Paris: Measurements for the Future


Last week I evaluated the commitments that various countries have made in preparation for the COP21 meeting that is scheduled for the end of this month. Specifically, I looked at the difficulty in converting the commitments from individual countries into practicable (enforceable) global commitments. This transition must include the differentiation between conditional and unconditional commitments while also allowing for the changing variables of population growth, economic growth, rates of energy usage, and the makeup of energy sources. These measurements will mostly come from UN, the World Bank and the European Commission. Almost all of the calculations for building scenarios to accomplish this conversion are anchored on the IPAT identity that I have discussed repeatedly throughout the pages of this blog.

This week and next week I’ll examine an even more fundamental component of the commitments – the measurements themselves. Since the Paris meeting will focus on the future, I will start the discussion with future measurements, largely based on data from satellite monitoring, which is independent of individual countries’ input. I will continue next week with a look at the current uses of this technology, as largely coordinated by the IPCC and the UNFCCC.

The technology for direct global satellite observations of carbon dioxide was recently given a major boost with NASA’s launching of OCO-2, the recent component of NASA’s “Earth Observation Fleet.”:

The OCO-2 Project primary science objective is to collect the first space-based measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide with the precision, resolution and coverage needed to characterize its sources and sinks and quantify their variability over the seasonal cycle. During its two-year mission, OCO-2 will fly in a sun-synchronous, near-polar orbit with a group of Earth-orbiting satellites with synergistic science objectives whose ascending node crosses the equator near 13:30 hours Mean Local Time (MLT). Near-global coverage of the sunlit portion of Earth is provided in this orbit over a 16-day (233-revolution) repeat cycle. OCO-2’s single instrument incorporates three high-resolution grating spectrometers, designed to measure the near-infrared absorption of reflected sunlight by carbon dioxide and molecular oxygen.

The project is currently limited to two years but we all hope that if successful, it will be extended indefinitely and that other space agencies will expand and double check the coverage.

The data from the satellite observations are being posted on a common site for the GES DISC’s “Earth Observation Fleet.” Below is a section of the site’s front page, including the fleet’s other components.

Here is a short introduction to the data:

An exciting week for us – Sept 6th, 2015 marks one year of operational data collection for OCO-2!
And, we have prepared the year of OCO-2 lite files, with bias correction and warn levels! We will open the portal on Tuesday (9/8/2015) CO2 Data Portal to share those datasets. There is one file per day (much fewer than the standard product), and the number of ancillary data fields are reduced to create smaller files. Documentation will also be on the portal.

Key information in the documentation:

– Descriptions of the data fields and organization in the netcdf files.
– For XCO2, we describe in detail the warn levels, which are an indication of the data quality. The user can trade off data quality and data volume by selection of warn levels. See attached for details.
– Also for XCO2, we describe the process used to calculate the bias correction, and provide characteristics of the corrections that were applied. The uncorrected XCO2 and fields used in the correction are all included in the netcdf files.
– The SIF lite file document describes the data fields and corrections that are applied to that product.
As with the L2Std and L2Dia files, there is a collection for the forward processing stream (v7) and the reprocessing stream (v7r), which runs from Sept 2014 through May 2015. The reprocessing data stream has a larger data volume.

We are happy to hear your comments and questions – please email

A “typical” example of the data and its corresponding caption as they appear in the NASA publication follows:

Averaged Carbon Dioxide Concentration Oct 1-Nov 11, 2014 from OCO-2Figure 1Global atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations from Oct. 1 through Nov. 11, as recorded by NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2. Carbon dioxide concentrations are highest above northern Australia, southern Africa and eastern Brazil. Preliminary analysis of the African data shows the high levels there are largely driven by the burning of savannas and forests. Elevated carbon dioxide can also be seen above industrialized Northern Hemisphere regions in China, Europe and North America

As we saw in an earlier blog (June 25, 2012) where I discussed the Carbon Cycle in another context, the yearly anthropogenic contributions to the carbon dioxide flux between the atmosphere and the land and oceans are less than 4%. NASA claims that OCO-2, has a high enough resolution to differentiate the anthropogenic contributions from the “natural” background contributions. This capability has yet to be demonstrated.

Follow-up on the terrorist attack:

In light of the terrorist attack on Paris that took place on Friday, November 13, I will try to include an update on the impact that the attack is having on the meeting in every blog.

During this first week, the President of France, Francois Hollande declared that the meeting will proceed as planned. The American government has declared that President Obama will also attend as planned.

However, Reuters came out with the following headline: “Green groups re-think massive Paris climate march after attacks.” This was followed the next day by the New York Times article, “Paris Attacks Hit Luxury Hotels Particularly Hard” which included the following paragraph:

And the United Nations conference on climate change, which is scheduled to begin Nov. 30 and run for two weeks, was expected to bring 40,000 visitors to the city and serve as the hub of countless dinners and receptions. But citing security concerns, the French government has ordered the conference to be scaled back to the bare essentials, resulting in the cancellation of more than 200 planned events around the .

Financially, this will have a huge impact because many “green tourists” that would have attended those events, will instead stay away from Paris. This decision will also have a massive effect on how non-politicians around the world participate, whether that means that they take to social media, demonstrate in other countries, or something else entirely.

I will keep you posted.

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COP21 and Paris – Evaluation of Commitments

Two weeks ago, through this blog, I was “on my way” to Paris. I wish I could actually be there (see the last two paragraphs for my sentiments on Friday’s terrorist attack and its ramifications); I like the city, I have family there, and at the end of the month the city will host what is perhaps the most anticipated climate change conference ever – COP21. I cannot be there physically because I have teaching responsibilities here that can’t be pushed aside. Meanwhile, I have asked my family in Paris to observe their surroundings and write a guest blog on the general atmosphere that accompanies the conference. I have also told my students that the second part of the semester and the final exam will focus on the conference. This blog will be one of the background materials they rely on, along with class discussions and media coverage. I have articulated that they should not take everything that they read at face value, instead requesting that they analyze the conference’s progress and conclusions on their own, based on the tools that they have acquired in class.

The November 3rd blog included short summaries of the commitments from the world’s 10 largest carbon emitters. You can read the full commitments of all 134 participating countries on the UNFCCC site. China’s full commitment includes 14 pages written in Chinese as well as a 20 page English translation. The US commitment meanwhile, consists of 5 pages, along with a referral to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) site for full details. In most cases, the countries provide not only their direct commitments but also an up-to-date status report of their economic activities, aspirations for economic growth, population, and energy use. Such information is vital to building accurate scenarios upon which the commitments rest.

Recently, analyses of the sum of the total commitments, and thus their global implications, started to appear throughout the press and on the net. Here are few examples:

A recent IEA (International Energy Agency) report warns that as they stand, the commitments to the UNFCCC will not be enough to achieve the target of limiting the temperature change to below 2o C – the number that many international organizations have aimed for.

Further underscoring that point, the Joint Research Center of the European Commission came out (October 27, 2015) with the following attention-grabbing headline: “Current climate commitments would increase global temperature around 3° C.” Fortunately, in spite of its title, the report itself presents a much more optimistic and balanced picture:


JRC analysis finds that submitted INDCs on climate policy can put the world on a path to reduce emissions in a more anticipated manner compared to current policies. Unconditional INDCs would lead to 56.6 GtCO2e in 2030 (excl. sinks; +17% 2010 with 42.2 GtCO2e) while conditional INDCs combined would lead to a clear peak shortly before 2030 at 54.0 GtCO2e (+12% vs. 2010). These scenarios, if extended to 2050, would already cover 30% to 44% of the emissions reductions needed to remain below a 2 °C temperature increase.

The following scenarios were modelled:

  • No Policy: Assumes no climate action in the future, including a relaxation of currently existing policies before 2020.
  • Reference: Assumes announced policies for 2020 and a relaxation of policies after 2020; emissions are driven by income growth, energy prices and expected technological evolution with no supplementary incentivizing of low-carbon technologies. Emissions continue to grow at a decelerated pace but reach no peak by 2050.
  • Global Mitigation: Assumes a rapid intensification of policies across several world countries from 2015, leading to a peak in emissions as early as 2020. A progressive convergence of underlying carbon prices after 2030, depending on their per capita income, leads to a “below 2 °C-compatible” emissions profile by 2050.
  • INDC-low: All INDCs expressed unconditionally are implemented; countries where the Reference already lead to emissions at or lower than their INDCs, as well as countries with no INDCs or conditional-only INDCs, do not implement additional policies. No commitment was assumed for low-income African countries. Beyond 2030, regional carbon prices increase, including for countries that previously had no climate policies, and progressively converge, at a speed that depends on their per capita income; on average, the world GHG intensity over 2030-2050 decreases at the same rate as for 2020-2030.
  • INDC-high: Similar to INDC-low, but all INDCs are implemented, including all conditional contributions.

The 120 countries that submitted INDCs as of October 13 2015 represented 88.0% of global GHG emissions in 2010 (excluding world bunkers; metrics using World Resources Institute’s CAIT WRI 2014). Most of the INDCs were used in the modelling (see Table 1 in Annex).

Global emissions continue to rise in the Reference scenario throughout 2050, whereas the implementation of INDCs and a prolonged effort after 2030 result in curbing emissions and a peak in 2035 (INDC-low) or 2030 (INDC-high). The emissions in the two INDC scenarios result in a global temperature increase of around 3 °C.

The decrease of emissions intensity per unit of GDP marks a break from the historical trend (-1.8%/year) in all climate policy scenarios:

  • it is slightly above the historical average in the Reference (thanks to the deployment of renewables technologies that is expected to take place even without strong climate policies);
  • it more than doubles in the ambitious Global Mitigation scenario;
  • it ranges from -3 to -3.3%/year in the INDC

The aggregate level of ambition of the INDCs by 2025 and 2030 thus represents a significant deviation from historical trends and will require efforts to implement current and new policies. This will mean a significant transformation of the energy sector and land use policies.

Nevertheless, emissions in both INDC scenarios are above least-cost pathways to limit the global temperature increase below 2 °C (illustrated by the Global Mitigation scenario).

Emissions from world marine and air bunkers continue to rise in all scenarios, as they are not subject to an international climate policy to curb their emissions. They rise at an average of 2.4%/year over 2015-2030 (2.9%/year over 1990-2015), driven by international mobility and trade, and increase from 1.4 GtCO2 in 2013 (i.e. 3% of global emissions) to about 2.1 GtCO2 in 2030 (3.5-4% of global emissions in the INDC scenarios).

JRC97845_Analysis JRC97845_Analysis

The total emissions in 2030 are 3.5 GtCO2e lower in the INDC-low versus the Reference case, and conditional INDCs lead them 2.5 GtCO2e lower. The majority of emissions reductions are achieved in the power sector (51% from Reference to INDC-high), followed by CO2 in other energy sectors (19%), non-CO2 greenhouse gases in energy and industry (13%), non-CO2 in agriculture (11%) and CO2 in LULUCF (6%; the effect of sinks10 has not been taken into account ).

For educational purposes, the most interesting part of this summary is the attached Annex 2 that lists all of the references that they have used for the analysis.

Annex 2 from JRC policy brief

The UNFCCC has its own summary and analysis of the commitments which I’m sure I will refer to often. Presently, however, I find the JRC European Commission analysis much more transparent and useful for demonstration purposes, which is why I have referenced it more recently. See, for example, the following excerpts that I included in the November 3rd blog:

The submission of the target by the United States was made on the assumption that other Annex I Parties, as well as more advanced non-Annex I Parties, would, by 31 January 2010, associate with the Copenhagen Accord and submit mitigation actions for compilation into an information document in accordance with paragraph 4 or 5 of the Accord, as the case may be. USA

China stated that the above-mentioned autonomous domestic mitigation actions are voluntary in nature and that they will be implemented in accordance with the principles and provisions of the Convention, in particular Article 4, paragraph 7. The Party also stated that its communication is made in accordance with the provisions of Article 12, paragraphs 1(b) and 4, and Article 10, paragraph 2(a), of the Convention. China

None of the commitments at this point are binding. US Secretary of State John Kerry emphasized this point on November 11th, when he stated that whatever decisions are made at the COP21 meeting cannot be implemented like a treaty because they have no chance of being ratified by the US Senate. The response that he got from the international community at large was that while that may be true, the decisions cannot be treated as hot air either.

Another issue that needs to be followed closely is that the negotiations are being conducted by states, and sometimes states don’t tell the full truth. One relevant example is the recent finding that China has been seriously underreporting the extent of its coal use. Since right now all the emissions accounting is done by the states themselves, what is needed is an independent audit. Today’s technology makes that possible and I will cover it in future blogs.

I was about to finish writing this blog on Friday, November 13, when I got a phone call from my family in Paris telling me about the shooting in their neighborhood and reporting that there was an overwhelming police presence everywhere they looked. At that time they had no idea what was going on in the rest of the city but asked me not to call because they were going to sleep (it was 9:30pm there). I stopped my writing and started to follow the news. It was quickly obvious that a major terrorist attack was taking place all over Paris and one of the most deadly focal points was a popular Cambodian restaurant just a few minutes’ walk from their apartment. By the time it was all over, 129 people were counted dead and a few hundred more were injured – 99 of them critically. This was one of the worst attacks in Europe since the Second World War.

There is probably no direct causal connection between the terrorist attack and the upcoming COP21 meeting there in less than two weeks, but there is no question in my mind that the attack will have a direct impact on the meeting itself. We will all keep our eyes open to monitor how the attack affects the Paris meeting and will try to analyze the consequences of that impact.

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China – Cap and Trade With Babies?

Cute_chinese-baby-boyLast week I started discussing the upcoming COP21 conference in Paris. I talked about the Earth Summit, which sanctioned the IPCCC, and included the near term commitments from the 10 most carbon emitting countries as to reduction of their emissions within the next 10 years or so. I promised that most of my blogs until the end of the year would be dedicated to the analysis of these commitments, along with the discussions and agreements that take place at and result from the Paris meeting. I intend to keep my promise, budgeting in the usual exception of breaking news that I feel I need to address.

Naturally, just as I was starting, something important did happen: a few days ago China decided to change its one child policy to a two child policy. Most of the rest of the world sort of yawned and said, “About time!” But many, including myself, see this as a sign that China still doesn’t understand the failings of its system. We think that in order to ensure a better future, it should follow the rest of the world and completely reject all birth restriction policies. To compound the confusion, the new ruling doesn’t take effect immediately, so the country will have to wait until March 2016 for “implementation.” It is not clear to me at what stage the implementation takes place: the actual birth or the attempts to have an additional baby – usually there is some time difference between the two.

I am not going to try to enumerate all the problems that China has encountered since its introduction of the one child policy. I will let the following graphs speak for themselves:

History and Projection of Relative fraction of elderly population in China and the US Figure 1– History and Projection of Relative fraction of elderly population in China and the US

Cumulative size of working age populationsFigure 2 – Cumulative size of working age populations

Comparison of fertility ratesFigure 3Comparison of fertility rates

Comparative ranking of sex ratio at birth

Figure 4Comparative ranking of sex ratio at birth

I am not sure that all of the demographic issues China is now facing can be traced to the one child policy. As is obvious from Figure 3, the decline in fertility rate didn’t start with the introduction of the one child policy. It is now well below the replacement rate of 2.1 (it has stood at 1.7 over the last few years). Similarly, this decline will not stop with the replacement of the one child policy with a two child policy. It seems to me that the policy is designed to try to provide demographic remedies while still maintaining strict government control over family size and family life. The unique position that China holds in terms of gender ratio as seen in Figure 4 can be traced directly to the wide-spread gender-specific termination of pregnancies. The figures clearly indicate that what China needs is not policies to limit population growth, but rather those that would bring it back to a demographic equilibrium where the fertility rate approaches the replacement rate of 2.1. As we saw in earlier blogs (in particular the January 14, 2014 guest blog by Jim Foreit), money and women’s education are excellent birth control tools to lower fertility rates. On the other hand, we saw that raising fertility rates from below the replacement value back to the replacement value is much more difficult.

China’s change of policy to two children per household might provide some demographic relief and might even reduce gender-driven termination of pregnancies, but it does not address these issues in a way that will provide lasting solutions. I dare to suggest an alternative policy to the Chinese government that will preserve the role of the Chinese bureaucracy in family but might improve the demographic result: employ Cap and Trade policy with babies.

As part of China’s commitment to the IPCCC to limit its carbon emissions, China has recently started to implement Cap and Trade in carbon emission. The technique is simple: the government sets a cap on the total amount of carbon contained in consumed fuels in the country and enforces it by issuing a limited number of allowances. The government can sell the allowances or distribute them for free to gasoline manufacturers and importers. After the distribution, people are able to trade them— the net effect is a rise in prices of carbon-based fuels and a reduction in consumption of these fuels.

Now let’s look at how this process would work when we apply it to babies. Every woman in a certain age bracket gets a certificate from the government that allows her to have two babies. If she wants more she can purchase an allowance from a woman that will want less. My strong suspicion is that there will be a surplus of allowances and that they will not cost much. The main difference between the policy of limiting pollution and the policy of controlling family size is that the state interest in controlling pollution is obvious – to limit it in the most economically viable way. There is no demographic need now in China to limit family size. There is, however, a strong demographic need to both bring the fertility rate back to replacement levels and bring the gender gap back to an equilibrium. The only way that I can think of to bring about these balances is to implement the cap and trade system from above while adding a state bank with the power to grant and subsidize more allowances. The Chinese government is probably the best government in the world to experiment with such a policy, given its proven ability to retain tight control over most aspects of Chinese life.

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On the Way to Paris

The twenty-first session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) and the eleventh session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP) will take place from 30 November to 11 December 2015, in Paris, France.

The UNFCCC (the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) is the international climate policy venue that was negotiated at the Earth Summit in Rio-de-Janeiro in 1992. Its mandate is to “stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”.[3] Of the 17 goals that the United Nations recently announced (see October 6 blog), the mitigation and adaptation of anthropogenic climate change was #13. It was the only one of the goals whose administration and enforcement was entrusted to a specified organization – the IPCC. The upcoming Paris conference is the 21st Conference of Parties (COP) assembled to try to accomplish the IPCC’s mission. The two most noteworthy COP conferences in the past were COP3 (held in 1997 in Kyoto, Japan), where the Kyoto Protocol was formed and signed, and COP15 (held in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 2009). Each of these brought with it a similar air of expectation to that which the Paris meeting is arousing. Many hope that COP21 will extend or replace the now expired Kyoto protocol. I will try to follow the Paris meeting throughout the rest of the year (but I expect the usual interruptions from pressing current events).

The much anticipated Paris IPCC meeting is expected to ask the nations of the world to commit in advance to taking certain actions to stabilize their greenhouse gas contributions. Today I will quote the commitments of the 10 most polluting nations; next week I will go more into depth about some reactions to these statements.

Global map of CO2 emittersFigure 1 – Global map of CO2 emitters

List of countries by carbon dioxide emissionsFigure 2 – List of countries and the their CO2 emission and their emission per capita

The commitments of the most polluting countries as given to the UNFCCC are shown below:


China communicated that it will endeavour to lower its CO2 emissions per unit of GDP by 40-45 per cent by 2020 compared with the 2005 level. It also expressed the intention to increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 15 per cent by 2020 and to increase forest coverage by 40 million ha and forest stock volume by 1.3 billion m3 by 2020 compared with the 2005 levels.

China stated that the above-mentioned autonomous domestic mitigation actions are voluntary in nature and that they will be implemented in accordance with the principles and provisions of the Convention, in particular Article 4, paragraph 7. The Party also stated that its communication is made in accordance with the provisions of Article 12, paragraphs 1(b) and 4, and Article 10, paragraph 2(a), of the Convention.


The United States communicated a target in the range of a 17 per cent emission reduction by 2020 compared with 2005 levels, in conformity with anticipated United States energy and climate legislation, recognizing that the final target will be reported to the secretariat in the light of the enacted legislation. In addition, the pathway set forth in pending legislation would entail a 30 per cent emission reduction by 2025 and a 42 per cent emission reduction by 2030, in line with the goal to reduce emissions by 83 per cent by 2050. The submission of the target by the United States was made on the assumption that other Annex I Parties, as well as more advanced non-Annex I Parties, would, by 31 January 2010, associate with the Copenhagen Accord and submit mitigation actions for compilation into an information document in accordance with paragraph 4 or 5 of the Accord, as the case may be.


India communicated that it will endeavour to reduce the emissions intensity of its GDP by 20-25 per cent by 2020 compared with the 2005 level. It added that emissions from the agriculture sector would not form part of the assessment of its emissions intensity.

India stated that the proposed domestic actions are voluntary in nature and will not have a legally binding character. It added that these actions will be implemented in accordance with the provisions of relevant national legislation and policies, as well as the principles and provisions of the Convention, in particular Article 4, paragraph 7. Finally, it added that this information has been communicated in accordance with the provisions of Article 12, paragraphs 1(b) and 4, and Article 10, paragraph 2(a), of the Convention.

The European Union:

The EU and its member States communicated an independent quantified economy wide emission reduction target of a 20 per cent emission reduction by 2020 compared with 1990 levels. Under the conditions set out by the European Council of December 2009 and as part of a global and comprehensive agreement for the period beyond 2012, the EU reiterated its conditional offer to move to a 30 per cent emission reduction by 2020 compared with 1990 levels, provided that other developed countries commit themselves to comparable emission reductions and that developing countries contribute adequately according to their responsibilities and respective capabilities.

The EU and its 27 member States wished to reconfirm their commitment to a negotiating process aimed at achieving the strategic objective of limiting the increase in global average temperature to below 2 C above pre-industrial levels. Meeting that objective requires the level of global GHG emissions to peak by 2020 at the latest, to be reduced by at least 50 per cent compared with 1990 levels by 2050 and to continue to decline thereafter. To this end, and in accordance with the findings of the FCCC/SB/2011/INF.1/Rev.1

The Russian Federation:

The Russian Federation communicated a target within the range of a 15-25 per cent emission reduction by 2020 compared with 1990 levels. The range of its GHG emission reductions will depend on the following conditions:

(a) Appropriate accounting of the potential of Russia’s forestry sector in the context of its contribution to meeting the obligations of anthropogenic emission reductions;

(b) The undertaking by all major emitters of the legally binding obligations to reduce anthropogenic GHG emissions. * **

* The Russian Federation communicated to the secretariat information on its quantified economy-wide emission reduction target in Russian, which can be found on the UNFCCC website. It also provided an unofficial translation of its submission in English and an edited version of this translation is included in this document.


Brazil communicated that it anticipates its mitigation actions, listed below, to lead to an expected emissions reduction of between 36.1 per cent and 38.9 per cent below its projected emissions in 2020:

(a) A reduction in deforestation in the Amazon (range of estimated reduction: 564 Mt carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2 eq) in 2020);

(b) A reduction in ‘cerrado’ deforestation (range of estimated reduction: 104 Mt CO2 eq in 2020);

(c) A restoration of grazing land (range of estimated reduction: 83 to 104 Mt CO2 eq in 2020);

(d) An integrated crop-livestock system (range of estimated reduction: 18 to 22 Mt CO2 eq in 2020);

(e) No-till farming (range of estimated reduction: 16 to 20 Mt CO2 eq in 2020);

(f) Biological nitrogen fixation (range of estimated reduction: 16 to 20 Mt CO2 eq in 2020);

(g) Energy efficiency (range of estimated reduction: 12 to 15 Mt CO2 eq in 2020);

(h) An increase in the use of biofuels (range of estimated reduction: 48 to 60 Mt CO2 eq in 2020);

(i) An increase in energy supply from hydroelectric power plants (range of estimated reduction: 79 to 99 Mt CO2 eq in 2020);

(j) Alternative energy sources (range of estimated reduction: 26 to 33 Mt CO2 eq in 2020);

(k) Iron and steel – replacing coal from deforestation with coal from planted forests (range of estimated reduction: 8 to 10 Mt CO2 eq in 2020).

Brazil stated that the envisaged domestic actions as indicated above are voluntary in nature and that they will be implemented in accordance with the principles and provisions of the Convention, particularly Article 4, paragraphs 1 and 7, Article 10, paragraph 2(a), and Article 12, paragraphs l(b) and 4. It also stated that the use of the clean development mechanism (CDM) established under the Kyoto Protocol would not be excluded.

Brazil also stated that it understands the Copenhagen Accord to be an important step in facilitating the conclusion of the on-going two-track negotiations under the AWG-KP and the AWG-LCA with a view to adopting a decision on the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol and also on the fulfilment of the Bali Action Plan during COP 16/CMP 6.


Japan * ** announced a target of a 3.8 per cent emission reduction by 2020 compared with 2005 levels.

The target does not currently take into account the emission reduction effect resulting from nuclear power, given that the energy policy and energy mix, including the utilization of nuclear power, are still under consideration. A firm target, based on further review of the energy policy and energy mix, will eventually be set.

* Japan initially communicated a target of a 25 per cent emission reduction by 2020 compared with 1990 levels. The original communication is available here.


Indonesia communicated that its voluntary NAMAs will reduce its GHG emissions by 26 per cent by 2020.

Indonesia added that this reduction would be achieved through, inter alia:

(a) Sustainable peat land management;

(b) A reduction in the rate of deforestation and land degradation;

(c) The development of carbon sequestration projects in forestry and agriculture;

(d) The promotion of energy efficiency;

(e) The development of alternative and renewable energy sources;

(f) A reduction in solid and liquid waste;

(g) Shifting to low-emission modes of transport.

Indonesia also communicated that its national action plan, aimed at achieving the aforementioned emissions reduction, would be equipped with a measurable, reportable and verifiable system in order to ensure that each action receives the necessary level of funding.

Republic of Korea:

The Republic of Korea communicated that it aims to reduce its national GHG emissions by 30 per cent from the ‘business as usual’ emissions in 2020.


Canada communicated a target of a 17 per cent emission reduction by 2020 compared with 2005 levels, to be aligned with the final economy-wide emission reduction target of the United States of America in enacted legislation. Submission of this target was made with the expectation that other Annex I Parties and major Parties not included in Annex I to the Convention (non-Annex I Parties) would submit information on their emission targets and mitigation actions by 31 January 2010, pursuant to paragraphs 4 and 5 of the Copenhagen Accord.

Next week I will analyze these commitments in terms of their perceived impact on the mitigation of humanity’s future global contributions to global climate change.

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Working for a Better Future

The 2016 presidential election campaign is heating up in the US and it seems to me that the widely accepted degree of cynicism about politicians is reaching new heights. In fact, it has already reached the point of paralyzing important parts of the government. Naturally, political campaigns focus on candidates’ promises of future action rather than accountability for their past activities. Climate change is at the forefront of such debates. Climate change activists are calling for action now as they try not only to ensure a better future, but to prevent some of the global catastrophes whose initial markers are already visible. Given how many politicians have actively worked to prevent actions that would help mitigate the dangers of anthropogenic climate change, public distrust is not surprising. Indeed, politicians’ tendency to discount the future is reaching new heights. Here, I’d like to elevate the debate from the collective shouting match over of what the future will hold to a more educational level.

I will start with academic research effort that was recently documented in the New York Times Op-Ed “The Power of Precise Predictions” by Philip E. Tetlock and Peter Scoblick:

The problem with such predictions is that it is difficult to square them with objective reality. Why? Because few of them are specific enough to be testable. Key terms are left vague and undefined. (What exactly does “underscore leadership” mean?) Hedge words like “might” or “could” are deployed freely. And forecasts frequently fail to include precise dates or time frames. Even the most emphatic declarations — like former Vice President Dick Cheney’s prediction that the deal “will lead to a nuclear-armed Iran” — can be too open-ended to disconfirm.

There is a familiar psychological mechanism at work here. One of us, Professor Tetlock, has been running lab studies since the early 1980s that show that if people expect that others will evaluate the accuracy of their judgments — that is, if people feel they will be held accountable for their views — then they tend to avoid cognitive pitfalls such as overconfidence and the failure to update beliefs in response to new evidence. Professor Tetlock and the psychologist Jennifer Lerner have demonstrated that accountability has this effect because it encourages people to pre-emptively think of ways in which they might be wrong —before others do it for them.

But when people make non-falsifiable predictions, they feel less accountable. After all, if a prediction can never be disproved, then it poses no reputational risk. That lack of accountability, in turn, encourages overconfidence and even more extreme predictions.

Non-falsifiable predictions thus undermine the quality of our discourse. They also impede our ability to improve policy, for if we can never judge whether a prediction is good or bad, we can never discern which ways of thinking about a problem are best.

The solution is straightforward: Replace vague forecasts with testable predictions. Will the International Atomic Energy Agency report in December that Iran has adequately resolved concerns about the potential military dimensions of its nuclear program? Will Iran export or dilute its quantities of low-enriched uranium in excess of 300 kilograms by the deal’s “implementation day” early next year? Within the next six months, will any disputes over I.A.E.A. access to Iranian sites be referred to the Joint Commission for resolution?

This suggests a way to improve real-world discussion. Suppose, during the next ideologically charged policy debate, that we held a public forecasting tournament in which representatives from both sides had to make concrete predictions. (We are currently sponsoring such a tournament on the Iran deal.) Based on what we have seen in previous tournaments, this exercise would decrease the distance between the two camps. And because it would be possible to determine a “winner,” it would help us learn whether the conservative or liberal assessment of the issue was more accurate.

The article focuses on the recent arguments regarding the Iran nuclear deal, but applying the same argument to climate change can easily bring about calls of, “stick to predicting the weather and leave the climate alone.” Here is how Wikipedia defines the difference between weather and climate:

There is often confusion between weather and climate. Weather is the day to day condition of the atmosphere at a particular place while climate is an average of weather condition at a particular place over a long period of time. Weather is the condition of the atmosphere at a particular place over a short period of time. For example, on a particular day in Trinidad, the weather is warm in the afternoon. But later in the day, when there are clouds blocking Sun’s rays, the weather would become cooler. Climate refers to the weather pattern of a place over a long period, maybe 30 years or more, long enough to yield meaningful averages ([1][2]). For example, although the weather in Pakistan may be cool and dry today, Pakistan’s climate is hot most of the time.

Two of my first blogs on this platform discussed similar arguments (May 7 and August 13, 2012). Here is a key paragraph from the May 7, 2012 blog:

A student of mine at Brooklyn College in a general education course on Energy Use and Climate Change forwarded to me a letter that was published in the on-line publication Business Insider (April 11, 2012). The letter was signed by 49 former NASA employees that included seven Apollo astronauts and two former directors of NASA’s Johnson Space Center calling NASA to move away from climate model predictions and to limit its stance to what can be “empirically proven.” The letter specifically targets James Hansen – Director of NASA Goddard Institute (GISS) (Hansen and the GISS have been acting as the “the canary in the coal mine” warning for years about the consequences of relying on fossil fuels as our main source of energy.) The letter states that, “We believe the claims by NASA and GISS, that man-made carbon dioxide is having a catastrophic impact on global climate change are not substantiated.”  The reason for the doubt includes that.” NASA is relying too heavily on complex climate models that have proven scientifically inadequate in predicting climate only one or two decades in advance” and that “There’s a concern that if it turns out that CO2 is not a major cause of climate change, NASA will have put the reputation of NASA, NASA’s current and former employees, and even the very reputation of science itself at risk of public ridicule and distrust.” This is backwards; it’s the letter that should be held up to public ridicule.

As I have mentioned repeatedly, effective mitigation of climate change requires a global evolution in attitude and a collective effort to develop technologies that will facilitate a worldwide energy transition without sacrificing economic development. It also requires time. The Brundtland report (see the January 28, 2013 blog) defined sustainability as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” With Tetlock and Scoblick’s requirement of refutability, we can neither refute nor confirm the needs of future generations at this time.

Tetlock and Scoblick postulate that by limiting predictions to the concrete and quantifiable, the limit acts as a restraining factor in discussions about the future. Since the predictor is aware that his/her predictions might be proven wrong, he/she is more careful about what he/she claims will happen. However, for this system to work, the predictions have to be tested within the predictor’s tenure in his/her position; otherwise, they may not care about the consequences of being proven wrong. This excludes long term predictions, thus making it useless for predicting the impacts of global changes such as climate change.

The refutability requirement bears strong similarities to the Popperian definition of the scientific method (see the June 18, 2012 blog), which is also based on refutability. We develop a hypothesis and/or theory based on everything that we know and we test the theory based on predictions for observations that we haven’t yet made.  If the tests fail, we change the theory. This amounts to prediction of future results.

Tetlock and Scoblick require arguments to be framed in terms of the immediate actions that need to be taken to mitigate the adverse consequences of our current way of doing business. It reminds me of a famously absurd Jewish folk tale wherein they must test all of the matches in a matchbox to make sure that they all function properly. At the end of the test none of the matches will be able to light a candle.

Another recent Op-Ed in the New York Times advocates that we should stop recycling because the process is expensive and time consuming compared to burying waste or manufacturing new materials:

IF you live in the United States, you probably do some form of recycling. It’s likely that you separate paper from plastic and glass and metal. You rinse the bottles and cans, and you might put food scraps in a container destined for a composting facility. As you sort everything into the right bins, you probably assume that recycling is helping your community and protecting the environment. But is it? Are you in fact wasting your time?

While in the short term that argument might sound compelling, when we look at the future availability of planetary resources, the results of such rhetoric are alarming. If we take into account the growth rates in both global population and standard of living, within a mere century we will have next to no new material left. In terms of multigenerational global sustainability, everything that can be recycled should be recycled. Of course, such a global change of practice requires a long learning period, meaning that we absolutely must start enforcing this action now.

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The Extended Golden Rule

Last week I looked at how Pope Francis used the Golden Rule “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Mt 7:12) as an anchor for his call for global change. I ended with an attempt to extend that fundamental Christian philosophy to include a call for sustainable global interaction with the global energy and water cycles. I said, “humans should move away from their contribution to the energy cycle and play a bigger role in the water cycle.” To use a stronger term (but worse English) – we should get out of the energy cycle and into the water cycle. This blog will expand a bit on these cycles.

If we Google each of them, we get about 500 million entries for the energy cycle and about 50 million for the water cycle. I spoke about these cycles in my book (Climate Change: The Fork at the End of Now – Momentum Press 2011); I am including excerpts here to give more context to my plea from above.

Energy_CycleFigure 1 – The Energy Cycle (Figure 6.5 in the book)

The full energy budget of Earth is presented in Figure 6.5. The outer atmosphere intercepts 341.3 W/m2 solar radiation. For the temperature to remain constant on the average, we need the same amount of energy to be emitted into outer space. About 30% of the incoming radiation is reflected and scattered back into outer space. This percentage is known as the albedo. As we will see shortly, it plays a crucial role in the balance. The remaining 70% is returned to outer space as infrared radiation. Figure 6.5 shows that not only the overall energy flow but also the regional energy flow is balanced in order to have approximately constant temperature on the surface of Earth.

Water CycleFigure 2 – The Water Cycle

About 70% of the surface of Earth is covered by water. The solar- driven evaporation of water from the oceans is the driving force for the water cycle and is responsible for all the fresh water needed to sustain the biosphere, including humans. As the water evaporates, it rises in the atmosphere together with hot, dry air. As the hot air rises, it moves to regions with lower atmospheric pressure— a process discussed in Chapter 2. In a sense this hot air is performing mechanical work similar to the gas in a car engine that expands by pushing the piston in a cylinder. The energy to perform this mechanical work comes from the internal energy of the humid air, and thus the air’s temperature will fall. As the hot air expands and cools, it can hold less water vapor and eventually becomes saturated. At this point some of the water vapor will condense into tiny water droplets to form clouds (about 1 million cloud droplets are contained in one raindrop). In the presence of small dust particles (0.5– 20 μm in diameter) that can act as condensation seeds, the cloud formation can start below the saturation pressure. Clouds are categorized as low clouds (below 2.5 km above Earth), middle clouds (2.5– 6 km above Earth), or high clouds (above 6 km above Earth). All clouds are white, but when viewed from the ground some appear gray or dark gray according to their depth and shading from the higher clouds. When cloud particles become too heavy to remain suspended, they fall as precipitation in the form of rain or snow. Water that falls on land runs off over the surface as streams, or percolates into the ground to become groundwater. It can return to the atmosphere again by evaporation or transpiration (evaporation of water from plants). Eventually both the surface water and the groundwater find their way back into the oceans.

This cycle is often referred to as the water cycle and is shown schematically in Figure 7.2. The driving force of this cycle is solar energy. The cycle involves redistribution of two key ingredients essential to the survival of much of the biosphere, and as a result, any man- induced climate changes are of major importance. The two key ingredients are water and mineral deposits.

 The table (taken from the book as well) shows the Earth’s water distribution.Global water distributionThe water cycle is a true cycle in that water is neither being destroyed nor created at any given time (although very small amounts can escape to outer space or the interior of the Earth). There is plenty of water on our planet; the total amount of water on Earth is 1.4 billion km3 (USGS) or about 300 million miles3. This amount is equal to about 20% of the weight of the moon. However, most of this water (97%) is ocean salt water, and is not suitable for either irrigation or consumption by humans or land animals. Solar energy evaporates a little bit of the ocean water, leaving the salt behind, and moves some of it to land where it can fall in the form of rain or snow of fresh water. As a result of this process, only a very small amount of fresh water can be captured to be used between people, plants, and animals. This meager amount is nowhere near enough for today’s use. The World Bank defines water stress as availability of less than 1,700m3/ person. Our planet now houses more than 7.3 billion people, and more than 80 countries are suffering from severe water stress. Most of these countries are poor, but important sections of very rich countries suffer from water stress as well – as is the case with California. I have written extensively (mainly in August – December 2013) on this important issue.

Two of the most visible impacts from climate change are sea level rise and changes in the water cycle. In the long term, the remedy to these is to integrate human needs into the water cycle through desalination efforts. This action also serves to integrate the effects of the energy cycle with the water cycle because desalination is an energy intensive process.

In comparison to water, the energy cycle doesn’t look much like a cycle. Solar energy comes from the sun and the infrared radiation escapes to outer space. But as I have mentioned before, the balance between the two forms of radiation has to be kept steady in order to guarantee that the average temperature remains approximately constant, and the climate remains suitable for life on Earth. If this balance is disturbed, the system adjusts by changing the climate. It is not very difficult to conceive of conditions that would bring about such changes that would make it impossible for Earth to sustain its current species. Among the billions of stellar objects around us, we have yet to find life in the universe outside Earth (in spite of quite a lot of searching). We continue to look for feasible places to move when our planet can no longer contain us, but for now we’re stuck here and must therefore look after our home.

Global energy currently uses roughly 0.001% of solar incidence. World energy consumption is 5.6×1021 Joules/ year (IEA – 2012). Solar incidence on Earth is 5.7×1016 Joules/Year (my book). The ratio in % amounts to 0.001%. The amount of energy that we use is not the problem. Instead, we are seriously disturbing the balance by changing the chemical composition of the atmosphere and changing the albedos by creating conditions for snow cover to disappear, for Earth to adjust by raising the temperature.

Mitigating and adapting to anthropogenic global climate change enough for life on Earth to survive longer than a few more generations requires humanity to get out of the energy cycle. This mainly consists of not using fossil-fueled energy, which drastically changes the chemistry of the atmosphere. Instead, in our effort to adapt to the changing climate, we will need to integrate into the water cycle through energy-intensive efforts to desalinate some of the ocean water to meet our needs for fresh water.

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Pope Francis and the Golden Rule

On September 24th, Pope Francis delivered a message to a joint session of the American Congress (September 29, 2015 blog). He anchored his message on the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Mt 7:12):

This Rule points us in a clear direction. Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us. The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.

Wikipedia gives us more background on this famous excerpt from the Bible:

Matthew 7:12 is the twelfth verse of the seventh chapter of the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament and is part of the Sermon on the Mount. This well known verse presents what has become known as the Golden Rule. In the King James Version of the Bible the text reads: Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets. The World English Bible translates the passage as: Therefore whatever you desire for men to do to you, you shall also do to them; for this is the law and the prophets.

Pope Francis framed all of the following issues in terms of the Golden Rule:

  • Global abolition of the death penalty
  • The fight against poverty and hunger
  • Abortion
  • The creation and distribution of wealth
  • The responsible use of natural resources
  • The creation of common goods
  • Aversion of the environmental deterioration caused by human activities
  • Appointing leadership in the service of dialogue and peace
  • Ending armed conflicts
  • The promotion of traditional families

In a sense, this set of topics mirrors the array shown in the tiles of UN sustainability goals that I discussed last week:

UN_Sustainable Developments copy

One can immediately see that several of these UN goals coincide directly with the topics that Pope Francis addressed. One major difference is that the Pope’s speech featured advocacy for direct and immediate change by individuals, whereas the UN goals necessarily take the shape of global commitments to be accomplished by 2030.

The Golden Rule clearly applies to human connections. We are responsible to each other. I am not here to preach any particular religion (regardless of the fact that I am a Jew) but the anchor of mutual responsibility, independent of national boundaries, should be a universal theme and a driving force for action. It is clearly the power that fuels Pope Francis.

But is it enough?

With a global population of 7 billion (October 2012) and growing, whose wealth is accumulating at an exponential pace (the average global GDP/Capita grew by more than a factor of 10 within my lifetime), the world is now a vastly different place compared to that which existed at the time of the apostles. There is an increased need to extend the Golden Rule to the physical environment around us to ensure survival of future generations well beyond the UN commitment date of 2030.

Meanwhile, there is serious discussion regarding changing the designation of our current era from the Holocene (which traces its beginning to about 12,000 years ago) to a new age called the Anthropocene: “’Officially’ the present epoch will be likely to be declared an Anthropocene. The name Anthropocene is a combination of Greek roots: anthropo- meaning ‘human’ and -cene meaning ‘new’. All epochs in the Cenozoic Era end in ‘-cene’.”

The Anthropocene Working Group (AWG) is an interdisciplinary body of scientists and humanists working under the umbrella of the International Commission on Stratigraphy and tasked with developing a proposal for the formal ratification of the Anthropocene as an official unit amending the Geological Time Scale. On occasion of its very first meeting, the AWG together with HKW convene a socio- and science-political forum, bringing together scientific experts, political stakeholders, media outlets, and an interested public. The forum presents insights into current scientific findings in defining a global impact of human activities and debates the far-reaching implications of the Anthropocene hypothesis for science and society alike.

Caring for each other in the Anthropocene is not enough. We are part of the physical environment and must care for that as well. As an example, one of the UN goals (goal 6) is to assure clean water for everybody. This is firmly connected to another common goal (2): zero hunger, since the latter cannot happen without sufficient water to grow the necessary food. Seventy percent of the planet is covered with water, but many places – rich and poor – are already suffering from severe water stress when it comes to fresh water; using less water is clearly not the answer. Instead, we have to integrate humanity into the natural cycles.

The two most important cycles to be considered are the energy cycle and the water cycle. The energy cycle depicts the balance between Earth and the sun: our planet radiates approximately the same amount of energy that it receives back into space, a process that makes it habitable. Without this balance, the resulting temperature on Earth would have long since risen above levels suitable for human survival. The water cycle is a true, as well as closed cycle. Water evaporates from the ocean using energy from the sun. The weather system drives some of the water vapor to land. The clouds that carry the water release it in the form of rain or snow, and the water eventually flows through various routes such as rivers back to the oceans. Only about 1% of the planet’s liquid water is fresh water suitable for direct human use. Water stress does not come from water shortage, but rather from a shortage of fresh water.

My humble extension of the Golden Rule is that humans should move away from their contribution to the energy cycle and play a bigger role in the water cycle.

In the next blog I will give a more detailed description of how humans already participate in these cycles, as well as the required timing necessary to further integrate with them in the most beneficial way.

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The World Speaks: We want Everything for Everybody – Now!

I am starting to write this blog on Thursday, October 1st. Pope Francis is back home in the Vatican, President Xi has returned to China, and most of the 150 or so world leaders that spoke in the United Nations’ 70th session and signed the global sustainable development agenda, are also on their way home. Now it’s time to start analyzing, contemplating and exploring the effects of their visits. I will start this week with a look at the new United Nations Sustainable Events declaration.

The declaration came out with 17 sustainable development goals for 2030 and 169 targets. The goals, in the form of attractive colorful tiles are given below:

UN_Sustainable Developments copyThese new goals and targets replace the Millennium Development Goals that were formulated in 2000.

The goals, the targets and the preamble to the agenda are published in a document that is too long to be reproduced here. The rest of the blog will summarize what I consider to be the essence of this document with a focus on sustainability of the physical environment.

More than 150 world leaders out of the 193 member states of the UN signed the document as representatives of their countries. I didn’t see accounts of the representatives of the 43 countries from which leaders were not able to attend. Nevertheless I consider the broad participation and the power and scope of the participants reflective of a legitimate voice for humanity.

The stated goals are to be implemented by 2030. I consider this time period shorter than my definition of “Now” that I use in my book, Climate Change: The Fork at the End of Now (This blog derives its name from the book’s title.), where I equate it to the projected lifespan of my teenaged grandchildren.

The preamble to the document recognizes that the goals are not independent of each other:

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 targets which we are announcing today demonstrate the scale and ambition of this universal agenda seek to realize the human rights of all and to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls. They are integrated and indivisible and balance the three dimensions of sustainable development: the economic, social and environmental.

It adds:


We are determined to protect the planet from degradation, including through sustainable consumption and production, sustainably managing its natural resources and taking urgent action on climate change, so that it can support the needs of the present and future generations.

33. We recognize that social and economic development depends on the sustainable management of our planet’s natural resources. We are therefore determined to conserve and sustainably use oceans and seas, freshwater resources, as well as forests, mountains and drylands and to protect biodiversity, ecosystems and wildlife. We are also determined to promote sustainable tourism, tackle water scarcity and water pollution, to strengthen cooperation on desertification, dust storms, land degradation and drought and to promote resilience and disaster risk reduction. In this regard, we look forward to COP13 of the Convention on Biological Diversity to be held in Mexico in 2016.

Among the 17 goal I will enumerate the targets that are connected with accomplishing goal #6 (clean water), goal #13 (climate action) and goal #17 (partnership):

Goal 6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all

6.1 By 2030, achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all.

6.2 By 2030, achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations

6.3 By 2030, improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally

6.4 By 2030, substantially increase water-use efficiency across all sectors and ensure sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater to address water scarcity and substantially reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity

6.5 By 2030, implement integrated water resources management at all levels, including through transboundary cooperation as appropriate.

6.6 By 2020, protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes

6.a By 2030, expand international cooperation and capacity-building support to developing countries in water- and sanitation related activities and programmes, including water harvesting, desalination, water efficiency, wastewater treatment, recycling and reuse technologies.

6.b Support and strengthen the participation of local communities in improving water and sanitation management.

Goal 13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts*

13.1 Strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters in all countries.

13.2 Integrate climate change measures into national policies, strategies and planning.

13.3 Improve education, awareness-raising and human and institutional capacity on climate change mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction and early warning

13.a Implement the commitment undertaken by developed-country parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to a goal of mobilizing jointly $100 billion annually by 2020 from all sources to address the needs of developing countries in the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation and fully operationalize the Green Climate Fund through its capitalization as soon as possible

13.b Promote mechanisms for raising capacity for effective climate change-related planning and management in least developed countries and small island developing States, including focusing on women, youth and local and marginalized Communities.

* Acknowledging that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is the primary international, intergovernmental forum for negotiating the global response to climate change.

Goal 17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development


17.1 Strengthen domestic resource mobilization, including through international support to developing countries, to improve domestic capacity for tax and other revenue collection

17.2 Developed countries to implement fully their official development assistance commitments, including the commitment bymany developed countries to achieve the target of 0.7 per cent of ODA/GNI to developing countries and 0.15 to 0.20 percent of ODA/GNI to least developed countries; ODA providers are encouraged to consider setting a target to provide at least 0.20 per cent of ODA/GNI to least developed countries

17.3 Mobilize additional financial resources for developing countries from multiple sources

17.4 Assist developing countries in attaining long-term debt sustainability through coordinated policies aimed at fostering debt financing, debt relief and debt restructuring, as appropriate, and address the external debt of highly indebted poor countries to reduce debt distress

17.5 Adopt and implement investment promotion regimes for least developed countries.


17.6 Enhance North-South, South-South and triangular regional and international cooperation on and access to science, technology and innovation and enhance knowledge sharing on mutually agreed terms, including through improved coordination among existing mechanisms, in particular at the United Nations level, and through a global technology facilitation mechanism

17.7 Promote the development, transfer, dissemination and diffusion of environmentally sound technologies to developing countries on favourable terms, including on concessional and preferential terms, as mutually agreed.

17.8 Fully operationalize the technology bank and science, technology and innovation capacity-building mechanism for least developed countries by 2017 and enhance the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology


17.9 Enhance international support for implementing effective and targeted capacity-building in developing countries to support national plans to implement all the sustainable development goals, including through North-South, South-South and triangular cooperation.


17.10 Promote a universal, rules-based, open, non-discriminatory and equitable multilateral trading system under the World Trade Organization, including through the conclusion of negotiations under its Doha Development Agenda.

17.11 Significantly increase the exports of developing countries, in particular with a view to doubling the least developed countries’ share of global exports by 2020.

17.12 Realize timely implementation of duty-free and quota-free market access on a lasting basis for all least developed countries, consistent with World Trade Organization decisions, including by ensuring that preferential rules of origin applicable to imports from least developed countries are transparent and simple, and contribute to facilitating market access

Systemic issues

Policy and institutional coherence

17.13 Enhance global macroeconomic stability, including through policy coordination and policy coherence.

17.14 Enhance policy coherence for sustainable development.

17.15 Respect each country’s policy space and leadership to establish and implement policies for poverty eradication and sustainable development Multi-stakeholder partnerships.

17.16 Enhance the global partnership for sustainable development, complemented by multi-stakeholder partnerships that mobilize and share knowledge, expertise, technology and financial resources, to support the achievement of the sustainable development goals in all countries, in particular developing countries.

17.17 Encourage and promote effective public, public-private and civil society partnerships, building on the experience and resourcing strategies of partnerships.

The strength of this pronouncement, in my opinion, lies in its global focus. However, global pronouncements of this magnitude require major compromises among the participating signatories in order to work. I suspect that these compromises will make up the framework required to enforce such a vision. These include population planning, research, and development to facilitate economic progress using sustainable tools. They also call for a more active role on the part of developing countries, which must contribute to the pattern of sustainable growth by way of the use of both domestic resources and good trade patterns with developed countries. More next week.

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Pope Francis’ US Visit

I am starting to write this blog on Thursday September 24th, two days after Pope Francis’ arrival to the United States, and the day after Yom-Kippur, The Day of Atonement; the holiest day of the year in Judaism. I am a Jew, which is reason enough for me to start a discussion with the Pope’s visit and the role of religion in shaping global events. Today Pope Francis delivered his address to a joint session of Congress. As usual, this blog will be posted this coming Tuesday, two days after the Pope’s scheduled departure from the US.

This week will be overwhelming dominated by events that have the potential to shake the world. In addition to the Pope’s visit to the United States, President Xi of China will be attending the opening of the United Nations’ 70th session in New York, along with approximately 150 other world leaders. The UN is expected to vote to formally adopt a global sustainable development agenda that will serve as a foundation for the upcoming Paris meeting on climate change this December. To cap it all off, Speaker John Boehner just made a sudden announcement that he will soon resign.

The Pope is the spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Catholics. President Xi is the leader of a nation of 1.4 billion people. Each number represents close to 20% of the world’s population with very little overlap. Together they represent close to 40% of the global population. If humanity is in need of major global change, what these two leaders say and do is important.

If they call upon their followers to take immediate action, there are obviously major differences in their ability to enforce such action. One has a large army and police force to manually implement action, while the other has the moral authority of being traditionally considered a successor to Saint Peter to whom Jesus gave the keys to heaven. I will focus this blog on Pope Francis.

When it comes to my own religion, I fast during Yom Kippur, but I don’t go to pray in a synagogue. I observe all the Jewish holidays – most of them with my family, but I don’t follow many of the dogmas of the Jewish religion in my daily life, such as those pertaining to food restrictions and driving and working on Saturdays. Many orthodox rabbis would not consider me to be a “real” Jew. To them, I am a “soft” Jew, even though during the Holocaust the Nazis marked me as a Jew by murdering most of my family.

Similarly, many of the 1.2 billion Catholics are “soft” Catholics. They go to Church as often as they wish. They obey certain parts of the Catholic dogma and ignore others such as those regarding birth control and abortion.

The Pope made two key speeches during his visit that contained strong language focused on global issues that are directly or indirectly related to climate change. His first – to the US Congress – was delivered in English, while his second – to the United Nations – was in Spanish. I will use Al Jazeera’s translation to quote some segments below.

This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions. On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Mt 7:12).

This Rule points us in a clear direction. Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us. The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development

How much progress has been made in this area in so many parts of the world! How much has been done in these first years of the third millennium to raise people out of extreme poverty! I know that you share my conviction that much more still needs to be done, and that in times of crisis and economic hardship a spirit of global solidarity must not be lost. At the same time I would encourage you to keep in mind all those people around us who are trapped in a cycle of poverty. They too need to be given hope. The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes. I know that many Americans today, as in the past, are working to deal with this problem.

It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth. The right use of natural resources, the proper application of technology and the harnessing of the spirit of enterprise are essential elements of an economy which seeks to be modern, inclusive and sustainable. “Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good” (Laudato Si’, 129). This common good also includes the earth, a central theme of the encyclical which I recently wrote in order to “enter into dialogue with all people about our common home” (ibid., 3). “We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all” (ibid., 14).

In Laudato Si’, I call for a courageous and responsible effort to “redirect our steps” (ibid., 61), and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity. I am convinced that we can make a difference and I have no doubt that the United States – and this Congress – have an important role to play. Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a “culture of care” (ibid., 231) and “an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature” (ibid., 139). “We have the freedom needed to limit and direct technology” (ibid., 112); “to devise intelligent ways of… developing and limiting our power” (ibid., 78); and to put technology “at the service of another type of progress, one which is healthier, more human, more social, more integral” (ibid., 112). In this regard, I am confident that America’s outstanding academic and research institutions can make a vital contribution in the years ahead

The English translation of Pope Francis’ September 25 address to the United Nations, UN Headquarters, New York.

First, it must be stated that a true “right of the environment” does exist, for two reasons. First, because we human beings are part of the environment. We live in communion with it, since the environment itself entails ethical limits which human activity must acknowledge and respect. Man, for all his remarkable gifts, which “are signs of a uniqueness which transcends the spheres of physics and biology” (Laudato Si’, 81), is at the same time a part of these spheres. He possesses a body shaped by physical, chemical and biological elements, and can only survive and develop if the ecological environment is favourable. Any harm done to the environment, therefore, is harm done to humanity.

Second, because every creature, particularly a living creature, has an intrinsic value, in its existence, its life, its beauty and its interdependence with other creatures. We Christians, together with the other monotheistic religions, believe that the universe is the fruit of a loving decision by the Creator, who permits man respectfully to use creation for the good of his fellow men and for the glory of the Creator; he is not authorised to abuse it, much less to destroy it. In all religions, the environment is a fundamental good (cf. ibid.).

The misuse and destruction of the environment are also accompanied by a relentless process of exclusion. In effect, a selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity leads both to the misuse of available natural resources and to the exclusion of the weak and disadvantaged, either because they are differently abled (handicapped), or because they lack adequate information and technical expertise, or are incapable of decisive political action.

The dramatic reality this whole situation of exclusion and inequality, with its evident effects, has led me, in union with the entire Christian people and many others, to take stock of my grave responsibility in this regard and to speak out, together with all those who are seeking urgently-needed and effective solutions. The adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the World Summit, which opens today, is an important sign of hope. I am similarly confident that the Paris Conference on Climatic Change will secure fundamental and effective agreements.

Ethical limits

The ecological crisis, and the large-scale destruction of biodiversity, can threaten the very existence of the human species. The baneful consequences of an irresponsible mismanagement of the global economy, guided only by ambition for wealth and power, must serve as a summons to a forthright reflection on man: “man is not only a freedom which he creates for himself. Man does not create himself. He is spirit and will, but also nature” (BENEDICT XVI, Address to the Bundestag, 22 September 2011, cited in Laudato Si’, 6).

Creation is compromised “where we ourselves have the final word… The misuse of creation begins when we no longer recognise any instance above ourselves, when we see nothing else but ourselves” (ID. Address to the Clergy of the Diocese of Bolzano-Bressanone, 6 August 2008, cited ibid.). Consequently, the defence of the environment and the fight against exclusion demand that we recognize a moral law written into human nature itself, one which includes the natural difference between man and woman (cf. Laudato Si’, 155), and absolute respect for life in all its stages and dimensions (cf. ibid., 123, 136).

The present time invites us to give priority to actions which generate new processes in society, so as to bear fruit in significant and positive historical events (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 223). We cannot permit ourselves to postpone “certain agendas” for the future. The future demands of us critical and global decisions in the face of world-wide conflicts which increase the number of the excluded and those in need.

The picture below shows the Pope speaking to Congress. Behind the Pope are the two co-chairs of this joint session of Congress, Speaker Boehner and Vice-President Biden in his role as President of the Senate.

Pope addresses Congress with Biden and  Boehner behind him.Figure 1 – Pope Francis in Congress

Both are practicing Catholics. Speaker Boehner is a Republican while VP Biden is a Democrat. The two disagree on almost everything, a feeling that especially applies to the issue of abortion. Pope Francis referred to that matter peripherally when he said, “The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.” Vice President Biden supports Federal law following the landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, which gives a woman the right to choose with some restrictions. Speaker Boehner wants to ban all abortion in the country. On this subject, the Catholic Church, with the Pope’s support, agrees with Speaker Boehner.

Here is Vice President Biden’s explanation of how he reconciles his religious beliefs with his political stance:

Vice President Joe Biden, a Roman Catholic, said that while he accepts the Church’s position that life begins at conception, he will not share his position with others who do not have the same beliefs.

“I’m prepared to accept that at the moment of conception there’s human life and being, but I’m not prepared to say that to other God­-fearing, non-­God­ fearing people that have a different view,” Biden told Father Matt Malone, S.J., editor in chief of America magazine, in an interview published on Monday.

Speaker Boehner has made the announcement that he will resign from Congress at the end of October. Whether his resignation is connected to the conflict between the Pope’s recent teachings and his own religious and political beliefs remains to be determined. Certainly, he – along with many other Republican elected officials – has expressed strong disagreement with and disapproval of the Pope’s continued messages on climate change and other global issues.

In the next month or two, with the advantage of extra time to reflect and react, I will try to remove some of the pageantry from the discussion of this week’s events and try to examine some of the key actions and consequences that result.

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Assessment – Fall 2015: Religion’s Role in Saving the World

I missed my usual summer assessment this year. My main excuse is that it was scheduled for the first two weeks of July, when I was out in China.

As it stands, since my last assessment (April 21st, 2015), I have covered a variety of religious beliefs in support of environmental issues with an emphasis on climate change; this included Judaism, Islam, Pope Francis’ declaration on climate change by way of his recent Encyclical, and the environmental beliefs at the core of Taoism. Most of these entries came in the form of guest blogs written by young people who practice these various religions and are interested in the world around them. I also looked at global carbon taxation efforts and reactions to the recent sharp drop in the global price of fossil fuels.

In preparation for the incredibly important upcoming global meeting in Paris scheduled for December this year, I also discussed aspects of progress in the transition to more sustainable energy mixes in countries such as Canada (British Columbia), the US (Texas), and China – following my July trip.

Our school year started about two weeks ago. My course on climate change this semester will focus on the Paris meeting, with this blog serving as a resource for the students.

These topics will probably continue until the end of the year. They will be fueled by two very important visitors: President Xi Jinping from China and Pope Francis. Both are scheduled to arrive on September 22nd. President Xi will depart on September 28 and Pope Francis will leave one day earlier. The corresponding arrival dates are not accidental. Since these visits also coincide with the 70th session of the UN General Assembly, many other world leaders will show up to discuss pressing global affairs. There is expected to be a strong emphasis on the global refugee crisis; an estimated 60 million people around the world have already fled their homes because of wars – most of which have been triggered by government collapse. Climate change and the preparations for Paris’s December conference will also be at the top of the agenda. Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations, will prompt the assembled leaders to try to provide global solutions to these impending global problems, at a time when such solutions are desperately needed.

My interest in these issues is not restricted to climate change. I was a child refugee after WWII and the fate of today’s millions of refugees – together with the world’s attitude and efforts to ensure their safety is of great concern to me. Of course, I created this blog specifically to tackle climate change, but climate change is a global issue with vast repercussions (including these refugee crises) that requires global solutions. Under current global governance systems it is very difficult to implement and enforce global solutions. The refugee problem suffers from this lack of administrative force.

The United Nations is certainly an organization that can tackle global problems such as the refugee issue and climate change, but it is not the only organization that can try to do the job. Major organized religions can also effectively influence solutions for such issues. In this blog I will mention the Catholic Church and Islam.

Figure 1 – Global Distribution of Catholics

The total number of Catholics worldwide is about 1.3 billion. When Pope Francis addresses the United Nations and several other US venues, chances are good that more than 1 billion people will listen. Pope Francis doesn’t have the enforcing power of a state, but for most of Catholics around the world he speaks with a higher command and believers will listen.

Figure 2, likewise shows the distribution of Muslims around the world, but Muslims don’t have a single authority similar to the Catholic Church. In fact, militant Muslim organizations are responsible for much of the unrest around the world, and have been the main trigger behind the massive refugee crisis.

The total number of Muslims around the world approaches 1.6 billion people; an estimated total membership of some of the most famous terrorist Islamic organizations is given below:

Al-Qaeda: 20,000-30,000
ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and Levant): 52,000-250,000
Taliban: 60,000
Boko Haram: 7,000-10,000

This is obviously not an all-inclusive list, and the real numbers – including all of the affiliates in various countries is much larger; still, it represents a very small percentage of the Muslim population. Bear in mind that the vast majority of the victims of the atrocities that these terrorist organizations initiate are Muslim as well. Those who manage to escape such regimes comprise many of the aforementioned refugees. The point here is that Islam itself, as a global organized religion is not the enemy. It can actually provide great tools to counter the global instability that its more militant factions have brought about.

Map of World Distribution of Muslim PopulationFigure 2 – Global Distribution of Muslims (

A few weeks ago (August 17 & 18th) an “International Islamic Climate Change Symposium” was held in Istanbul, Turkey.

The preamble to the symposium reads as follows:

A group of top academics has been engaged in drafting an “Islamic Declaration on Climate Change” and the initial draft has been circulated widely for consultation. The symposium will be an experts’ meeting convened to seek broad unity and ownership from the Islamic community around the Declaration, and to further discuss the amplification of messages and mobilization of various actors and groups around COP 21 and in the future. In attendance will be senior international development policy makers, leaders of faith groups, academics, and other experts. This symposium shall also provide opportunities to connect with leaders from other faiths as well as secular organisations, and promote inter-faith and cross-movement cooperation around aligned and joint messages. It will moreover highlight the future role and contribution of Muslims to the climate movement, and present ample communications opportunities, the aim being to secure high level representation from the diversity of actors mentioned above.

I have asked Sofia Ahsanuddin, the student that wrote the June 16th guest blog about Islam’s position on environmental issues to follow up on the reactions to this symposium and provide us with another guest blog on the topic.

Fall 2015 Assessment: Since my Spring Assessment, I have gained 42 followers on Twitter (bringing my total to 332). I also had 698 profile visits, 48 mentions, 58 retweets and 50.6K tweet impressions. This is all readily accessible information. On Facebook, in the same time period, my page got an additional 30,028 impressions from 23,579 users.

On my blog itself I’m happy to report that I’ve had had 690 visits from 261 unique computers, 439 of them new visitors. To those of you reading, I thank you and (as always) welcome your comments.

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