Irony on Ice

ImageEarlier last week, scientists reported that monitoring stations across the Arctic were registering readings of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels higher than 400 ppm.  Far above the “safe” 350 ppm, we are headed towards the eventual reality of surpassing even the two degrees target agreed to by politicians in the global climate negotiations.  Meanwhile, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar reaffirmed last week that the United States is giving the go-ahead to Royal Dutch Shell to begin drilling up to five wells in the off-shore Arctic.  This is part of the US strategy to not only become “energy secure,” but also stay ahead in what seems to be an inevitable scramble to divide up the resource rich Arctic.  Already, Norway and Russia have embarked on the process to tap what seems to be a mammoth find of fossil fuels (oil and gas) hidden below the icy depths of the Arctic.

Many will recall Russia’s symbolic flag placement on the ocean floor at the North Pole in an attempt to lay claim to the territory (according to the United Nations Law of the Sea Russia may have the right to it based on its continental shelf).  Even while the 8 nation members and 6 groups representing indigenous groups on the Arcitc Council are working to create a common framework for cooperation in the Arctic, other nations like Brazil, Japan, Korea and China are asking for stakeholdership in the region.  One noted diplomat from India suggests that the Arctic should be preserved for scientific research and peace along the lines of the Antarctic.  But who would forego such riches?  President Grimsson of Iceland hailed the Arctic model of cooperation as a “new form of diplomacy” at a conference in March 2012.  As the ice crystals settle, what will emerge is a new permanent secretariat of the Arctic Council with representation from not only the Arctic littoral states but also the indigenous groups who have been living in the region for centuries.  This secretariat will supposedly be democratic, have an “emphasis on science-based outcomes,” have “equality of partners in the decision making process,” set new diplomatic norms, and most importantly, all its tasks will be oriented toward the future (because it is assumed the Arctic will melt).

There have been a flurry of events organized globally on the opportunities presented by the melting of the Arctic.  At least 12 symposia have been organized in the last decade around the opportunities for the oil and gas sector in the region.  Companies are sharing the advancements they are making in their abilities to tap resources in a region previously off limits due to ice.  Thanks to climate change, the situation in the Arctic has changed with sea ice retreating faster than anticipated.  Little is understood of how the melting Arctic ice may impact global fisheries, carbon uptake by the oceans and ultimately tip the planet’s delicate ecological balance.  Some estimates say the entire Arctic will be ice free during the summer in 30 years time. Meanwhile the climate negotiations have themselves arrived at a juncture where the work accomplished in the last 18 years means little.  Even less may be expected from the upcoming Rio+20 conference.  Perhaps they could take a lesson or two from this “new form of diplomacy” around the Arcitc.  No one in government is saying it, but we are all thinking it:  this is irony on ice.

From Pillars to Platform: Demystifying the Durban Outcome

“If we accept this text, we are killing ourselves.” These were the words of an ambassador from a small island nation in the final hours of the longest UN climate negotiations in history. “We may be small, but we are not dead,” he continued. With these strong statements, the ambassador sought to rally other countries like his to push back against the weak agreement the conference had produced.

Continue reading more on the Fletcher Forum.

American Teens’ Knowledge on Climate Change

Today the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication released a new report entitled “American Teens’ Knowledge of Climate Change” based on a national study of what teens aged 13-17 understand about how the climate system works, and the causes, impacts, and potential solutions to global warming. This research provides an assessment of how much American teens have learned about climate change in and out of school. For comparison, they also report how teens’ knowledge compares with that of American adults. The report is available online here.

Overall, they found that 54 percent of American teens believe that global warming is happening, but many do not understand why. In this assessment, only 6 percent of teens have knowledge equivalent to an A or B, 41 percent would receive a C or D, and 54 percent would get an F. Overall, teens know about the same or less about climate change than adults. The study also found important gaps in knowledge and common misconceptions about climate change and the earth system. These misconceptions lead some teens to doubt that global warming is happening or that human activities are a major contributor, to misunderstand the causes and therefore the solutions, and to be unaware of the risks. Thus many teens lack some of the knowledge they need to make informed decisions about climate change both now and in the future as students, workers, consumers, homeowners, and citizens. For example, only:

  •  54% of teens say that global warming is happening, compared to 63% of adults;
  • 35% of teens understand that most scientists think global warming is happening, compared to 39% of adults;
  • 46% of teens understand that emissions from cars and trucks substantially contribute to global warming, compared to 49% of adults;
  • 17-18% have heard of coral bleaching or ocean acidification, compared to 25% of adults. Continue reading ‘American Teens’ Knowledge on Climate Change’

Cartagena Dialogue Provides a Breath of Fresh Air

President Nasheed of the Maldives at the Opening of the Cartagena Group/Dialogue

“There is nothing wrong with being helped to go on living.  And that is what this[climate change] issue is all about,” stated a senior official from the Environmental Protection Authority of Ethiopia.  I am at a ministerial gathering of 28 nations of the Cartagena Group/Dialogue for Progressive Action convening in the beautiful island of Bandos in the Republic of Maldives.  The participants are from Antigua & Barbuda, Australia, Bangladesh, Belgium, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, France, Germany, Ghana, Indonesia, Malawi, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Samoa, Spain, Tanzania, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Uruguay, UK and the European Commission.  The Cartagena Group/Dialogue is an informal space, open to all countries that want ambitious and comprehensive outcomes in the UNFCCC, and that are committed, domestically to becoming or remaining low carbon.  These are “forward looking” countries, willing to work positively and proactively together within and across regional and UNFCCC groups.  The aim of the Group/Dialogue is to openly discuss the reasoning behind each other’s positions and to explore areas where convergence and enhanced joint action could emerge.  That is precisely what I see happening.

A representative from an industrialized nation stated clearly, “don’t push us, [to be even more ambitious] or you are not going to like it.”  While the words may seem a little jarring, that was not the intent.  The purpose was to make clear that negotiators and country representatives sent to UNFCCC talks can only do so much as they are at the mercy of the political winds of the countries they represent and might suffer backlash from voters.  It reaffirms that if large industrialized (and rapidly emerging) economies are to take strong action, it requires the majority of the citizens of those countries to have the will.  And while we witnessed the lack of political will to pass through climate and energy legislation before the congressional mid-term elections in the United States this week, countries small and large gathered at Cartagena have provided a glimmer of hope, giving a breath of life to the stale atmosphere that lingers within the UNFCCC post Copenhagen.  The truth is that the stiff negotiating environment of the UNFCCC rarely allows for a common space for understanding country positions and barriers to creating a comprehensive agreement.   This is especially true given such forums are reduced to a debate over choice of words in what is essentially a legal contract.  This is the second meeting of the Cartagena Group/Dialogue with regular meetings planned in the future.  The arrival of this group is also important as Copenhagen revealed that even large groupings such as the G-77 are beginning to fracture due to the rise of BASIC.  The latter’s demands conflict with many Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and Least Developing Countries (LDCs) who are calling for a 350 ppm or 1.5 degree Celsius warming target.  It remains unclear what future groupings could be like within the UNFCCC and there is no formal “Cartagena Group.” The current impasse in the UNFCCC requires new alliances and I suspect with time, a “G-X” will emerge to break the deadlock.   Continue reading ‘Cartagena Dialogue Provides a Breath of Fresh Air’

Rails of Freedom

Bombardier's experimental Jet Train

I am obsessed with trains.  There, I’ve said it.  I would even go so far as to argue that I love trains more than Joe Biden does. When I was young, my father used to take me to the train station to watch trains.  This is while I was growing up in Baroda, India.  While I cannot recall the specific memories of those visits, I do know that at one point in time I would be able to rattle off all the parts of a train, including the different types of engines, rolling stock, their purposes, and the roles of the different employees involved in the industry.  I would even spend countless hours drawing scenes of vibrant train stations and would eventually go through several different model train sets until about the age of 13.  There is a magic to a journey aboard trains that is unsurpassed by any other form of transit.  It inspires.  And a study of its history reveals the powerful impact the technology has had on the growth of nations around the world.  On April 16, 1853, the departure of the first passenger train from Mumbai (previously Bombay) to Thane traveling just 34 kilometers signaled the arrival of industrial revolution in India.  Today, India boasts the second largest passenger rail network in the world and the Indian Railways is the largest employer with approximately 1.6 million employees.

When my family left India, I did not realize that I would be leaving behind a country with a rich legacy of railways

America's Streamliners

to come to a country which has all but forgotten its own similar legacy, which served as the very foundations on which it was built.  In 1869 the last spike in the transcontinental railroad, the first link between the east and west coasts of the United States, was driven into the ground.  With it, a Morse code message was sent across the United States simply stating, “done.”  Railways allowed the United States to become truly unified, they allowed for the expansion of cities, for the distribution of resources and information.  Without railways, this country would not have been the same.  Railway transportation of both freight and passengers was a very lucrative business.  Furthermore, America led the world in railway technology innovation through the creation of “streamliners” noted for their speed and comfort.  In 1956 President Eisenhower’s signing the Highways Defense Act signaled the slow and steady decline of a once powerful industry.  It was also the beginning of a long and painful journey America would undertake to becoming addicted to oil fostered by the growth of a car culture and the rise of a suburban way of life.  Rail, a fixed form of transit, ties communities together.  Once upon a time, vibrant downtowns were anchored with a central station, surrounded by shops, business, and not far from residences.  With the decline of rail, America has witnessed a decline in community.  What’s more, our concern for individuality supported by the car culture has jeopardized the safety of the nation through our addiction to fuel sourced from foreign lands.  We are prisoners to this curse.   Continue reading ‘Rails of Freedom’

Youth Less Concerned About Global Warming than their Elders?

Today the Yale Project on Climate Change is releasing a report entitled, “The Climate Change Generation?: Survey Analysis of the Perceptions and Beliefs of Young Americans.” Here is an excerpt from the Executive Summary:

Photo Credit: Dakota Fine

American adults under the age of 35 have come of age in the decades since the “discovery” of man-made climate change as a major societal problem. The oldest of this cohort was twelve in 1988, when NASA climate scientist James Hansen testified at a Senate Energy Committee hearing that global temperature rise was underway and that human-produced greenhouse gases were almost certainly responsible. For this reason, the conventional wisdom holds that young Americans, growing up in a world of ever more certain scientific evidence, increasing news attention, alarming entertainment portrayals, and school-based curricula, should be more engaged with and concerned about the issue of climate change than older Americans.

However, contrary to this conventional wisdom, Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 are, for the most part, split on the issue of global warming and, on some indicators, relatively disengaged when compared to older generations. Continue reading ‘Youth Less Concerned About Global Warming than their Elders?’

Do Americans’ Actions Speak Louder than Words on Climate & Energy?

Today the Yale Project on Climate Change released its latest (3rd) report: Americans’ Actions to Conserve Energy, Reduce Waste, and Limit Global Warming. In brief, they found that there is a significant gap between Americans’ conservation attitudes and their actual behaviors. For example:

  • 88 percent of Americans say it is important to recycle at home, but only 51 percent “often” or “always” do;
  • 81 percent say it is important to use re-usable shopping bags, but only 33 percent “often” or “always” do;
  • 76 percent say it is important to buy locally grown food, but only 26 percent “often” or “always” do;
  • 76 percent say it is important to walk or bike instead of driving, but only 15 percent “often” or “always” do;
  • 72 percent of Americans say it is important to use public transportation or carpool, but only 10 percent say they “often” or “always” do;

On the positive side, large majorities of Americans think these actions are important. Yet there is also plenty of room to improve. It is important to recognize, however, that each behavior confronts its own set of barriers. For example, public transportation may not be locally available or convenient. Policies to lower these barriers will make it much easier for people to act in ways consistent with their values.

The survey also found that, in the past year, approximately 1 out of three Americans have rewarded companies that are taking steps to reduce global warming by buying their products, while slightly fewer report that they have punished companies that have opposed steps to reduce global warming by not buying their products. Finally, in the past year 12 percent of Americans have contacted government officials about global warming. Of these, 72 percent urged officials to take action to reduce global warming.

A copy of the report can be downloaded from

Americans Support Strong Climate & Energy Policies

Today the Yale Project on Climate Change is releasing the second wave of results from their recent national survey. This report finds that, despite the recent drops in public beliefs and concern about global warming, a large majority of Americans—regardless of political affiliation—support the passage of federal climate and energy policies. These include support for:

  • Funding more research on renewable energy, such as solar and wind power (85 percent)
  • Tax rebates for people buying fuel-efficient vehicles or solar panels (82 percent)
  • Establishing programs to teach Americans how to save energy (72 percent)
  • Regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant (71 percent)
  • School curricula to teach children about the causes, consequences, and potential solutions to global warming (70 percent)
  • Signing an international treaty that requires the U.S. to cut emissions of carbon dioxide 90% by the year 2050 (61 percent)
  • Establishing programs to teach Americans about global warming (60 percent).

Surprisingly, majorities of Republicans and Democrats support many of these policies, including renewable energy research, tax rebates, regulating carbon dioxide, and expanding offshore drilling for oil and natural gas. Further, majorities in both parties support returning revenues from a cap-and-trade system to American households to offset higher energy costs, perhaps opening a pathway for Congressional action.

Sixty percent of Americans, however, said that they have heard “nothing at all” about the cap and trade legislation currently being considered by Congress. Only twelve percent had heard “a lot.” Continue reading ‘Americans Support Strong Climate & Energy Policies’

Battle Until Dawn for Humanity’s Survival

It is 6:13 am and in the Bella Conference Center I am listening to the chair of the AOSIS (Association of Small Island States) trying to fight off uncontrollable tears. I am almost certain that the Group of 77 (a behemoth of 130 plus developing country states) is coming to an end. Countries are divided and I am witnessing accusations fly across the plenary. Why has it taken us so long to arrive at this point? We sit here with the “Copenhangen Accord” staring at our faces. It is a document full of hot air and is not what billions of people across the planet had been promised to deliver atmospheric restitution. Once again the developed nations have managed to gain somewhat of an upper hand in the wake of greater sacrifices of the larger developing countries.

That aside, negotiators had feared from day one of the talks that the documents and the process of negotiating would not mature to the point required in order to allow negotiations to move into the high level segment where over 100 Heads of States would come to sign a just climate deal. Their fears were realized. The process has been deeply flawed and the voices of nations regarding lack of transparency, conspiracy to kill off the Kyoto protocol has been true. I often found myself being witness to the injustice within the UNFCCC process (where had I not gone to certain meetings, I would have missed out on joint drafting sessions which I assumed were only scheduled G-77 coordination meetings). Text messages were sent, rooms were changed, information was not available to all.

Continue reading ‘Battle Until Dawn for Humanity’s Survival’

Why I Shouldn’t Date an Annex 1 Guy

The following is a post from IYCN‘s Policy Coordinator and Indian Negotiator Tracker, Leela Raina.  It was posted from the ongoing climate negotiations at the UNFCCC meeting in Bangkok.

To date or not to date and why?Among the 12 of us tracking the delegations here at Bangkok , I’m really tempted to go out in the evenings after a hard day’s work in the negotiations. I think after running after 60 year old negotiators from my country I require some youthful energy to enthuse the atmosphere!

From the perspective of a Non Annex 1 girl ,I feel that it would be literally impossible for me to find love among my team of 12 (keep in mind, there are no non annex 1 guys) due to the following very very STRONG reasons:

1. He is not willing to COMMIT

I am thinking Leela, I will think about it, I have loads of domestic responsibilities (read: girls back home) to undertake said the American Tracker. Whereas all the others supported him ,obviously ,collectively coming to a decision as the European Union , but nevertheless made their individual statements.

Instead they all say: Lets start all over again, lets try and get to know each other (read: shift baseline from 1990 to 2005)

What is keeping you from committing? Is it the reason that you feel I’ll dominate the relationship in the long run? (read: I’ll develop more than you over the years).

2. He takes more SPACE in the relationship

Adam- the Canadian Tracker

Adam- the Canadian Tracker

He takes more of the space in the relationship (read: has a massively higher proportion of pollution than us) and still demands he needs more space!

This is so totally NOT FAIR!

3. He refuses to FINANCE dinners

Although they have so much more money considering the dollar to baht exchange rate is amazing , they fail to fund my dinners. So I end up paying for myself, but considering that I don’t have the capacity to buy special desserts and exotic cakes, it becomes difficult to try and eat my share! (read: we can fund local missions like solar but in case we need to scale up activities we require your help!

4. Hates my mother (READ: tries to kill the KYOTO PROTOCOL) Continue reading ‘Why I Shouldn’t Date an Annex 1 Guy’


Kartikeya Singh received his Master of Environmental Science degree at the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies at Yale University. He is currently a doctoral candidate for a PhD in International Affairs at the Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy. His research interests include climate change and energy policy, the geopolitics of energy use, and transportation.

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