Category Archives: Blog

The Realization of the Energy-Water Nexus

Water is the most frequently cited sector in all of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) in the adaptation chapter, and energy is a critical means through which we can reach the Paris goals. However, the true scope of these issues extends beyond simply their interactions within the Paris agreement.

The saying “one only understands the value of water when the well is dry” is the perfect depiction of the situation facing many of us in terms of water. Speakers on Water Action Day at COP23 noted that, “around 40 percent of the world’s population will face water shortages by 2050, accelerating migration and triggering conflict, while some regions could lose up to six percent of their economic output, unless water is better managed.” A side panel at COP23 stated a similar occurrence in regard to energy highlighting how access to reliable, clean and affordable energy is a necessary condition to reduce poverty and to support human development.

These impacts are not as thoroughly researched and understood as other impacts from climate change, and certain regions of the world that feel these types of issues won’t affect them may tend to disregard their importance. But the facts are that over 1 billion people lack access to electricity, about 850 million live without access to safe water, and another 800 million are undernourished.

It is only once water and energy resources are in a state of emergency that the world may be truly awakened to the extent of these issues, and that’s what makes the collaboration between energy and water so important.

“There is an urgent need to develop and enhance capacity and partnerships in relation to understanding three underpinning elements of a sustainable society: food, energy and water security.”  -Simon Langan, Director of the Water Future and Solutions Initiative at International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

If we are able to develop these partnerships now through integrated approaches, a variety of tools and sustainable methodologies, we will create a more resilient future for the world, not only in terms of climate change but also other related factors such as poverty, human development, and hunger.

These initiatives are addressed in an interrelated manner because tackling one sector, indirectly and sometimes directly, impacts aspects of the other sectors. This is especially seen with the interdependent nature of energy, water and agricultural resources:

“The production of food and energy are both highly dependent on the access to water and may compete for this resource, water supply and agriculture are major users of energy. Energy system and land-use change are the biggest emitters of GHGs. There is thus a high likelihood that pursuit of policy goals in one area could have impacts on other areas.” -IAEA

Initiatives that address the interconnectedness of these topics make it easier to find solutions for the others. This was seen with a number of the outcomes of COP23, especially solutions such as the nature-based solutions for water management, which form a crucial part of the “toolbox” for addressing climate change through conservation and sustainable management of ecosystems, as discussed at International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s COP23 event: Nature-based Solutions for a Climate Resilient Europe.

“Healthy, well-functioning ecosystems improve the resilience of nature and society and often have a high return on investment rate.” -IUCN

The Global Water Partnership (GWP) described water as a connector, an enabling resource for sustainable development. They state that water-intensive investments should assess and reduce climate risk even if they are not “water sector” projects. This similar result is seen with a number of other integrated solutions and methodologies.

Among the tools developed by the IAEA and other UN organizations, the Climate, Land, Energy and Water (CLEW), methodology helps countries analyze complex interactions between these key resources, together with climate change. The methodology supports policy and planning for sustainable development.

When all of these solutions, partnerships and tools are considered together, the picture that emerges is promising for the future of the energy-water nexus. We must work together in an innovative and optimistic manner. Maybe we won’t have to learn what happens when the well runs dry after all.


The Energy-Water Nexus Outcome @COP23

COP23 raised thoughtful and innovative discussions surrounding the many issues of the energy-water nexus. While there were few large decisions or policies made addressing energy and water, there were several important outcomes that will be key in reaching the goals set for these resources and responding to related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

  1. Nature-Based Solutions for Water

SDG 6 relates to water being more of a local issue but stresses that the consequences how water is managed have global impact  The need for an equally global solution was emphasized by the launch of a plan that will integrate nature-based solutions into water management strategies worldwide:

The declaration defines nature-based solutions as “actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural or modified ecosystems that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits.”

  1. Water Financing

Prime Minister of Fiji Accepting Aid from the EIB

SDG 6 addresses water and sanitation, prioritized in many countries’ climate action plans submitted under the Paris Agreement. However, water agencies at COP23 estimated that $295 billion (USD) would be needed for countries to fully develop water management strategies and take action as part of adaptation to climate change—a number that is three times the levels of investment prior to COP23.

In other progress, Fiji received the largest European Investment Bank grant for water management ever received by a small island state:

  • The EIB pledged $75 million (USD) toward a $405 million Fiji investment program to strengthen resilience of water distribution and wastewater treatment following Cyclone Winston.

While there was not much progress toward acquiring finance on this large scale, there was a call “for the sustainable use of water to be at the center of building resilient cities and human settlements and ensuring food security in a climate change context.”      – Mariet Verhoef-Cohen, President, Women for Water Partnership

    1. Energy Financing- 

SDG 7 addresses the use of affordable renewable and clean energy, which is continuing to grow with investments in renewables outweighing investments in fossil fuels, especially in developing countries. Finance is a major force to accelerate the global energy transition:

It will “provide cutting-edge technical support to governments whose energy policies will significantly impact the speed of a global transition toward more sustainable energy production and use, including reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and greater access to energy.” -IEA

Many other outcomes that emerged from COP23 relate to or are reliant on proper management of energy and water resources. One such event was the launch of the global Powering Past Coal Allianceformed to declare a phase-out of coal—led by the UK and Canada, and joined by more than 20 countries and other groups. Unfortunately, emissions rose this year after holding steady for three years, due to increased use of fossil fuels.

“Ending, or at least sharply reducing, the use of coal continues to be a major objective for many NGOs, and many governments as well.” -SDG 7

28 July 2017, Nepal- Village of Bhagawoti Kauledhara. Farmers’ Field School female members working in the fields trying new agricultural techniques.

As agriculture is closely tied to the energy-water nexus, another noteworthy outcome was the parties’ agreement to address issues of agriculture and climate change, which marked the “end of a deadlock on agriculture which had lasted for years.”

  • Leaders agreed that investing more in agricultural climate action and supporting sustainable livelihoods of small-scale farmers will unlock much greater potential to limit emissions and protect people against climate change.
  • The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released a new Sourcebook on Climate-Smart Agriculture with guidelines to scale up public and private climate financing for agriculture, encourage partnerships, and build capacity.

“Countries now have the opportunity to transform their agricultural sectors to achieve food security for all through sustainable agriculture and strategies that boost resource-use efficiency, conserve and restore biodiversity and natural resources, and combat the impacts of climate change.”     -René Castro, Assistant-Director General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

Overall, COP23 was quite focused on setting the stage for COP24, which will hopefully see adoption of the Paris Rulebook. Great strides were achieved for the issues of the energy-water nexus and how they relate to climate change. Not only were these issues brought up more frequently in discussions across the COP, but also steps are being taken to integrate concepts and promote collaboration on these issues across many organizations, countries, and disciplines.


Going With the Flow (of Water) @COP23


COP23 marked the second Water Action Day held at a UN climate change conference, the first occurring last year in Marrakesh. This thematic day sponsored as part of the Global Climate Action (GCA) Initiative brought together approximately 33 water agencies and other interested individuals and corporations to discuss the use of water as it relates to climate change and the strategies needed to promote better water management.

The GCA describes Water Action Day’s goal is “to build on our achievements in mainstreaming water into the global climate action agenda, enabling climate and water actors and their allies to learn from one another and engage as full partners in achieving a sustainable and resilient climate future for all people.”

In the GCA Media Briefing on Energy, Water and Agriculture, Mariet Verhoef-Cohen, President of Women for Water, World Water Council Member and spokesperson for the #ClimateIsWater Initiative, discussed how the infrastructure for clean drinking water access is difficult to achieve. This central theme was reflected throughout the conference, and contributed to one of the main focuses of Water Action Day revolving around water finance and how to build a sustainable system for water to prevent shortages in the coming years.

She also discussed how, unlike energy, water technology is not often seen as an investment, and how this perspective must change for sustainable water initiatives to progress.

GCA Media Briefing Panel on Energy, Water and Agriculture

Delia Paul, Thematic Expert for Poverty Reduction, Rights and Governance (Malaysia/Australia), discussed how many speakers throughout the day mentioned that their countries consider water an important part of their climate action plan, but they have yet to make the jump to financing it.

A number of other water-interested organizations discussed how water fit into larger themes they were advocating for. One such group—the #ClimateisWater campaign—encouraged countries to take water into account in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC’s) and policies relating to other factors such as energy and health.

“The role of water as an integral pathway to build climate resilience and implement the Paris Agreement can never be overemphasized.”     -Alex Simalabwi with the Global Water Partnership Southern Africa (GWPSA) Executive Secretary, Head of the GWP Coordination Unit (CU) and Global Coordinator for the Water, Climate and Development Programme (WACDEP)

Discussions occurring at panels and side events during Water Action Day focused on addressing three categories surrounding use of water in implementing the Paris Agreement and building resilience. These focus areas were:

  1. Water knowledge to respond to climate uncertainty

Many participants advocated for incorporating nature-based practices such as biochar, permeable soils, and other applications.

“We would be wise to apply lessons from across the world, even traditional rural populations in Africa or Asia, which have the potential to inform innovative, sagacious and responsible resource management, to adapt our planet to climate variation’s onslaught. The knowledge is there, we just have to listen and tap into it.”  -Maggie White, Manager International Policies, Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), Co-Chair, Alliance for Global Water Adaption (AGWA) and Steering Committee Member of the #ClimateIsWater Initiative

  1. Water for urban resilience

A common theme was the importance of collecting and sharing data on water availability and use for best practices in water management when planning at all levels from government to families.

 “Indeed, the sustainable use of water for multiple purposes must remain a way of life and needs to be at the centre of building resilient cities or human settlements and ensuring food security in a climate change context.”     -Mariet Verhoef-Cohen, President of Women for Water, World Water Council Member and spokesperson for the #ClimateIsWater Initiative

  1. Water for sustainable agriculture and food security

Farmland water management practices were important discussions, especially considering expected impacts of climate change.

“Some of the smartest applications of sustainable farming come from countries and regions such as the south of Morocco or Pakistan, to name just a few, which are naturally poor in access to water from rainfall and riverbeds.”     -James Dalton, Coordinator, Global Water Initiatives, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

Overall, Water Action Day at COP23 was filled with important and innovative dialogues on the role of water in the climate debate, and brought together key stakeholders that will need to work together to promote sustainable water initiatives for the future.

Interested in learning more? Check out these COP23 panels from Water Action Day!

GWP (Global Water Partnership) Media Briefing

GCA Water Round Table


A Vibrant Day Filled with Energy @COP23


Energy featured prominently at COP23 with the Marrakesh Partnership for Global Action Energy Day. Discussions on this day revolved around the energy transition and how to meet the Paris goals through decarbonization of electricity and energy systems in general.

The Sustainable Energy for All campaign forecasted how, “Energy Day at COP23 will tell the story of the ongoing energy transformation, showcase success stories, take stock of commitments made, and offer recommendations on the way forward.”

More than 300 delegates also attended Renewable Energy Day: Action on Climate and Accelerating Energy System Transformation organized by the International Renewable Energy agency (IRENA).

Sustainable Energy for All brings forth four main initiatives universally considered the success stories of the energy sector thus far:

  1. Three years flat carbon emissions
  1. Reduced demand for coal

“Renewable Energy has been the largest majority in terms of capacity addition to the global power sector the last three or four years in a row.”    -Adnan Z. Amin, Director-General of IRENA

  1. Drop in solar, wind and battery prices

“[In just a few years] we could have PV cells that are ¼ the cost of what we are using today.”     -Alexey Tarasov, Lomonsav Moscow State University

  1. Increase in design and deployment of electric vehicles

 

One area that needs to be addressed further is how to build out energy efficiency measures in all end-use sectors of electricity, but especially in uses where emissions are difficult to decrease.

Sustainable Energy for All identified several courses of action needed:

  • build an evidence base and necessary actions as they relate to renewable energy
  • achieve greater efficiency in energy systems
  • create more connections between power and transport.

Several panelists presented how the discussion on power is basically over, renewable energy is becoming more and more accessible, building a business case for its use over coal and natural gas as it goes. Many countries are recognizing the need of renewable or sustainable energy usage as a means for reaching the Paris Agreement.

It is no longer a question of what do we need to do about energy, now the focus needs to shift to how will we make this transition, and how can we make it faster.

In the GCA Media Briefing on Energy, Water and Agriculture, Adnan Z. Amin, Director-General of IRENA, discussed how technology, such as battery storage, will play a key role in the future of sustainable energy and its ability to be transported and made widely available.

Some positives in this discussion included:

  • Energy technology is commonly seen as an investment.
  • Furthering this scenario of investment can lead to more research and development of technological energy solutions.
  • The last key piece to assisting this transition is a better policy framework surrounding renewable and other sustainable energy alternatives.

Adnan Z. Amin, Director-General of IRENA, welcomed delegates to the Renewable Energy Day events with this opening statement,

“Renewable energy is good for climate and good for growth, which is the key message that we are bringing to this climate change conference.”

As more and more countries realize the importance and benefits of renewable energy, they are willing to jump on board and help out however they can. This participation could lead to the breakthrough needed to make renewable energy systems readily available for all.

Some countries are already on board as noted in this statement by Sandy Pitcher, the Governor of South Australia, about the solar transition and especially renewable energy access or households,

“We are looking to go as fast as we can because we know its what our communities want.”

Energy Day at COP23 was the perfect opportunity for many different associations, countries and other researchers/activists involved in the energy scene to share ideas of how to make the transition to sustainable and renewable as quick and effective as possible.

Interested in learning more? Check out these COP23 panels!

The Energy Transition Required to Implement the Paris Agreement

International Energy Association (IEA) Press Conference


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

Tags :

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.


Climate Change and the Media

Today, I will be participating in a World Climate Mock UN Negotiation as a member of the Press Corps. My task is to communicate the results of the negotiations to the public. While I may not hold any negotiating power, my power to influence as a journalist can be almost greater. I chose to represent the Guardian for this simulation because it is a new, highly active organization that is a leader in environmental coverage.

Media coverage of climate change in the United States is alarmingly low, as newspapers and other media sources respond to political pressures, wavering public interest, and other stressors by cutting science sections devoted to climate related issues. This is not true of the Guardian, a cross-continental news organization that has expanded its coverage of climate change and other environmental issues. In March of 2017, the Guardian announced new positions added to their award-winning environmental reporting team. They confirmed their dedication to communicating these issues stating, “There is mounting evidence that the extreme weather events of recent years are linked to man-made climate change which is already underway. This, coupled with the fact that 2016 was the hottest year on record, are just two examples of why there is a greater need than ever before for the kind of serious and innovative environmental journalism that the Guardian is renowned for.”

The Guardian was originally founded in 1821, with an environmental section first appearing around the year 2000. Hot topics at the time mostly revolved around genetically modified foods, with few news stories related to climate change. Now, many news stories written by the Guardian Environment, focus around some aspect of climate change.

Scientific consensus is a large focus of theGuardian’scoverage of climate change, especially in the United States. A subsection of their climate change area called Climate Consensus – the 97% is dedicated to this topic alone. In editorials, the Guardian discusses how they feel “almost certain” that manmade climate change is happening and expresses high belief in the scientific consensus, citing recent scientific discoveries such as the link between climate change and droughts in Kenya, and the three 500-year floods that Houston has experienced in a short three-year time span. News articles on the topic often take a more critical focus, examining how climate denial and skeptics interact with the scientific consensus especially among groups within the United States. The Guardian conducted a study into the issue, breaking apart the climate deniers’ position that scientific consensus is a myth.

Public opinion of climate change is commonly discussed in a number of news outlets. The Guardian analyzes the factors contributing to U.S. public opinion, and those factors that may be holding people back. One editorial piece describes how fossil fuel companies have led a campaign to mislead voters, resulting in decreased public opinion of climate change. Recent news stories focus on current climate policies supported by Americans that, unfortunately, have little chance of getting passed regardless of public opinion and support.

Societal change is a necessary component of climate action. Editorials in the Guardian present how climate litigation, enforcing policies, and holding large fossil fuel companies accountable for action, may be viable paths toward climate action. They acknowledge that the Paris Agreement is good, but that “Big Carbon” has influenced many politics. News stories take a more positive light focusing on recent innovations and initiatives that are taking steps toward overall societal change.

Infographic by Katelyn Boisvert using Piktochart Graphics

The Guardian utilizes many strategies to connect with and engage readers about climate change. Many news articles are solutions focused, presenting ways for readers to get involved with the discussion or take action. They connect with sites across the globe and partner with many groups, such as their recent partnering with the Skoll Foundation to create a serious on current climate impacts and solutions. The Guardian Environment is an award-winning reporting team focused on delivering authentic journalism that communicates the news and discusses issues related to climate change and other environmental topics in a way that informs the reader and supports societal change.


Groundhogs, Dice, and Climate Change

Dr. Marshall Shepherd http://geography.uga.edu/directory/people/j-marshall-shepherd

This past Monday, I had the pleasure of attending a lecture given by Dr. Marshall Shepherd, the Director of the University of Georgia’s Atmospheric Sciences Program. Dr. Shepherd is a renowned meteorologist, and in addition to teaching, hosts the Weather Channel Show Weather Geeks. He previously worked as a research meteorologist for NASA for 12 years, and served on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Science Advisory Board.

Dr. Shepherd’s talk entitled “Zombies, Cola, and Sports: Implications for communicating weather and climate change” highlighted some of the major challenges with communicating climate change to the public, and the downfalls of our current methods of communication. When I walked into this lecture, I had no idea what to expect from the title alone, but I discovered an engaging and informative presentation that addressed exactly what the title said it would. I walked out with a whole new outlook on communicating climate science.

When people hear the phrase climate change, many have an immediate thought or perception on the matter. It’s the same as with hurricanes and tornadoes. However, these perceptions are often wrong, and overcoming them is one of the greatest challenges of effective communication.

While climate change is still a disputed topic, most people would say that they understand the weather. If you are playing sports and it gets hot, oh well, you sweat a little more; but the second you see lightning, practice needs to stop. People assume that lightning is the more dangerous occurrence, but what they don’t realize is that heat is the deadliest natural phenomenon in that scenario. During Hurricane Harvey the people of Texas thought the hurricane would be the worst of what hit them, but this danger was nothing compared to the massive flooding that ensued from heavy rains. Heat and rain are familiar to people, and as such they tend to not consider their dangers. In addition, people still look toward unreliable sources as a means for their information. Dr. Shepherd recalled how he often receives emails from people asking him if he agrees with the groundhog’s forecast.

People tend to apply these same perceptions of weather to climate. They are the same after all, right? While the confusion between these terms is declining, the belief that they are the same thing is still held by many people. For all those confused, Dr. Shepherd has a great analogy: weather is your mood, climate is your personality.

More and more people are beginning to recognize the threat that climate change poses, including industries like Coca-Cola. However, there are still those who fail to recognize it. There is also a group of people who think that climate change is something to believe in, like the tooth fairy. So many times people will ask, “Do you believe in climate change?” People can believe in climate change only in the same way that they believe that gravity will make them fall if they jump off a building. As Dr. Shepherd said in his lecture, “Science is not a belief system!”

Almost more infamous than belief in climate change, is the recurring question, “Was that event caused by climate change?” Dr. Shepherd stated that this is an ill posed question. While climate change itself did not directly cause Hurricane Harvey, Irma, or Maria, it did play a role in its formation. Climate change encourages events to occur more frequently or with higher intensity—a result similar to playing a game with loaded dice.

Misinformation is another of the great challenges of climate communication. There are a number of theories, zombie theories as Dr. Shepherd likes to call them, which are just plain wrong theories about climate change.

They have been so programmed into the public’s system that many count these theories as true. This is the fuel of climate skeptics.

Overall, Dr. Shepherd described how it is difficult for people to imagine what they have never known, and how that makes it difficult to determine the best way to approach the topic of climate change. What works and what doesn’t is going to be different for different people, so we can’t deliver the message in the same way for everyone. The question is how do we communicate this threat? And this will still be a question for a while to come.


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