Wednesday, November 13 (Day 1)

by Alex Ahn

We arrived at the National Stadium a little before 3PM, with enough time to have a late lunch before the second block of side events for the day. Just outside of the food court, a group of youth activists from YOUNGO staged a mock auction in which representatives of industry interests competed to purchase various false solutions to the climate crisis. The show was impressively choreographed. Afterwards the delegation split up to cover three side events and meetings. Alex attended an IPCC hearing on the 5th Assessment Report, Laura went to an event on the potential of divestment as a political strategy, and Carol visited a meeting of the Subsidiary Body for Implementation, which deal with ways to compensate countries that are already suffering irreversible impacts (unfortuately, the meeting was postponed twice and then canceled. we have found that things are generally quite unpredictable at this and perhaps most climate conferences.)

The IPCC hearing consisted of three presentations by IPCC climate scientists, followed by a question-and-answer session by the national delegates present at the hearing. There seemed to be about 40 countries represented. The major point that the scientists wanted to make was that we cannot limit surface warming to 2 degrees Celsius if we emit more than 270 Gigatons of carbon in the future, which at the current pace will occur in less than 3 decades. Switzerland was curious about future changes in the geographic distribution of emissions, and the declining capacity of carbon sinks. An unknown representative began to speak in skeptical terms about the difficulty of interpreting the range of uncertainty in scientific analysis for policymakers, and spent the next twenty minutes repeating the same idea in different words with long-winded metaphors. It very nearly made me suspect he was trying to stall the conversation. He turned out to be representing China. Before turning the microphone back to the IPCC scientists for response, the European Union delegate countered the Chinese comment by arguing that any risk assessment necessarily involves uncertainties. Brazil proposed that in order to invigorate the negotiations, the temperature goal should be broken down into decadal increments and regularly updated on the latest science. The IPCC explained that we currently do not have good ways to predict temperature patterns at a decadal resolution, and that long-term emission accumulations are a far more scientifically reliable metric. The last question that was raised before I left the hearing for another meeting was raised by the US delegate, who asked about the increase in methane emissions from wetlands that were driven by natural variability. The IPCC responded that because the increase has only been detected in the past few years, long-term attribution to any specific cause was impossible. It also noted that there has only been one published study on the subject.

In the meantime, Laura attended a panel on solutions and divestment.  Jamie Henn of 350.0rg screened a brief movie made about the international youth divestment movement.  Jamie described 350 recent European tour during which they are spreading the tactic to universities in this region.

We next gathered to meet with Anne Kolker ’08, a negotiator for the US State Department who has been working on various issues at COP for the past three years. Her perspective on the state of negotiations and the role of the US in the international context was surprising and fascinating. We hope to publish an interview we conducted with her as soon as we obtain government approval for its public release.

We next joined the SustainUS youth delegation for a meeting with their domestic policy working group. They are impressively well organized, though through the thickness of the UN jargon it was sometimes difficult to understand what they were talking about. We also met in person the leader of its international delegation, Tim Damon, who had been extremely helpful in advising our preparation for the conference. SustainUS is domestically active in pushing for environmental regulation through the EPA, which may be of interest to may students at Swarthmore. There is potential for collaboration here.

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