shell’s long-term commitment to R&D related to natural gas, specifically gas-to-liquid (GTL) technology. “We’ve been committed to this for three decades,” he said.

“We believe there is a gas revolution, and it’s up to us to seize the opportunity. Gas needs to enjoy a level playing field … a robust trading scheme … carbon capture and storage projects … adequate regulations.”

Arne Eik, lead consultant, responsible for climate policy and market analysis at Statoil, a company overseeing the second largest exports of gas to Europe said: “We are facing a massive challenge. [Mitigating] the two degree scenario [in reference to the temperature rise that scientists predict would cause significant sea level rise] is very hard to reach, but we cannot give up.”

Under a more stringent climate policy, emissions costs would be higher, he said, and this is a development fully supported by Statoil and the industry.

“We have a climate strategy consisting of several elements,” Eik said. “We’re focusing on carbon efficiency with 2020 targets for various types of oil and gas. We’re focused on development and renewables; we want to bring gas to the market as a sustainable solution.”

On behalf of Statoil, Eik said that the EU ETS should remain the cornerstone of the climate policy in Europe—“If we don’t see higher prices than we see today, we will not see investments in cleaner technology, and we will not se switching from coal to gas. We would like to strengthen the EU ETS short term and long term, take out allowances … there are a lot of allowances now due to the special circumstances … we think it’s justified to remove allowances as a one-off thing to do… it’s important to have established emission reduction targets that stimulate fuel switching and investment in cleaner technology.”

Eik explains the constant natural gas demand projected over time compared to a drop around coal and oil

Eik explains the constant natural gas demand projected over time compared to a drop around coal and oil

Afzal Subedar, management specialist at Qatargas, spoke about GHG strategies in place at one of Qatar’s two major natural gas companies. Known for its Ras Laffan terminal and refinery, QatarGas is a venture between Qatar Petroleum, Total, ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Shell, Mitsui, Marabeini, Idemitsu Kosan and Cosmo Oil.

“Our accounting and emissions reporting is based on EU ETS,” he said. “From 2009 onward we’ve come through evaluations with flying colors—there have been some challenges but we are very happy that we have overcome those, and we are trying to best manage our inventories and programs.”

He described a US$ 1billion project, Jetty Boil-Off Gas (JBOG) Recovery Project, which is “the largest environmental project of its kind in the world and purely environmental.”

It enables boil-off gas to be collected from RasGas and Qatargas LNG ships for compression at a central facility. When it’s fully operational, he said it will recover about 29 billion standard cubic feet per hear of gas that would have otherwise been flared (with a 90 percent recovery efficiency). This, he said, would be enough to power more than 300,000 homes and result in GHG emissions reductions of 1.6 million tons per annum.

Subedar explains specific strategies Qatargas has deployed since 2006 to address GHG emissions

Subedar explains specific strategies Qatargas has deployed since 2006 to address GHG emissions

Since the GHG strategies between Qatargas and RasGas align, Laurent Fragu, Environmental Engineering Specialist at RasGas, picked up from Subedar’s presentation to expand on his company’s role as related to and in line with Qatar’s sustainability goals. RasGas is a venture between Qatar Petroleum and ExxonMobil known for its Barzan gas and Ras Laffan helium projects. Fragu explained the efforts it’s making to reduce emissions at each step of the value chain, including acid gas removal, liquefaction, tail gas treatment to reduce emissions and increase efficiency, flare minimization, common facilities to reduce cargo emissions, large gas carriers with specialized engines and overall terminal enhancements to increase efficiency.

“Sustainability initiatives are part of the 2030 national vision,” he said. “We are currently looking at zero discharge for wastewater management, a biodiversity program and more approaches to mitigate environmental impacts.”

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Devisscher describing the weADAPT platform

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

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

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

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

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

Hammill describing the CRiSTAL interface

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Varikottil (second left to right), Schroeder and Singh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Panelists and audience members at a side event

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Islamic Values and Traditional Knowledge in Drylands

Dr. Crawhill, center, and panelists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hikma Hours Highlight Qatar’s Response to Climate Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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