Monthly Archives: November 2017

The Challenges of the Energy-Water Nexus

Participants at UN Climate Talks are typically surrounded by discussions on a wide variety of climate impacts, climate solutions, and complex interactions. While it may seem like every issue is being discussed during numerous side panels and events, these same issues may not always be raised during the political side of the talks. Here, the focus often tends to rest on climate finance, Nationally Determined Contributions, adaptation/mitigation, and capacity building, with some topics such as gender and land use making an appearance.

One of the crucial issues not specifically included in this list is the energy-water nexus. It’s true that energy and water are woven into the issues discussed through technology, concerns for adaptation, and resilience, but energy-water nexus topics are often not independently discussed. The Paris Agreement states that without curbing emissions, there will be a massive concern for water resources, with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 6 and 7 set to specifically address water concerns. Even with the Paris Agreement in place, there may be many concerns about water availability and water quality in the future. Energy is more frequently addressed because of its importance in reaching the emission reduction plan set forth, but this does not consider the interactions between energy and water resources, nor how they may be impacted by climate change.

At COP23— the 23rd Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)— held this November in Bonn, Germany the issues of water and energy took more of a center stage:

 

Energy Water Nexus Panel at COP23

 

The Global Climate Action (GCA) Initiative Media Briefing on Energy, Water and Agriculture stressed how everything that happens with climate, is linked to everything that happens with energy, is linked to everything that happens with water! Even a slight inefficiency in one area could lead to catastrophic impacts for the whole interaction.

As was aptly stated by René Castro, Assistant-Director General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), “There is no room for inefficiency.”

Paulo Bretas de Almeida Salles, President of ADASA in Brazil (a regulatory agency for water and sanitation) presented concerns about water resources,

“There is a traditional idea that we have lots of water, that water is an infinite resource- now we are learning that this is not true.”

He also voiced the unmistakable connection that,

“Water and climate change are directly related… Everything that happens on earth based on climate has some relationship with water.”

In panel discussions, negotiators stressed how we need water to be able to provide and produce the necessities for this world, and discussed the connection between energy and water being that it takes energy to produce clean water and water is often needed to produce energy.

In the GCA Media Briefing they offered a summary of information:

  • Of total water use by humans, only 10% is safe drinking water; if even a small percentage of that water becomes unusable, there would be major impacts on availability worldwide.
  • Agriculture, on the other hand, uses 70% of total water use! The fact that this is such a high percentage opens the door for new advances in technology and water reduction strategies that would improve the world’s water situation.
  • One such technological advancement offers promise—renewable energy stands to use 20 times less water than conventional energy sources.

Both energy and water are resources with a history of being mismanaged, and both are resources that have a direct interaction with the forces of climate change. By including water and energy—both distinctly and as an interrelated force—in the discussion at COP23, new policies and guidelines can be established to more effectively manage these valuable resources and leverage them to our advantage in the fight against climate change.


The Climatic Arts

One of the greatest challenges of climate change is communication. How do we communicate the impacts of climate change? How can we make people recognize the severity of the situation? How can we present solutions is a positive light? How can we help people understand the complexities of the climate debate? 

While there is no one way to accomplish all of these goals, I experienced one creative approach this week- the intersection of climate and theatre. Theatre@Emory performed a series of short plays relating to climate change and its solutions as part ofthe worldwide initiative Climate Change Theatre Action, a collaboration between the Center for Sustainable Practice in the ArtsNoPassport Theatre Alliance, The Arctic CycleTheatre Without Borders, and York University.

All around the world, theatre groups performed short plays relating to this central theme:

Assume your audience knows as much as you do. Assume they are as concerned as you are. But they may not know what to do with this information and those concerns. So how can we turn the challenges of climate change into opportunities?

What I found particularly interesting about the performances and how they related to this theme, was how they wove the ideas of climate change into each of the plays. None of them outwardly mentioned the issue, but because we were an interested and concerned audience we were able to follow the message of these plays. It would be interesting to see how a less interested or concerned audience would respond to plays such as these.

Overall, the plays were powerfully done, very engaging, and effectively drew you into the story.

The first play—Blue Puzzle by Clare Duffy, featuring Julia Byrne—really spoke to the condition of the world today, especially describing how the world is filled with so much me and not enough us. This was shown through the eyes of a mother trying to provide for her child, while grappling with the change occurring around her. The play ended with the powerful message that change is inevitable, but we can use this change to our advantage to save the planet and ourselves.

Another play titled Rubik’s Cube Solution—written by Sarena Parmar, and featuring Angela Jiang, Eliza Paprin, Colleen Carroll and Elizabeth Johnson—compared the problem of climate change to solving a Rubik’s Cube. This challenge was literally thrown at the characters in the play by a nameless, authoritarian figure who continued to discourage them throughout the play, and who represented all of the challenges that are posed to the climate change debate. This play presented climate change as an unsolvable problem that they were running out of time to solve; however, by working together and using each of their collective strengths, the characters end up finding a possible creative solution to the cube.

The last play—Gaia by Hiro Kanazawa, featuring Victoria Hood, Julia Byrne, and Joel Hines—was a very powerful piece and was wonderfully staged to take place outside instead of in the theatre, which added to the connection with the Earth that the play was trying to convey. It started off with a more negative and downward turning feel, highlighting the threats and challenges posed to nature (especially those by humans), but as the play went on a shift occurred in the positive direction and the play ended in an uplifting and positive manner about how problems could be remedied.

Overall, these performances were a creative way to approach the issue of climate change and present possible solutions in a unique and unexpected way, one that hopefully a wider audience may be able to appreciate and respond to.


Environmental HiSTORY

Dr. Thomas D. Rogers http://history.emory.edu/ home/people/faculty/rogers-thomas.html

I was pleased to attend an on-campus lecture this week presented by Dr. Thomas Rogers. He is an Associate Professor in the College whose interests focus on modern Latin American history—especially Brazil—labor and environmental history, and Afro-Latin American history. Dr. Rogers is currently working on a book entitled Agriculture’s Energy: Development and Hunger During Brazil’s Ethanol Boom that discusses the advent of agriculture in Brazil, and how that played a role in shaping the country.

Dr. Rogers’s talk entitled “Environmental History’s Audience Challenge” highlighted some of the key points from his new book, and also sought to address the importance and use of environmental history. I would not describe myself as a history buff by any means, and this talk helped me to see more clearly how important history can be.

A brief synopsis of Brazil’s environmental history, specifically that of the The National Alcohol Program:

Around 1975, Brazil experienced its first oil shock, which led to the need for another fuel source. Sugar cane production boomed within a few years, as more and more forests were cut down to grow cane for ethanol production. This development was very rapid, and was an important step in the modernization of Brazil, but it led to an unfortunate outcome. As sugar production increased, so did waste and pollution.

One liter of ethanol produces 15 liters of waste, which is equivalent to the daily average waste produced by 7.5 people! Tons of water is used for washing the sugar cane, and for evaporation and distillation of the ethanol. More solid waste comes from all of the husks of the sugar cane, which isn’t used in production.

This increase in pollution rates can easily be tracked through newspaper coverage. In the early 1970’s, there was little coverage on pollution, but this increased as sugar cane production made the issue hard to ignore. At one point, half of industrial pollution came from sugar cane production alone.

Why is this especially interesting to us? Because of what happened after. 

A very clear process of steps followed that instituted more control around the growing issue of pollution. This process was similar to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the United States. It especially follows a similar waste case study that occurred in Hawaii just a few years prior to the process in Brazil, which goes like this:

  1. An aggressive industry creates some kind of environmental effect [Waste from massive sugar cane industry]
  2. Local activism leads to activism at a more federal level [Local areas protesting the waste in their watersheds]
  3. State action is triggered as a response to activism efforts
  4. Government action increases as activism moves up to the federal level [More pollution controls were instituted]

While this pattern is not a catchall for what happens during the modernization of agriculture and other industries, it does point us toward interesting patterns of development and responses at all levels of society.

What is the use of studying this and other aspects of environmental history?

This question reaches further into the future. Dr. Rogers described that the future of history is storytelling. That is, taking lessons from history and composing a narrative that tells a story to anyone willing to read it. People tend to approach history with the perspective that the world is a given and set in stone, but with history as a form of story telling this apprehension can be transformed into a thoughtful understanding of the world as made.

These lessons of history can be applied to policy, especially when considering the consciousness of the public-at-large, or when considering who may be an expert on recent issues. These lessons are also important for students, because in many ways historians = teachers.


Emory COP326

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Category : Blog , Climate Change Blog

Parties to the Emory World Climate Summit reached a landmark agreement on October 25 in Atlanta, making great strides to address the global climate effort. After three hours and two sessions of negotiations, the six blocs settled on an agreement that will limit global warming to 2ºC above pre-industrial global temperatures.

In the first round of negotiations, blocs stuck close to plans they had set coming into the COP talks. Little collaboration occurred between the countries, but they were still able to set a goal of 2.3ºC. Unfortunately, most countries did not contribute to the Green Climate Fund, which is worrisome to India and the bloc representing other developing countries.

The second round of negotiations showed blocs collaborating and forming alliances with each other, even if they deviated slightly from their original plans. An emphasis was placed on expanding the Green Climate Fund, although it unfortunately was still not enough, as the fund fell short by 42 billion dollars. The blocs established the goal of 2ºC, but without money from the Green Climate Fund it is unclear how the other developing countries bloc’s goals will be impacted.

Second Round of UN Climate Simulation Results

The interplay between groups added a fascinating element to the negotiation process. Particularly interesting was differing goals between the U.S. federal government and U.S. cities and states. Cities and states contributed double to the Green Climate Fund and set more aggressive emissions reduction goals, while the federal group was all too happy to let them take on the bulk of the work for climate action.

Negotiations between several blocs

Much of the interaction revolved around China’s role in the negotiations. China described itself as a developing country that should receive assistance similar to countries like India, while most of the delegates argued that China is well on its way to being developed and is close to passing U.S. GDP. The U.S. attempted to strike goals with China to encourage them to contribute to the Green Climate Fund. China stayed to their original plan of no contribution, preferring to trade technology with other developing countries without any questions of how money would be used.

The non-country roles add to the negotiation process. Fossil fuels lobbyists, often responsible for large portions of funding for the climate talks, attempted to work with the other developing countries bloc, offering increased support if they align with the fossil fuel industry. Climate activists worked closely with the EU and other developed countries to set sanctions on the U.S., which unfortunately were introduced in the last negotiation round and unable to be explored fully.

Reporter Press Release

Overall, this simulation offered unique insight into the climate negotiation process. A large part of the outcome hinged on the decisions of key players including the U.S., EU, and China, which reflects real-life negotiations as well. The other developing countries bloc did have a voice in the negotiations, but often only in so much that it helped another country look good and suit their needs. This simulation demonstrated the delicate balance that must be achieved between countries to make limiting global warming to a 2ºC increase a possibility.


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