COP23 means the 23rd Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC). Also known as the Rio Convention, the UNFCCC was adopted in 1992 and entered into force 2 years later, marking the start of tackling the global problem of climate change. Currently, there are 197 Parties to the Convention.
In 1995 the first Conference of the Parties was held, and since then every year the Parties meet in order to assess the progress made. Some years the COPs turn out to be more successful, as it happened with establishing the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. It committed the Parties by setting internationally binding emission reduction targets. Another example is the Paris Agreement in 2015, dealing with greenhouse gas emissions mitigation, adaptation and finance starting in the year 2020. The Agreement sets out a global action plan to put the world on track by limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius.
The latest event, COP23, took place from 6 to 17 November 2017 in Bonn, Germany. The conference was organized by the Bonn-based UN Climate Secretariat (UNFCCC), with the support of the government of Germany.
Fiji, a small island nation, severely threatened by the climate change
The conference was convened under the presidency of Fiji. Remarkably, it was the first time when the summit’s rotating presidency was held by a country facing an existential threat from global warming. The tiny island nation of Fiji with a population of 900,000 inhabitants faces major threats from natural disasters and climate change. Each year 25,700 Fijians are pushed into poverty due to cyclones and floods. The consequences of climate change, rising water levels and natural disasters, threaten to increase these numbers even more. That’s why the government of Fiji called the world for an action on climate change – building resilience through adaptation and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
2 zones, 2 different atmospheres
This year COP23 brought together around 20,000 participants. The conference was divided into two zones, located in different city areas and connected by an electric shuttle bus. Bula Zone was dedicated to the official negotiations, and the general atmosphere there felt very different from the other zone. Bonn Zone was vibrant, dynamic and full of action – civil society, non-governmental organizations and start-ups were represented there. An area with country pavilions allowed participants to learn about the latest climate change achievements of the countries.
For example, Indonesia´s pavilion featured Enviplast, a biopolymer made of cassava starch (a root vegetable) and the bags (“Looks like plastic but it’s not!”). Indeed, those bags felt softer and nicer to touch than plastic, besides being biodegradable and environmentally friendly. UK pavilion presented PaveGen capturing and converting energy of steps into electrical power. This technology is already being used at the Heathrow airport. France pavilion had a Paris Agreement café and a photogenic 3d hashtag #makeourplanetgreatagain, which seemed to be a huge success among the visitors. Organizations were also largely represented, and the World Bank group made a good use of technologies arranging Facebook live sessions and virtual reality experience. Visitors could use VR glasses to watch a documentary – a project ‘Our Home, Our People’, which was produced by the Fijian Government, COP23 Secretariat and the World Bank.
Climate neutrality in practice
The organizers aimed to make the conference sustainable to the greatest possible extent, looking at the different aspects of sustainability – including transport, waste management, catering, energy and offsetting. The target was to have 80% renewable energy at the conference. The companies and individuals could join the Climate Neutral Now initiative in order to reduce or offset their emissions. Each participant of COP23 received a reusable water bottle and was encouraged to use less paper and to separate waste. Yet, there was definitely a room to improve the catering by introducing more vegetarian options and reducing the amount of plastic packaging.
So, what actually happened at COP23?
Apparently this COP was not as fruitful as 2 years ago, when the Paris Agreement was reached. Yet, it finally provided a platform for Indigenous People to actively participate in climate talks. Also, the Intergenerational Inquiry allowed the youth to be included, and a session with women leaders was organized.
One of the major achievements of COP23 was launching the 2018 Talanoa Dialogue, named after a Pacific storytelling tradition that fosters empathy and trust. The facilitative dialogue will allow countries and non-state actors to share stories and showcase best practices in order to urgently raise ambition – including pre-2020 action – in nationally determined contributions (NDCs).
COP23 also resulted in progress made related to agriculture and in establishing a gender action plan. However, still no agreement was reached on financing, the importance of which was numerously stressed during the sessions in the Bula zone. Let’s see whether a substantial progress will be made at COP24, which will take place in Poland in 2018.
Air Pollution: The Solutions That Will Make a Difference
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), as much as 3 million deaths worldwide were linked to outdoor air pollution in 2016. In Europe, the largest contributor to air pollution in urban area is traffic. Fine particles and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emitted by Diesel cars as well as tire particles caused by the friction of rubber on pavement all cause potential lung and respiratory systems diseases. Not only does this phenomenon harm our health but it also largely contributes to worsening the current state of climate change. This leads us to wonder if the current measures put in place to tackle this issue are effective. What can be done to prevent the state of the air we breathe from worsening?
In Europe, since 2013, freight trucks and buses are tested to monitor their emission of pollutants, but little is done to regulate passenger cars’ emission of NOx. Even though laws imposed by the European Union are meant to regulate and reduce pollution, many cities have been exceeding these limits for several years. With a growing number of people on the planet living in urban areas, our current way of living and getting around does not seem to be viable much longer. Beyond investing in infrastructure to facilitate the use of bicycles, bicycle-sharing systems and public transport, some cities have decided to take important measures to reduce air pollution. Cities such as Paris, Madrid and Athens have decided to take an active stance towards this issue and reportedly said that they are ready to ban diesel cars from their streets by 2025. Besides, Norway has been a frontrunner in finding alternatives for cars powered by fossil fuels. In the country, one out of five cars sold is electric. A popularity which has largely been influenced throughout the past years by the Norwegian government. Residents were incentivized to switch to EVs by benefitting, along with other benefits, from an exemption of value added tax and purchase tax.
The city of Oslo intends to do more and has an ambitious plan to provide a healthy city, with low levels of pollution in general more respectful of the environment. The capital city of Norway aims is to reduce or even eliminate the use of personal cars by providing “mobility as a service”. The vice president of Ruter, the public transport authority of Oslo, explained that mobility should be perceived as a commodity like electricity, that we consume without being concerned about. In exchange for a monthly fee, users will be able to use any type of public transport they want including the possibility of renting a car. In addition to giving the opportunity for people to benefit from an all-inclusive transportation system, it will allow them to use the financial capital that they will no longer need to buy a car. This innovative strategy will greatly reduce the number of vehicles in circulation, leading to less traffic jams and thus a better air quality.
Besides government and public authority initiatives, a number of initiatives can be put in place to improve the quality of the air in a city. In urban areas that lack space to create new parks, plants can be added in green walls as they convert carbon dioxide into oxygen and filter particles out of the air. This has been seen in Dresden, Germany, for instance where a start-up has developed moss walls to clean urban air.
The hope to see a decreasing number of health issues and environmental degradation caused by air pollution will depend on the understanding of the urgency to take concrete action besides setting passive regulations. Public and private sector organizations need to collaborate towards a widespread application of the solutions that have been implemented by frontrunner cities.
Climate Change and Hurricanes
As we near the end of 2017’s Hurricane Season, the destruction of hurricanes Harvey, Irma and others is still being cleared from US states, Central America and Caribbean islands. The devastation has been totalled to an estimated $180 billion in damages, with 357 lives lost. On average, 10 tropical storms are meant to occur within the Atlantic Ocean annually, with 6 becoming hurricanes. For the past two years, the number of tropical storms has risen to 16, with ten rising to hurricane status in 2017. The hurricanes caused city wide flooding to Houston and Havana, and left Puerto Rico in a humanitarian crisis.
So what is anthropogenic climate change’s impacts on the devastation? Is it the cause of the increase in the number of storms in the area? Scientist’s at NASA believe that this is not the case and that actually global warming could even reduce the number of storms we see over the upcoming decades as the temperature difference between the equator and the poles reduces.
However, whereas climate change may not be the cause of the number of storms, it definitely is considered to have increased their impact and severity. Climate change should be considered as a change in means, the change in an average measurement, and this can be observed with the variance in global temperatures, precipitation and sea levels. These factors can all have severe effects on these hurricanes.
Hurricanes form over warm oceans, where its warm moist air rises upwards away from the water’s surface. As the warm air rises, an area of lower air pressure remains. This is then filled with air from surrounding areas, which also becomes warm, moist and also rises into the atmosphere. As the warm air begins to cool in the sky, the water becomes condensed, forming clouds. As this cycle of warm, moist air rising continues, more clouds are formed and wind speeds increase.
As can be seen, the ocean’s heat plays a major role with the development of hurricanes and as our world heats up, more moisture and energy is available to the storms. Additionally, air can hold about 7% more water for 1ºC increase in temperature, causing larger, catastrophic downpours. For example, the peak downfall of rain of Hurricane Harvey over Texas reached over 150cm. Furthermore, in addition to temperatures and precipitation, with the sea level rises over recent decades, more water is available to be pushed by the wind causing storm surges, which can often be the most dangerous element of a hurricane, destroying evacuation routes and making the other hurricanes much worse.
Whereas climate change has effects on these extreme weather conditions, we should also remember that the growing phenomenon will also have major impacts on our everyday lives such as public health, weather related mortality and reductions in crop yield. In addition to attempting to reduce our carbon footprint’s to mitigate climate change we also need to adapt our world to reduce their vulnerability to both every day and extreme events.
The Multiple Facets of Palm Oil: Fries, Face Wash, Forests
Palm oil is an inevitable part of almost everyone’s daily consumption pattern. I could write a blog solely about how gruesome palm oil consumption is, and likewise everyone who contributes to it. But to be fair, that wouldn’t be such an uplifting read, and more importantly, definitely not subject to change the status quo.
And let’s face reality: I am equally guilty of buying palm oil products myself.
Palm oil dominates the shelves in your bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen pantry. Think of shampoo, cosmetics, hand cream, peanut butter, Nutella, margarine, crisps, nuts, chocolate snacks, crackers, and laundry detergent. But why do manufacturers use palm oil instead of other vegetable oils? Simple: it’s cheap. Because of production efficiency in palm oil and its versatility in use, it’s the cheapest oil available for mass production.
Palm oil is produced in Indonesia and Malaysia. The first time I learned about palm oil was five years ago, when I had the opportunity to travel to Borneo. What I came across really had an impact on me, and inspired me to write about it. Fields with palms, all neatly planted in rows. As far as the eye could reach, on top of where there used to be vast rainforest with the highest biodiversity known on the planet. Rainforest so thick that sunlight never reached its trees’ roots, swiftly burned and replaced with the object of economic development. This practice robs animals such as orang utans of their home, and causes air and river pollution.
It’s easy to understand that palm oil production, and therefore consumption, is far from sustainable. But how can you and I contribute individually without turning our daily lives upside down: without figuratively exchanging our Nikes for woollen socks and sandals?
First of all, read the ingredients well and find your new granola, peanut butter, or snack you love which contains the least palm oil. But be weary, palm oil is often disguised as ‘vegetable oil (palm)’. Also, the label ‘organic’ doesn’t cut it. After all, palm oil is an organic substance. This goes for cosmetics as well. So make sure you don’t miss the tiny letters on the box.
Even better, make your own favourite food. Think of oven potatoes instead of potato bites from a bag, hand-made granola, and roasted nuts. Make your own chocolate chip cookies, of which you can freeze the dough to have warm baked cookies in ten minutes at any time. The opportunities are endless.
Most importantly, in my eyes, contribute to creating more awareness about palm oil and the problem it’s causing to the environment. It’s not about forcing people close to you to cut out palm oil in their diet; it’s about making them aware of the existence of it. My contribution? This blog. I hope this read made you a bit wiser in the confusing world of palm oil!
Erasmus Sustainability Hub
Burgemeester Oudlaan 50
Sustainability Panel Discussion
October 24th, 2017
Climate Change Negotiation Simulation
November 1st, 2017