A day in the life of a UN climate conference observer– Ellie’s COP24 Blog Post #3

by Ellie Cohen

(See also my other COP24 posts: From Katowice to Auschwitz — Ellie’s COP24 #2 blog post and 2018 UNFCCC Global Climate Meeting– Ellie’s COP24 blog #1 from Katowice, Poland with video and news links)

One of the joys of attending the UNFCCC global climate meetings is meeting passionate, caring people from all over the planet. Sitting at lunch today, I met The Nature Conservancy’s climate change and energy director of China, a sustainable agriculture NGO staff person from Kenya, an environment minister from Uganda, and the global UNFCCC Associate Liaison Officer for Observer Organizations. The UNFCCC officer explained how the number of people formally registered for COP24* has skyrocketed to over 30,000, likely making this the largest ever.  He said how committed the UNFCCC is to being as inclusive as possible but he also wondered aloud how they would organize it in the future to successfully engage the growing number of attendees.

Inside the main entrance to COP24 in Katowice, Poland– jammed with new arrivals from all over the world going through security and registering.

I arrived last Friday and the enormous venue felt a bit empty. Not so now! It took me a half hour to get through security yesterday morning as thousands more arrived (see photo above). Wherever you go, there is an energy and intensity just from the sheer numbers of people.  I am putting on an average of 4 miles every day just walking to various presentations. There are the main plenary sessions in enormous halls that have formal seating for representatives from all the countries of the world as well as room for observers such as Point Blue. There are the officially recognized side events organized by the UN, countries, NGOs and businesses. There are the unofficial side events hosted in country, business and NGO pavilions (imagine an enormous conference with temporary displays that include meeting and presentation rooms), and there are press conferences held just about every half hour, every day sharing new findings or bringing attention to various concerns (see photo below).  [Note: You can see many of the official sessions and press conferences by webcast on demand here at the COP24 website. It’s worth just taking time to look through just to see the titles of the various sessions!]

Amazonian indigenous peoples organization’s press conference on destruction of rainforests, COP24, Dec 11 2018

The United States has a muted but unfortunately distinct negative presence again this year, promoting “clean oil and coal” (see more here) and working behind the scenes to slow down the process of advancing urgently needed climate policy. The “We Are Still In” coalition (of more than 3,500 CEOs, mayors, governors, college presidents, and other leaders telling the world that the US is still committed to climate action as part of America’s Pledge) has a smaller-than-last-year but visible presence here, sharing a pavilion with the World Wildlife Fund (webcasts of sessions held there can be seen here). I was thrilled to personally be able to thank Pittsburgh Mayor, Bill Peduto, for his climate and community leadership before he introduced a showing this evening of the outstanding new documentary, From Paris to Pittsburgh (recommended watching- you can now see it on the National Geographic channel).

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto introducing the excellent new documentary, From Paris to Pittsburgh, at COP242.

One highlight for me today was an excellent side event entitled “Planetary Boundaries and Global Commons– managing risks and solutions” organized by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. Its director, Professor Johan Rockstrom, is renowned for his collaborative work identifying nine planetary boundaries that if passed would spell doom for life on our planet.  Humanity is already pushing past four of those boundaries into unknown territory (climate change, biodiversity loss, shifts in nutrient cycles [nitrogen and phosphorus] and land-use) with major debates on how far we’ve gone with two other boundaries: water-system change and chemical pollution.

In Rockstrom’s presentation today (see photo below), he called for a new framework of planetary stewardship (read more here) that brings together the planetary boundaries ideas with our global commons — newly defined as “a resilient and stable planet.” He described this as “No Paris without Earth Resilience” and said we need to go beyond carbon for planetary stewardship. We need fresh water, biodiversity, and the ocean — fundamental tools essential to regulating our climate– along with a sustainable food system to secure a future for human society. [Note: Point Blue’s Board of Directors recently approved a new five year strategic plan focused on increasing the pace and scale of climate-smart conservation that is built in part around Rockstrom’s Planetary Boundaries work.]

Dr. Johan Rockstrom, Potsdam Institute: No Paris without Earth Resilienceplanetary boundaries + global commons = planetary stewardship.

Another highlight was attending several side events on agriculture including one entitled Transforming agriculture by recarbonizing the earth’s soilOrganized by CGIAR, a global research partnership dedicated to reducing poverty, enhancing food and nutrition security, and improving natural resources, the panelists presented on some of the latest soil science and the case for investing in healthy soils. I am particularly interested in the potential for soil carbon sequestration on agricultural lands to help countries meet their greenhouse gas emission reductions goals under the Paris agreement while also providing other benefits such as food security, biodiversity and greater climate resilience. The latest science projects that healthy soils on agricultural lands could provide as much as 25% of the carbon removal needed by 2030 but there is much to learn about how to scale up these efforts. It was great to meet some of the panelists afterwards, to learn more about their work and share some of what Point Blue is doing.

I was also thrilled today to see my friend, Dr. Steve Hammer (photo below), of the World Bank. In his presentation about their new report “Financing a Resilient Urban Future,” he mentioned the SF Bay Area’s recent passing of Measure AA as an example of a successful “local authority taxation” adaptation strategy. Measure AA, a $12/year parcel tax in the 9 counties of the SF Bay region, will raise $500m over 20 years for green infrastructure to increase resilience. I am delighted that Point Blue’s STRAW project is already implementing climate-smart wetland restoration as a recipient of Measure AA funds and so grateful to our conservation colleagues around the Bay Area for their visionary leadership that made Measure AA a reality.

Dr. Stephen Hammer, World Bank, presenting on urban adaptation funding strategies, highlights Measure AA in the SF Bay area.

And, of course, I was able to do some “observing” today, spending time in one of the plenary sessions listening to country delegates from around the world urging strong climate action. For many of these countries, climate change is an existential threat. In that sense, it is truly humbling to be here, coming from one of the wealthiest countries, one of the wealthiest states and one of the wealthiest regions in the world. This reality strengthens my commitment to doing everything possible in support of our global community and to make the changes necessary to return to a safe climate. My hope is that when my children are my age, they can celebrate and enjoy the benefits of our efforts here today.

The minister of Congo speaking to the parties in a plenary session.

I even had the honor of meeting Rabbi Sergio Bergman, the Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development for Argentina. He has been an inspiring leader in his country and globally. I particularly liked his comment on a panel this morning: “The future is the decision you make today.”

Indeed, we must be more ambitious immediately– and to do that– each of us must make decisions this morning then start acting on them this afternoon to steward our planet’s life support systems for a healthy, just and secure future for all.

One long but wonderful day at COP24– so full of interesting interactions, learning, inspiration and networking!

Together we can zmniejszenie ilości gazów wpuszczanych do atmosfery (reduce emissions in the atmosphere) and ochrona środowiska (protect our environment) for a zdrowego życia (healthy life)!*

*COP24 is the 2018 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) “Conference of the Parties” -the 24th meeting of the 195 countries of the world signed on to the Rio environmental treaty of 1992 to prevent dangerous climate change.

**Picking up a little bit of the beautiful Polish language here but these phrases I found on the internet!