Tag Archives: sustainable

COP25: A Short Review and On-Site Experiences

Image Credit: Julia Ramsauer, CC BY 2.0

Last Sunday, the UN Climate Change Conference (COP25) in Madrid came to an end. It was a summit that marked the end of a year in which climate change has transformed into a climate emergency and in which society has woken up to the urgency of the situation. Taking into account the pressure from global demonstrations of groups like Fridays for Future and Extinction Rebellion, and the fact that even scientists have further challenged world leaders on the urgent need to act by striking in September, hopes for the outcomes of this year’s climate summit were big. For a couple of days, I was in Madrid to participate in the part of the COP25 that was open to the public and to march with thousands of others in the biggest demonstration ever held in Spain.

First of all, let’s define what the COP actually is. In 1992, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was signed at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In the treaty, nations agreed to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere to prevent dangerous interference from human activity on the climate system. Today, 197 countries are parties to the treaty. Every year since the treaty entered into force in 1994, a ‘Conference of the Parties’, or COP, has been held to discuss how to move forward. Because the UNFCCC had non-binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions for individual countries, and no enforcement mechanism, various extensions to this treaty were negotiated during recent COPs, including most recently the Paris Agreement, adopted in 2015, in which all countries agreed to step up efforts and reach three main goals:

  • Reducing emissions 45% by 2030
  • Achieving climate neutrality by 2050 (which means a net-zero carbon footprint)
  • Stabilizing global temperature rise at 1.5°C by the end of the century

This years’ COP was the final one before we enter the defining year of 2020 when many nations must submit new climate action plans. Because the clock is ticking on climate change, the world cannot afford to waste more time, and a bold, decisive, ambitious way forward needed to be agreed on. Among the many elements that needed to be ironed out was the financing of climate action worldwide, a set of rules for a global carbon market, and the financing of loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change mainly on developing countries.

The Social Side of the COP

While official parties were formally discussing how to best find a compromise between all their demands, society gathered in a social summit (‘cumbre social’ in Spanish) to speak about topics that have been left out of the agenda. It involved hundreds of events, lectures, and workshops in various locations of Madrid, supported by more than 500 non-governmental organizations. An important part of this summit was that indigenous groups had a visible presence, as bringing the COP from Chile to Madrid had taken away the focus from the southern to the northern hemisphere, and especially Europe. It was encouraging to see that climate action also means social equality. It is no longer possible to have social equality without environmental equality.

I had the chance to participate one evening in this event, where I got to hear inspiring speeches and stories from people that are already affected by climate change. An atmosphere full of inspiration, willpower, hope, but also desperation filled the air of a big tent set up outside of one of Madrid’s universities. On the one hand, indigenous Latin-American tribe members were calling for action against big oil companies that are contaminating and stealing their land. On the other hand, Friday for Future members, for example from Uganda, raised awareness about the social side of the impact of the changing climate in Africa. The critical situations of many families are increasing forced marriages of teenage girls to reduce the burden of their families.

Climate March in the streets of Madrid on December 6th 2019 (Image Credit: Julia Ramsauer)

Climate March in the streets of Madrid on December 6th 2019 (Image Credit: Julia Ramsauer)

But the social determination of showing the world the actual gravity of the problem we are facing did not stop here. During two weeks, countless climate actions were enforced all over Madrid, including a ‘toxic tour’ of Spain’s dirtiest corporate polluters sponsoring the COP25, to raise awareness about green-washing. The tour was cut short by the intervention of local police officers. The highlight, if you can call it that, was the climate march on Friday the 6th of December. According to organizers, more than half a million people showed up. Officially only 15,000 people participated, which was just another attempt to downplay society’s cry for concrete actions against climate change. I was there, in the middle of the crowd and you can believe me when I say that much more than a couple of thousand people were there. It was a multicultural crowd with a representation of all age groups, including organizations from all over the world speaking up for the fight against climate change and the necessity to act now. It was definitely an important global moment and the biggest demonstration ever held in Spain! We were demanding ambitious measures and actions from the people in power to make real change happen. Half a million people were singing, dancing, and screaming. Desperate to be heard.

Sign reads "There is no planet B, Greenpeace" (Image Credit: Julia Ramsauer, CC BY 2.0)

Sign reads “There is no planet B, Greenpeace” (Image Credit: Julia Ramsauer, CC BY 2.0)

Key Takeaways

So were the hopes for ambitious actions met? Not really. Many official statements, not lastly of Greta Thunberg herself, have pointed out the disappointing results the summit had to offer and the lack of overall ambition to instigate real change. All we got were intents to come to an agreement in terms of the key issues discussed, while especially the most significant polluters (US, China, India, etc.) were trying to find loopholes in proposed plans. The summit was accompanied by a clear lack of ambition from most parties, while of course, the financial side of all discussions was mostly the key hurdle. Thus, the key takeaways of the summit can be summarized as followed:

  • No agreement on carbon markets could be reached, while the discussions are postponed to next years’ summit.
  • An agreement on a call to boost emission reductions of countries and thus increase global ambition was composed, whereas smaller nations like many European countries seem to act as role models for the biggest polluters.
  • The support of developing nations is still undecided due to financial shortfall
  • A lot of pressure and hope were postponed to next year, as in 2020 new climate action plans have to be submitted.

Once more it was clear that leaders are not taking responsibility, even though they have the power to induce significant changes, committing their citizens to a collective challenge such as actions against climate change. Unfortunately, the voices demanding concrete actions came from society itself, trying to commit their governments to real changes. The outcomes of the COP25 are clearly below what was expected in terms of increasing ambition at the level that is demanded in the streets and a far cry from what science tells us is needed.

Julia Ramsauer is a landscape ecologist currently working on the integration of ecosystem services in the Mediterranean region. You can follow her on Twitter here.

Policy From the People: Laying the Groundwork for Brexit Environmental Policy

Image Credit: Elliott Brown, CC BY 2.0, Image Cropped

Making Brexit work for environment and livelihoods: Delivering a stakeholder informed vision for agriculture and fisheries (2019) Beukers-Stewart et al., People and Nature, https://doi.org/10.1002/pan3.10054

The Crux

Ok, last article on Brexit for the time being. Everyone rest easy. This week’s paper looks once again at the consequences of Brexit for both the agricultural and fishing industries, and the knock-on effects on Britain’s farmland and marine ecosystems. As has been echoed both by this week’s earlier interview with Abigail McQuatters-Gollop and the views from this week’s British Ecological Society Annual Meeting, Brexit can represent an opportunity. An opportunity to put together a directive that helps maintain both marine and terrestrial ecosystems whilst not putting the people at a disadvantage.

This week’s paper is trying to get an understanding of how to put together that framework, by speaking to the people Brexit will likely impact more quickly than others: farmers and fishers. Government subsidies support many British farmers, and it’s not clear whether they’ll remain in place going forwards. Quotas could shift dramatically for fishers.

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Abigail McQuatters-Gollop: How Will Brexit Affect Europe’s Oceans?

Image Credit: Abigail McQuatters-Gollop, CC BY 2.0, Image Cropped

For the past three and a half years, the UK has been trawled through the political benthic sludge that is Brexit. With a second general election in two years arriving this Thursday, some sort of resolution finally seems to be on the horizon. And while much of the public discourse has focussed on the potential implications for Brexit following the election, climate change and the environment have also featured heavily.

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Studying Sustainability in Norway  

Image Credit: Alexey Topolyanksiy, Public Domain, Image Cropped

The Norwegian Aquaculture Review Council is an academic collective comprised of NTNU students Danielle Hallé, Myranda O’Shea, Bastian Poppe, Emmanual Eicholz and Peter Anthony Frank.

I think it’s fair to say that most of Norway looks like the postcards. If you can peel your eyes away from the views, you’ll notice the aquaculture sea cages along the fjords, sheep grazing in the outfield, the seemingly endless network of trails, wind parks off in the distance, or a happy forger with a bucket full of mushrooms. The natural landscape offers myriad, well-utilized benefits, which makes for an interesting location for studying sustainable development and our coexistence with nature. The course The Sustainable Management of Ecosystem Services at NTNU offered an opportunity to do just that.

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Are ecolabels greenwashing your farmed salmon?

Salmon aquaculture nets near Hitra, Norway. (Image credit: Peter Anthony Frank, NTNU, CC BY 2.0)

The Norwegian Aquaculture Review Council is an academic collective comprised of NTNU students Danielle Hallé, Myranda O’Shea, Bastian Poppe, Emmanual Eicholz and Peter Anthony Frank.

With so much attention on climate change and biodiversity in the media today, it is hard not to be skeptical as to whether companies are taking advantage of these paradigms for their own profit by “greenwashing” their products. Greenwashing is the common term for the practice whereby an organization presents information that gives them an air of environmental responsibility but makes no real contribution to reducing the impacts of threats like climate change, pollution, loss of biodiversity.

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The Big Challenge: Increasing City Biodiversity

Image Credit: GuoJunjun, CC BY-SA 3.0 NO, Image Cropped

The Big Challenge Science Festival is currently in Trondheim, bringing a host of celebrities, scientists and futurists together. Their goal is to present solutions for the challenges the planet currently faces, and get people thinking about how they can adjust their lives to help the planet. While there are some big names in attendance, there are also a large number of local students and scientists working tirelessly on stands, and it’s them that I spent yesterday working alongside.

There’s some fantastic stuff on display. I was particularly impressed by the use of VR in a couple of exhibitions. One stand presented a worst case scenario for warming planet, with one of Trondheim’s most famous laneways submerged in water (although the man clinging to a floating car tire waving for assistance may somewhat disturb the kids). Nearby was another VR experience where you could shoot cars, carbon molecules and chimneys, transforming them into bikes, trees and solar panels respectively. The tent next to us had a great range of displays, presenting practical and simple options for living sustainably and also letting you snack on insects and other arthropods!

Our own stand was part of the Futurum exhibition, which postulated how Trondheim may look in 2050. It focussed on biodiversity, and how Trondheim’s wildlife will change over the next 30 years with increasing urbanisation and a warming climate. On loan from the Natural History Museum was a selection of species that could conceivably arrive in Trondheim with a 1-2 degree temperature increase. It was fun to see kids’ faces contort at the thought of a parrot being a common presence in Trondheim, but with Ring-Neck parrots already as far north as Brussels, it could happen within their lifetime.

I was pleasantly surprised at the willingness of some children to accept that new species weren’t necessarily a good thing. Most of them were entranced by the sight of a grey squirrel, but readily understood that it could mean the demise of the red squirrel and some local bird life. Likewise, I was surprised at how many parents could immediately recognise the species likely to disappear from Trondheim, and acknowledge how many more Black-Headed Gulls and Northern Lapwings they could see only twenty years ago.

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NTNU’s Tanja Petersen explains how species life the Pacific Oyster or the Grey Squirrel could be in Trondheim within 30 years (Image Credit, Øystein Kielland, CC BY 2.0)

It was also encouraging to see how many people have started to let portions of their garden grow wild in an effort to allow insects, and thus birds and mammals make their way back into urban areas. The exhibition had 2 fantastic videos compiled by Øystein Kielland focussing on the difference between a green area and a biodiverse one, and how fragmentation has devastated local plant and insect populations. So the number of adults who had already started letting areas around their house grow unchecked was encouraging. Two particular highlights were the couple who eagerly showed us the badger who had recently taken up residence in their backyard, and the girl who nodded eagerly and started telling me all about her insect hotels.

One thing I always struggle with in these situations is communicating uncertainty. Whilst it’s fun to see jaws drop at the thought of parrots in Norway, it’s difficult to communicate the ‘maybe’ factor in the amount of time it takes to engage someone in these issues. The point of the Big Challenge is to get people to act, so I hope that people walk away thinking that if they don’t start living more sustainably there could be huge species’ turnover, but I don’t want to present a worst case scenario, or talk in absolutes about issues that are very much only possibilities. So any success stories you’ve had communicating uncertainty in these scenarios would be very much welcome below!

I’ll be back at the Futurum exhibit at Krigseilerplass near the Royal Garden today. If you’re in Trondheim, I highly recommend stopping by. You can read more about the event here.

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