Paris Attacks Complicate Upcoming UN Climate Talks
Heads of state, presidents, prime ministers and royalty. Delegations from at least 190 countries. An estimated 3,000 journalists. Dozens of NGOs and assorted lobby groups. They are all due to converge on the beleaguered city of Paris in less than two weeks’ time.
But the recent terrorist mayhem in the French capital—resulting in the deaths of at least 129 people and injuries to hundreds of others—has made it a Herculean task to stage the huge UN climate change conference that is seen as vital for heading off potentially catastrophic global warming.
Photo credit: Maya-Anaïs Yataghène / Wikimedia Commons
The climate talks—officially known as the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)—constitute one of the world’s biggest and arguably most important conferences. It is being held at Le Bourget, a conference and airport complex about 10 kilometres north-east of the center of Paris.
The French government and UNFCCC have said the conference will go ahead, albeit amid what is described as “enhanced security.”
Le Bourget is less than a 10-minute taxi ride from Stade de France, the sports stadium and site of one of the major explosions last Friday evening.
With the whole of France currently in a state of emergency, security at the climate talks will be very tight. Any demonstrations by protesters against the causes of climate are likely to be closely controlled.
For journalists covering events—particularly those who want to follow proceedings both within and outside the conference hall—life will be difficult.
Journalists from developing world countries are already at a disadvantage compared with their western counterparts. Though many are keen to be in Paris and to report on events, their media organizations often lack the funds to send staff to the French capital.
Journalists from many developing countries also have to go through considerable visa formalities, and this can act as a further disincentive to covering the talks.
Yet these journalists often come from countries already feeling the effects of climate change, and where reporting on it is most needed.
A recent study led by academics at the University of Copenhagen found a profound imbalance in the way analysis of climate change is conducted around the world.
The study, which appears in the journal Global Environmental Change, found that countries most vulnerable to climate change are largely disconnected from the production and flow of scientific knowledge on the issue.
The small amount of research that is carried out on climate change in developing countries often lacks any locally-based personnel.
“Without locally-generated knowledge, it is more challenging to provide and integrate contextually relevant advice, and this leaves a critical gap in the climate policy debates,” says Maya Pasgaard, lead author of the study and a post-doctoral researcher in the Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management at the University of Copenhagen.
“This is particularly worrying as we are dealing with countries that are likely to experience severe climatic changes, and that are most sensitive to its detrimental impacts.”
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One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
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A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
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