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Call for COP23 Applications!

The 23rd UNFCCC Conference of Parties (COP) will be hosted in Bonn, Germany from November 6th through 17th of this year. If you are interested in being a delegate for the University of Michigan, please complete this application by April 19 at 5pm. Submission and other delegation details are provided in the application document. Any additional questions about the application or the delegation should be directed to Ashley Richardson (ashricha@umich.edu) at the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment.

Application Link: COP-23 Application Form

Climate Progress Doesn’t Have to be Limited by Politics

In a time of high frustration over the state of US political engagement with climate change, it’s important to acknowledge the progress being made around the world on climate change and the environment. Even if, as Ed Waisenen noted in Climate Blue’s last blog post, environmental progress is stalled or reversed at the national level, there’s still innovative and impactful work being done by a global community. As American climate researchers, we can continue to engage on a broader level, support work being done elsewhere, and learn from others so that we’re ready to act once given the opportunity.

Last week, I traveled to Monrovia, Liberia to learn from that community through a workshop on “Renewable Energy for Development”. Attended by over 60 stakeholders, including policymakers, aid organizations, private sector, and students, this event was an opportunity to share successes and failures and, more importantly, come together as a community to brainstorm the best ways to help electrify rural Liberia.

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It was amazing that, in a country of only 4 million, the centralized grid generates only about 60 megawatts of electricity (for reference, the same population in the US would use 100 times that much); and yet everyone we spoke to still cared about the environmental impacts—including GHG emissions—of potential energy projects. Many participants deeply understood the need for rural electricity, but they were committed to providing it without sacrificing their environment. For example, our discussion of biomass energy delved deeply into land use and carbon cycle impacts, despite the position of biomass as by far the cheapest current option for rural electrification.

(For the record, the population of Liberia is so small and diffuse that land use change wouldn’t have major impacts; but in a country where well over 90% of the population does not receive electricity, can you imagine caring about this?)

The nexus of energy and development is something I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand–even though my degree is in physics, I just don’t know how you optimize for so many issues! In the case of Liberia, here are some of the most pressing concerns:

  • Low up-front cost: Small rural communities are can’t afford expensive infrastructure. Diesel generators are the cheapest to buy and install.
  • Low cost over time: Energy generated with hydro or biomass doesn’t require expensive fuel (in fact, the inputs are essentially free—the river always runs and plants on a farm always grow). These two options are by far the cheapest to the consumer in the long-run, but the up-front costs can be daunting
  • Speed: The sooner electricity is delivered to communities, the sooner they are advantaged. Systems like solar or biomass require infrastructure development and training for operations and maintenance, which could slow things down.
  • Funding: Funding was, by far, the biggest concern voiced by Liberian stakeholders. Aid agencies like USAID, GIZ, and the European Commission help with a lot of electricity projects, but it’s still not enough to electrify all of Liberia.

The point, I suppose, is that the high-level conversations and US engagement on global climate change are important, but climate change impacts happen on the ground level regardless. The policy implications of conferences like the COP are meant to trickle down to individual countries and communities, where we can implement actual projects to bring about actual change. In Liberia, energy poverty is a real issue, and projects can and do go on regardless of the international political climate. As spoken by an anonymous speaker in Marrakech: “Political events do not and cannot change the reality of climate change … We all have important work to do and we need to get on it.”

Three Notable Absences at COP 22

By: Reed McCalib

The COP 22 in Marrakech, Morocco has been blessed with incredible scientific and diplomatic talent from all over the world. Check out the previous post for three extraordinary examples.

Despite the presence of industry leaders and celebrity statesmen, there were several notable absences. Perhaps it was because this COP was smaller than past Conferences, or perhaps they were simply too busy. Regardless, here’s who didn’t show up this year:

Leonardo DiCaprio – The fangirl in all of us was disappointed by the absence of the (finally) Academy Award-winning actor. Considering Leo’s increasing commitment to raise awareness of global climate change, his failure to show was a bit of a shock to everyone here. This is especially true considering his climate change documentary, Before the Flood, was strategically released several weeks ago. What’s more, Mr. DiCaprio serves as a United Nations Messenger of Peace for climate change. This Conference is his bread and butter. Where are you, Leo? Apparently he’s too busy hanging out at cafés in Scotland.

Al Gore – Mr. Gore has been a global force in the climate change conversation for a least a decade (An Inconvenient Truth was released in 2006). He has attended past COPs and has been an active voice for urgency in the face of this issue. I was really looking forward to hearing him speak.

Barack Obama – Expecting Mr. Obama to show up to COP 22 may have been ambitious. He was a key figure at the signing of the Paris Agreement at COP 21 last year, but this year’s implementation-focused Conference is far less sexy in terms of its impact on global diplomacy and international law. That said, Mr. Obama has made climate change a fundamental issue in his second term. He has even indicated that his post-Presidential career will be dedicated to tackling climate change. Especially now, in light of the political climate back home, his presence at the Conference would have sent a powerful message to the world that the American people – at least a large chunk of them – are still dedicated to confronting this issue.

Hopefully one or three of these folks will consider a trip to Fiji next year.

Three Extraordinary People at COP 22

By: Reed McCalib

Each year the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties brims with international talent, and this year is no exception. High level diplomats rub shoulders with CEOs, and heads of state share coffee and croissants with international NGO executives. Even among this distinguished crowd of participants, however, a few stand out above the rest. Here are three extraordinary people I encountered attending COP 22 in Marrakech, Morocco this year:

  1. Dr. Jacqueline McGlade
  2. Dr. Jonathan Pershing
  3. Dr. Naoko Ishii

Continue reading “Three Extraordinary People at COP 22”