A Tale of Two Marches

The March for Science in Washington, DC, on April 22, 2017.

Front banner at the March for Science in Washington, DC, on April 22, 2017.

Front banner from the People's Climate March in Washington, DC, on April 29, 2015.

Front banner on the left side of Pennsylvania Avenue at the People’s Climate March in Washington, DC, on April 29, 2015.

One banner from the People's Climate March in Washington, DC, on April 29, 2017.

Front banner on the right side of Pennsylvania Avenue at the People’s Climate March in Washington, DC, on April 29, 2017.

April is Earth Month – which under a Trump administration means a lot of environmental activism. This year saw two historic marches in Washington, DC, each with sister marches around the country: the March for Science and the People’s Climate March.

A denier dinosaur at the March for Science.

A denier dinosaur at the March for Science.

I had planned to go to the March for Science in Columbus, where thousands of people said they planned to attend, then go to Washington for the People’s Climate March.  But when a family gathering unexpectedly pulled me to North Carolina, my husband, Paul, and I decided to go to Washington for both marches. It was a grueling but rewarding experience.

The weather at the two marches could not have been more different. On April 22, it was cold, rainy, and windy at the March for Science. I hadn’t brought an umbrella, and ended up buying one from a street vendor. Even so my clothes, shoes and everything inside my backpack got soaked.

Marcher at March for Science.

Marcher at March for Science.

The rain didn’t seem to depress turnout. We arrived at the Washington Monument as the pre-march rally was getting under way. There was just one checkpoint to have bags searched, and the line to get in ran for dozens of blocks. Instead, we took refuge inside a tent that had wifi, where I plugged in my phone and watched the speakers through the live feed from Democracy Now.

When it came time to march, Paul ran out to get some photos at the front of the lineup. I lingered behind to take photos of people’s signs. The signs were unique and creative, based on specific areas of science or supporting science, facts, and evidence in general. These were people who had spent a long time studying in their fields and were proud of their accomplishments.

A sign left at the Capitol building.

A sign left at the Capitol building.

Eventually I worked my way out of the crowd to find the march had already started. So I ran down Constitution Avenue for what seemed like forever, and got in front of the lineup at the intersection with Pennsylvania. There I was able to get a few photos of the parade banner, where if you look closely, you can see Bill Nye and climate scientist Michael Mann leading the charge. I also got 20 minutes of video of the march until my phone batter ran out.

The March for Science ended at the U.S. Capitol, where I continued to get photos of people and their signs. Despite the rain, the mood was happy and defiant. People gathered in drum circles to chant “This is what peer review looks like” and wore dinosaur costumes with signs saying “The meteor is a Chinese hoax.” Many signs were left on the fence of the Capitol building as a message to those inside.

You can see a slideshow of 142 photos I took at the March for Science below.

March for Science, Washington, DC

People’s Climate March

Whereas weather during the March for Science was cold and wet, it was hot and sunny a week later for the People’s Climate March. The temperature hit 91 degrees F, tying a record for April 29 in Washington, DC. Marchers were told to bring sunscreen, which we did. Despite using an SPF 70, the sunscreen sweated off, and I got sunburned enough to peel on my face and arms.

The Indigenous Rights banner at the People's Climate March.

The Indigenous Rights banner at the People’s Climate March.

Still, it was an incredible experience.  We arrived an hour before the march began and got to take lots of photos at the lineup on Pennsylvania Avenue near the Capitol building. Environmental justice was a huge theme of the march, with the Protectors of Justice –indigenous communities and people of color who are at the frontlines of climate change – leading the charge.

The CO2LONIALISM wagon at the People's Climate March.

The CO2LONIALISM wagon at the People’s Climate March.

Some particularly notable displays included the CO2LONIALISM wagon shot full of arrows depicting sovereignty, language, reparations, and feminism; the 10-foot puppet of murdered Honduran environmental activist Berta Caceres; and the many colorful parachute banners.

The lineup wound down Pennsylvania Avenue, turning on Third Street in front of the Capitol, then on Jefferson down the Washington Mall. After the Protectors of Justice were

  • Creators of Sanctuary – immigrants, LGBTQUI, women, Latinos, waterkeepers, food sovereignty and land rights
  • Builders of Democracy – labor, government, workers, voting rights, and democracy groups
  • Guardians of the Future – kids, parents, elders, youth, students, and peace activists
  • Defenders of Truth – scientists, educators, technologists, and health community
  • Keepers of Faith – religious and interfaith groups
  • Reshapers of Power – anti-corporate, anti-nuclear, fossil fuel resistance, renewable energy and transportation
  • Many Struggles, One Home – environmentalists, climate activists, and more
Resist banner near Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC.

Resist banner near Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC.

I tried again to take a video of the entire march, this time getting three 20-minute videos before running out of space. After clearing off a few things, I joined the march and quickly found myself among chants of “Hey hey! Ho ho! Donald Trump has got to go!” at Trump International Hotel – the same spot where people shouted “Shame! Shame!” during the Women’s March.

The next stop for the climate march was the White House. Marchers came up Pennsylvania Avenue, then turned up 15th Street NW to Lafayette Square. On the way they encountered the large “Climate Change Affects Us All” chalkboard that had made its debut at the 2014 People’s Climate March in New York City, along with the large Mercy for Earth balloon and a display of members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as puppets of the oil industry.

The Climate Change Affects Us All chalkboard made its debut at the People's Climate March in New York City in 2014.

The Climate Change Affects Us All chalkboard made its debut at the People’s Climate March in New York City in 2014.

By the time I got to Lafayette Square, I was exhausted. Everyone was sitting down, and I found a place in the shade to rest and put on more sunscreen. Finding my husband took a while, and finding water took even longer. I had long since consumed the water I had brought, and saw no water on the march route. Unfortunately there were only a few street vendors with water, all with long lines. Finally a police officer sitting in his air conditioned SUV gave me a bottle of water. He must have felt sorry for me – and might not have done the same for a person of color.

The climate ribbon display was also in Paris during the 2015 climate conference.

The climate ribbon display was also in Paris during the 2015 climate conference.

That water allowed me to finish the march and stay for the rally at the Washington Monument, full circle from where we had begun the week before at the March for Science. The rally featured indigenous leaders, music, and a long list of speakers including the children who had touched off resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline by running from Standing Rock to Washington, DC.

The climate ribbon tree that I saw at the climate conference in Paris was there, with people hanging ribbons for what they did not want to lose to climate change. Then everyone left their signs in front of the Washington Monument arranged to spell out “Climate Jobs Justice.” The crowd was buzzed a couple of times by low-flying helicopters from the White House.

You can see a slideshow of 170 photos I took at the People’s Climate March below.


An assessment

A marcher at the rally after the People's Climate March.

A marcher at the rally after the People’s Climate March.

What do these two marches mean? First, they show the widespread public support for policy based on science and evidence, and for action to address climate change. About 1.1 million people marched for science on April 22, with 100,000 in Washington, DC. Over 200,000 people marched for climate in Washington on April 29, with 370 sister marches around the country.

Polls show that the vast majority of people think science has improved their lives and support public funding for science, while concern for climate change is at an eight-year high. Large majorities of Americans, including a majority of Trump voters, support action on climate.

A sign left at the U.S. Capitol after the March for Science.

A sign left at the U.S. Capitol after the March for Science.

Will Trump or his cabinet to listen? Not likely. As of this writing, Trump’s administration has issued a series of disastrous orders regarding climate and environment, and he is close to pulling out of the Paris climate agreement.

Fortunately, we don’t need Trump to start taking action on climate. Some things you can do in your individual life include:

  • Bike, walk, or take public transportation to work
  • Trade your gas car for a hybrid or electric vehicle
  • Get an energy audit for your home
  • Ask your utility about energy from renewables
  • Eat less meat or eliminate meat consumption altogether

You can also act to change things on a collective level. Some ideas are:

  • Join the Sierra Club or another environmental group and sign up for action alerts. Sierra Club has a rapid response team to keep you posted on actions and events in your area.
  • Save phone numbers for your U.S. and state representatives into the favorites on your phone so you can call them quickly and easily when news breaks out.
  • Find and follow your local Indivisible or progressive group on social media.
A sign left near the Washington Monument after the People's Climate March.

A sign left near the Washington Monument after the People’s Climate March.

One promising front in the climate campaign is cities. Urban areas are responsible for 70% of carbon emissions, and 90% of cities are at risk from climate change. At the Paris climate conference, 1000 cities across the world pledged to go 100% renewable by 2050. Now that movement is coming to the United States with the Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 campaign. So far 28 cities and one state have committed to going 100% renewable, with discussions in dozens more.

Although things seem so bleak right now that scientists have to come out of their labs and Native American grandmothers into the streets, it’s times like this that show us what we are made of. I was heartened by the massive participation, creative signs, and visionary art at the March for Science and People’s Climate March. Millions of Americans are not going to let the current administration exploit the planet and destabilize the climate without a major fight.

A version of this post appeared in the July 2017 newsletter for Sierra Club Central Ohio Group.

COP 21 State of Play – Days 10 and 11

Each day, Fred Heutte, lead volunteer for the Sierra Club’s Federal and International Climate Campaign, is providing updates about the day’s events at COP21, the Paris Climate Conference.  I will reprint these in this blog with his permission.

Fred Heutte

Fred Heutte

WEDNESDAY, DEC. 9 — There was a lot of anticipation for the release of a new negotiating text, but when it finally appeared Wednesday afternoon it was immediately clear that it lacked ambition even in the limited political bounds of this COP.

A lengthy evening review session of the Paris Committee showed general support for the French presidency’s process going forward, but highlighted a great many concerns across both the draft Paris Agreement and the COP decision.

While the text reduced the draft Agreement from 22 down to 14 pages and removed a lot of brackets, all the key issues remained and in some cases the opposing proposals were even farther apart.

COP 21 art

Art in the Green Zone at COP 21.

THURSDAY, DEC. 10 — This was a pivotal day for the negotiations. After being postponed several times, a new text was finally issued just after 9 p.m. After a brief Paris Committee meeting, there was a two-hour break while countries and observers separately reviewed the new revision.

The new draft arrived in the proper order. Now the draft COP 21 decision goes first, and the Paris Agreement is attached as an annex. This sets up the final COP plenary on Saturday, which will adopt both as a single package.

The new Paris Agreement text is now 14 pages, and removes most of the brackets and many of the minor options. Remaining are key issues that will be in play until the hour, early Saturday morning, when the French presidency determines things are close enough to propose a final text.

Broadly speaking, as we knew for the last couple of years during the development of the Durban Platform and the run-up to Paris, this will be a deal reflecting the political state of play among the world’s nations at this time, and not fully encompassing the reality of climate change and the what the science is saying.

Within that context, our reaction to the Thursday text is fairly positive, and it is going to be the high water mark for this process. It is much better on the five-year cycle of stocktaking and new contributions (plans for mitigation, adaptation, etc.) from all countries, quite good on the process for providing finance to developing countries and language supporting a progressive increase post-2020 from the $100 billion per year level, a strong long-term climate goal, and moving forward with a coherent technology transfer program with social and environmental integrity.

The text is weaker on other aspects and particularly messy on loss and damage, where the U.S. “safe harbor” language ruling out any liability or compensation is now on the table and threatens to undermine the entire loss and damage section.

Our assessment of the Thursday text

What we like:

  • 1.5 degrees referenced in Article 2
  • Long-term goal of greenhouse gas emissions neutrality within the second half of the century guided by science
  • Five-year cycles of INDCs starting in 2020
  • Global stocktake for mitigation and finance every five years starting 2023
  • Floor of $100 billion climate finance with cycles of review

Parts we don’t love:

  • Just transition, human rights and other elements of the “Paris principles” only in Preamble, which is non-binding language — but at least they are there
  • Transparency and verification are still in flux with options

Ministers pulled another all-nighter to respond and try to influence the text behind closed doors. In these last hours we are pushing hard to retain the strong parts of the text and against the bad options that remain.

Informal very high level negotiations will continue throughout the day on Friday and a final text may now appear on Saturday morning, with a Paris Committee and plenary meeting probably around noon, but clearly the timeline is a moment by moment matter at this stage.

State of Play Dateline

[x] Sunday 29 ADP pre-plenary
[x] Monday 30 COP opening plenary – Leader Event
[x] Tuesday 1 COP/CMP joint plenary, SBI and SBSTA opening plenaries,
start of ADP contact group and spinoffs
[x] Wednesday 2 – Spin-Off Groups, ADP stocktaking
[x] Thursday 3 – Spin-Off Groups, ADP stocktaking
[x] Friday 4 – revised ADP text 8 a.m.
[x] Saturday 5 closing ADP plenary, COP plenary
[x] Monday 7 High Level Segment, Paris Committee
[x] Tuesday 8 High Level Segment, Paris Committee
[x] Wednesday 9, Paris Committee
[x] Thursday 10, Paris Committee
[ ] Friday 11, Paris Committee
[ ] Saturday 12 (extra time), closing COP plenary

Thursday, December 10 – State Department warning and Naomi Klein

Today started with an email from the U.S. State Department warning me that the French government is likely to crack down on climate demonstrations planned for Saturday.  As it happened, my plane flight home was scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Saturday, so I can’t take part in this anyway.  Knowing that UN climate negotiations have a history of going over by a day, I asked Place to B before my trip if I could stay until Sunday.  But they said they had another event starting Saturday and would not have room, and I didn’t want to try to find a place to stay in Paris for just one night.

COP21 edSo I scheduled my flight to return home Saturday, and now I am just as glad. I nearly got swept up at Place de la Republique my first day here, and do not want to try my luck again.  It sounds as if there will be mass arrests not only at Place de la Republique but also Le Bourget.  Although I respect each person’s decision about practicing civil disobedience, and under the right circumstances I might decide to do so myself, I am not interested in getting arrested in France.

I spent the day in a low-key way trying to catch up on news from the Blue Zone and touch base with my friends back home though social media.   The truth is, I have been here 12 days and am ready to go home — but negotiations over the agreement are entering a crucial phase, and I want to see this through.  Yesterday at 3 p.m. the UNFCCC released its latest version of the draft text — to the pleasure of no one.  Many important areas of disagreement still have not been hammered out — for example, there are still three options regarding temperature target, and some of them still have brackets.  Activists staged a huge sit-in near the replica of the Eiffel Tower in the Blue Zone while negotiators stayed up most of the night working on the text, with another draft due today.  I’m thankful that Amy Goodman with Democracy Now is inside reporting on events.

I also got news from back home of a Senate hearing organized by Ted Cruz this week on “Data or Dogma? Promoting Open Inquiry in the Debate over the Magnitude of Human Impact on Earth’s Climate” —  featuring testimony from a right-wing radio host and three of the only scientists in the world who disagree with the 97 percent consensus that climate change is real and caused by humans chiefly through burning of fossil fuels.  Cruz’s stance on climate change is to claim that his denial is based on science, even though pretty much every scientific academy in the United States and across the rest of the world disagrees.

merchantsofdoubtHowever, Greenpeace had a surprise going into this hearing.  Earlier it conducted an investigation in which its agents posed as representatives of a Middle Eastern oil company and offered one of the witnesses, William Happer, professor emeritus of physics at Princeton, $250 an hour in exchange for a research paper touting the benefits of carbon dioxide.  The parties even discussed how to route the money through a nonprofit called Donors Trust, known for its support of climate denial, so that Happer could state he was not paid for the research.  Happer bragged that he had been paid $8,000 by Peabody Coal in exchange for testimony at regulatory hearings in Minnesota, and that he had donated the funds to CO2 Coalition, run by a man with ties to the George C. Marshall Institute, Competitive Enterprise Institute, and American Petroleum Institute.

Just before the hearing, Greenpeace confronted Happer personally, and it was this footage I saw today.  While I wish such investigations were not necessary, unfortunately right now they are.  Scholars such as Robert Brulle and Riley Dunlap have documented the vast network of dark money front groups that fund climate change denial — groups that are completely legal under our current system because they don’t have to disclose their donors, but which are used to mislead the public based on a model pioneered by the tobacco industry.  The subject has gotten comprehensive treatment in Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, now available as a documentary.

Oreskes and Conway argue that climate denial is not about science but about politics, and is rooted in free-market fundamentalism that has transferred the old Cold War mentality of fighting Communism to fighting environmentalism.  Despite the emphasis on money, Oreskes and Conway think that the few scientists involved with climate denial front groups are motivated not by money but by ideology.  This makes sense in Happer’s case, as he was donating any money he got to a climate denial front group.

3,000 people ready to hear Naomi Klein.

3,000 people ready to hear Naomi Klein.

Today in Paris I decided to visit the Climate Action Zone, or ZAC, held in the Centquartre, an arts complex located near the basin where the indigenous flotilla took place.  It is yet another multi-day conference held in conjunction with the negotiations at COP21.  ZAC started on Monday, but today is the first day I was able to get there.  Each day ends with a general assembly, and tonight’s assembly featuring Naomi Klein was on “Capitalism Against Climate: How Free Trade Agreements Undermine Climate Actions.”  This time I heard about the event in advance because the Sierra Club is a co-sponsor through its campaign on trade and climate, and we were asked to tweet from the event.

Naomi Klein speaks at the Climate Action Zone.

Naomi Klein speaks at the Climate Action Zone.

The Centquartre, or “104” turned out to be an enormous open building — which was good because 3,000 people were already there to see Klein when I arrived 15 minutes early.  I had wanted to get there earlier, but had a hard time finding a place to eat in the area.  There were few restaurants, and the one I found through Yelp turned out to be closed – but fortunately another one was open across the street where I got a delicious potato-cheese casserole with a side salad for about 12 euros.  Up and down each side of the main auditorium were large climate banners and posters, and I managed to find a place to stand on some steps in the back where I could see proceedings.

Naomi Klein kicked off the event with a 20-minute talk on trade and climate.  Calling the rise of awareness about climate change coupled with the rise in multinational trade agreements an “epic case of bad timing,” Klein gave examples of cases in which trade agreements allowed corporations to sue governments to stop projects that would be good for climate – a solar plant in Quebec and community ownership of power plants in Germany.  She argued that the Kyoto accord contained express provisions stating that trade agreements trump climate agreements, and that while the United States was insisting the Paris agreement not be legally binding, fossil fuel corporations were heavily involved in insisting that trade agreements such as the TPP be as binding as possible.  My Citizens Voice colleague Jeremy Lent was there and recorded her talk.

Also speaking was German climate activist Tadzio Mueller; Ilana Solomon of the Sierra Club Responsible Trade program, and Joseph Purugganan, a climate activist from the Philippines.  Mueller discussed how the trade and climate movements don’t talk to each other but should.  Here is video of his talk from Jeremy Lent of Citizens Voice:

Panelists for “Capitalism Against Climate: How Free Trade Agreements Undermine Climate Actions.”

Panelists for “Capitalism Against Climate: How Free Trade Agreements Undermine Climate Actions.”

The event made me think a lot more about the crossover between trade agreements and climate.  I disagree with Klein’s implication that the Paris Agreement needed to be binding, because that would require it go before the U.S. Senate, which as we know would never approve it. The world cannot afford for the United States to pull out of this agreement as it did from Kyoto.  On the other hand, I did not know about the rules allowing trade to trump climate, and believe we will need to take action to ensure trade does not multiply greenhouse-gas emissions or that corporations can sue to dismantle climate programs and regulations to guard their own interests.

After the trade and climate event, I walked to Generator Hostel to catch the discussion after their showing of Groundswell Rising.  I got there as a doctor with Physicians for Social Responsibility was discussing the health aspects of fracking.  This is what ultimately got Gov. Cuomo to ban fracking in New York, and has not been seriously considered by states like Ohio where fracking is rampant.  Several British fracking activists were present, including Maria from Scotland, and they made plans to have a tour of the movie there.  I also met a former fracking worker named Ray from Dimmock, Penn., the epicenter of fracking problems in the United States.  He was featured in Josh Fox’s Gasland and knows every anti-fracking celebrity in the book.  Discussion went so long that there was not a second showing of the film, so I hope to catch it another time.

COP 21 State of Play – Days 7, 8, and 9

Each day, Fred Heutte, lead volunteer for the Sierra Club’s Federal and International Climate Campaign, is providing updates about the day’s events at COP21, the Paris Climate Conference.  I will reprint these in this blog with his permission.

Fred Heutte

Fred Heutte

SUNDAY, DEC. 6 — While no formal sessions occurred on Sunday, the French presidency was engaged in a constant round of consultations with groups and countries both on the emerging content of the Paris agreement and COP 21 decision and on the process for the rest of the week. Four subgroups set up on Saturday began their meetings:

  • Support: means of implementation (finance, technology, capacity building)
  • Differentiation, in particular with regard to mitigation, finance, transparency
  • Ambition, including long-term goals and periodic review
  • Acceleration of pre-2020 Action, Workstream 2 excluding pre-2020 finance

MONDAY, DEC. 7 — The two-day High Level Segment began. This is a regular feature of every annual COP where ministers give 3-minute speeches (many of the texts are available on the UNFCCC web site) while one-on-one and group discussions are happening all around the conference center.

Indigenous people's flotilla

Indigenous people’s flotilla, Sunday, December 6

The French presidency began setting up new subgroups on:

  • Adaptation and loss & damage
  • Preamble
  • Forests
  • Cooperative approaches and mechanisms
  • Response measures
  • Facilitating implementation and compliance

With all negotiating sessions closed and only the daily “stocktake” at 7 p.m. on screens and the webcast, civil society observers including the Sierra Club were very busy finding out what was actually being discussed and the stress points on a wide range of issues. The stocktakes are basically a place to put the best possible face on the state of play and also to see if there are serious objections on process or the substance. So far, with very little actual removal of options, and the strong leadership of the French presidency, there haven’t been any serious objections.

A major development of the day was the re-emergence of a 1.5 degree global warming target alongside the long-established 2 degrees. This is roughly the Sierra Club position (supporting 350 ppm). Quite a few countries including Canada and Australia are indicating openness to 1.5 degrees as at least something to aim for, joining over 100 developing countries that have long supported a 1.5 degree goal.

TUESDAY, DEC. 8 — Work continued throughout the day in closed ministerial meetings. In the evening, COP President Fabius laid out the procedure for the rest of the week:

  • An initial draft of the final Paris Agreement and COP decision by 1 pm on Wednesday afternoon. We anticipate the Paris Agreement draft will probably be reduced from 22 pages to around 15.
  • The draft will be released for the Paris Committee at 1 p.m. (later moved to 3 p.m.), then a break of several hours to study the new draft. A second Paris Committee meeting will then be held and this is a critical moment because options are now being taken off the table and the final trade-offs among key elements will start to emerge.

Civil society including the Sierra Club pushed hard throughout the day for the package of human rights, gender equality, just transition, rights of indigenous peoples and other elements that will signal that the Paris Agreement is not only an agreement of governments but will also actively include all people.

A new ministerial group met in the evening to discuss these and other elements as part of the Preamble. On the “just transition” language, which the Sierra Club has strongly supported alongside the trade union movement, countries offering support included Brazil, Argentina and Canada. And in a positive step forward, the United States and Norway said they would support just transition not only in the Preamble but in Article 3 (mitigation) — thanks in part to a Twitter campaign by the AFL-CIO, their first ever on climate.

On the substantive issues, we heard report backs from a small group meeting with the French presidency that many parts of the draft Paris Agreement are not strong at the moment.

Some of the problem areas include lack of a specific date for the “long term goal” for emissions reduction, no process for updating nationally determined contributions before 2020, and no adaptation finance before 2020 and vague provisions after that, and a standoff on loss and damage.

The larger questions of how much real “review” the whole Paris Agreement will have, and how much finance developed countries will provide to developing countries, especially the most vulnerable, remain the big crunch issues for the rest of the week.

State of Play Dateline

[x] Sunday 29 ADP pre-plenary
[x] Monday 30 COP opening plenary – Leader Event
[x] Tuesday 1 COP/CMP joint plenary, SBI and SBSTA opening plenaries,
start of ADP contact group and spinoffs
[x] Wednesday 2 – Spin-Off Groups, ADP stocktaking
[x] Thursday 3 – Spin-Off Groups, ADP stocktaking
[x] Friday 4 – revised ADP text 8 am
[x] Saturday 5 closing ADP plenary, COP plenary
[x] Sunday 6 [COP 21 closed, informal consultations]
[x] Monday 7 High Level Segment, Paris Committee
[x] Tuesday 8 High Level Segment, Paris Committee
[ ] Wednesday 9, Paris Committee
[ ] Thursday 10
[ ] Friday 11 closing COP plenary

further info: phred@sunlightdata.com

Monday, December 7 – Earth to Paris

Earth to Paris

Me at Earth to Paris

The highlight of today was the Earth to Paris conference.  Joe Robertson of Citizens Climate Lobby had told CCL volunteers about it a few weeks ago and asked that we attend if possible.  At the time, all registration was full, so I applied to attend as a member of the media, citing CCL’s Citizens Voice as my media outlet.  Last week I got a message that media spots were taken but I could register as a regular attendee, which I did immediately. Later I got the registration link from Place to B, which was good for about a day before registration closed again. So I was happy to get in.

Sylvia Earle and Jane Goodall

Sylvia Earle and Jane Goodall interviewed by Jeff Horowitz.

I had picked up my badge the day before, which helped with getting in. Still had to go through the security line though, which took awhile.  Finally I was in.  The conference had already started but was still on the welcoming speakers.

The lineup was pretty amazing. Announced speakers who I had heard of included:

  • Jane Goodall, UN messenger of peace, and Sylvia Earle, National Geographic explorer in residence, talking about forest and ocean degradation and conservation
  • Jerry Brown, governor of California, and Tom Steyer, founder of NextGen Climate, on political strides in California
  • Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, and Emma Ruby Sachs of Avaaz, on the climate and environment movement
  • Joel Sartore, National Geographic photographer and founder of Photo Ark, giving a 10-minute version of the talk he gave at Ohio State last year
  • M Sanjayan, vice president of Conservation International who produced the Nature is Speaking videos. He will speak at Ohio State this spring.
  • Anthony Lake, president of UNICEF, and Angelique Kidjo, singer and goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, on the effects of climate change on children
  • Gro Harlem Bruntland, former prime minister of Norway who invented the idea of sustainable development. She spoke at Ohio State this year.
  • Alec Baldwin, actor who presented the UNDP Equator Prize to Mayan leader Cristina Coc, who spoke at the Mershon Center last year.

Those were just the ones listed on the program. Late additions I didn’t know about before that day included UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and a 20-minute one-on-one interview with Secretary of State John Kerry, who was in Paris all week for the climate conference. I got photos and video and live-tweeted most of the event.

I didn’t know all of the speakers going in.  One who I didn’t know about was Dr. Laura Stachel, a doctor who started We Care Solar to bring solar suitcase lighting kits to hospitals in underdeveloped countries that had no electricity.  Simply having light during births, especially at night, cut maternal mortality by 70 percent.

The conference wasn’t over until 7 p.m., at which point I went back to the same restaurant as the night before, Le Bis Repetita.  It was just as good the second day as the first.  I had thought about getting in a swim that evening, but was too tired after the long day to do anything but go back to the hostel and fall into bed.

Sunday, December 6 – Elizabeth May, indigenous flotilla, sightseeing, ECO

Today started with a Sierra Club meeting at 10 a.m., with special guest Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party in Canada, and sent by the new Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as part of the Canadian delegation to the COP 21 climate talks. May was president of the Sierra Club Canada for 17 years before going into politics to oppose the previous Harper administration.

Elizabeth May briefs the Sierra Club

Elizabeth May briefs the Sierra Club

Most of May’s briefing to the Sierra Club delegation was confidential, and in any case was so high level and inside Canadian politics that I did not follow some of it. But there are a few things I can pass along that are public knowledge. First, she talked a lot about the difference between 1.5 degrees C in warming and 2 degrees C. It is a big difference. Basically it means the difference between whether some entire nations, especially low-lying island nations and coastal regions, continue to exist. The chant at the conference “1.5 to stay alive” is not just rhetoric. It’s a very real issue for millions if not billions of people across the world (not to mention so many other species).

Another thing May said is that the Green Party of Canada supports a carbon fee and dividend proposal much like the Citizens Climate Lobby proposal – in fact, I think CCL may have based its proposal on the Canadian Green Party. This is the party’s official position. May is not a fan of cap and trade – she said it has a lot of overhead costs and is subject to manipulation, loopholes, and corruption. However, if I understood her correctly, she would prefer to see some form of carbon pricing over none, including cap and trade, which is important because Ontario and Quebec just joined with the California cap and trade market. California says it has learned lessons from the problems with cap and trade in the EU, and that its market will work better. The proof there is in the pudding, and we will see how this turns out.

Indigenous flotilla in Paris

Indigenous flotilla in Paris

After the Sierra Club briefing, I had to choose between two actions. One was at the Eiffel Tower, the other an indigenous people’s flotilla. I wasn’t clear on the Eiffel Tower action (though it turned out to be beautiful), so I went with the flotilla. It did not disappoint. A line of indigenous people spanned the bridge above the Bassin de la Villette canal where the flotilla was to take place, singing and beating drums. Then the canoes and kayaks came in, including the Sarayaku people’s “Canoe of Life” which had traveled 6000 miles to Paris from the Amazon.

Afterward was a press conference. I got in with my Citizens Voice badge and heard several speakers including:

  • Felix Santi (Kichwa): President of the Kichwa community of Sarayaku in the Ecuadorian Amazon, speaking about the Canoe of Life and the Living Forest concept;
  • Faith Gemmill (Gwich’in & Pit River/Wintu): Executive Director of Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands, speaking on the Declaration to Keep Fossil Fuels in the Ground;
  • Casey Camp-Horinek (Ponca): Native rights activist, environmentalist and actress, speaking on the Indigenous Women’s Treaty; and
  • Ena Santi (Kichwa): Sarayaku Council Member in charge of Women’s Issues, speaking on the Indigenous Women’s Treaty
Indigenous flotilla in Paris

Indigenous flotilla in Paris

They spoke about how indigenous people know better than anyone how to manage resources such as forests sustainably and with respect for nature, about the need to keep oil and gas companies from destroying resources to get to fossil fuels which must remain in the ground, and about a proposal they were presenting to the COP21 conference. See more coverage here.

After the flotilla I went to the Westin Vendome downtown to pick up my badge for the Earth to Paris conference taking place Monday. The organizers highly recommended that we get our badges in advance as that way we could skip the line for admission and go straight to security. I was glad I did as the security line was long enough.

Jardin des Tuileries

Jardin des Tuileries

That put me downtown, which I had not as yet been to, so I took the opportunity to play tourist. First I walked the entire length of the Jardin des Tuileries, which is like the Central Park of Paris full of different kinds of trees. Lots of kids and families were about, and a guy even asked me for directions in French, so I must have looked like I knew what I was doing. At the far end of the Tuileries is the Louvre. I didn’t go in, but I did take some pics on the famous Louvre plaza which includes the modern pyramid. I’d like to find out how that pyramid got built there – it looks very out of place in the 16th century setting. But everyone including me wanted to get photos.

The Louvre pyramid

The Louvre pyramid

After that I got dinner at the best restaurant I’ve been to in Paris called Les Bis Repetita, which I found with the help of Yelp. One thing I like about French restaurants is that tax and tip are included in the price — so no guessing as to what to tip. Then I walked back toward Champs Elysees and saw the Ferris wheel lit up at night, which is a lot bigger up close than it looks from far away.

Champs Elysses

Champs Elysees

Along the boulevard itself up and down both sides was a huge Christmas fair. It was a couple of steps above your local or state fair in cheesiness, but fun nevertheless. There were carnival rides and games, lots of food stands, and stands selling Christmas decorations, jewelry, and the like. It also included several themed areas, such as one farm and zoo area filled entirely with animatronic animals. I wasn’t sure what to think, but it attracted tons of kids, and I was glad the animals were not real. I got the chance to use Fuze with my husband — I showed him the displays over video, while he showed me video of him playing with our very real cats.

Paris ferris wheel

Paris ferris wheel

Finally Sunday night I was on the editorial board for ECO, the daily publication posted by Climate Action Network. Throughout the day, members of Climate Action Network submit articles for inclusion the next day. Those articles go for editing suggestions to the entire mailing list first. Then the editorial board gets them. The drill was to arrive at the CAN hub at 9:30 p.m. and edit stories until they are done. There are up to five people on the board, and it usually takes until about midnight to get through the stories. Most everyone sees every story, so the result is suggestion after suggestion on the text. Then the lead editor, Kyle Gracey this week, combines and reconciles all edits.

One trick is that the stories must be suitable for an international audience, so you can’t use any idioms or special words or phrases that non-English speakers would not understand. The text must also follow all CAN official positions on the issues. I ended up totally rewriting one story because the text was so awkward. Others were very good. It was a fun experience that reminded me of my newspaper copy editing days.

Here are some more pics from the day:

So many badges, but I wish I had one more - to the Blue Zone.

So many badges, but I wish I had one more – to the Blue Zone.








Xingu Chief Raoni of Brazil

Xingu Chief Raoni of Brazil at the indigenous flotilla. Read about him at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raoni_Metuktire









Jardin des Tuileries

Jardin des Tuileries

Paris ferris wheel from the Tuileries

Paris ferris wheel from the Tuileries

Christmas festival on Champs Elysses

Christmas festival on Champs Elysees








One of the more popular rides at the Christmas festival on Champs Elysses

One of the more popular rides at the Christmas festival on Champs Elysees







PDA is practically a requirement in Paris

PDA is practically a requirement in Paris


COP 21 State of Play – Days 5 and 6

Each day, Fred Heutte, lead volunteer for the Sierra Club’s Federal and International Climate Campaign, is providing updates about the day’s events at COP21, the Paris Climate Conference.  I will reprint these in this blog with his permission.

Fred Heutte

Fred Heutte

FRIDAY, DEC. 4 — The Compilation Text becomes the Bridging Proposal

The conference resumed Friday morning with the issuance of a revised text and a new “bridging proposal” from the ADP co-chairs consisting of a reduced form of the text with some consolidated language. While the length didn’t decrease all that much, from 46 to 38 pages, there were fewer “brackets” — disputed parts of the text. A lot fewer, in fact — the brackets decreased from about 1700 to under 900.

In the past, whenever the COP president or ad-hoc co-chairs have presented a reduced form like this, there has usually been a long delay while countries and groups review whether their key options have been retained.

In October, when the ADP co-chairs put out a reduced text that removed a lot of options, there was an immediate outcry and most of the pieces were put back. But this time, after about a three-hour break, Parties were willing to try and move forward.

Sierra Club booth

Sierra Club booth in the Climate Generations space.

Friday afternoon, they tried to do so in several stages. First, they began going through the text section by section. This lasted long enough for Parties to go on record on Article 2 — the human rights, just transition, gender equality and other elements broadly supported by civil society.

The co-chairs’ bridging proposal only retained the human rights and gender language but also copy-and-pasted the rest into the preamble — the position taken by the United States and Norway which got them (and Saudi Arabia for broader blocking) a Fossil of the Day from Climate Action Network.

Supporting the Article 2 language were the ABC countries — Argentina, Brazil and notably, Canada, which under the new Liberal government is a lot more responsive to the broad wishes of the Canadian public.

But the section by section review soon bogged down, and Parties agreed to state only key points they wanted added to the text. That also moved very slowly, and just when it looked like the session would go on all night, around 8 p.m. the ADP contact group agreed to adjourn for the evening and let the co-chairs prepare a “reflection note” summarizing all the requests for additions to the bridging proposal.

This was a remarkable and nearly unique development. The UNFCCC negotiations are renowned for going hours and days repeating existing positions, which may add to slightly better understanding of where countries stand, but often amounts to just marching in place. Because trust among countries has been so weak, especially since COP 15 in Copenhagen in 2009, there has been very little willingness to let session chairs move the text forward.

So these developments Friday evening signalled two things: the strength of the French presidency’s consultative approach and overall strategy for COP 21, and the universal recognition that with the clock running out, continuing long-established negotiating patterns finally had reached the end of the line.

2013-15 Review Not Adopted

One more important development happened Friday. In the separate closing plenaries of the SBI and SBSTA, there was a political defeat for vulnerable developing countries and their many allies including environmental NGOs.

AOSIS (small island states) and LDCs (least developed countries) have long advocated for a 1.5 degree C global temperature goal (roughly equivalent to 350 ppm), going beyond the 2 degree goal of the political statement in the Copenhagen Accords, later formalized at COP 16 in Cancun.

In 2010, after a major battle with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, there was agreement to assess both the 2 and 1.5 degree targets in light of the emerging science, especially the Fifth Assessment Report of the IPCC issued in 2013-14. This was called the “2013-15 Review” and was conducted jointly by the SBI and SBSTA.

The Fifth Assessment Report concluded that 1.5 is still a possible outcome, if emission reduction efforts ramp up substantially and quickly, and a committee report reflected that conclusion. Since even a 2 degree global temperature increase would cause severe problems in vulnerable countries, and might result in abandonment of some small island countries due to storms and sea level rise, 1.5 degrees is the maximum reasonably safe level for many parts of the world.

However, Saudi Arabia (with support from other OPEC countries) blocked adoption of the 2013-15 Review, and the matter has been referred to the COP for possible action next week.

SATURDAY, DEC. 5 — The Bridging Proposal becomes the Draft Paris Outcome

Saturday morning, the big question was whether the ADP would have an agenda fight over the bridging proposal and the co-chairs “reflection note.” But in a very short ADP contact group followed by an ADP closing plenary, there were no objections to handing the package off to the COP, now labelled as the Draft Paris Outcome and consisting of the draft Paris Agreement and the draft COP decision.

And the ADP, the Ad-Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, went out of business and into history.

Again there were concerns about stalling or agenda fights, but when the COP plenary resumed shortly after 6 pm, it became clear that all groups were ready to move forward, and the Draft Paris Outcome now contains the texts for consideration by ministers over the next several days.

COP President Laurent Fabius got agreement to a simple structure for the negotiations through Wednesday or early Thursday:

  • Four subgroups, each with co-chairs, one minister from the global South and one from the North:
  • An “open ended contact group” informally called the Paris Committee, which will have at least a daily stocktaking meeting that will be on screens in the conference center but not on the Web.
    1. Finance and means of implementation (MOI), to be chaired by Ministers of Gabon and Germany
    2. Differentiation, especially as it relates to mitigation, finance and transparency, to be chaired by Ministers of Brazil and Singapore
    3. Ambition and Long-term Goal, Ministers to be decided (we learned Sunday one will be Catherine McKenna, the new environment minister of Canada)
    4. Pre-2020 sction (“Workstream 2”), though finance under WS2 to be discussed under Finance group, with Ministers to be decided
  • Separate “legal and linguistic” technical committee to review the draft text on Wednesday and Thursday.

Fabius made it clear the COP presidency intends to finish the negotiations on the text Wednesday or Thursday morning at the latest, with the possibility of final “crunch issues” being decided at the top level while the text is going through legal review. That would lead to final adoption of the Paris Agreement Friday evening, if not precisely by the 6 p.m. official deadline.

That would be a near-miracle given the long history of UNFCCC meetings running late, later and very very late. But with an unambitious overall structure already pretty much locked in, the French presidency’s very strong, and political buy-in from the world’s leaders last week, it is a fairly possible timeline.

State of Play Dateline

[x] Sunday 29 ADP pre-plenary
[x] Monday 30 COP opening plenary – Leader Event
[x] Tuesday 1 COP/CMP joint plenary, SBI and SBSTA opening plenaries,
start of ADP contact group and spinoffs
[x] Wednesday 2 – Spin-Off Groups, ADP stocktaking
[x] Thursday 3 – Spin-Off Groups, ADP stocktaking
[x] Friday 4 – revised ADP text 8 am
[x] Saturday 5 closing ADP plenary, COP plenary
[x] Sunday 6 [COP 21 closed, informal consultations]
[ ] Monday 7 High Level Segment, Paris Committee
[ ] Tuesday 8 High Level Segment, Paris Committee
[ ] Wednesday 9, Paris Committee
[ ] Thursday 10
[ ] Friday 11 closing COP plenary

further info: phred@sunlightdata.com

Friday, December 4 – Rights of nature, terrorist memorials and a Paris swim

This morning was yet another headache, but gradually they were getting better, so hopefully they will go away completely soon.  Part of the problem is that I never got over the long and difficult plane ride here, especially the overnight flight when I couldn’t easily get up to walk around due to a large sleeping person in the aisle seat.   If I were traveling in the United States, I would look for a YMCA to swim at — I’m a member in Columbus, and you can swim at Ys all over the country.  But I tried googling it in Paris, and the only two facilities seemed to be shelters for homeless men, not workout facilities.  So I tried asking the hostel staff at the front desk.  They recommended a pool that had lap swimming hours all the way until midnight.  That was a new one on me – I’ve never heard of a pool staying open past 10 p.m.  But I got the information and figured I’d give it a try.

Tweet from the United Nations about the Climate Summit for Local Leaders

Tweet from the United Nations about the Climate Summit for Local Leaders

Today saw two major events and some good news.  One, the Climate Summit for Local Leaders, was only open to mayors, city leaders, and their staff, so I could not go.  But this meeting would bring some excellent news: After a rousing speech by Leonardo DiCaprio in he told them “Do not wait another day” to move to renewable energy,  1000 mayors from around the world signed a pledge to take their cities to 100 percent renewable by 2050.  This is hugely important because cities are responsible for an estimated 75 percent of global carbon emissions, with transport and buildings being among the largest contributors.  Climate action truly starts on the local level.

Another piece of good news also broke: Germany and France became the first developed nations to join the new Climate Vulnerable Forum, a group of mostly island and African nations highly vulnerable to climate change, in calling on COP 21 to lower the target for warming from 2 degrees C to 1.5 degrees C.  (Canada, the United States, China, and the European Union would later join them.) Half a degree does not sound like much, but on a global scale it is a lot.  It is the difference between whether the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets completely melt, and whether island nations such as the Marshall Islands continue to exist.

The other major event today was the International Rights of Nature Tribunal, a two-day simulated court hearing that explored the rights of nature as a legal concept and how they might be defended in a series of cases in which various violators of those rights were prosecuted.  The first day was today, but the event was one in a series of events in the history of the movement for the rights of nature.  The movement was first galvanized in 1972 with the publication of Should Trees Have Standing? by Christopher Stone, which I learned about this semester in my environmental law class.

For a long time the concept was discussed only in academic circles, but in 2008 Ecuador adopted a new constitution that granted rights to nature.  According to Article 71,  “Nature or Pachamama, where life is reproduced and exists, has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and evolutionary processes.”  Then, in the wake of the failed Copenhagen climate conference of 2009, President Evo Morales of Bolivia hosted the People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, which crafted and endorsed the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth.  Designed to complement the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, this declaration was meant to drive home the point that without a habitable environment including clean air, water, and land, human rights cannot exist.

International Rights of Nature TribunalThe two-day proceeding this year featured several themes, explained by Cormac Cullinan, author of Wild Law: A Manifesto for Earth Justice and Osprey Orielle Lake, founder of Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network.  First, in current legal frameworks across the world, everything other than humans and corporations is considered property, including all rivers, trees, mountains, and animals, Cullinan said.  When something is property, it has no voice, and cannot defend itself; it will necessarily be exploited. Current law is based not on the concept that humans are part of nature, but that we can dominate and exploit nature with no consideration for other members of the earth community.  However, with climate change and a host of other environmental disasters looming, it has become clear that in operating under this paradigm, we are destroying our own habitat.  To address this, Cullinan argues, we must shift away from an anthropocentric point of view to seeing our role not as dominators but caretakers of the earth.

To do this, Lake argued, Western cultures should look to how indigenous peoples live in harmony with nature.  Currently 80 percent of biodiversity on earth is in the care of indigenous peoples, and we should understand how they maintain it.  We must stop the financialization and commodification of nature and reconnect with the earth as a solution to the current climate and environmental crisis.  Lake also condemned market mechanisms such as cap and trade for carbon emissions and the United Nation’s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) program as simply giving out permits to pollute, which causes the problem in the first place.

The tribunal consisted of eight presentations before a panel of judges:

  • Climate crimes against nature, including fossil fuels, deforestation, water and climate, market mechanisms, climate smart agriculture, land use, carbon capture and storage, free trade agreements, geoengineering and nuclear energy.
  • Financialization of nature, including compensation mechanisms linked to biodiversity conservation, EU biodiversity offsets, REDD+, and economic valuation of nature in general.
  • Agro-food industry and GMOs
  • Defenders of Mother Earth, referring to the criminalization of environmental activism and the sharp increase in murders of environmental activists, especially in the Global South.
  • Shale fracking operations, which speakers argued was akin to rape of the earth, resulting in earthquakes and entailing man camps that raised crime and violence.
  • Megadams in Brazil, which destroy ecosystems and displace tens of thousands of indigenous people.
  • Recognizing ecocide as a crime at the International Criminal Court through two cases: oil exploration and removal in Ecuador’s Yasuni National Park, and oil spills and toxic and hazardous waste left behind by Texaco/Chevron.

You can find an agenda for the tribunal here, a press release describing it here, a full overview and report here, and  news coverage from the Guardian, National Catholic Reporter, and Indigenous Rising.  You can also see the tribunal’s press conference in the Blue Zone here.

That evening at Place to B, many of the presenters, witnesses, and judges from the tribunal appeared at the two-hour Place to Brief.  In the video above, most of the French and Spanish speakers were not translated, but you can hear speakers in English including Natalia Greene, who was instrumental in getting the new constitution passed in Ecuador; Cormac Cullinan, who gave an overview of the tribunal; Shannon Biggs, founder of Movement Rights who led the panel on norms; Osprey Orielle Lake, who talked about the rights of nature; and Roger Cox, lead attorney for a citizens group that won a landmark ruling ordering the Dutch government to lower carbon emissions 25 percent in five years to protect its citizens.  Vandana Shiva gave closing remarks in a separate video.  I did not attend this, so I am very happy that Place to B posted the recording.

Paris memorials 1

I spent the late afternoon and early evening visiting memorials for the victims of the Paris terrorist attacks three weeks ago. The memorials are still quite fresh. I got more detailed photos at Place de la Republique, then went to the Bataclan club where the worst occurred and took a number of photos there. The club is still closed, but the entire sidewalk in front and to the side is filled with flowers, messages, candles, and the like. Across the street up and down for several blocks are more memorials. I took a ton of photos in an attempt to capture the scale of the items left, as well as what some items, especially those paying tribute to specific victims, looked like.  My Paris Memorials album is posted on Flickr. Page through at whatever pace you like, but you might want to have some some tissues handy.

After that I found some dinner with the idea of getting in a a late swim at Piscine Pontoise, the pool the staff at the hostel had told me about.  Dinner in France is never a hurried affair, and it was after 9 p.m. before I got done and after 10 p.m. before I made it to the pool.  The journey was worth it.  The pool was about half-again as long as the standard 25-meter pool used for lap swimming in the United States, so even with three people in the lane I could still get in a good workout.  But best was the ambience.  The whole place was flooded with low blue lights and jazzy music.  You had to take your shoes off to get to the dressing rooms, but you got your own room that was kept locked by the attendant.  I managed to get in a mile, which was sorely needed and helped change my outlook for the upcoming week.

Thursday, December 3 – Vandana Shiva, Climate Generations, Sierra Club

Today I woke up with another headache, but this one not as debilitating as yesterday’s.  Still it was off to another slow start.  Fortunately I did not have to be anywhere immediately, as my first event was at 1 p.m. at Place to B – a press conference about Monsanto with environmental and agricultural activist Vandana Shiva.  I am falling into a routine of catching up on news and social media posts in the morning before actually going out to do things in the afternoon.  That’s okay until I have to be somewhere early.

Vandana Shiva speaks to the media at Place to B.

Vandana Shiva speaks to the media at Place to B.

Before the event Vandana Shiva held her own press conference, and at 1 p.m. she took part in a press conference with several others on an International Tribunal Against Monsanto for Crimes Against Humanity, an activist event planned at the Hague in October 2016.  Both events were packed, and I could barely get a spot.  While GMOs are a fact of life in the United States – almost all of our corn and soy are genetically modified — they are effectively banned in France.  The audience at Place to B was very receptive to the message of this press conference, and many Europeans seem genuinely concerned about the safety of their food and biodiversity in their farming.

Monsanto tribunal press conference at Place to B.

Monsanto tribunal press conference at Place to B.

Taking part in the press conference were:

  • Marie-Monique Robin,  film director and writer, author of the movie and book Le monde selon Monsanto (The World According to Monsanto), sponsor of the tribunal  (introduction)
  • André Leu (Australia), president of  IFOAM – International Foundation for Organic Agriculture – (about the consequences of Monsanto on health and biodiversity)
  • Dr. Vandana Shiva (India), general director of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology (the consequences of Monsanto on farmers and food sovereignty)
  • Dr. Hans Rudolf Herren (United States), president of the Millenium Institute of Washington (the consequences of Monsanto on climate change)
  • Ronnie Cummins (United States), international director of Organic Consumers (about the impact on the political and regulatory institutions)
  • Dr. Olivier de Schutter (Belgium), former Rapporteur on UN Right to Food, professor of international law at Université catholique de Louvain (legal tools of the Tribunal)
  • Valérie Cabanes (France), spokeswoman of End Ecocide on Earth (towards the recognition of ecocide as a felony).

About half the speakers spoke in French, half in English.  This was a gathering that you would not likely see in the United States.  Although the event they are planning for the Hague will not be an official trial, the speakers said it is more than symbolic, as their goal is to establish ecocide as a crime and show that Monsanto is guilty.  Among other things, they argued that Monsanto promotes an industrial model of agriculture responsible for 1/3 of greenhouse gas emissions and the depletion of soil and water resources, and that its highly toxic pesticides have damaged the environment, harmed species, and sickened or killed millions of people.  Shiva pointed to the rash of suicides among Indian farmers who went into debt buying seeds and pesticides for GMO cotton.  Cummins discussed Monsanto’s influence on regulations in the United States and abroad.

You can watch the entire press conference posted by Place to B (French speakers not translated), read anti-Monsanto stories here, here and here; neutral stories here and here; and a pro-Monsanto story here.

After the Monsanto press conference let out, I headed to Le Bourget for more time in the Climate Generations space.  Again it took almost an hour to get there from Place to B, so I didn’t arrive until after 3 p.m.  I spent some time hanging out at the Sierra Club booth, then doing a more thorough walk-through of the booths in the C section.  I had wanted to get to the A and B sections too, but didn’t make it there, as I had promised to record a presentation on “Plastification of the ocean” starting at 5 p.m.

CG entrance

Unfortunately it turned out that every speaker on the plastics panel spoke in French.  Those in the room could wear headphones to get the translation, but there would be no translation for my video, so I did not keep it.  However, I did learn some interesting things.  Most of the speakers were people who had led or taken part in various ocean voyages to study and document the amount and types of plastics in the ocean.  There is now so much that they have a word for it: the plastosphere.  Most people now know about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is a whirlpool of plastic pollution twice the size of Texas in the Pacific.  However, there are five such whirlpools across the planet, and there is plastic everywhere.  One mission was simply to study it in the Mediterranean.  Most of it is not large pieces but microplastics broken down into tiny bits.

Anne-Cécile Turner (second from right), director of Race for Water Foundation, speaks on a panel about plastics in the ocean at COP 21.

Anne-Cécile Turner (second from right), director of Race for Water Foundation, speaks on a panel about plastics in the ocean at COP 21.

One thing the speakers emphasized was preventing plastic from getting to the ocean in the first place through laws like plastic bag bans.  But they did not seem all that enthusiastic about projects to clean what is there up, such as this invention by a teenager from Holland.  That surprised and disappointed me.  Perhaps they don’t think the amount of plastic now in the ocean can be cleaned up.  Or maybe they think if people believe it can be cleaned up easily, they will keep on discarding it.  Either way, I don’t see how we can not try to clean up the amount of plastics we currently have in the ocean.  It is causing untold suffering to billions of sea creatures, and it’s not ethical to allow this.  Of course we need to pass laws to prevent it from happening in the first place, but in my opinion we also need to figure out how to clean up what we have put there.

The presentation was in the last time slot of the day, and when it let out everyone in Climate Generations made a beeline for the shuttles to head back to Gare du Nord.  My next stop was a meeting of the Sierra Club delegation.  There besides going through events of the day and getting an update on negotiations from Fred Heutte, we heard from Sena Alouka, director of Youth Volunteers for the Environment, in Togo, and his colleague, Mavis Mensah.  Their organization provides education about climate and environment to schoolchildren.

A group from the Sierra Club catches dinner at a pizzeria in Paris. Clockwise from the lower left are Mavis Mensah, Youth Volunteers for the Environment, Togo; Fred Heutte, Federal and International Climate Campaign; Glen Besa, Virginia Chapter; Sena Alouka, Youth Volunteers for the Environment, Togo; Tyla Matteson, Virginia Chapter; Nicole Ghio, International Campaign; Cathy Becker, Ohio Chapter; and Steven Sondheim,Tennessee chapter.  Photo by Katherine Muller.

A group from the Sierra Club catches dinner at a pizzeria in Paris. Clockwise from the lower left are Mavis Mensah, Youth Volunteers for the Environment, Togo; Fred Heutte, Federal and International Climate Campaign; Glen Besa, Virginia Chapter; Sena Alouka, Youth Volunteers for the Environment, Togo; Tyla Matteson, Virginia Chapter; Nicole Ghio, International Campaign; Cathy Cowan Becker, Ohio Chapter; and Steven Sondheim,Tennessee chapter. Photo by Katherine Muller.

Afterward several of us walked to a pizzeria that Fred knew, where I got a great dinner and enjoyed even better company. Besides the two guests from Togo, we had Glen Besa and Tyla Matteson of the Virginia chapter, Fred Heutte of the Federal & International Climate Campaign, Nicole Ghio of the International Campaign, Steven Sondheim of the Tennessee chapter, and a new person, Katherine Muller from South Carolina.  Steven told me she knew how to work a room, and he was right.  She talked to every single person there, got their stories, and told us hers.  I ended up there late looking at all the photos on her phone and finding out what she did that day.  Turns out she had visited the sites of the terrorist attacks, and the photos were so amazing that I decided I to go myself the next day.  By the end of the night I felt as if I had encountered a long lost friend.

COP 21 State of Play – Days 3 and 4

Each day, Fred Heutte, lead volunteer for the Sierra Club’s Federal and International Climate Campaign, is providing updates about the day’s events at COP21, the Paris Climate Conference.  I will reprint these in this blog with his permission.

Fred Heutte

Fred Heutte

WEDNESDAY, DEC. 2 — The day was mostly occupied with Spin-Off Groups and an evening ADP stocktaking plenary that also included COP President Laurent Fabius.

Fabius and the ADP co-chairs expressed concern about the slow pace of the spinoffs.  We heard rumors that in fact Fabius was unhappy with the inability of the co-chairs to get more forward motion going on reducing options in the text.  But for those with some experience in the process, this is a pretty typically mid-first-week sag.

The problem, however, is that this COP doesn’t have another week and a half to wrap up.  The ADP’s work will be done Saturday, and then there are effectively three negotiating days next week to finalize the Paris Agreement.

Eiffel Tower at nightTHURSDAY, Dec. 3 — The ADP scheduled no less than 18 Spin-Off Groups during the day, a couple lasting as long as six hours. The topics ranged across the entire negotiating text, but again it was evident that only small amount of progress is being made on reducing options and finding convergence where there are two or three different positions.

In addition, the cross-cutting aspects of many issues adds to the complexity, because if movement occurs on one issue, it could affect the result in two or more others.  With a decade of experience avoiding uncomfortable results of that kind, negotiators again have chosen to play it safe.

Unlike the Spin-Off Groups which are off-limits to observers, the ADP Contact Group had its session on screens in the hall, but the results weren’t any better.  This lengthy session was split into two three hour segments, one before and one after lunch, then a break at 6 p.m., and a short stocktaking session.

The upshot was the very eloquent recital of very long-standing positions, and no apparent movement on almost any of the key questions.  While it was always expected that negotiators would be very cautious, things have moved slower than anyone hoped this week.

Compilation Text

Thursday morning, the co-chairs released a temporary compilation text, but only reduced the length by about four pages.  Now the hard part starts.

Thursday evening, facilitators for the Spin-Off Groups generally reported that progress was starting to be made but more time is needed.

But at long last, after four years and 12 official sessions of the ADP (some stretching across more than one meeting period), there is no more time for Spin-Off Groups and other informal meetings.  And now the ADP Contact Group will meet continuously on Friday to consider the new revised text and a separate document with bridging proposals, and try to make real progress by late Friday night.

Article 2

One important element does seem to be moving in the wrong direction.  Along with environmental and labor colleagues, the Sierra Club worked strenuously this week on Article 2 (Purpose of the Paris Agreement) to preserve the language referring to protection of natural ecosystems, just transition of the workforce and creation of decent work, human rights for all, including indigenous peoples, and gender equality.

The language was in part the result of efforts across all of civil society last year to come up with a package approach covering the social and economic rights of all sectors.  But the language has been stuck in a battle between countries wanting it in the legally effective “operational” part of the text such as Article 2, influencing all of the other parts, or the legally inconsequential Preamble.

The rationale is that these aspects of rights and responsibilities are not part of “the purpose of the Agreement” — as stated in the “long term goal” of the first part of Article 2.

But the Club and many others have been arguing that including this language is essential to show that the climate transition must not only be effective in reaching the long term goal, but fair in how the world gets there.  The Paris Agreement will be decided by governments, but only the people can give it life.

It all started Sunday evening when Norway proposed moving the language out of Article 2 elsewhere — to the adaptation text, and maybe the text on technology, or mitigation — well, it wasn’t entirely clear.

But today, the United States (which supports the elements but only if they are in the Preamble) joined Norway in blocking compromise language — and it appears this will tip the balance toward moving the language to the Preamble, where it is still vulnerable and not actionable.  While work continues in some of the thematic areas like adaptation to incorporate this “keystone”  text, some hope remains because both Brazil and Canada signaled strong support for keeping the language in Article 2.

State of Play Dateline

[x] Sunday 29 ADP pre-plenary
[x] Monday 30 COP opening plenary – Leader Event
[x] Tuesday 1 COP/CMP joint plenary, SBI and SBSTA opening plenaries,
start of ADP contact group and spinoffs
[x] Wednesday 2 – Spin-Off Groups, ADP stocktaking
[x] Thursday 3 – Spin-Off Groups, ADP stocktaking
[ ] Friday 4 – revised ADP text 8 a.m.
[ ] Saturday 5 closing ADP plenary, COP plenary
[ ] Sunday 6 [COP 21 closed]
[ ] Monday 7 High Level Segment
[ ] Tuesday 8 High Level Segment
[ ] Wednesday 9
[ ] Thursday 10
[ ] Friday 11 closing COP plenary

further info: phred@sunlightdata.com