After two full weeks of exploring the COP23 in Bonn, I can say that I learned a lot from leaders in various categories of climate action. It was a great opportunity to observe a convention on such a scale. As I make my way back to the United States, I want to share some of the biggest things that resonated with me:
1. There is still a lot of work to be done. There is a clear difference in opinion on a lot of matters. I saw this through arguments after talks, protests during speeches, and a conversation I had with a man from Iran. One day on my way to Bonn, I had to abruptly get off one train and wait for a connecting train. Shortly after, a man approached me and asked if we were still going the right way to the COP23. This sparked a conversation on energy and finding a balance between fossil fuels and renewables. He explained that he was from Iran, worked in the energy sector and was heading to the convention to negotiate for fossil fuels – makes sense given the Middle East’s dependence on oil and natural gases. The most interesting part of my conversation with this stranger is that he kept mentioning the importance of “finding a balance” between fossil fuels and renewables. I asked him how he thought we could achieve that and he immediately responded with, “Well what do you think?” The fact that he didn’t have a clear answer indicated that there is a lot of work to be done in order to achieve ambitious climate goals.
2. The US is ‘Still In’ in a big way. The US made a huge splash in the conference with the US Climate Action Center and hosted over 30 events including business leaders, governors, and senators. In light of current climate politics, it was an impressive display of non-federal commitment. Leaders such as Michael Bloomberg and Jerry Brown made a promise to continue funding initiatives to achieve Paris Agreement goals.
3. US businesses play a leadership role in sustainability. Large corporations such as Microsoft, Mars Inc. and Walmart are still committed to their own targets. Last Friday a panel of sustainability officers from the aforementioned companies described their sustainability efforts. Without going into too much detail, Walmart is committed to a 100% renewable energy future and currently sits at 26% renewables with a 2025 goal of 50% renewables. Similarly, Mars Inc. aims to decarbonize factories and be net zero by 2040 in a large part through changing the way transactions occur in the supply chain. Corporations must continue to other businesses and organizations.
Thanks to Mark Smith and Colorado College for an unforgettable journey filled with learning and networking.
Sam Sheridan ’18
Pictured above: Senator Ben Cardin and Sheldon Whitehouse sharing that the US is still committed.
Wow wow wow! What a block it has been! I can’t believe it is over, and I know it will take a lot more than the flight home to process everything that has happened. I am writing from the comfort of my hostel bed, which I will say goodbye to in the morning, as one of the last of our cohort to depart. I will take this opportunity to begin the process of reflection.
I’m not entirely sure how to structure this post, and I would like to keep it relatively concise, so I will use a skill that my 2.5 years at CC have engrained in me: reflection via rose, bud and thorn.
Rose: This one is easy: everything. If you just rolled your eyes, that’s fine, but I mean it. The opportunity that we had to be here, as a bunch of under-grad American students from a small liberal arts college, has no comparison. We had the opportunity to meet Jeff Seabright, Chief Sustainability Officer at Unilever, Katherine Neebe (’97), Chief Sustainability officer at Walmart, Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, the President of COP-20, among others. We had coffee and conversation with change makers, movers and shakers from all corners of the world. That is pretty neat, if you ask me. To be in the presence of these incredible people, in the place where the magic happens, so to speak, has been an unparalleled opportunity. Just the chance to attend COP-23 is a major rose all by itself.
Bud: As my classmate Kelly said in her most recent post: once you know and understand the causes and impacts of climate change, you can never un-know them. While I feel that I have always been well informed about environmental issues and I was raised in a household adamant about turning off the lights upon leaving rooms, composting and recycling (thanks, family!) this block and the COP has opened my eyes to a world of complexities and nuance that I didn’t know existed in the realm of climate change. I have heard personal narratives from corporate executives, indigenous leaders, mothers, fathers, students and countless others from all over the world. Returning to Colorado and to CC, I am excited to bring with me the passion, the energy, the dedication that formed the foundation for this conference. My bud is fairly simple: the opportunity to take everything we have experienced here back home as a souvenir and to build on this incredible experience as a foundation of knowledge and action.
Thorn: This one is a little bit harder. Clearing my rose-colored (pun kind-of intended), post-COP glasses, the thorn that stands out is the thick bureaucracy and politically-driven cloud that surrounded the conference. Like Katherine said in her most recent post, the negotiations frequently get hung up on single clauses and even individual words. The dissonance between debating relatively inconsequential verb tenses and the very real effects of climate change that are affecting very real human lives is hard to ignore. As students attending an American college, we know that politics is in everything these days. No issue seems to be above partisanship, and this was ever present at COP-23. I found it frustrating to sit in meetings and hear a story about a mom who lost her home to freak flooding in one minute, and the next minute hear that an organization dedicated to helping this mom couldn’t get funding because some political body couldn’t get a bill passed. The thorn on my rose of the COP is the frustratingly slow-moving, albeit potentially inextricable, bureaucratic process of change.
I have many more roses, buds and thorns, but this is a blog and not my memoir, so I will end there. This has been a truly once in a lifetime experience and something I will carry with me forever. Thank you to Mark Smith, Colorado College, our individual sponsors who got us badges, all the people who took time out of their schedules to meet with us, and to everyone who made COP-23 and this block possible.
Signing off, with endless amounts of gratitude,
Anna Brent (’19)
Here are some of my favorite pictures from the last two weeks as a P.S.:
Here is our very own Emily Abbott (’19) meeting Frank Bainimarama, COP-23 President!
Another MAJOR rose: all the free food!!!!
Al Gore Speaking! Woohoo!
Katherine Kerr (’18), Jack Mosley (’18) and I, with the actual globe in our hands (well, in the air, but it was previously in our hands).
Happy fall break! The past two weeks went by super quickly, and it’s hard to believe that it’s already block break! Yesterday I spent the whole day at the US Climate Action Center for the US Business Showcase, a full-day event that brought together corporate leaders from many iconic U.S. brands to explore their efforts to help decarbonize the American economy. We heard from sustainability executives from Mars Inc., Citibank, Microsoft, Walmart (CC alumna Katherine Neebe) and many other companies. At the conclusion of the Showcase, we had our final class gathering at the evening reception. It was great to be able to network and learn from CC parents and alumni and hear from our classmates about their favorite parts of COP23. Some of the highlights from the class were seeing insightful panels, hearing new perspectives, participating in protests, and seeing celebrities.
Today, everyone in the class went separate directions. Some returned home for Thanksgiving, while others stayed in Europe to travel for the rest of fall break. I spent the day exploring Bonn and Cologne, seeing things that I hadn’t had the time for previously. I went to the Kunstmuseum, a modern art museum located just a block away from the Bula Zone. The museum had an extensive collection of Rhenish Expressionism and post-war German art, as well as a fascinating contemporary exhibition. I also walked through Rheinaue Park which surrounds the COP23 venue. The park is full of art and educational exhibits about various environmental issues.
Tomorrow my classmate Kelly Nguyen and I will travel to Berlin to continue studying environmental economics through a slightly different lens. With support from the Keller Family Venture Grant, we are traveling to Berlin, Amsterdam, and Brussels to explore the rise of “ecopreneurship,” environmental entrepreneurship, in western Europe. With the base of knowledge we have acquired at COP23 about types of supportive regulation, mechanisms of capital investment, and innovative business models, we are excited to continue to explore this important issue. Of course I’ll need a couple days to catch up on sleep first though!
It’s been an incredible 2 weeks at COP23 thanks to our dedicated, caring, well-connected professor who has helped us to make the most of this unique experience. On behalf of EC385, I’d like to thank Mark Smith for supporting us and making this experience possible.
Bula & Auf Wiedersehen!
Cole S. ‘20
I am currently sitting on a train back to Frankfurt, not entirely sure how to begin to process the last week and a half. After countless brötchen (little bread rolls), meetings, and conversations with people from around the world I leave feeling filled, yes both intellectually and physically from the entirely bread and cheese based diet I have adopted for the past week.
Here are some highlights!
#1 As I mentioned in my previous post, by some mistake I was promoted to head of the organization that had generously accredited me a pass into the side events. However, this promotion also allowed me access into the Bula Zone AKA the zone where the negotiations take place. While I couldn’t get into very many events I was able to sit in on a revision session of Article 4 of the Paris Agreement, which deals with mitigation. In all honestly, I understood very little of the paragraphs that were being reviewed, but I was able to observe the negations process in all its glory and frustration. They aren’t kidding when they say that an hour can be spent discussing whether or not to change one word to essentially its synonym. As tedious as the negotiation was it was fascinating to get a look into how intergovernmental relationships and decisions unfold. If you have every participated in model united nations, it is EXACTLY like that, but real life.
#2 I loved walking through the conference, or from one building to another, or sitting on the train next to delegates from ALL over the world. It was not uncommon to engage in a conversation only at the end to find out that they were they head delegate from some country. It was humbling and inspiring to be amongst the world’s leaders on climate change, and not just in the same building, but conversing with them.
#3 I was fortunate enough to spend the day shadowing Katherine Neebe ’97 the Director of Sustainability, Stakeholder Engagement for Walmart. The day started with a meeting with Mars discussing scope 3 (emissions that are not directly owned by a company, but part of the supply chain) counting methods. Katherine spoke about Walmart’s gigaton project, which is a scope 3 emissions target, leading the way for large corporations. The day included another panel and prep for more panels the next day. The best part of the day, were the side conversations that I was able to witness. They ranged from people trying to get involved with Walmart’s efforts, to old colleagues trying to support each other’s new projects. And while many of the people were coming from large corporations, the issues they were talking about were so grounded, real, and pertinent. The issues on the table have every day impact on people, society, and the environment and these big countries see their magnitude as an platform to make large scale change. The day ended with a dinner, in which the conversation was passionate and genuine about how I can best bring what I have learned at the conference back to the CC campus, but more on that later…
^This is a photo with the entire group and three Colorado College Alums that were also attending the conference, Matt Banks (WWF), Katherine Neebe (Walmart), Lucy Kessler (Yale Grad Student).
It’s been an incredible trip! Thank you to everyone that made it possible and major shout out to Herr Doktor Professor!
Today was our last day at the COP and a good one to finish on. We began the day with an early meeting with Cambridge University engineering professor Hugh Hunt. Dr. Hunt is the engineer behind a geo-engineering project intended to increase the reflectivity of the planet by injecting sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere. This would be a temporary but potentially effective patch to a huge problem. Dr. Hugh suggests that this could put a halt on warming and the catastrophes associated with temperature increase above 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius while we work on getting further infrastructure in place. This topic is obviously incredibly controversial, but Dr. Hugh gave us some small assurance that some of the more dynamic and intelligent scientists are putting the idea through its paces.
Because I haven’t written since the very first day of the conference, I wanted to write a little bit about one of the more powerful experiences I had during the COP. During one of the first sessions at the US Climate Action Pavilion, Senator Ricardo Lara spoke about California’s climate mitigation and adaptation efforts. Senator Lara is incredibly well spoken, an impeccable role model, and the work that he is putting forth in California is exciting.
After the panel I had the opportunity to speak with him for a little while about some research I was putting together for my thesis, (Thank you Mark!) and he gave me some really valuable policy insight into the real-world problems inherent in the renewable labor market in California. I kept my composure and tried not to look as star-struck as I was feeling, so meeting the Senator was a highlight for sure!
Despite the initial intimidation I’ve felt navigating the convention on, I find myself filled with a greater sense of confidence and inspiration for the international agenda. Today the United States Climate Action Center opened in Bonn at COP23 for a week of presentations and panel discussions to promote the grassroots movement #We Are Still In. The movement showcases the efforts state representatives, non-governmental organizations, private sector corporations, universities, and faith organizations are taking to pursue the climate change mitigation goals of the Paris Agreement. The opening ceremony highlighted the success some U.S representatives have found in pursuit of emissions reductions, sustainability initiatives, and environmental justice. The narrative was met with high spirits by a crowd of international constituents and gave me optimism that the U.S may actually take the necessary steps to address climate change in the coming years. That being said, my skepticism remains that a considerable portion of state and private sector commitments may not be upheld unless domestic climate action culminates in enforceable policy, or at the very least encourages and leads to greater transparency from actors in the process.
Here is a picture of the kickoff panel discussion:
After listening to the U.S climate action center kickoff I went to a REDD+ Side Event that discussed where the program stands and what is needed moving forward. One of the speakers, Arild Angelsen left us with a sentiment that I believe parallels what I hope to see come out of the U.S climate action movement. Arild prompted the audience to consider that although projects win battles, policies win the war. The war in this context is a matter of action vs. inaction, and I hope the #wearestillin movement will not only lead to successful localized projects, but also will inform the implementation of effective domestic policy that positively contributes to the international climate regime.
Sorry for the late post! We’ve had really spotty internet here. Actually, something I learned last week is that the internet in Germany is extremely expensive and therefore the internet in Cafés, houses, hotels, restaurants, etc is usually pretty slow.
On Friday, we tried to get to Bonn on the RB48 (a nicer train that is generally less crowded than the one we have been taking) and due to protests at the Bonn central station on coal we passed the station and ended up past Bonn in a little village. We ended up meeting a lady from Norway and splitting a cab with her to Bonn.
I spent the rest of the day at the US pavilion, which had opened the day before. It was really interesting to listen to people talk and sit around the general area and see the different people attending. There was a really interesting discussion with the head of sustainability of Walmart, and a few other major businesses, discussing their approach to being sustainable businesses. This was really interesting to hear about because generally sustainable methods are seen as more expensive and therefore economically inefficient. However, through this discussion they explained how while it might be more expensive initially the long-term investment ends up being less expensive and it creates more jobs, generating economic stimulation in cities.
At the end of the day there was a reception in the US pavilion where I met an interesting guy. He believed not in <2 degrees Celsius but rather 0 degrees Celsius. While this sounded really ambitious and unrealistic to me it was eye opening to hear his argument and stance on his opinion. Additionally, he told us about a few projects his company is investing in to reduce carbon emissions. One of these projects is man-made lime stone that is actually more pure than naturally found limestone and is a carbon sink that absorbs limestone. The other project he talked to us about is a mechanism for “stirring the depths of the ocean.” Essentially, the nutrients and sediment found at the bottom of the ocean absorbs CO2 and is a natural and abundant carbon sink. However, in the middle of the ocean where the current is not as strong and there are not crashing waves to disrupt the ocean floor the nutrients and sediment does not get pulled to the surface and therefore cannot absorb the C02.
Friday night was a great opportunity not only to network with individuals but also to have more one-on-one conversations with these business men/women and senators.
At a session I attended late one night recently, I heard His Excellency, Anote Tong, the former president of Kiribati, speak about climate migration and the impact it is having, and will continue to have, on small island states. He said that, to him and his people, climate change isn’t an abstract concept; it is a real phenomenon for vulnerable populations like his own, and that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that even if global temperature rise were limited to 1.5°C, low-lying island countries would still be submerged by water. He has many grandchildren, and is thus always thinking about the future generations. At the very least, Mr. Tong hopes for his people to be able to become “migrants with dignity.” He doesn’t want his people to be refugees, because that implies that no plan was put into place because they were unaware that this event was coming. Since climate change is a slow-onset event, there is more than enough time to come up with a plan for migrating the Kiribati people; there is time to find them a place to go, and provide them with the cultural and educational tools needed for them to assimilate. He hopes for a “beautiful assimilation of people,” where his people are worthwhile citizens wherever they choose to go.
Mr. Tong’s words in the panel discussions really got me thinking about the future of the people of small island states. I’m sure there’s a plan in the works somewhere more important than my credentials as a student researcher will allow me entrance to, but every small island state figure in the Bonn Zone I have asked has said that they don’t have a plan for when their islands are no longer habitable. That point will come long before the island is submerged underwater; erosion, groundwater acidification, and land degradation are problems occurring here and now, and are becoming more prominent as climate change continues on its path. Mr. Tong said the talks at the COP aren’t helpful because they aren’t addressing root problems for the people in danger. He is right; the panels I’ve seen have been more about people from small island states espousing the devastating effects they’re feeling and will feel while individuals from scientific organizations spout figures and facts about who will be displaced, rather than about discovering concrete solutions to these concrete problems.
Mr. Tong made an analogy in his presentation that I think is worth sharing: He compared the action of industrialized countries for helping climate refugees to a neighbor chopping down a tree so that it falls onto the home of the other neighbor, destroying their home, and then asking the now homeless neighbor what they plan on doing about the situation. Industrialized countries need to be held accountable for their actions, and not be permitted to allow their burdens to impact vulnerable populations who didn’t contribute to the problem at all. Otherwise, there is no incentive for them to stop or even reduce greenhouse gas emissions – accountability truly is key to causing a decrease in GHG emissions and to helping climate migrants.
Even as problems are being addressed, the focus of the discussions are far more on what individuals from small island states should do to help themselves, rather than how the international community can help. This is both ironic and strange because small island states were put into this position by industrialized countries emitting greenhouse gases and raising the global average surface temperature. Those nations aren’t considering the futures of their grandchildren, and are focusing too heavily on economic profit in the present, when they should instead be focusing on the actions to take now that will ensure the survival of future generations, from all nation-states. Little work is being done in the U.S. to assist these vulnerable populations who will need to migrate within the century, if not sooner, and the current administration will most certainly make even less progress for the cause. Many of the discussions I’ve been to have made clear that progress can be made without the government’ the government is only one way, not the only way, to make change and assist people in need. We cannot continue to simply sit back, create emissions that have real repercussions for other people in other countries, and then ask those suffering populations how they plan to fix it. That is why I implore you, the reader, to consider how you can help. Could you, perhaps, reduce your individual carbon footprint by turning off the lights more, or by investing in eco-friendly products? Could you walk more or use public transportation instead of driving your own car? Could you donate time or resources towards refugee resettlement agencies or an organization that assists climate migrants? What can you do to help? I believe it is our collective responsibility to help our brothers and sisters around the world; wouldn’t you agree?
Today we all awoke to a hum of light rain in the silent city of Cologne – a very large contrast from the noise and commotion we experienced yesterday. The overcast sky seemed to cover the city of Cologne like a warm blanket encouraging people to huddle inside on this cold, rainy Sunday in November in Germany. We started our day late, with a delicious brunch in our hostel, and set out to explore the simple aesthetics of the city since most shops were closed on this day. This included a long stroll along the Rhine River to the Schokoladenmuseum, where we learned about the history of chocolate and its production lines from cacao trees to delicious treats and beautiful sculptures. The highlight of this museum experience was the wafers dipped in the delectable chocolate from the golden chocolate fountain, to which I went back several times for more! After a cozy lunch at an Italian restaurant on the Rhine, we headed to the Botanical Gardens, which is one of the oldest and most beautiful parks in Germany that contains more than 10,000 different plant species and is visited by more than a million people every year. We thoroughly enjoyed our relaxing break day from the conference to refreshen our minds for another productive week at COP23.
Yesterday, however, was a direct contrast to the calm day we had today. Not only was it a jam-packed day yesterday, but we also were also able to observe all of the controversy surrounding the launch of America’s “unofficial” pledge, where an alliance of cities, states, corporation and higher education institutions gathered at the US Climate Action Center to protest Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement and demonstrate the majority of Americans are still in to combat climate change. The rally of climate change activism was spearheaded at this convention by the influential leaders Michael Bloomberg, Albert Arnold Gore, Jerry Brown, and even Frank Bainimarama and Patricia Espinosa, who were there to show support for this rally despite the current administration’s lack of support. Isolated from the official Bonn Zone, I never would’ve imagined the US Climate Action Center to be a hub for so much passion for climate action, but must admit it was so nice to be a part of this collective community and finally hear a united voice for America against climate change. Our lively day was finally met with the famous Kölner Karneval, when we landed at the Cologne Central Station, where were met by thousands of people dressed up in colorful costumes and dancing to roaring German music.
Today was a great day of relaxation and reflection in comparison to yesterday’s hectic atmosphere. Yesterday was Karneval in Köln and people dressed in costumes, like animal onesies and unicorns, ran through the streets screaming, singing, and dancing. On our way back from the Conference, we tried to ride from the main train station to the hostel but the trains were overfilled with people trying to join the festivities from other cities; we decided that walking the thirty-seven minutes would be more time efficient. The first thing that caught our eyes when we exited the station was the Dom, which is the famous Catholic cathedral in Köln. Flooded with leftover bottles and trash, we could barely see the steps of the cathedral. Where was all this trash going to go? Were the people cleaning up going to recycle, or did they even have an incentive to do so? Being at this Conference has made me realize: once you are informed about the effects of climate change, it can be difficult to enjoy activities without worrying about the footprint you will leave or what effect it may have on some people in a distant island.
I am looking forward to the start of fourth week and I am especially excited/terrified for the ONLY talk sponsored by the United States government. The talk is called “The Role of Cleaner and More Efficient Fossil Fuels and Nuclear Power in Climate Mitigation.” No need to reread the title, it won’t make sense the more you read it. I anticipate that members from across the world will join us to fact check if they intend to spread fake news.