Category Archives: #SaveMiami

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.

The Room Where It Happens

No one else was in
The room where it happened
The room where it happened
The room where it happened

No one really knows how the game is played
The art of the trade
How the sausage gets made
We just assume that it happens
But no one else is in
The room where it happens. 

“The Room Where It Happens” From Hamilton
Written by Lin-Manuel Miranda

Prior to this year’s COP28 here in Dubai there was rightfully a great deal of concern expressed about oil industry lobbyists trying to increasingly control the world’s annual climate conference, of various countries working to use the United Nations meeting to greenwash their polluting ways, of a lack of transparency, and of conflicts of interest galore. Many of those same concerns have been amplified since COP28 began earlier this week and as I wrote in an earlier post COP28 stands to be controversial for many reasons but not reason enough to avoid the Conference, debate, and negotiations.

To avoid the worst impacts from our climate crisis, the science makes it clear to anyone interested in listening, the world must transition away from the fossil fuels that society has relied upon since the dawn of the industrial revolution to sustainable, clean energy. That transition will not happen overnight, but it must commence on a widespread global basis and then in the years ahead it must accelerate before it’s too late (and based on every scientific indication, study, analysis, and report, we are at the tipping point of “it’s now or never” to move the transition forward in a meaningful, measurable manner).

“We look forward to being there. Our absence from the discussion will not serve the interest of our islands.”

Ambassador Samuelu Laloniu
Special Envoy of Tuvalua

Consider, for example, small island nations, places all over earth that are at the real risk of extinction due to sea level rise caused by fossil fuels warming our atmosphere and oceans and the resulting impact of those temperature increasingly melting glacial ice. Places like the Florida Keys, where I am from. And places like the Seychelles (that I wrote about while at COP27 in Egypt last year), Samoa, or Tuvalu, or the other members of the Alliance of Small Island States as examples. Those nations are rightfully here because they are desperate to find solutions along with the almost 200 countries and approximately 97,000 people wanting… no, needing to be part of the most important discussion humanity might ever face.

When asked why he’s here in light of some of the concerns people have expressed about this COP, here’s what the Chairman of the Small Island’s Delegation, Ambassador Fatumanava-o-Upolu III Pa’olelei, had to say: This is an issue that requires us all to work together. Sometimes its perhaps more important to engage with those that do not necessarily share your perspective.” I could not agree more with the Ambassador.

Logically, every fossil fuel producing nation and business within the oil and gas industry has a direct, deep vested interest in protecting their revenue and profits. Whether your country has built kingdoms and castles from oil proceeds, or you operate a multi-national corporation that drills, pumps, or transports fossil fuels, builds gas oriented equipment or, for that matter, runs the local corner gas station or natural gas utility, every stakeholder on the planet is going to fight to keep what they have built.

It is indisputable that there are economies all over the world that will be impacted by a transition away from fossil fuels and to sustainable energy. Same with countless organizations, their shareholders, and employees. The transition will be an extraordinarily heavy lift, but it’s one that our society must collectively take as the down sides to not transitioning our approach to energy are far more dire than the inconvenience, perceived pain, or short-term suffering that we must temporarily navigate.

According to the data analytical firm Precedence Research, the global fossil fuel market in 2022 was valued at $7.2 Trillion (USD) and is predicted to grow to nearly $12 Trillion by 2032. The United States accounts for the largest segment of that market, an estimated 36%.  

In the United States, where I live, the market for fossil fuels is currently estimated at $1.8 Trillion (2022) and that is expected to increase to an estimated $2.94 Trillion by 2032. By any measure it is a massive industry that will take decades to transition, but is a transition we must begin in earnest now.

With that much revenue at stake, is it honestly of a surprise to anyone that those with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo would want to protect their turf by delaying or avoiding the transition to sustainable energy? Nope.

And should it surprise any of us that some of those same stakeholders will resort to nearly any tactic necessary including lying, cheating, or deceiving anyone that will listen in hopes of delaying or avoiding the transition that without evolution threatens their way of life? Again, nope.

Logically, we should understand that there are many nations and businesses that struggle with the idea of transitioning away from fossil fuel, with what must honestly and openly be called an economic threat. And, just as logically, many (perhaps most and maybe even all) of those so threatened by the coming transition will wage outright wars for their survival by fighting every single step of the way to continue profiting from an antiquated fuel source rather than looking for new ways to participate in what I call the “sustainable energy economy.” And I expect that some of those fights will be veiled in greenwashing attempts while others will be financed by lavish lobbying or sketch tactics like creating a carbon credit market rather than taking the actual steps to solve the problem by reducing and eliminating fossil fuel production. And, most certainly, some will or have become more nefarious and, in time, even violent in the most extreme cases given the high economic stakes involved.

As we stand here today at the dawn of the sustainable energy economy, none of the lobbying, greenwashing, deception, or the rest of that noise should surprise any of us. Those countries that profit from oil and the businesses that harvest and sell it are going to vigorously fight back. I’ve seen that up close in my own community from utilities or others with vested interests in protecting their investments and profits and, yes, it’s here at COP28 with greenwashing and lobbying taking place in plain sight. But should we run from the opposition or avoid the fight by not being here? I say no. Heck no!

In fact, we must be here and be prepared to discuss, negotiate, and, yes if needed, battle. Those of us fighting for the transition are, I am certain, on the right side of history; thus, we must be engaged on the front lines of this fight or else we might as well concede by staying home… and that’s just not my style.

And so I am here in Dubai, as I was in Egypt last year, despite the greenwashing, lobbying, and all of the other forces working against the transition. Why? Because it’s a profound way to learn. It is an excellent way to connect with others from around the world that are intent on solving our climate crisis. And I feel that it’s important to be directly engaged with others on both sides of the debate to find solutions in hopes that, just maybe, we can “move the needle” as my friend David Smith, the founder of CAVU, likes to say. So, here I am (that’s me in the brown shirt at the biggest negotiating table I’ve ever seen, in this case during the Report of the Global Environment Facility to the Conference of the Parties and guidance to the Global Environment Facility (Agenda Item COP 8(d)).

And here I am at the Women Building a Climate-Resilient World panel discussion, moderated by former Secretary of the United States Hillary Clinton.

And, yes, I could include more examples from more meetings here at COP28 because I have been running around from meeting to meeting every day like a crazy woman. Like, to quote another Lin Manuel Miranda song from his opus Hamilton, “I am running out of time.” Because we are.

But the point here is that while some prominent politicians, environmental leaders, and activists have dismissed COP28 and stayed home over concerns of greenwashing, fossil fuel lobbying, and so on, I am here to learn, observe, speak up/out, and collaborate with the majority of good people at the Conference that share my concern that our climate crisis threatens our future in ways that only world wars or some dystopian science fiction story presented in the past.

Avoiding the fight and discussion is not a solution.

We need to be in the room where it happens.

Phase Out, Phase Down, or Do Nothing at All?

COP28’s Most Important Question

As the COP28 meetings progress here in Dubai, the core, central question for the Conference in my view will be whether the nearly 200 nations from around the world in attendance can agree to implement wording to guide society’s energy transformation away from fossil fuels and to mankind’s sustainable energy future. In United Nation’s language it is a question of whether a consensus can be reached to Phase Out (meaning that we work to methodically eliminate fossil fuel use in line with the steps and timeline needed to meet the 1.5 degree Celsius goal from the Paris Agreement) or Phase Down (meaning to simply reduce fossil fuel use) or do nothing at all.

According to the World Economic Forum’s new State of the Climate Action report, the world must reduce global fossil fuel emissions by 7% per year until 2030 to have any chance of hitting the 1.5 degree Celsius target yet. Currently, however, we are on track to increase emissions by at least 1.5% per year over this time period. As part of the UN’s first ever Global Stocktake (to learn more about the Stocktake visit my earlier blog here) member nations are again debating what wording should be used on this critically important point. You can review the draft wording entitled Matters Relating to the Global Stocktake Under the Paris Agreement here).

My position on this topic has long been simple: if we are to solve our climate crisis and mitigate the worst possible impacts, then we must agree to eliminate fossil fuel use around the world. Period.

The 2015 Paris Agreement included the aspirational goal of keeping temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial temperature levels, a time when fossil fuels were not widely used by society. As of today our current trajectory, without quickly seeing major steps to materially cut emissions by nations around the world, the science shows us that we are trending towards an increase between at least 2 degrees and as much as 3 degrees Celsius. This range of a result will have dramatic, in some cases catastrophic, impact on people, economies, and environments all over the world; thus, taking aggressive action quickly is essential and that action should include a Phase Out of fossil fuel use.

The UN’s draft wording that’s being debated here in Dubai also includes suggested steps towards sustainability that have gained significant support such as ending fossil fuel subsidies in a fair manner, tripling renewable energy, and doubling energy efficiency. Each of these concepts will likely be in the final, inaugural Stocktake, and that’s good news. Efficiency advances and a dramatic expansion of renewable energy led by significant decreases in the cost of such power are already taking place all around the world so those concepts are easy for nations to support.

And speaking of the UN’s draft, here’s what UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said about phasing out or down fossil fuel use in his opening comments this week here in Dubai (the red highlights are my own):

“The 1.5-degree limit is only possible if we ultimately stop burning all fossil fuels.
Not reduce.
Not abate.  
Phaseout – with a clear timeframe aligned with 1.5 degrees.”

António Guterres
United Nation’s Secretary-General

The bad news is that the decision over whether to include the word “Out” versus “Down,” or even any wording related to fossil fuel production at all, is once again a major area of contention. Following COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, in which countries thankfully agreed to Phase Down the use of coal, the debate has shifted to other fossil fuels, namely natural gas and petroleum (oil).

Now I know that a shift away from gas and oil will not be easy or immediate. I realize that many countries rely on their fossil fuel production, the United States included, for critical economic, security, and societal reasons and that the transition that must happen will take time. It will also take a world-wide effort to make this transition reality but it is indisputable that scientist around the world, myself certainly included, believe that this is the only sure-fire way to limit the worst impacts of our climate crisis.

The question here in Dubai is whether the nations of the world will support the Phase Out that’s critically needed or whether the largest oil producers of the world will win by seeing the Phase Down wording used or, as is their true preference, having the Conference documents remain silent on this important point. It’s not an immaterial question when you consider that in many ways the wellbeing of future generations and our environment hang in the balance.

Logically those nations that produce the most oil and gas are protective of maintaining the status quo. Nations that don’t rely on fossil fuels but that are subjected to the resulting rising temperatures and sea levels, such as the small island nations of the world, are generally very much in favor of a Phase Out. Here are a few examples of the recent differences of opinion:

1. Russia, a country whose fossil fuels power much of its economy, has been very vocal in opposing any Phase Out wording and calls such an idea “economic discrimination.”

2. China, the world’s largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions at an estimated 14.4 billion metric tons, is against any formal wording of Phase Out language; however, they have pledged to gradually phase out fossil fuel consumption including through its participation in the G7 (see below). The chart below from CNN based on data from Climate Action Tracker illustrates how China compares to other nations, in this case the 20 largest pollution emitters.

At COP26, China supported wording to Phase Down coal as a positive move that seemed to surprised many. The Chinese have also announced plans to generate 25% of its energy from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030, amongst other steps. Progress towards sustainability appears to being made in China and, as with any other industrialized nation on earth, it appears that the Chinese realize that there are strong environmental and economic reasons to embrace sustainable energy.

3. Our COP28 host nation, the UAE itself the seventh largest oil producer in the world and a country intent, they say, on nearly doubling oil production by 2030 while also stating it plans to exhaust every drop of its oil (something it predicts will happen around 2050) – talks about a natural reduction of fossil fuel use rather than embracing a transition to eliminate it.

And speaking of the UAE, the media has been sharing comments reportedly made by the UAE’s COP28 leadership questioning the science that supports phasing out fossil fuel use and suggesting such steps would “take the world back into caves.”

As I reported in an earlier post, COP28 is nothing if not controversial.

4. Earlier this year the 27 nations of the European UnionKenya and others bravely announced support for Phasing Out fossil fuels.

5. The Group of Seven (G7) includes the United States, China, Japan, France, Italy Germany, and the United Kingdom and earlier this year they vowed to support speeding up the Phase Out of fossil fuels. However, they have yet to provide details. an actual plan, or whether the collective would agree to steps tied to reaching the Paris Agreement’s 1.5 degree Celsius goal.

6. Independently,  my own country, the United States, has announced that it favors a Phase Down of fossil fuel use. The US produces more barrels of oil per day (nearly 13 billion) than any other nation and its per capita production of fossil fuel pollution only trails Saudi Arabia and Australia, as this chart also from CNN and based on data from Climate Action Tracker depicts.

It is clear that phasing out a reliance on fossil fuels is going to take time and present many challenges, and that’s certainly true in the United States. That said, it can (and morally must) be done and simply will take the resolve and ingenuity that my country has been well-known for since its founding. If America can decide to send men to the moon and within seven years (just seven years!) do exactly that for the first time in the history of mankind, then we can most certainly transition away from fossil fuels and to sustainable energy.

And I, for one, would like to see the United States lead the way into the future rather than be mired in wasteful debates about why we should sit on the sidelines embracing fossil fuels as some ruminate about what one country or another might or might not do on their own to fix the climate. Candidly, and I know most young people that I connect with agree, there should be no real debate over what I see as an inevitable transition the world must make to eliminate every possible bit of fossil fuel use and embrace sustainable solutions.

As I have written on these pages before, there was a time before the automobile in which many people traveled on foot, by horse, and by buggy or carriage. When the world transitioned away from these long tried and true forms of transportation and to automobiles, motorcycles, trains, planes, and the like, the world did not end. Economies did not crumble. People and businesses and nations transitioned into the future. The world took a step forward and has only ever since grown and grown.

And while I am on this soapbox from Dubai, let me say that I believe that we can be confident that the same thing will happen as we transition away from the use of gas, oil, and coal. Society will evolve, become better because of the transition, and do the right thing morally and ethically for itself and future generations by protecting our environment in ways that polluting it with fossil fuels simply can’t. It’s time we get on with it and into our sustainable energy future.

As noted, the debate over Phasing Out or Phasing Down fossil fuel use is not a new one, nor one that I believe will be solved this year in Dubai. In fact, at last year’s COP27 in Egypt I was excited to witness an effort to implement wording to Phase Down fossil fuel use, an initiative that then had the support of about 80 nations, only to then watch it fail when oil and gas producers such as Saudi Arabia energetically expressed opposition to such wording and, instead, touted the supposed promise of carbon capture technology. For those that want to keep pumping oil and gas from the ground and pollution into our atmosphere and oceans, their approach last year was, you could say, a “winning” strategy. Unfortunately for the rest of us the science shows us that carbon capture is not a scalable solution to actually solve the climate crisis.

The spirit, however, of the COP meetings by the UN is to create a consensus amongst all nations and I believe it’s already fair to say that when it comes to the Phasing Down or Out of fossil fuels, that will not happen here in Dubai. No, my friends, I expect that the debate by the world’s nations on a plan to reduce or cease fossil fuel production will continue beyond COP28 while far too many of those countries, in the words of UN Secretary General Guterres, are happy to “kick the can down the road.”

And lacking a global consensus to either Phase Down or Phase Out fossil fuels, the oil and gas producers and polluters that significantly fuel earths rising temperatures and sea levels will likely leave this year’s COP again able to celebrate far too many of the world’s nations sad lack of resolve, its greed, and its indecision.

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