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COP21 Live Blog: Day 11


Live updates and recent developments from COP21, in Paris — Day 11.

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‘The 2 degrees goal is a political figure, not generated by scientific reports’, says IPCC at COP21

cop21 IPCC panel

The stated goal of the COP21 conference on climate change held in Paris until late next week is that of averting potentially catastrophic 2 degrees warming past industrial levels. At the last COP, held in Copenhagen, the stated goal of the meetings is that of curbing emissions to avoid 1.5 C of warming. Some might feel this sounds incongruous, weakening the credibility of the International Panel on Climate Change – a science board responsible for the most comprehensive assessments on the state of global warming. Today, at a press conference at COP21, a panel of scientists and chairmen from the IPCC said that they never suggested one or the other figures as a baseline for averting climate change. “The 2 degree goal is a political figure, not generated by scientific reports,” the panel warned.

Climate change has stopped being the object of the debate, that is that it’s real and it’s caused by humans. Among scientists, this has been settled decades ago. What scientists are debating now is far more important like “how much will sea levels rise” or “what temperature threshold is too dangerous”. Yet, many researchers question the use of a temperature target when talking about mitigating climate change. Concerning the two-degrees warming the policymakers have taken upon themselves to avoid, this is largely arbitrary. It’s not based on scientific consensus, but that’s not to say that it’s not useful since it can be used as rallying figure.

“It emerged from a political agenda, not a scientific analysis,” said Mark Maslin, professor of climatology at University College London, for the WSJ. “It’s not a sensible, rational target because the models give you a range of possibilities, not a single answer.”

Actionable goals have proved difficult to articulate from the beginning of climate-policy efforts ever since the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) expressed the aim as preventing “dangerous anthropogenic interference in the climate system”. Because there’s a great deal of uncertainty when studying the Earth’s climate system, efforts that attempted to clarify what “dangerous” actually means have been fruitless.

There are also concerns that temperature is not a suitable metric, and a more holistic approach should be taken. For instance, the oceans soak a huge proportion of the CO2 dumped in the atmosphere and about 93% of the extra energy being added to the climate system, both warming it and acidifying the waters. A climate change index would be cool, but that might only further add to the confusion. Some say that CO2 ppm levels in the atmosphere is better — just keep it as low as possible!

“The measure in change of temperature on the surface of the planet is an indicator. Change in sea level is another indicator. When climate is changing, the temp change is not unform. It’s particularly strong over the Arctic. There are regional dimensions and the temp metric is just a measure to reduce all other metrics to one,” the IPCC panel said today at COP21.

Also, at the end of the day, scientists debating whether 1.5 or 2 degrees should be averted is largely of not good since we may already be locked in. If we continue on a business-as-usual scenario, the world will likely warm by at least 3 degrees Celsius by the end of this century.

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COP21 Live Blog: Day 4

Live updates and recent developments from the COP21 Conference in Paris, Day 4

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COP21 Live Blog: Day 3

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Six initiatives for sustainable agriculture announced at COP21

Climate change and agriculture are so strongly intertwined that you basically can’t talk about addressing climate change without bringing agriculture into the mix. At COP21, the climate summit in Paris, governments, NGOs and private entities joined hands to announce several initiatives focusing on some of the most pressing issues in agriculture: soils, the livestock sector, food losses, waste, sustainable production methods and resilience of farmers.

Image via Pexels.

Agriculture is responsible for 24 % of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions which cause climate change, but that doesn’t even begin to describe how interconnected the two are; one of the main causes for deforestation in the world is agriculture, which brings additional carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Synthetic pesticides, the most common method of dealing with pests can leach through the soil and enter the groundwater, as well as linger in food products, and soil degradation from agriculture brings with it problems we are only now beginning to understand. The initiatives proposed at COP won’t revolutionize sustainable agriculture, but they are definitely steps in the right direction.

Here are the six:

The “4/1000 Initiative: Soils for Food Security and Climate”

We rarely give soils enough credit, but they are at the base of our food and climate security. In the 4/1000 initiative, a hundred partners (developed and developing states, international organizations, private foundations, international funds, NGOs and farmers’ organization) will work together to protect and increase carbon stocks in soils.

Soils can store massive quantities of carbon, preventing it from going into the atmosphere and contributing to rising temperatures. The initiative will show that even a small increase of 4/1000 parts per year in the soil carbon stocks (most notably in agricultural soils, but also in forest soils), will not only store significant amounts of carbon, but also improve soil quality and therefore improve the life quality and resilience of farmers, contributing to the long term of sustainable agriculture on more than one front.

BigAg, a provider of current agriculture news, have also reported increased focus on advanced seed, fertilizer, and bioagriculture tech to help push sustainable farming.

Life Beef Carbon

Meat is one of the foods with the largest carbon footprints – beef especially. This European alliance will include France, Ireland, Italy and Spain, having the declared goal of reducing the beef carbon footprint by 15% over 10 years.

“Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme” (ASAP) 

This builds on an already existing initiative consisting of 44 developing countries; 12 additional countries have joined,  increasing the total amount of committed ASAP funds up to US$ 285 million. By 2034, this additional funding will avoid or sequester 80 million tons of GHG emissions (CO2e) and will strengthen the resilience of 8 million smallholders. Small farmers are among the best places to invest to fight climate change locally.

15 West-African Countries Transitioning to Agro-ecology

West African countries are among the poorest in the world, and if this initiative is successful, 25 million households will implement agro-ecological practices.

To be perfectly honest, I wish this initiative was clearer, both in terms of what these practices will actually be, and in terms of implementation.

The Blue Growth Initiative (BGI)

This will focus on reducing the greenhouse gas emissions caused by fisheries. The actions aim at a 10% reduction in 10 target countries within 5 years (building to 25% within 10 years), and if successful, there are plans to further expand it to other countries and companies.

The SAVE FOOD Initiative – (the Global Initiative on Food Loss and Waste Reduction)

In the European Union, around half of all the produced food is wasted – and there are similar trends throughout most of the developed world. This initiative plans to drive innovations, promote interdisciplinary dialogue and spark debates to generate solutions across the entire value chain, “from field to fork”.


Some of the pledges at COP21 need to be legally binding, says President Obama


Image: Pixabay

It’s day 2 at COP21 in Paris and already we’ve seen promising progress being made. The atmosphere here at the conference is very optimistic, despite the tremendous uncertainty and risks climate change poses. Yesterday, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveiled a new massive initiative his country is leading called the International Solar Alliance, which he says will see 1000 billion funneled to help 121 countries tap their massive solar resources. Bill Gates and 29 other billionaires took advantage of the timing to announce the largest private fund in history. Things are looking good, but at the government level ambitions – as stated in the INDCs – are still low. Moreover, any promises made here in Paris might amount to little absent a legally binding framework. Recognizing this possibility, a concerned President Barack Obama said part of the climate agreement soon to be hammered next week should be legally binding.

For the past couple of months, President Obama has been meeting world leaders, policymakers and corporate CEOs, urging them to make ambitious commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Tuesday, in Paris, President Obama voiced his concerns, however, that any agreement made here will be ineffective if it lacks the force of treaties. He suggests a regulatory body be established that would review commitments every five years.

Obama seems to be reiterating the suggestion the EU is making: a five-year multilateral review process that can enforce emissions commitments, with the threat of withholding climate aid from developing countries that renege on their promises.

“Although the targets themselves may not have the force of treaties, the process, the procedures that ensure transparency and periodic reviews, that needs to be legally binding. And that’s going to be critical in us having high ambitions and holding each other accountable,” he said.

What’s ironic, though, is that in his home country, the United States, anything legally binding coming out of Paris will never pass a Republican-majority Congress. Previously, secretary of state John Kerry said it would ‘definitively’ not be a treaty.

Americans support signing of climate change pact, but don’t want taxes on emissions

According to a NY Times/CBS poll two out of three Americans support the signing of a global climate pact, but only one in five agrees to increasing taxes on electricity as a way to fight global warming; six in 10 were strongly opposed, including 49 percent of Democrats.

The striking drought in California is widely regarded by researchers as one of the effects of climate change. Image via Wikipedia.

Everyone wants change, but no one wants to change – this seems to be the summary of the poll which gauged how Americans feel about the global climate situation. Sixty-three percent of Americans (including a slight Republican majority) said that they support capping the carbon emissions from power plants, but they don’t want to pay an extra tax on energy. Sure, everyone wants things to improve… but apparently, few people are willing to pay the investment price.

The political situation in the US is highly polarized when it comes to climate change – Republicans have strongly opposed any proposition to limit emissions from power plants, which makes it borderline impossible to pass such a resolution in the Senate – and without the US on board, any climate agreement is doomed to fail; that’s just the sad reality of things.

But this poll highlights an interesting aspect: a potential turning point in public opinion.

“If you just look over the past five or six years since Copenhagen, there’s been a shift,” said David Waskow, director of the International Climate Initiative at the World Resources Institute, referring to the largely inconclusive global summit meeting that took place in Denmark in 2009. “There’s much more awareness of issues like sea level rise, water scarcity and climate instability.”

As mentioned above, even the Republican voters seem to support capping emissions from power plants, and politicians should heed this shift of opinion, or increase of awareness – depending on how you look at it. For example, 75% of Americans said that global change is either already having catastrophic effects, or will have in the near future, including 58% of Republicans. Just 30 percent of Republicans believed that climate change is not happening or it won’t have any significant effect (I use “just”, though truth be told, that’s a highly worrying figure). Furthermore, younger people seem to be more aware and more interested by these issues, but the elder population is more engaged and more vocal – this signifies another turning point in the future. Hopefully, the Paris summit can be the much needed extra gear that finally sets the mechanism into motion.


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COP21 Live Blog: Day 2

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COP21 climate summit summary: Day 1

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The Climate Summit in Paris (COP21) has started out in full force, bringing along a wave of optimism but also skeptic frowns. ZME Science is attending the summit and we’ll keep you posted with the daily events as they unfold and as we witness them – this is an event that has the potential to be critical for the future of our planet’s climate; this is the summary for the first day (if you have no idea what I’m talking about, please read this article to familiarize yourself with the context).

Paris Climate Summit Begins with Unprecedented Committment

I was somewhat surprised to see that almost all the high-caliber participants at COP didn’t beat around the bush, saying clear and firm that we need to take action fast – not just for preserving the planet and keeping it clean for future generations, although that would be a good enough reason, but also because it is economically advantageous. To this end, many heads of state now support the phasing out of subsidies for fossil fuels, instead investing those money into more sustainable energy sources. Now is the time:

“Fossil fuel subsidy reform is the missing piece of the climate change puzzle,” began John Key, Prime Minister of New Zealand. “It’s estimated that more than a third of global carbon emissions, between 1980 and 2010, were driven by fossil fuel subsidies. Their elimination would represent one seventh of the effort needed to achieve our target of ensuring global temperatures do not rise by more than 2°C. As with any subsidy reform, change will take courage and strong political will, but with oil prices at record lows and the global focus on a low carbon future – the timing for this reform has never been better.”


Vulnerable Countries to Adopt Issue Historic Joint Declaration [external link]

Climate change won’t spare anyone from any countries, but some are more vulnerable than others. Building on two years of consultations at regional and global level, representatives of these vulnerable countries will meet to deliver a declaration and state their expectations for a potential global climate deal, also spelling out key priorities for agreement.

European Countries Announce $500 Million Initiative to Fight Climate Change in Developing Countries

Four European countries, Germany, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland, have announced a new $500 million initiative to fight climate change, especially in developing countries. The entire initiative is supported by the World Bank. The Transformative Carbon Asset Facility will not only help developing countries implement their plans to reduce carbon emissions, but also pay for emission cuts in large scale programs in areas like renewable energy, transport, energy efficiency, solid waste management, and low carbon cities.

“We need to act now!” – everybody

Head of state after head of state and minister after minister have taken the stage and spoken about the importance of acting now against climate change. But although everyone says we need to do something, a tangible deal is still not in sight – and enforcing it would be even more difficult. Actual discussions are complex, difficult to manage and opaque, as it often is when dealing with something of this caliber. I’m not sure if we should raise our expectations or not – it’s good that people seem to finally understand the imminence and unavoidability of global warming, but it’s obviously bad that despite understanding, our leaders are not able to reach a consensus. Not yet, at least.



European countries announce new $500 million initiative to fight climate change in developing countries

Four European countries, Germany, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland, have announced a new $500 million initiative to fight climate change, especially in developing countries. The entire initiative is supported by the World Bank.

“We want to help developing countries find a credible pathway toward low carbon development,” said World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim. “This initiative is one such way because it will help countries create and pay for the next generation of carbon credits.”

The Transformative Carbon Asset Facility will not only help developing countries implement their plans to reduce carbon emissions, but also pay for emission cuts in large scale programs in areas like renewable energy, transport, energy efficiency, solid waste management, and low carbon cities. Some reforms may not be economically advantageous in the short run, and this is where this fund plans to fill in the gaps.

“We want to help developing countries find a credible pathway toward low carbon development,” said World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim. “This initiative is one such way because it will help countries create and pay for the next generation of carbon credits.”

The operations will start next year, in 2016, with an initial sum of $250 million from the four countries; additional contributions are expected to complement the sum until $500 million.

Erna Solberg, Norway’s Prime Minister is one of the main supporters of the project.

“Putting market forces to work is an efficient way of reducing emissions. We expect to achieve significant impact on the ground through the facility and ensure the sustainability of reducing emissions even beyond the facility’s initial support, for example, through carbon pricing instruments like emissions trading systems and carbon taxes, or stronger low-carbon policy standards and their enforcement,” said Prime Minister Erna Solberg of Norway. “We are pleased to support this initiative that will help guide the next generation of carbon market programs.”

It’s encouraging to see that some developed countries are investing not only in reducing their own emissions, but also enabling poorer countries to take steps in the right direction. CO2 emissions and climate change are a global problem, and only if we work together we can reach good results.

As of now, it’s not clear exactly where this money will be directed and how it will be distributed.


Some of the richest in the world join Bill Gates to invest in the biggest private climate fund


Image: Flickr

Bill Gates and 27 other billionaires with a collective net worth of $350 billion have joined forces to launch the biggest private climate fund in history. The multi-billion dollar fund, called the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, will focus on cutting edge research and development to accelerate the growth of renewable energy and other sustainable technologies.

As reported yesterday by ZME Science, the fund’s efforts will be doubled by government action in parallel. U.S. President Barack Obama and French President François Hollande joined Gates to unveil a plan which will see the United States, China and 17 other countries double government spending on energy research in the next five years.

The announcement was made on Monday to coincide with the opening day of COP21 in Paris, where already some immense projects were announced like the founding of the International Solar Alliance or the Transformative Carbon Asset.

“It’s got to give the negotiators even more confidence than they’ve had up to now,” said Anne Kelley, who directs the Business for Innovative Climate & Energy Policy program at Ceres, a coalition of environmentally focused investors. “It sends a message that investors are committed. There’s a sense of inevitability of a low-carbon economy when you talk about this amount of money going into it.

Joining Gates in the massive private initiative are:

  • Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce.com
  • Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon
  • Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn
  • Jack Ma, chairman of Alibaba Group
  • Patrice Motsepe, chairman of African Rainbow Minerals
  • Xavier Niel, founder of Iliad Group
  • Hasso Plattner, chairman of SAP
  • Masayoshi Son, CEO of SoftBank Group
  • Ratan Tata, chairman emeritus of Tata Sons
  • Meg Whitman, CEO of Hewlett Packard Enterprise
  • Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook
  • Mukesh Ambani, chairman of Reliance Industries Limited
  • John Arnold, co-chair of Laura and John Arnold Foundation
  • Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, chairman of Alwaleed Philanthropies
  • Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group
  • Priscilla Chan, CEO of the Primary School
  • Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates
  • Aliko Dangote, CEO of Dangote Group
  • John Doerr, general partner of Kleiner Perkins
  • Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Chris Hohn, founder of The Children’s Investment Fund
  • Vinod Khosla, founder of Khosla Ventures
  • Julian Robertson, chairman of Tiger Management
  • Neil Shen, managing partner of Sequoia Capital China
  • Nat Simons, co-founder of Prelude Ventures
  • Laura Baxter-Simons, co-founder of Prelude Ventures
  • George Soros, chairman of Soros Fund Management
  • Tom Steyer, president of NextGen Climate
  • Pan Shiyi, chairman of of SOHO China
  • Zhang Xin, CEO of SOHO China

Besides some of the most important tech executives are also institutions like the University of California and the Office of the Chief Investment Officer United States. No specific details were announced concerning how much the fund is worth, but Gates suggested its in the multi-billion range. The University of California alone announced it will pledge $1 billion, and earlier this summer Gates said he would invest at least $1 billion too. In fact, it was around this time that Gates devised his plan, frustrated by how slow progress is in basic research.

“It was surprising to me that the R&D piece had not been part of the discussion,” Gates said.

“Historically, it takes more than 50 years before you have a substantial shift in energy generation, but we need to do it more quickly,” Gates told The Washington Post. “We need to move faster than the energy sector ever has.”

The announcement was only made today, so we’re really looking forward to hearing about the first projects that will get funded. In time, other billionaires, investment funds and concerned citizens will likely pitch in.

Paris Climate Summit Begins with Unprecedented Committment

The eyes of the world are set on Paris, as the COP21 climate summit started today with the ambitious goal of achieving a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, from all the nations of the world. But while this dance sometimes paces close to the impossible, there are also reasons to be optimistic: world leaders opened up with an unprecedented call to end fossil fuel subsidies and focus on sustainable development.

Image via COP21 Flickr.

“Fossil fuel subsidy reform is the missing piece of the climate change puzzle,” began John Key, Prime Minister of New Zealand. “It’s estimated that more than a third of global carbon emissions, between 1980 and 2010, were driven by fossil fuel subsidies. Their elimination would represent one seventh of the effort needed to achieve our target of ensuring global temperatures do not rise by more than 2°C. As with any subsidy reform, change will take courage and strong political will, but with oil prices at record lows and the global focus on a low carbon future – the timing for this reform has never been better.”

Indeed, in the first day of the Summit, I was surprised to see that many of the high representatives were not only advocating the development of renewable energy sources – but also stopping subsidies for the fossil fuel industries, and even charging them for negative externalities.

John Key was not the only one to say that fossil fuels are a losing bet. Stefan Löfven, Prime Minister of Sweden, said:

“History will prove fossil fuel to be a dead end. Sweden will be amongst the first fossil free welfare nations of the world. And eliminating fossil fuel subsidies is an important step on this path.”

Wait, what are subsidies?

If you have no idea what I’m talking about by now, then a short addendum is in order. A subsidy is an external financial support given to an economic sector with the aim of improving economic and social policies. For example, the government can reduce taxes for eco-friendly products since they can help reduce negative externalities and improve the consumers’ health, or provide incentives for companies with many employees to promote job creation. Globally though, fossil fuel companies get the lion’s share.

Fossil fuel subsidies reached $90 billion in the OECD and over $500 billion globally in 2011, and things haven’t changed much since. This means that in some cases, renewable energy can be cost competitive and even more efficient than fossil fuels, but the subsidies tip the balance the other way. This is what many governments and companies are proposing.

Close to 40 countries have endorsed the Fossil Fuel Subsidy Reform Communiqué, including Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Italy, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Peru, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Samoa, the United Kingdom, the United States, Uganda and Uruguay. This seems fine and good, except…

Put your money where your mouth is

There are reasons to be skeptical. The United Kingdom, while endorsing this reform, recently announced an increase of fossil fuel subsidies – becoming the only G7 country to do so. So endorsing something unofficially doesn’t really cost anything, and I’m afraid that at least for the UK, this is a classic case of greenwashing. It remains to be seen if other countries are more committed to this plan, and whether we can expect a phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies.

ZME Science is attending COP21, the climate summit in Paris

A team from ZME Science will attend the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference – COP21. Here’s the official page of the event, the Wikipedia page, and the official Twitter (in French).

What does this mean?

We’ll be attending as many sessions as possible, to give you the latest updates on this potentially historic event. We’ll be listening to what world leaders have to say, what scientists and corporate representatives bring to the table – and share that all with you. We’ll also have live blogging, and you can follow everything we write about the COP21 on this page.

Send us questions! Are you interested in something particular? Do you want to ask a question or voice a concern to someone that we can reach (i.e. not Obama)? Do it! Tweet at us, Facebook us, use the contact form – whatever works for you, just do it! We’ll reply as soon as we get the chance, and pass your questions and concerns on to the relevant people. Alternatively, you can contact us directly: Andrei, Tibi or Alex. If you tweet at us, be sure to use the #COP21 and #ZMEScience.

What can you do?

Considering that this event can be huge in limiting global greenhouse gas emissions, we’d like to promote this event as much as possible. Share it on Facebook, tell your friends, leave a comment, call your mom… anything! Together, we can make a difference, but we have to let people know what’s at stake.

Are you a publisher?

Do you want to share information about COP21 with your audience but can’t attend the summit? We’d love to help you too! Contact us for information and questions, and we’ll share what we have with you. If you want to re-publish our text or pictures, you are more than welcome to – just credit us as the original source.

Here’s to a cleaner planet!