Category Archives: #SaveMiami

Good News. Bad News.

You’ve surely heard the phrase, “I have good news and bad news, which would you like first?” Growing up I always learned to get the bad out of the way first so as 2024 begins I have good news and bad news for you and, true to form, will start with the bad.

Bad News

As I have been predicting through much of last year, 2023 has now officially been anointed as the hottest year on record since global temperature records have been kept. It produced both the hottest summer on record in the Northern Hemisphere and the warmest winter on record in the Southern Hemisphere.

Simply leaving your home meant it was impossible to see a dramatic change in the weather and our climate. 25 disasters that struck the United States each caused over $1 billion in damage… a record. South California suffered its first tropical storm warning (in August) while Canadian wildfires turned New York City skies dark orange and sounded air quality alarms all over the East Coast as deadly tornadoes and devastating floods tortured the Midwest. And the weather-oriented disasters were not, of course, just limited to the United States. Tropical Cyclone Freddy was the longest cyclone in history and caused devastating flooding and landslides in many regions of Madagascar and Mozambique.

But nearly everywhere you went or lived last year the story was the heat. 2023’s global mean temperature was 1.48 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial average, a figure perilously close to the 1.5 degree aspirational goal in 2015 during the United Nation’s COP21, in what is known as the Paris Agreement. In 2023 mankind produced the hottest June ever recorded. Then the hottest July, followed by the hottest August, the hottest September, the hottest October, the hottest November, and, sadly, also the hottest December. Seven straight months that each broke heat records as compared to the entire recorded history of such records.

In fact, every single day in 2023 was at least 1 degree Celsius above the pre-industrial times (1850 to 1900) when fossil fuels became prevalent and have since lead to causing our climate to heat and heat. Worse yet (yes, the bad news seems to keep getting worse and will until we eliminate fossil fuels) is that two days, November 17th and 18th, were the first to measure 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Keeping temperatures within 1.5 degrees of pre-industrial levels is critical to mankind avoiding the worst impacts of our climate crisis but an increase that’s 2 degrees or higher will have simply devastating impacts all over earth.

Here’s how the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and a host of other scientific agencies all over the world documented the record setting temperature, records that shattered historic results by, as the WMO said, a “huge margin.”

NASA, NOAA, and a host of other climate experts are predicting that 2024 could very well break last year’s record and, for that matter, break through the 1.5 degree level. So, yeah, “Happy” New Year with that prediction. It’s time every one of us get serious about eliminating mankind’s use of fossil fuels before it’s truly too late.

Good News

As the new year starts all of the news, thankfully, is not bad. In fact, we start the new year with some incredibly great climate-oriented news here the United States. You see, 2023 saw the United States decrease (yes, you read that right, decrease) our fossil fuel pollution emissions by 1.9%, the largest decline since COVID19 led folks to stay inside, stop driving, working or traveling (and a time emissions declined an estimated 2.4%). Here’s a chart from the Rhodium Group that illustrates the correlation of results between economic growth (or decline) in recent years and green house gas emissions increase or decrease each year:

So, how did we actually reduce polluting emissions, much less do it in a year when the United States economy grew (+2.4%) robustly? Simply stated, coal use in the United States declined again last year and carbon emissions from coal, in turn, fell by 8%. And the warmer winter mentioned above led to emissions from things like natural gas, fuel, oil, and propane used to heat buildings to fall and polluting emissions from those fossil fuels fell by 4%.

Coal use continues to decline and that’s good news. In 2023 it’s estimated that just 17% of energy generated in the United States was derived from coal, the lowest such figure since 1969. Nuclear power, conversely, for the second year in a row moved ahead of coal as an American energy source.

Now, the news (sorry) here is not all good or great. Travel continuing to rebound meant that transportation emissions from airplanes increased 1.6%. Industrial emissions increased 1.2% as a result of an increase in oil and gas production.

While news of 2023’s record breaking temperatures should alarm all of us, the progress we are making by shifting away from coal shows that if mankind can muster the fortitude to eliminate fossil fuel use and shift to sustainable energy quickly we can, just maybe, avoid the worst impacts of our climate change crisis. But there’s not a day to wait.

For the United States to lead the world (as we should) towards fixing our climate crisis we need to reduce our polluting carbon emissions by at least 50% by 2030, a goal that means we must triple our emission reductions each year over the next six years so there’s no time to waste.

Not even one day.

Happy 2024 everyone. Here’s to hoping it’s a wonderful year for you and your loved ones that is filled with great health and happiness.

COP Out? The Dubai Document

Nearly 200 of the world’s nations gathered here in Dubai for the United Nation’s annual climate conference, COP28, and for at least a couple of days near the conclusion of our meetings, over half of those countries attempted to have the summit’s final guiding agreement include wording that called for the “phase out” of fossil fuels. In the end, half a day after its scheduled conclusion, what I will call The Dubai Document (which you can find here) and something that the UN calls its Global Stocktake (GST), failed to include any reference of either a “phase out” or a “phase down” of fossil fuels.

It will not come as a surprise to many that while some of COP28’s leadership will surely tout the document as an important, or even remarkable, step towards solving our climate crisis while patting themselves on the back, I would bill it and these two weeks as a “COP OUT” (pun intended) defined by wealthy oil producing nations (including our host country, the UAE) and corporations protecting their cash flow, profits, lifestyle, and most certainly the products and pollution that’s causing earth to warm in increasingly alarming ways.

That final document includes vague, nearly nonsensical, wording suggesting that the world’s nations should be transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science.” Such wording allows oil rich countries to continue to actually, unbelievably, increase fossil fuel production for the foreseeable future.

The good news, and it should be seen as such especially coming from such a controversial summit as has taken place here in Dubai, is that the phrase “fossil fuels” actually made it into the final document. That’s a first as even many oil producing nations have publicly acknowledged that the days of fossil fuel production are limited and will, one day, largely come to an end. Now that the adults leading these talks have had the courage to actually say that fossil fuels are causing our climate crisis and include that phrase in the conference’s culminating document, the proverbial pollution genie has been released from its lamp. That is, in itself, historic and should provide us something to build upon between now and COP29 next year in Azerbaijan.

The GST Agreement saw the world’s nations also agreeing to include a number of voluntary steps towards sustainability, including tripling global capacity of renewable energy by 2030 (something China and the USA had touted in a separate agreement a few weeks ago), doubling the rate of energy savings from efficiency steps, and “rapidly phasing down unabated coal.” The final document also again includes the 1.5°C degree aspirational goal found in 2015’s Paris Agreement and delineates that reaching that goal would require 43% of emissions cut by 2030 and a 60% reduction by 2035 versus 2019 emission levels.

I will share that the evolution of the final 2023 GST document has been a case study for me in how the UN’s climate negotiations take place as the attending nations strive for the UN’s desired consensus in the final wording. The proposed language released last Friday, for example, remarkably marked the first time in the three-decade long history of these negotiations that mention of eliminating fossil fuels by agreeing to phase out their use was ever put into writing and that rightfully garnered optimism amongst delegates that substantive progress just might be made at COP28. If mankind is to have a chance at limiting the worst aspects of our climate crisis, then it is essential that society begin an orderly transition away from using the fossil fuels that produce about 75% of earth’s warming.

“The Republic of the Marshall Islands did not come here to sign our death warrant.”

John Silk, Minister of Natural Resources and Commerce
Republic of the Marshall Island

The pushback to last Friday’s proposed “phase out” wording, however, from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and OPEC+ nations such as Saudi Arabia and Russia, along with India and China, was predictable, immediate, and fierce. In response to yet another new draft, one of many in recent weeks, that appeared late Monday with dramatically weakened wording called for reducing consumption and production of fossil fuels.” That revised wording was quickly deemed unacceptable and thus other drafts then followed on Tuesday and through the early morning hours here on Wednesday as negotiators attempted to do the impossible: appease everyone.

As they did last year in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Russia led the OPEC (Algeria, Angola, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates [COP28’s Host Nation], and Venezuela) and OPEC+ (Azerbaijan [next year’s COP29 recently announced host], Bahrain, Brunei, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Mexico, Oman, Russia, South Sudan, and Sudan) oil nations in refusing to allow the final Conference’s guiding agreement to include any mention  of either “phasing down” or “out” fossil fuels.

Instead, the oil cartels insisted that the summit focus on emissions from burning fossil fuels rather than the fuels themselves. Those nations and many of the oil companies that harvest, distribute, and sell fossil fuels prefer to tout unproven fantastical ideas such as “carbon capture” technology that experts predict could be impossible to scale to sufficient size in time to make a difference. Carbon capture is increasingly touted at these COP sessions by the fossil fuel producers and polluters like a magical climate change solution, yet experts note that in addition to being ridiculously unproven, it has all sorts of logistical issues including questions over where “captured” carbon would be stored, where and how it would be transported, and how to pay for the truly exorbitant cost of such technology.  The United Nations, it should be noted, has explained that a small amount of carbon capture technology may be useful to achieving its goal of net zero polluting emissions, such as within the concrete industry, but that this technology will not replace the need to dramatically reduce fossil fuel use and replace it with sustainable energy options such as hydrogen, solar, and wind.

And yet, as I have noted in earlier posts, it should surprise no one that those whose countries and companies profit from oil and gas would fight the growing, now very public global focus to “phase down” or “out” the polluting products they broker. Their resistance is, of course, logical but the open display that unfolded here in Dubai including the grotesque number of oil industry lobbyists that were so vividly everywhere illustrates both their fear and what’s at stake not only for them but more importantly for the future of our environment and humanity. Here’s a picture of who the OPEC and OPEC+ nations are:

Following last Friday’s draft COP28 Agreement, the one including wording related to the “phase out” of fossil fuels, it’s interesting to note that a memo dated December 6th from OPEC’s head, Secretary General Haitham Al Ghais, surfaced and was quite the topic of conversation here in Dubai (yet another example of how this year’s meetings “evolved”). That memo told OPEC members that “the undue and disproportionate pressure against fossil fuels may reach a tipping point with irreversible consequences” and advised them to fiercely fight any wording related to “phasing down” or “out” fossil fuel. News of that memo immediately led to global outrage but also, perhaps for the first time in such a public way, makes clear that oil nations are the focus of those of us that are serious about bringing an end to the use of their polluting products and transitioning to sustainable energy solutions before it’s too late.

And while they are neither a member of OPEC or OPEC+, China was also again forceful at these meetings. A proposed statement calling for global emissions to peak by 2025 was, for example, removed from the final document after China objected to such wording, a curious position since some believe that country’s own emissions might peak by then.

Another issue the world faces is that while ultimately over half of the countries here at COP28 (EU, the United States, Canada, Small Island Developing nations, and many others) openly supported the “phasing down” or “phasing out” of fossil fuel use in some fashion there are other countries such as certain African and the OPEC/OPEC+ nations that adamantly feel it is their right to profit from their natural resources, most certainly including harvesting fossil fuels despite the pollution it produces. During a closed-door session here in Dubai, for example, the developing nation of Bolivia explained that they “could not see space for targeting any sources of energy, that any phaseout or down or demand for action as a country is unacceptable to us.”

And despite the open disregard for the damage that the pollution many nations are producing, there were a growing number of nations in attendance for whom our climate crisis is literally going to be life or death. For those nations it’s clear that the climate crisis not only requires massive economic investment to try to become resilient by adapting to what’s happening to them, but that sea level rise realistically places their very survival and futures at dire risk.

“We weren’t in the room when this decision was gaveled. And that is shocking to us.”

Tina Stege, Climate Envoy
The Marshall Islands

It seems that you gaveled the decisions, and the small island developing states were not in the roomWe were working hard to coordinate the 39 small island developing states that are disproportionally affected by climate change and so we were delayed in coming here.”

Anne Rasmussen, Lead Negotiator
Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS)

“As a Pacific Islander on the frontline of the climate crisis, I’m gutted by the outcome of COP28 and was shocked to see the GST text adopted so quickly. The final outcome falls short of what’s needed in terms of fossil fuel phase out and finance.”

Shiva Gounden, Delegation Head
Pacific at Greenpeace Australia Pacific

In my earlier post from Dubai, The Room Where It Happens, I noted the importance of being at these meetings, of being engaged in the debate, negotiations, and decisions. That post was fortuitous when we consider the comments that small island nations made immediately after today’s announcement of a final vote and the resulting GST document. I’ve written about these nations in the past, places that face similar futures to many regions in South Florida where I live, such as Miami Beach, the Everglades and Florida Keys, places that are literally at the risk of extinction from rising sea levels caused by the damage fossil fuels pollution is doing to our atmosphere and oceans.

The sense in Dubai, frankly, is that the seemingly lightning fast vote on the final wording that was approved this morning may have somehow been manipulated so as to exclude some of the nations such as the 39 Small Island members from debating the final wording. Some of the nations that have spent these past two weeks calling for the “phase out” of fossil fuels, appear to have been still discussing the most recent wording, a draft that was released just a couple of hours before today’s plenary began and thus were not even in attendance during what became the final vote. If that’s the case, if they were consciously excluded or their attendance somehow prevented, it would mark a sinister end to COP28.

Those nations are now arguing that noticeably absent from today’s plenary was the typical debate over the most recent proposed draft wording that precedes a vote. The Small Island nations believe that there was a rush to end the Conference and approve the most recent wording without public debate ever taking place nor they even being in the room when the gavel brought COP28 to an end. If their full participation was, in fact, manipulated or limited in any manner by the UAE’s COP leadership then that betrayal will serve as the darkest oil spot of many black marks and sketch events to define the meetings here in Dubai at what has been perhaps the most controversial COP in the three decades these meetings have been taking place. It is most certainly a story worth watching evolve.

And as I write this post, I am in the process of traveling the 7,500 miles from Dubai back to my home in Miami, Florida, a trip that will take about 19 hours of flight time, a four-hour layover in London, and a couple of rideshares to and from the various airports. All in all, it will take me a full day to get home and upon my arrival I must immediately turn my focus to studying for this semester’s law school final exams that will dominate my schedule over the next week.

 

sandclock-gif-7.gif — Are.na

Honestly, I am both exhausted and exhilarated. And yet, as I sit here and study legal concepts and cases on the plane my mind is full of thoughts from the UAE desert, of what I saw, heard, and learned at COP28. And the image that I can’t keep out of my mind is of an hourglass filled with sand, perhaps sand from the very desert that I visited a few days ago, and thinking that it represents the time that’s running out for the nations of the world to fix our climate crisis by eliminating fossil fuel use before it’s too late.

Math & Science

My brother Owen has always been a bit of a math whizz and just loves numbers. He’s also an incredibly creative guy and his comfort with math serves him well as a student at the world’s top ranked architecture school. Me? While I’ve taken all sorts of advanced math courses over the years through high school and college, my passion has always been science. Find me on the back of a boat catching sharks to perform scientific studies before releasing them back into the wild and I am happy as a hermit crab who just found a new shell to call home after outgrowing its last. I find this dichotomy between us a bit amusing because I’ve been so deeply immersed in math as part of my research at the United Nation’s COP meetings as I study ways for the world to finance the solutions society needs to solve our climate crisis.

You’ve heard the old saying “follow the money.” Well, the transition to our sustainable energy economy is driven by environmental need, given how earth’s warming from fossil fuel use is impacting our atmosphere and oceans, but it’s also about money, namely the economics of how the world will pay for this incredibly complex transition. For this reason, the UN’s climate meetings focus on what the science tells us is happening, but a significant part of the discussion relates to numbers. Lots of numbers. Especially the money needed to make the transition a reality, including adaptation and resiliency.

With the first week of COP28 here in Dubai having ended, it’s a good time to reflect on one of the early successes given the prospects it holds to help many people around the world and because it illustrates how agreements amongst the world’s nations at these meetings tend to evolve over time. The subjects, solutions, and implementation costs are some of the most complicated and expensive issues of our time. And for that reason, it’s understandable that progress often takes time as the nations of the world research, debate, and negotiate solutions – along with financing – to make them a reality. In some cases, that’s years. In others, its decades.

Last year in Egypt during COP27 I spent a great deal of time learning about what the United Nations calls a “Loss and Damage Fund” (you can learn more from my post “Life Over Death” here), created to specifically address the impacts of the climate crisis on physical and social infrastructure in poorer countries so as to finance things like adaptation and resiliency projects. A key element of those negotiations was to create a dedicated financing mechanism to help lower income countries, vulnerable nations that disproportionately suffer the impact of our climate crisis but have done little-to-nothing to cause the pollution (like the Republic of Seychelles mentioned in my post in 2022), to provide them a sense of climate justice security.

As I sat in one meeting after another on the subject it was clear that many in attendance worried about whether an agreement could be finalized in Egypt on a topic that’s been discussed at UN climate meetings since 1992. Many of the impacted nations made dire pleas for help as their way of life and places they have lived in for generations are threatened despite not having causing the problem. Ultimately an initial agreement, imperfect in the view of many, was reached 36 hours after the Conference’s scheduled end and touted as a signature success of COP27.

Here in Dubai the good news from the first week of COP28 is that a handful of countries have agreed to provide very initial funding for the Loss and Damage Fund that actually, theoretically, makes the Fund operational. As of this blog post, about $700 million USD has initially been committed including $100 million from COP28 host country the UAE, $100 million from Germany, $108 million each from France and Italy, $50 million from Denmark, $27 million each from Ireland and the EU, $25 million from Norway, $17.5 million from the United States, $11 million from Canada, $10 million from Japan, and $1.5 million from Slovenia as a few examples.

While that sounds like a great deal of money, the reality is that it’s just a fraction of what’s needed (less than 0.2% by some estimates) to address the impact from our climate crisis on developing nations, a figure experts estimate to range from $100 to $400 billion per year. Many questions about the Fund remain unanswered including when and how the money can be deployed, how (or if) member nations will plan the exponential increased needed year over year to actually address the projected costs, or why one of the world’s largest polluters (sadly, the United States) contributed such a relatively (some rightfully say embarrassingly) small amount, all remain. But, the funding announcement is at least a start and, thus, that’s good news.

And speaking of UN climate finance and COP28, allow me to share an article I wrote that my University, the University of Miami, just published about topics that I am researching here in Dubai, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and Green Climate Fund (GCF), as well as the presentation itself. The article relates to a presentation that I had the profound honor of making here in Dubai to my School of Law colleagues, esteemed professors including Dr. Jessica Owley, our Executive Director Michael Berkowitz of the University of Miami’s newly established Climate Resilience Academy, and others. Here’s the published summary:

The idea of the Global Environment Facility, yet another funding tool organized by the United Nations for both developed and developing countries focuses on environmental conservation, protection and renewal for biodiversity loss, climate change, pollution and strains to land, and the health of oceans. Here’s a slide from my talk that details the numbers of GEF funding from 2018-2022:

Over the past three decades the GEF has provided $23 billion USD in direct funding and another $129 billion in co-financing to address over 5,000 projects all over the world. And the projected benefit from the GEF, now in its 8th iteration, is expected to grow as outlined in the following illustration, also from my recent presentation:

During my presentation we also discussed the UN’s Green Climate Fund program, the world’s largest climate focused fund designed to support developing nations by helping raise their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs: steps they can take to reduce greenhouse gas pollution and implement resiliency measures to adapt to the impacts of climate change).

These funds are focused on four transitional topics: the built environment, energy/industry, human security/livelihoods/well-being, and land use/forests/ecosystems. Approved projects require that half (50%) of the allocated funds are invested into mitigation and half (50%) in adaptation with a focus on Small Island Developing States (SIDS), Least Developed Countries (LDCs), and African States.

The 243 (and counting) GCF projects are having a major impact all over the world by helping an estimated one billion people be more resilient while avoiding an estimated three billion tons of carbon dioxide from reaching our atmosphere and oceans.

Hopefully the financial topics I’ve mentioned in today’s post give you a sense of the work taking place by the United Nations during these Conferences, much less all year long. That work truly never ends. And with that in mind I’m off to attend meetings on the Global Stocktake, the first true worldwide accounting (speaking of math) of society’s “progress” towards reaching the goals that the nations of the world agreed to in the Paris Agreement at COP21 in 2015.

The Global Stocktake report will be the most important story of COP28 and our time here in Dubai. The report will be filled with a ton of critically important science (yay!) and, yes, a whole lot of numbers and math that collectively will show the world whether our society is actually making progress in its fight to fix our warming climate, along with a roadmap for the extensive work that remains ahead of all of us.

Will the nations of the world take that story, the science and math within the Global Stocktake report, seriously? Does mankind have the fortitude to significantly adjust our ways, to take the aggressive, often difficult steps that will be necessary to meet the milestones agreed to in Paris to transition to our sustainable energy future and to mitigate the worst impacts of the climate crisis?

Or will the nations and businesses around the world that profit from producing the fossil fuels that are warming our atmosphere and oceans succeed in perpetuating their polluting ways?

How the world responds to the forthcoming report, to the math and science within it, will define our future.

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