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Dead Zones and Climate Change

The number of dead zones has doubled every decade since the mid 1900s (Greenhalgh, 2015). The spread and increase in severity of these anoxic areas resulted from a number of factors, but future changes are expected to be heavily influence by climate change. There are several ways that climate change will impact dead zone formation and location, but temperature changes and sea level rise are the two impacts with the greatest degree of certainty.

Warmer water is able to hold less dissolved oxygen because gas solubility decreases as temperature increases, resulting in bubbles of oxygen at the surface (Greenhalgh, 2015). In addition, stratification of the ocean due to warming of the surface layer creates layers with differing temperatures and decreases the amount of mixing in the water column (Altieri and Gedan, 2014). This means the oxygen bubbles tend to sit at the surface are not distributed to deeper waters. Deep waters are also cut off from the atmosphere, a primary source of oxygen in the ocean (NSF, n.d.). These are the general trends expected as a result of warming, but all areas will not warm evenly, resulting in differing impacts in some areas. Higher latitudes are expected to see the worst dead zone changes due to warming because these areas will be experiencing the greatest overall rise in temperatures (Altieri and Gedan, 2014). Coastal areas will be impacted greater because they are shallower, and temperatures are more closely dictated by the air temperature there than the open ocean is (Altieri and Gedan, 2014).

The primary focus of sea level rise from climate change is the impact on wetland habitats. Wetlands are natural buffers to the nutrient runoff that can cause algal blooms and eventually lead to dead zones. These habitats help by filtering nitrogen and phosphorus from runoff before it reaches coastal areas (Zielinski, 2014). These ecosystems are being threatened as sea level rises (Zielinski, 2014). Declines in wetlands will result in more nutrients reaching coastal areas and contributing to algal blooms and dead zones. Sea level rise is also increasing the total volume of water susceptible to eutrophication because of the expanse in volume of shallow coastal regions (Altieri and Gedan, 2014).

There are several other less impactful and more nuanced factors of climate change that can influence algal blooms and dead zones. The first is the timing and length of algal blooms. Warming and other changes in seasonality are causing seasonal algal blooms to appear earlier into the season and stay longer, extending the period of time that eutrophication can occur and cause dead zone conditions from which the system may not be able to recover from during the off season (Altieri and Gedan, 2014). Another hypothesized impact is a hypothesis formed by a researcher named Bakun. Climate change is expected to increase the land-sea temperature imbalance in some areas due to the land heating more significantly than the ocean (Bakun et al., 2015). This would drive a greater pressure gradient in these areas that could potentially drive upwelling favorable winds resulting in greater nutrient conditions for algal growth (Bakun et al., 2015).

Climate change will also have significant impacts on ecosystem health. As temperature increases, an organism’s metabolism also increases requiring them to take in more oxygen (Altieri and Gedan, 2014). This fact, paired with an overall decline in oxygen supply, leads to worse anoxic conditions and overall lowered ecosystem resilience.

References

Altieri, Andrew H., and Keryn B. Gedan. “Climate Change and Dead Zones.” Global Change Biology, vol. 21, no. 4, 10 Aug. 2014, pp. 1395–1406., doi:10.1111/gcb.12754.

Bakun, A., et al. “Anticipated Effects of Climate Change on Coastal Upwelling Ecosystems.” Current Climate Change Reports, vol. 1, no. 2, 7 Mar. 2015, pp. 85–93., doi:10.1007/s40641-015-0008-4.

“Dead Zones – Special Report – SOS: Is Climate Change Suffocating Our Seas?” NSF, www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/deadzones/climatechange.jsp.

Diaz, Robert J, and Rutger Rosenberg. “Spreading Dead Zones and Consequences for Marine Ecosystems.” Science , vol. 321, no. 5891, 15 Aug. 2008, pp. 926–929., doi:10.1126/science.1156401.

Du, Jiabi, et al. “Worsened Physical Condition Due to Climate Change Contributes to the Increasing Hypoxia in Chesapeake Bay.” Science of The Total Environment, vol. 630, 15 July 2018, pp. 707–717., doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.02.265.

Greenhalgh, Emily. “Climate Change Likely to Worsen U.S. and Global Dead Zones.” NOAA Climate.gov, 2 Feb. 2015, www.climate.gov/news-features/featured-images/climate-change-likely-worsen-us-and-global-dead-zones.

Zielinski, Sarah. “Ocean Dead Zones Are Getting Worse Globally Due to Climate Change.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 10 Nov. 2014, www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/ocean-dead-zones-are-getting-worse-globally-due-climate-change-180953282/.


Georgia Invasives Case Study

Invasive species are a concern all over the U.S. and all over the world. Some invasive species are well known such as Lionfish or Kudzu in parts of the U.S. However, there are a multitude of other invasive species that can be just as harmful to the surrounding ecosystem, even if they aren’t well known. It’s important to raise awareness of invasive species to help prevent their spread to new areas. This post covers three invasive species that can be found in the state of Georgia.

NOTE: All three species presented below have been identified in some quantity in Lullwater Preserve at Emory University.

Chinese Lespedeza (Lespedeza cuneata)

Lespedeza cuneata is a notoriously invasive perennial on the east coast of the United States, most often found in old fields or prairies (Schutzenhofer et al. 2009). The species was introduced from Asia deliberately in 1895 for use in erosion control and as a forage plant for wildlife (Schutzenhofer et al. 2009). The species became further widespread with the passing of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act in 1977, which listed L. cuneata as one of the acceptable ground cover species for reclamation of old mining sites (Bauman et al. 2015).  Old mining sites are often unproductive landscapes and provide more value in spreading invasives than for colonizing native species (Bauman et al. 2015).

L. cuneata is a successful invader of a range of habitat types due to several characteristics that increase the tolerance of the species. The species has a high seed production rate and high dispersal potential, increasing in abundance more than 20 fold in a single year(Schutzenhofer et al. 2009, Kibis and Buyuktahtakin 2017).Another feature of its survival is the large seed bank created, in which seeds can survive for decades (Kibis and Buyuktahtakin 2017). Plants also have a heteromorphic flowering system, producing flowers that can reproduce asexually in addition to flowers that are insect pollinated, which helps to increase the chances of successful reproduction (Schutzenhofer et al. 2009). L. cuneataalso engages in several behaviors that promote its survival over similar native species, such as L. virgnica: these include, shading of other vegetation, allelopathy, resistance to herbivory, and a greater efficiency of light harvesting (Allred et al. 2010).

Approaches to management of L. cuneatadepend on a variety of factors, but in most cases, it is preferable to apply treatment within the first two years of establishment to prevent the building up a sizeable seed bank (Kibis and Buyuktahtakin 2017). The species is most vulnerable in the early stages of its life, but has low rates of natural herbivory in the wild and thrives in disturbed habitats, which makes management strategies such as plowing not useful (Schutzenhofer et al. 2009, Bauman et al. 2015). The most successful treatments are ones involving herbicide and frequent monitoring (Bauman et al. 2015).

Alligator Weed (Alternanthera philoxeroides)

             Aternanthera philoxeroidesis a perennial, clonal plant originally from South America that has spread as an invasive species across multiple countries, in both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems (Wu et al. 2017b). Since it is so widespread, little is known about the exact time and origin of the species within the United States. The species can effectively spread from aquatic systems to terrestrial systems, which may have played a role in its introduction (Wu et al. 2017a).

A. philoxeroidesis a major threat to a number of ecosystems, especially rivers, waterways, wetlands and a number of crops ecosystems, in which it has been linked to declines in crop yields (Tanveer et al. 2018). The species is fast growing, doubling its growth in less than two months and forming dense masses of underground root systems (Tanveer et al. 2018). Aquatic systems are more vulnerable to invasion by A. philoxeroides,but climate change is likely to increase the spread of the species onto land and to higher latitudes (Wu et al. 2017a, Wu et al. 2017b). The species reproduces vegetatively with efficient dispersal via stem fragmentation, and its high genetic variability allows it to occupy a number of niches enhancing its survival (Tanveer et al. 2018).A. philoxeroides inhibits other species through allelopathy and a greater ability to photosynthesize and capture water (Wu et al. 2017b, Tanveer et al. 2018). Its clonal integration also increases its competitive ability against natives and other species present in the habitat (You et al. 2016).

Management practices of this species are numerous, widespread and costly. China alone spends $72 million per year to manage its spread (Tanveer et al. 2018). Practices include physical removal, such as excavating roots, chemical management through herbicide use over a number of years, and biological control(Tanveer et al. 2018). The beetle, Agasicles hygrophila, has been shown to be successful in managing A. philoxeroidesand is used as a management practice in many countries (Tanveer et al. 2018).

Common Periwinkle (Vinca minor)

             Vinca minor is an evergreen vine originating from parts of Eurasia (Schulz and Thelen 2000). It is an edge forest species that was commonly used as a decorative plant (Panasenko and Anishchenko 2018). This particular type of periwinkle was introduced at the end of the 19thcentury, especially for its use as ground cover and an edge species in parks and other green spaces(Panasenko and Anishchenko 2018).

V. minor spreads prolifically through vegetative propagation and can form extensive curtains of vines when not controlled (Panasenko and Anishchenko 2018). The species thrives best in forest ecosystems such as pine forests, where it has been shown to greatly reduce forest biodiversity (Panasenko and Anishchenko 2018). Unlike other plants, V. minor grows well in shady regions helping to increase its spread into established forest ecosystems (Tatina 2015). It has been shown to exhibit high allelopathy to the point of inhibiting seed germination of neighboring species, which has greatly aided its survival in otherwise highly diverse forest ecosystems (Panasenko and Anishchenko 2018).

As a relatively new invasive species that has yet to cause the widespread removal efforts of more imposing species such as lespedeza and alligator weed, there is limited research on the successful removal and management of V. minor. The management practice of combined cutting and herbicide applications has been shown to be moderately effective, but further research into more aggressive means of management will be necessary as this species continues to spread and threaten diversity in forest ecosystems (Schulz and Thelen 2000). Herbicide impacts on surrounding native species is a concern in the management of periwinkle (Tatina 2015).

Works Cited

Allred, B. W., S. D. Fuhlendorf, T. A. Monaco, and R. E. Will. 2010. Morphological and physiological traits in the success of the invasive plant Lespedeza cuneata. Biological Invasions 12:739-749.

Bauman, J. M., C. Cochran, J. Chapman, and K. Gilland. 2015. Plant community development following restoration treatments on a legacy reclaimed mine site. Ecological Engineering 83:521-528.

Kibis, E. Y., and I. E. Buyuktahtakin. 2017. Optimizing invasive species management: A mixed-integer linear programming approach. European Journal of Operational Research 259:308-321.

Panasenko, N. N., and L. N. Anishchenko. 2018. Influence of Invasive Plants Parthenocissus vitacea and Vinca minor on Biodiversity Indices of Forest Communities. Contemporary Problems of Ecology 11:614-623.

Schulz, K., and C. Thelen. 2000. Impact and control of Vinca minor L. in an Illinois forest preserve (USA). Natural Areas Journal 20:189-196.

Schutzenhofer, M. R., T. J. Valone, and T. M. Knight. 2009. Herbivory and population dynamics of invasive and native Lespedeza. Oecologia 161:57-66.

Tanveer, A., H. H. Ali, S. Manalil, A. Raza, and B. S. Chauhan. 2018. Eco-Biology and Management of Alligator Weed Alternanthera philoxeroides) (Mart.) Griseb. : a Review. Wetlands 38:1067-1079.

Tatina, R. 2015. Effects on Trillium recurvatum, a Michigan Threatened Species, of Applying Glyphosate to Control Vinca minor. Natural Areas Journal 35:465-467.

Wu, H., J. Carrillo, and J. Q. Ding. 2017a. Species diversity and environmental determinants of aquatic and terrestrial communities invaded by Alternanthera philoxeroides. Science of the Total Environment 581:666-675.

Wu, H., M. Ismail, and J. Q. Ding. 2017b. Global warming increases the interspecific competitiveness of the invasive plant alligator weed, Alternanthera philoxeroides. Science of the Total Environment 575:1415-1422.

You, W. H., C. M. Han, L. X. Fang, and D. L. Du. 2016. Propagule Pressure, Habitat Conditions and Clonal Integration Influence the Establishment and Growth of an Invasive Clonal Plant, Alternanthera philoxeroides. Frontiers in Plant Science 7:11.


Environmental Justice Case Study- Arco Recycling

Working at an environmental nonprofit in Ohio last summer, I became very familiar with environmental issues facing the state of Ohio especially in regards to agriculture and its impact on water supply and toxic algal blooms. These issues are widespread across the state and fairly well documented and reported on, so I wanted to highlight a different type of environmental justice concern occurring in the state.

This fact sheet covers the Arco Recycling facility turned illegal dumpsite in East Cleveland, Ohio. The city permitted a recycling facility to aide in the safe removal of debris from home demolitions in the area but the company soon began using the facility as a place to store the materials, only recycling the smallest required amount. The facility quickly became an issue of public health for the East Cleveland community, especially those whose homes were directly behind the dumpsite. This community is a minority community with documented low-income families and a history of environmental issues and disproportional representation in these issues.

View the Fact Sheet Here!


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.


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