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GeoPolicy: COP23 – key updates and outcomes

GeoPolicy: COP23 – key updates and outcomes

What is COP23?

Anthropogenic climate change is threatening life on this planet as we know it. It’s a global issue… and not one that is easily solved. The Conference of the Parties (COP) provides world leaders, policy workers, scientists and industry leaders with the space to share ideas and decide on how to tackle climate change and generate global transformative change. COP23 will predominantly focus on increasing involvement from non-state actors (such as cities and businesses), how to minimise the climate impacts on vulnerable countries and the steps that are needed to implement the Paris Climate Change Agreement.

Hold on – what’s the Paris Climate Change Agreement…?

You’ve probably heard about the Paris Climate Change Agreement (often shortened to just Paris Agreement) before, but what exactly does it refer to?

During the COP21, held in Paris during 2015, 175 parties (174 countries and the European Union) reached a historic agreement in response to the current climate crisis. This Paris Agreement builds on previous UN frameworks and agreements. It acknowledges climate change as a global threat and that preventing the Earth’s temperature from rising more than 2°C should be a global priority. The only nations not to sign the agreement were Syria, due to their involvement in a civil war and their inability to send a delegation, and Nicaragua, who stated that the agreement was insufficiently ambitious. Both of these countries have since signed the agreement while the US has unfortunately made headlines by leaving it.

The Paris Agreement states that there should be a thorough action plan that details how the Paris Agreement should be implemented by COP24 in 2018. There is still a long way to go before this action plan is finalised but COP23 was able to make a strong headway.

You can learn more about the UN climate frameworks and Paris Climate Change Agreement here or read more about COP21 here.

What did the COP23 achieve?

Today is the last official day of the COP23 and while it is often difficult to determine whether large scale political events are successful until after the dust has settled, there are some positive signs.

1. Making progress on the Paris Agreement action plan

The COP23 has been described as an implementation and ‘roll-up-your-sleeves’ kind of COP. While the COP21 resulted in a milestone agreement, the COP23 was about determining what staying below 2°C actually entails – what needs to be done and when. Some of the measures discussed to keep us under 2°C included: halving global CO2 emissions from energy and industry each decade, scrapping the $500 billion per year in global fossil fuel subsidies and scaling up carbon capture and storage technology. Simple, right?

These actions are all feeding into the detailed “rulebook” on how the Paris Agreement should be implemented which will be finalised at COP24.

2. Cities have stepped up to the plate

Mayors from 25 cities around the world have pledged to produce net zero emissions by 2050 through ambitious climate action plans which will be developed with the help of the C40 Cities network. Having tangible examples of what net zero emissions looks like and how it can be achieved will hopefully encourage other cities to follow suit. For this reason “think global, act local” initiatives are also picking up steam.

A new global standard for reporting cities’ greenhouse gas emissions has also been announced by the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy. The system will allow cities to track their contributions and impacts using a quantifiable method. This will not only allow the UNFCCC to track the progress of cities more effectively but it may also result in a friendly competition with cities around the globe. It is also expected that all cities will have a decarbonisation strategy in place by 2020.

3. Phasing out coal by 2030?

19 Countries (ranging from Angola to the UK) have committed to phasing out unabated coal generation by 2030. Unabated coal-powered energy generation refers to the generation of electricity from a coal plant without the use of treatment or carbon capture storage technology (which generally reduces emissions from between 85-90%). With 40% of the world’s electricity currently being generated from coal, this commitment is clearly a huge step in the right direction that will hopefully put pressure on other nations and steer energy investment towards lower-emission sources.

4. There is the will to change… and the funding is there too!

One of the key features of the Paris Agreement was the amount of financial aid committed, 100 billion USD annually by 2020, from developed countries to support developing states mitigate their emissions. While this level of funding is still far from being reached, the aim to jointly mobilise 100 billion USD annually by 2020 was reiterated.

The French President, Emmanuel Macron, also announced that Europe will fill the funding gap in the IPCC budget that was left by the US’ withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

 

The Green Climate Fund booth at the COP23 exhibition area. Credit: Jonathan Bamber

 

Other outcomes

Not only do COPs generally result in solid outcomes and agreements being made but they also go a long way to strengthen global unity and the belief that we are able to tackle climate change despite it being a huge and often daunting problem. This was also highlighted by Jonathan Bamber, the EGU President, who attended the event, “It was so impressive to see politicians, policy makers and scientists all striving hard to ensure that the world’s economies achieve the goals laid out in COP21 in Paris. There was a lot of energy for change and action and much less cynicism than I have witnessed at previous COP events. I really hope it helps steer us towards a more sustainable future“.

While these are just a few of the immediately obvious results from the COP23, I am sure that there will be more agreements and outcomes announced within the next few days. Keep tuned to the GeoPolicy Blog for more updates!

Further reading

 

GeoPolicy: The importance of scientific foresight

GeoPolicy: The importance of scientific foresight

Many of the issues that society currently faces are complex and research on just one angle or area does not provide sufficient information to address the problem. These challenges are compounded when more than one region (or even the entire planet) is impacted. Many of the decisions and legislations passed by governments today will go on to impact how these issues either develop or are resolved years into the future.

How do governments ensure that the decisions they make are sustainable – that they will not only produce short-term benefits but will also go onto benefit our children and grandchildren to come?

Scientific foresight

Scientific foresight informs policymakers about future challenges and opportunities, allowing them to follow a systematic approach to determine where actions and changes in policy are required.

While this may sound simple, it is actually far from it! Foresight requires a comprehensive understanding of what the potential consequences of the decision (or lack thereof) are. This may include: the potential benefits, how severe the issue is likely to be in a business-as-usual scenario, what steps can be taken to minimise the issue, which regions or areas are more likely to be heavily impacted and what the environmental, social and economic costs are likely to be over various time scales.

The information and likely future scenarios that foresight studies provide allow policymakers to:

    • better evaluate current policy priorities
    • assess the impact of upcoming policy decisions in combination with other possible developments or challenges
    • take actions that are able to pre-emptively minimise risks or expand opportunities
    • identify new partners and create new connections (both internally and internationally)
    • anticipate new technologies and societal demands and implement policy that helps to facilitate them

One example of where foresight is particularly useful is climate change. Foresight helps policymakers to understand what the impacts of climate change will be, where they will be the most severe and what legislation can be passed to minimise the risk and long-term costs without burdening the present generation.

What sort of issues do foresight studies research?

The issues that are research in foresight studies are extremely far reaching. Below are just a few examples of themes that have been previously researched.

Just of a few of the areas considered in scientific foresight studies

 

How to get involved with foresight research?

At a European level, foresight processes are integrated with other EU scientific advice processes such as: informal expert groups, the Research, Innovation and Science Expert Group (RISE), the Horizon 2020 Programme, the EU’s Scientific Advice Mechanism (SAM). While it is possible for scientists to become involved through each of these platforms, the most researcher-friendly option is likely to be the Horizon 2020 Programme. You can find out more about Horizon 2020 and how its projects are advertised in our July GeoPolicy blog.

If you are living outside of the EU, knowing which organisations are working on foresight studies in your area is a good start. Almost every national government undertakes some form of foresight research. Not only this, but there are also larger regional or global initiatives undertaken by international organisations, such as the UNDP and ASEAN, as well as a large number of consultancies that undertake foresight studies and develop prioritised action plans.


Why aren’t foresight studies publicised?

Actually, they are! Governments, particularly the EU Commission, love to highlight the various foresight studies that are being used to guide policy decisions because they are generally of interest to the public and demonstrate that much of the legislation enacted is based on research.  The links in the further reading section below will lead you to some of these studies.

Being a policy related blog, this post has naturally focused on the governmental and legislative use of foresight research. However, foresight can and should be used to steer both business and personal decisions. From financial investments to our education, having a greater understanding about what the future holds enables us to make more informed decisions that are more likely to have the outcome we desire! Perhaps this is just another reason to support scientific foresight and its distribution in formats more people are able to read.

Further reading 

EU Commission, Research & Innovation – Foresight

European value changes – Signals, drivers, and impact on EU research and innovation policies

 

GeoPolicy: IPCC decides on fresh approach for next major report

GeoPolicy: IPCC decides on fresh approach for next major report

This month’s GeoPolicy post is a guest post from Sarah Connors, a Science Officer in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group 1 Technical Support Unit (and former EGU Science Policy Officer). The IPCC is starting its sixth cycle, in which hundreds of scientists take stock of the world’s climate change knowledge by assessing the current scientific literature and then summarising this into three reports. These findings then play a vital role in supporting evidence-based climate policy around the world. The outlines, which focus on what each report will cover, were approved at a recent meeting in Montreal, Canada. This GeoPolicy post will summarise the new Working Group 1 outline and highlight how scientists can be authors in this IPCC cycle.

The process

Picture this, hundreds of delegates from countries all over the world descended on Montreal two weeks ago to discuss climate change. The gathering of all IPCC member states, known as the Plenary, occurs twice a year – this one was number 46. On the agenda was to discuss and approve the three Working Group (WG) outlines. These are lists of chapter titles and indicative bullets highlighting the topics that authors could focus on during their assessment. Almost 200 scientists drew up these proposed outlines in a meeting this summer in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Each WG took it in turn to present their draft outlines to the Plenary. Country delegates then had the opportunity to ask for clarification and provide feedback, where needed. The WG Bureau (acclaimed scientists selected to steer this IPCC cycle) would then answer clarifying questions and note down all the suggestions from the floor. The Bureau then modified the outlines and presented them again to the Plenary, repeating the process as required until there was a consensus among all countries. With 195 countries being members of the IPCC, this made for long working sessions in Montreal, sometimes running late into the evening. But achieving consensus is a vital stage in the IPCC process. If all countries agree then it provides a strong platform for policy decisions to then be discussed.

The result was a huge success. All three WG outlines were accepted with minor changes (click to see the outlines for WG1, WG2, and WG3). We now have a new, easy-to-follow style for the next IPCC Working Group 1 report. In a nutshell, it will be more holistic and shorter, with increased focus on short-lived species, extremes, and regional information.

Working Group 1 (WG1) examines the physical science basis underpinning past, present and future climate change. The second working group (WG2) looks the vulnerability of socio-economic and natural systems to climate change, consequences and options for adaptation. The third working group (WG3) explores pathways for limiting greenhouse gas emissions, known as climate change mitigation.

What’s new in the WG1 report? A focus on the physical science basis…

As a Science Officer based in the WG1 Technical Support Unit (TSU), my role, along with my other TSU colleagues, was to keep track of the suggested outline changes and make sure the Bureau didn’t miss anything. The new outline has changed considerably compared to the last cycle (AR5), I think for the better.

Firstly, AR5 had more chapters (14 compared to 12), which were structured beginning with what we know about climate change from observations (inc. paleo data), followed by climate processes (i.e., biogeochemical cycles) and then finishing with climate modelling (i.e., model evaluation and projections). One reason being that the scientific community’s research is structured around these themes. The next assessment (AR6) outline however, is better suited to the report’s end-users, who usually prefer having everything about a given topic all in one place. Therefore, the AR6 report will be more holistic. For example, Chapter 3 (Human influence on the climate system) will assess observational, process, and modelling literature, whereas in AR5 this literature would have been spread across multiple chapters.

Comparing the AR5 and AR6 WG1 outlines

Secondly, the new report will be shorter. Since the first IPCC assessment, the WG1 report has dramatically increased in length. If this continues, projections show that the AR6 report would be almost 2000 pages long and would weigh just under 5kg! Rather than repeating the work of previous assessments, the new report will provide more of an update since the AR5, thus reducing its length.

Additionally, there will be greater focus on short-lived climate forcers (Chapter 6) and extreme events (Chapter 11) than in AR5. This may include assessing literature on how climate change and air quality are interconnected in Chapter 6 and the detection and attribution of single extreme events in Chapter 11.

Finally, there is a greater regional focus in the report’s final three chapters. Much of the information developed here will support further assessment in the WG2 report, which focuses on regional climate change impacts.

Happy members of the WG1 Bureau and Technical Support Unit after approval of the WG1 report outline. Photo credit: IISD/ENB | Mike Muzurakis

Getting involved in the next steps

With the outline agreed, the IPCC is now looking for authors to compile the report. Scientists are selected based on their expertise, publication record, and coordination skills. Regional diversity, gender and previous IPCC experience are all taken into account in the selection of authors to ensure broad representation. Roughly two-thirds of the authors are new to the IPCC each cycle. Once nominations close (27 October),  the authors will be selected and will get to work drafting the report. The whole process takes about four years, with the report planned for release in Spring 2021.

The IPCC actively encourages early career scientists (ECS) to participate in AR6, either as an author, an expert reviewer, or through publishing timely papers. Watch the video below for more information of ECS participation in AR6 or email the WG1 Technical Support Unit with any questions.

For more information please watch the YESS community youtube video on How can you get involved in the IPCC as an Early Career Scientist.

By Sarah Connors, Science Officer in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

Further reading:

The IPCC and the Sixth Assessment cycle

IPCC calls for nominations of authors for the Sixth Assessment Report

Guest post: What will be in the next IPCC climate change assessment

The Carbon Brief Interview: Valérie Masson-Delmotte

GeoTalk: Meet the EGU’s President, Jonathan Bamber

GeoTalk: Meet the EGU’s President, Jonathan Bamber

GeoTalk interviews usually feature the work of early career researchers, but this month we deviate from the standard format to speak to Jonathan Bamber, the EGU’s President. Jonathan has a long-standing involvement with the Union, stretching back almost 20 years. Following a year as vice-president, Jonathan was appointed President at this year’s General Assembly in Vienna. Here we talk to him about his plans for the Union, how scientists can stand up for science at a time when it is coming under attack and how the Union plans to foster the involvement of early career scientists (ECS) in its activities.

In the unlikely event that some of our readers don’t know who you are, could you introduce yourself and tell us a little about your career path so far and also about your involvement with the EGU over the years?

I started out with a degree in Physics. I’ve spent the last 20 years in the geography department at the University of Bristol focusing on Earth Observation. In that time, I’ve covered a lot of topics: from oceanography to land surface processes, but glaciology is my core discipline and research area. Most of my work has broadly been in the area of climate change and climate research but also solid Earth geophysics.

I’ve been involved with EGU (actually, it was EGS then) since the late 90s. I used to attend the meetings and I realised there was a gap in the market for cryospheric sciences. I approached Arne Richter [the former General Secretary of EGS] to form the Division of Cryospheric Sciences. I put together a proposal and became secretary of the division at the time and later became president of the division when EUG & EGS merged to form EGU. I spent five years in that role, towards the end of which I proposed (and launched) the open access journal The Cryosphere, which just celebrated its 10th anniversary and publishes about 220 papers per year.  I’m very proud of those contributions to the community and feel that they have helped develop the discipline and strengthen it.

It was 2007 when I stepped down from the EGU Council all together although I still attended the General Assembly, of course, and convened various sessions. It was 2015 when the then EGU vice-president, Hans Thybo, suggested I stand in the next presidential elections. I wasn’t at all certain I wanted to take on the role, but decided to go for it because I think it is important to serve the scientific community and colleagues and EGU is an organisation that is close to my heart.

At this year’s General Assembly, you were appointed Union President (after serving as Vice-President for a year). What are the main things you hope to achieve during your two-year term?

There are two main areas that I am very keen to promote and foster:

First, I want to make the organisation [the EGU] more attractive to early career scientists (ECS) and offer them more opportunities, be that more and better short courses, career support and other benefits of attending. For some years now there has been a strong ECS network within the Union and there have been great advances in that direction already.

Second, I’d like to increase the EGU’s opportunities, and those of members, to be involved in policy activities.

Why those two in particular?

There are many things one could do; but having attended the General Assembly for 15 years, there is no doubt that ECS are the future of the discipline, so if we don’t make the meeting attractive and useful for them, what are we here for?

In terms of policy, there are a number of events which have happened in the past few years which make it come into focus.

Certainly, in the UK, it is important that the science we do has impact, and just as important is that we [researchers] understand what the impact of the research we do has. Ultimately, tax payers pay for the research we do, so it is important not to get detached from the role we have in benefiting society in broad terms but also through specific opportunities and activities.

From many years attending the AGU Fall Meeting, I am aware the American Geophysical Union (AGU) has a very well developed and successful policy related programme. It is, of course, simpler for them, as the policy landscape is restricted to one nation and AGU’s headquarters are in Washington. Nonetheless, despite those differences, EGU is not, currently, providing opportunities for engagement in the policy realm in the way we could, for example, with the European Commission and its funding instruments.

Science for policy is not suited to all scientists, and all disciplines that we represent. However, it is important for a large cohort of our membership.

EGU President, Jonathan Bamber (centre left) and EGU Vice-President, Hans Thybo (centre right), stand along side the 2016 EGU Outstanding Student Poster and PICO (OSPP) awardees. Credit: EGU/Pflugel

ECS make up a significant proportion of the Union’s membership. EGU is a bottom up organisation and there is no doubt that ECS have a say in many matters of the Union already, but how do you plan on including ECS further in decision-making processes in the future?

I wouldn’t necessarily classify ECS separately. They are simply geoscientists, just like the majority of our members. It is important, however, for us to show them and highlight the opportunities available for them to be involved in the General Assembly and the Union as a whole.

We have a Union-wide ECS Representative on Council – this gives ECS a good understanding of how the organisation works and gives the individual experience of the machinery involved in running all the activities of EGU. Roles like this give the next generation skills to take on leadership roles in the future too. How do they know how organisations operate if they don’t have opportunities like this?

There are also no barriers to them being involved in convening sessions, organising short courses and proposing activities for the Union to prepare.

It can be intimidating as a junior scientist to be involved in these activities, so it’s important that we make it accessible to them. I think we are making great progress in this direction.

As an established scientist, what advice would you give ECS starting out in their career?

Accountancy pays very well!

More seriously: get involved!

Also, look at your most successful and respected senior colleagues and identify what about them makes them successful and what do you admire in them. Positive role models are very important.

Recently, the scientific process has come under attack. Initiatives such as the March For Science have given scientists opportunities to make their voices heard. What role can the Union play in supporting members wanting to stand up for science?

We can put together advice for how scientists can get their voice heard. The Union’s Outreach Committee is quite active in this regard already.

Trying to make sure that the voice of the geoscience community is heard within Europe is another area where we can contribute. We’ve been involved in an EU Parliamentary meeting, representing EGU, where discussions focused on improving the integration of science and collaboration across Europe.

We also offer policy makers and institutions the opportunities to contact scientists, through our database of experts.  We need to make European policy-makers more aware that we can provide that service.

In terms of funding for scientific research, we’ve established links with the President of European Research Council. Jean-Pierre Bourguignon gave a talk at this year’s General Assembly and participated in one of our Great Debates. We also hosted a meeting where senior members of the EGU’s council met with Bourguignon to discuss how the EGU could support the ERC in the future.

As an organisation, it should be our goal to provide our members with a mechanism by which they can communicate with the European Commission and policy-makers.

Last month, the EGU issued a statement condemning President Trump’s decision to pull the USA out of the Paris Climate Agreement. Why is this decision so troubling and, in your opinion, what can Union members do to raise awareness of the challenges facing the globe?

We should communicate the importance of our science: what we know, what we understand, the evidence based facts.

In the absence of evidence based science, how do policy makers reach decisions? They rely on gut instinct, on beliefs, on prejudices… But they should be making them on evidence based science. So, it is crucial that we communicate what we know to the public and policy-makers.

In Europe, a large majority don’t question human influence on climate. They understand it is real and that it’s an issue of upmost importance.

Trump’s decision was about politics not science; it is important to remember that. He didn’t deny that climate change was real, but he was making the decision on an economic basis and that is something else again. Whether it was a wise economic decision or an entirely myopic one is another question altogether.  I speak about this in more detail in an open editorial I wrote shortly after the decision was announced.

Geoscientists are, perhaps, more important in terms of policy and the health of the planet than they ever have been before. All the work we are doing in the geosciences has huge implications for policy and for safeguarding our future on the planet.

Jonathan, thank you for talking to me today about a whole range of topics. I’d like to finish this interview by bringing the conversation back around to EGU. We’ve discussed, at some length, what the Union hopes to do for its members and highlighted that there are plenty of opportunities to get involved. So, how exactly do they go about taking a more active role in the Union’s activities?

One of the easiest ways to have your voice heard is by getting involved through your scientific division. Attend your division(s)’s business meeting. Each division has quite a few officers: a secretary, vice-president, secretaries for sub disciplines and so on. There are lots of opportunities there. In general, anyone who wants to put the time in will be welcomed by division presidents because it’s always good to have enthusiastic, dedicated volunteers.

When it comes to the General Assembly in Vienna, anybody can propose a session. If you want to organise a session or a short course, just fire it out there! The call-for-sessions is currently open [until 8th September]. You’ll find all the details online.

If you are interested in policy-related activities do complete the register of experts questionnaire.  It doesn’t take long and you’ll find details on our webpages. Make sure you provide as much detail about your expertise as possible. That way we’ll be able to match you up with those who make inquires and opportunities in the most effective way.

Interview by Laura Roberts Artal (EGU Communications Officer)