California Academy of Sciences - COP15 

January 6, 2010

Post from Saturday December 12th

Copenhagen

Its only 3:30 in the afternoon, but the sun is already setting low in the sky when I stumble toward the metro station after a long, sleepless, and cramped flight. Copenhagen is located almost 56° north latitude, the farthest north I have ever been, and we’re less than two weeks away from the shortest day of the year.

In my weary state I am standing around trying to figure out the metro ticket system, looking like a typical disoriented tourist. In less than a minute a kind and fresh-faced uniformed metro worker offers me assistance with perfect English and a perfect smile. I am guided through the ticket purchase and validation system and on to the correct train platform, I need do nothing more than step through the doors. I’m definitely not in the U.S. any more.

I don’t know it at the time, but over 50,000 protestors are marching from the heart of the city to the Bella Center, the main COP15 venue, at the very moment I am looking through the metro windows at my first glimpse of Denmark. The helicopters hovering overhead and the ubiquitous piercing flash of blue police car lights as we get closer to town are a clue that something big is happening. My jet-lagged thoughts are mostly on finding my way through the charming labyrinth of cobblestone streets to my rented studio apartment, so I can dump my bags and begin to orient for the week. Later I run into the San Francisco based author and journalist Mark Hertsgaard, and I learn about this day of grass roots climate action protests from him and the excellent article he posted online at VanityFair.com.

Straight to the laptop to review the meetings and events going on at different venues all around town, to see if there’s any events with a biodiversity angle that I still might catch, though it’s now after 5 p.m. I learn that earlier in the day, I missed a presentation in the E.U. Pavilion at the Bella Center entitled: Climate Change, Ecosystem Services, and Biodiversity. A side event scheduled for a full two hours, I am impressed the organizers allowed so much time for this topic, given how much competition there is for limited time slots.

The event offered an excellent line-up of speakers, including Pavan Sukhdev, the lead author of one of the most important biodiversity studies of recent times: The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB), a major initiative to calculate the economic value of biodiversity and draw attention to the very real costs incurred by its decline. Also speaking was Johan Rockstrom, who recently garnered international attention with a major study in the journal Nature entitled Planetary Boundaries. It’s a compelling concept that defines boundaries for nine essential Earth-system processes that humanity must stay within to avoid catastrophic change. Ominously, Rockstrom and his almost 30 prominent co-authors suggest that the boundaries have already been exceeded for nine of these, including climate change, biodiversity, and nitrogen cycling.

This side event represents exactly the kind of dialogue we need much more of. Certainly everyone in attendance experienced an increase in their awareness of the economic and ecological dependency of human societies on the goods and services that flow from biodiversity. I can’t believe I missed it! Fortunately it was one of the events in the E.U. pavilion that was recorded as a webcast. Roll over the menu bar line on the right and each speaker’s talk is available for watching. This is a great opportunity to increase your ecological literacy from some of the world’s most important thinkers on the value of biodiversity and ecosystems.

Into the evening I am searching online for other events and presentations in which biodiversity is considered as explicitly as today’s earlier session in the E.U. pavilion. A huge number of events implicitly focus on biodiversity, such as the use of agricultural waste for biofuel, adaptation to storm surge by coastal restoration, or genetic engineering for salt and drought tolerance in plants. But the only other event that I can find (out of literally hundreds) that is as explicit about its treatment of biodiversity is the one I and my colleagues have organized for Tuesday afternoon at the U.S. pavilion in the Bella Center. I have only been here a few hours, and it’s already becoming clear that although so many of our proposed solutions for adapting to and mitigating climate change are derived from biological diversity, there’s still relatively little awareness about just how direct that connection really is.


Filed under: COP15 — lindsay @ 11:25 am

January 5, 2010

Post from Friday December 11th

It’s raining lightly as I climb on the Santa Barbara airporter bus to LAX. After two days of meetings at UC Santa Barbara discussing coral reef research with a prestigious set of colleagues, I am on my way to Copenhagen to observe and participate in what many commentators have called the most important and most complex international meetings ever. It certainly feels like there could not be more at stake. The rapid growth in awareness of our climate predicament began in 2006 with Al Gore’s documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, and continued with the 2007 assessment report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a painstakingly detailed series of document describing the scientific evidence for Earth’s changing climate. Since then, the very most recent data published largely in scientific journals have taken even the scientists that published them by surprise: compared to predictions from just a few years prior, glaciers are melting faster, arctic summer ice is thinner, the stranglehold of regional drought is stronger, oceans are acidifying more rapidly. And most consequential of all, greenhouse gas emissions have been accelerating faster that the projections used in the 2007 report, so that the impacts projected are likely an understatement. While the downturn in the global economy has overshadowed the latest climate science in both the media and public perception, the trajectory of the global climate has continued to rapidly curve up and outside of any conditions human societies have ever experienced in their over 10,000 year history. No, there certainly could not be more at stake.

I’ll be just one of a small city of attendees descending upon Copenhagen. At least 5000 members of the press are expected, so you are likely to hear a LOT about the COP15 climate meetings in Copenhagen over the course of the next week. Actually you probably already are, since the meetings have been ongoing for a week now, and I will be arriving only for their second half.

The media and pundits and bloggers will be presenting many views of the intense negotiations taking place among 192 countries. A few sources of breaking COP15 news that I can heartily recommend are the Climate Thinkers Blog (http://en.cop15.dk/blogs/climate+thinkers+blog), BBC’s EarthWatch blog (http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/richardblack/), and the New York Times Dot Earth Blog (http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/tag/cop15/). There is no shortage of media outlets to learn about which country is prepared to offer what emissions reductions target, which country or group of countries is either holding up or advancing the negotiations, or what the world’s most developed countries who have mostly unwittingly created this problem are prepared to offer the worlds developing countries who are most likely to suffer huge impacts. Complex negotiations indeed.

But I am a biodiversity scientist, and I will be bringing you a particular perspective in my postings. While we often hear about climate change impacts to public health, human infrastructure, food security, even national security, we hear much less about climate impacts to biodiversity and ecosystems. This may stem from a general lack of appreciation for the role biodiversity plays as the foundation for our economic and ecological health. This lack of focus on climate change impacts to our own life support system will undermine our very efforts to prevent and adapt to climate change. Biological diversity offers some of our most valuable strategies in the arsenal of approaches for confronting a rapidly changing world. So I will be sharing with you my observations of the extent to which biodiversity, explicitly or implicitly, is on the agenda during the second week of COP15.

Hamilton Headshot


Filed under: COP15 — lindsay @ 5:40 pm

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