Washington University Students for International Collaboration on the Environment

Archive for December, 2010

Update

Lots of thanks to Summer for posting her experiences at Cancun!!! Please comment on her post (below).

Also, I hope everyone received the lovely e-mail from Richard Ling Yunzhi, wishing all of WUSICE and delegates a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Keep reaching out to each other – stay connected.

In environmental policy news:

The Paradox of Efficiency

By Bjørn Lomborg

Project Syndicate, December 13, 2010

CREDIT: Clean Energy Resource Teams (CC).

Several thousand officials from 194 countries just gathered in Cancún, Mexico, for yet another global climate summit. Dissatisfied with the pace of climate diplomacy, many individuals are now wondering what they can do about climate change on their own.

For years now, climate activists from Al Gore to Leonardo DiCaprio have argued that individual actions like driving more economical cars and using more efficient light bulbs are a crucial element in the effort to address global warming. The United Nations’ climate panel and the International Energy Agency both echo this sentiment, insisting that higher energy efficiency could reduce energy consumption by up to 30 percent—making improved efficiency an effective remedy for climate change. But is this really true?

Here’s something to think about. Back in the early 1970s, the average American expended roughly 70 million British thermal units per year to heat, cool, and power his or her home. Since then, of course, we have made great strides in energy efficiency. As the Washington Post recently reported, dishwashers now use 45 percent less power than they did two decades ago, and refrigerators 51 percent less. So how much energy do Americans use in their homes today? On a per capita basis, the figure is roughly what it was 40 years ago: 70 million BTUs.

This surprising lack of change is the result of something economists call the “rebound effect.” It’s a phenomenon familiar to urban planners, who long ago discovered that building more roads doesn’t ease traffic jams—it merely encourages more people to get in their cars and drive.

The underlying principle is a decidedly counterintuitive fact of life. You might think that learning to use something more efficiently will result in your using less of it, but the opposite is true: the more efficient we get at using something, the more of it we are likely to use. Efficiency doesn’t reduce consumption; it increases it.

The Breakthrough Institute recently highlighted on its blog some startling—and important—research findings along these lines, published in August in the Journal of Physics by energy economist Harry Saunders and four colleagues from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Sandia National Laboratories. As Saunders noted in a summary on the blog, he and his colleagues, drawing on “300 years of evidence,” found that, “as lighting becomes more energy efficient, and thus cheaper, we use ever-more of it.”

For this reason, the proportion of resources that we expend on lighting has remained virtually unchanged for the past three centuries, at about 0.72 percent of gross domestic product. As Saunders and his colleagues observe in their journal article, “This was the case in the UK in 1700, is the case in the undeveloped world not on grid electricity in modern times, and is the case for the developed world in modern times using the most advanced lighting technologies.”

The conclusion that Saunders and his co-authors draw from this is both surprising and hard to dispute: Rather than shrinking our electricity use, the introduction of ever more efficient lighting technologies is much more likely to lead to “massive … growth in the consumption of light.”

It’s difficult to overstate what these findings mean for climate policy. In a nutshell, they tell us that, while increasing energy efficiency is undoubtedly a good thing, it is most assuredly not a remedy for global warming. Or, as Saunders puts it, “energy efficiency may be a net positive in increasing economic productivity and growth, but should not be relied upon as a way to reduce energy consumption and thus greenhouse gas emissions.”

This is not an argument that should encourage anyone to go out and buy a Hummer. But we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that swapping our current car for a Prius, or replacing our incandescent lights with energy-efficient fluorescent bulbs, will strike a meaningful blow against climate change. The real fix to this problem will come when governments focus on research and development aimed at boosting the proportion of green energy sources in overall consumption.

It may be reassuring to believe there are cheap and easy things we can do as individuals to stop global warming, or that the answer is to continue chasing a chimerical global agreement on carbon cuts, as in Cancún. But the real action that we can take is to press our politicians to put smarter ideas on the table.

© 2010 Project Syndicate. Republished with kind permission.

Read More: Economy, Energy, Environment, Innovation, Science, Technology, Transportation, Global

Have a good holiday,
Anne

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ENVIRONMENT AND ARTS?

This is the NGO party at Cancun. It is usually held on the last night of the first conference week; different NGO members and parties usually come to this party because they know this is gonna be awesome. And IT WAS. It has been the best party I have ever experienced. The DJ was great and NO people were sober. The best part was when the DJs gave every one a candle and we helped one another to light it up. Then the song “n Bohemian Rhapsody” was played. Every one knew it and every one was singing. “Mama, life has just begun, but now I have to throw it all away…Mama, didn’t mean to make you cry, if I do not come back this time tomorrow, carry on, carry on, as if nothing really matters…” It was so beautiful. It was so powerful. Every one was so motivated to sing, flying our candles and swaying with the music, together with the huge crowd. I was nearly made to cry.
I was hoping so much you were there guys; how I want to share this emotion with you that we all belong to mother earth and how much we are related together. I feel lonely establishing all the connections and finding ways to get our voice out at COP16 many times, and it was really stressful when I didn’t know if I would really successfully deliver the MOU. WUSICE has been part of my life and the MOU held so much gravity on my hands. Guys I really want to experience all of these with you together. Luckily Sierra Student Club selected me as the student delegate for this year; but I will work hard with Jeremy to get WUSICE accredited for UNFCCC so that you will get the chances to go next year too.

This NGO part connected everybody all together. It strikes me again that music is such a powerful medium it can touch people’s soul and make their hearts vibrate in the same frequency. I echo so much with Jeremy’s idea of having a concert and Karen’s words that ART is something that connect people. I can’t agree more with it. For environment, we should express we are not just tree huggers. We protect the environment for ourselves. Environment is something that is so broad that it can be the theme that relates people from different part of the world, because we were all born from it, we are fed on it and we grow up from it. People feel the impact of love, truth, and nobility while they learn to appreciate the nature. Look at the skies, the trees and the blowing of the wind! Did they touch your heart today? Music connects us with nature, and it connects us; it is important to let people feel the beauty of nature and feel the love with the connectedness among them with the help of music. It is a way to unify people. Wooh..nature is my religion.

This experience echoes when I was talking to the only NGO that relates environment and arts together.
They are with the organization called Artists’ Project Earth, founded in UK. They invite singers to concerts and record songs, and then they produce albums which can be sold for money. They donate all the money to different environmental projects that could help cleaning up pollution, promoting recycling or even photojournalism that records the environmental changes. It inspired me a lot, since it was the only place at COP16 where I found the connection between arts and environment.
While we were chatting, we talked about some possible changes that are needed to reform the UNFCCC. Is it possible or necessary to make the process more humane? The WUSICE conference we had was a success, not only due to the structure and planning it had, but also because the delegates had the chances to bond and get to learn about each other. The personal connections contribute to further communications and mutual understanding, which played an important role later in helping the delegates to produce a joint agreement.
Therefore, is there anyway to foster this kind of mutual dialogs and understanding between the U.N. delegates at the conference? Should some of the processes be more interactive and personal? Can music be part of the conference? These are just some of my innovative thoughts, although they sound ridiculous at this moment.
But I do think that we students can try different solutions and see how to make things work better. We are younger, we are more inventive, and we are passionate. We are not afraid of failures. We can provide solutions to the delegations, so can we provide suggestions to UN and UNFCCC. Why not?


Individuals that make a difference

Aya IMAI is the girl from Doshisha University, Japan. She is the Head Office Student Representative of the student group WSEN(World Students Environmental Network) which holds annual environmental conferences in different countries including Germany, UK, etc. The students come together to talk about innovative sustainable solutions and get educated on climate change issues.
It is interesting to see how these students are all doing the similar things as we do in different parts of the world. WE ARE NOT ALONE.

From left to right: Liam from Canada, Katy from Mexico and Luana from Cook Island

The girl on the right is Luana, the student delegate from Cook Island. Cook Island is a beautiful beautiful pacific island that is affected by climate change. Do you remember at MOCK COP16, you guys argued for a long long time for how to write the text about LDCs (least developed countries) and small pacidic islands? How to make the agreement fair for them? How much sacrifice or compensation should we make? I introduced our conference to her and what the delegates agreed upon, and I said it would be so cool if we can have her presence at the conference. Her voice and input will be so important and interesting for us to hear about. Later that day she sent me a document, a statement from all the pacific islands. It indicates that the global temperature increase should be limited to less than 1.5 degree Celsius in order to save the islands. It is the goal 350.org is advocating also. It was not written on the two texts passed in the end, so we still have a long way to fight for.

Maira Niode is from Jakarta, Indonesia. She is 16 years old but is already a party member of Indonesia UNFCCC delegations. (Look at her pink badge!) So we can see many youths in some countries are very active. With the passage of Article Six under UNFCCC (Article Six emphasizes the educational part of climate negotiation, and it approves that the government officials can bring youth delegates to the COP meetings.) Therefore Fudan guys and Wash Uers, please notice the fact that youths are playing a more important role in UN process. There are more ways to get our voice heard. Pressure the government but also collaborate with it! In U.S. and China, the national delegations are pretty exclusive from the youths; there are no planned agenda for the negotiators to meet with their youth at COP16, and it was so hard for us to find chances to meet with them. In contrast, Australia, Indonesia and New Zealand’s governments are more open and flexible with youths from their countries. I do believe there should a special section at COP where national delegations are required and scheduled to meet with the youth delegates.

There is another U.S.-China Youth Climate Exchange program going on at Cancun and I was part of it. Many organizations including SustainUS, CY-CAN(China Youth Climate Action Network), SSC(Sierra Student Coalition), CCN(Climate Cascade Network) and Golden bridges participated in this project. During COP16, two workshops and one shared action were organized. The speakers are mainly youth delegates and the form of workshops was more interactive and casual, so people bonded very well. I launched the WUSICE MOU at the first workshop. It was exciting to see the same kind of exchange and communications going on between U.S. and China youths, but it was also a pity that you guys could not attend and share your insights and experience. They were very curious about the MOCK COP16 at WUSICE conference held, and many are interested in the idea of a MOCK COP17 next year. A website is just established, and I encourage you to take a look at http://www.cuyce.org/. It would be great to let you guys get to know these people who share the same passions and experiences to further the U.S.-China youth communications.


Blog series 1—MOU submission at Cancun COP16

Summer Jiakun Zhao
Hello guys! Again! These series of blogs record the things I experienced, the people I met and the thoughts I had in Cancun. I apologize for putting these up this late as I was too overwhelmed while I was there and was flooded with finals after I came back. But here they are! I tried to be as detailed as possible so even if I cannot talk to you in person, you might have an idea of what was going on in Cancun. I will continue to post on our blogs.

Firstly let me talk about the submission of MOU.

At COP16, I was totally overwhelmed with so many things going on at the same time. Every one thinks what they do is unique, and one’s voice is always diluted by all kinds of NGO events, side events and the huge plenary sessions. I have thought for a thousand times how to deliver the students’ voices, and the best scenario of presenting this MOU slipped past my head—it would be so awesome if I could bring these two chief delegations together to accept this MOU. But it was entirely impossible since I might not even have a chance to meet either of them at all.

However, it is always good to believe. It was interesting how everything happened before the two chief negotiators from U.S. and China signed on the Memorandum of Understanding created by the student delegates at the WUSICE U.S.-China Undergraduate Conference on Climate Change and Sustainability held at Washington University in St. Louis.

The night before I set up a quick appointment with Mr. Su Wei, the chief climate negotiator for China. With the help from a Chinese officer, we were able to meet outside Maya, the COP negotiation room. (The whole process was very complicated so I will leave this part out) John Delurey, our Wash U delegate came to Cancun and joined me in presenting the MOU to Su Wei. When Su Wei came out, I explained to him in Chinese the U.S.-China conference WUSICE put up together and how the Chinese and American student delegates produced the MOU during the final Mock Cop-16 event. Then John talked to him in English, saying that only after the conference did he realize there are so many difficulties and barriers in the climate change negotiations, especially because he was representing China during the conference; however, there were still ways to find solutions and compromises. Su Wei was very happy listening to what he said, and he talked in English, saying that there ARE real difficulties existing between these two countries, and he was very delighted to see that students had begun such dialogs and mutual communications.
Then he signed on the MOU with the comments “You guys are really doing great things. Keep doing.”

Then the dramatical thing happened. While we were taking pictures, Jonathan Pershing passed by. While Pershing was laughing and making fun of Su Wei meeting with two students, Su Wei began to shout at Pershing: “Jonathan! Jonathan come!” Pershing did not take it seriously and kept walking by. I met with Pershing at one of his briefings the other night and already submitted the MOU to him, so I kind of know him. Instinctively, I jumped out and chased after Pershing, crying: “Jonathan, Jonathan!” Then he turned back and walked to us.

Then it is how this picture was taken. Su Wei passed the MOU and a pen to Pershing, saying “I signed it. You should sign it too!” Jonathan was a little bit hesitant and joked with him: “Are you sure? Is it the legally binding agreement?” Every one was laughing while Pershing wrote on the MOU: “Only through dialogues can we find solutions.” Then we took a picture together, which marked the moment when the two national negotiators accepted the document created by the students from U.S. and China, agreeing to combat climate change.

Back to the night at Pershing’s briefing: I got a chance to raise a question for him. “There are many U.S. and China youth collaborations going on both at COP16 and back at our school. Back in St. Louis, WUSICE held a U.S.-China Conference….where U.S. and Chinese students came together and produced the MOU, which summarizes their agreements on topics like MRVs and Financing. I would love to submit it to you after the briefing. We know that mutual understandings and trust are very important for international negotiations. So my question is that as China has already made compromises on promoting transparency, would America also remove the barriers to aspire to reach at a binding agreement?”

He responded that he would love to take the MOU and read it and give some feedbacks. He also mentioned that his daughter is attending school in Chicago and was also interested in environmental policy issues. Then he answered the question that actually he and Su Wei met a lot outside the conference centers. They had teas and meetings frequently and they talked about a broad realm of issues. They have sought cooperation in different areas and things are very complicated between these two countries. “But it is not like if you solve this part, then the entire problem is fixed.” Well……Although he did not hit directly on the question I was asking, I am satisfied already by the fact that he would be willing to accept the students’ voice and really READ it.

Now that they both signed on the document, I bet they would READ this masterpiece between our awesome delegates from Fudan and Wash U! More importantly, we let them know that we students had begun such dialogs and collaborations; we warned them that if they do not take actions, we would replace them and do the right things!

Feng Gao(the gentleman who stands on my left) has been the UNFCCC secretariat of Legal Affairs for five years. His opinions are very insightful for how things work inside the UN regime, so it was very lucky I got to talk to him and submit the MOU to him.(His signature also appears on the cover of our MOU.) I would like to share some of his insights with you here.

While we were talking, he expressed his frustrations for the progress of the international negotiations. The U.N. negotiations had not been very effective or successful, so in the future maybe more and more countries would drop off from the negotiations. He said that the process is too slow and America is the biggest obstacle for current international climate negotiation. Other developing countries would not support the agreement unless developed countries take the lead, but America is too reluctant in pushing for a legally binding agreement. It is not something that Jonathan Pershing could change by himself; if the American government, the people in the Congress and the President himself do not support any forms of Kyoto Protocol, then there is little Pershing could do. He is the executive but not the ultimate decision maker. The main problem lies in America, America itself. Over fifty percent of Republicans do not believe in climate change; then what change will the current congress make? However, the congress reacts to public perception; if the public shows enough pressure to combat climate change, the congress will take actions because it does not want to lose public support. So mobilizing civilian movements internally towards the government is very important. BUT HOW? How to get people to care about the environment? How can people believe there IS climate change? How to get the public as passionate as we do to improve our environment?
Climate change is hard to visualize, feel or relate to, and if I don’t keep educating myself about it or exposing myself to climate knowledge or news, sometimes I lose momentum of keeping on my work to influence others…well I am a little bit distracted here…but please comment if you have any ideas.
At the end of the semester WUSICE comes up with some new ideas, one of which is to connect with student from all over the world and ask them to provide some personal stories. Maybe making climate change more personal is one way to solve the problem.
But anyways, back to COP16. The result of COP16 was kind of inspiring. Except for Bolivia, all other countries agreed on the KP (Kyoto Protocol) text and LCA (Long-term Collaboration) text.
• China made big compromises on MRVs and transparency
• Developing and developed countries improve reporting with reports every 2 years
• Developed countries provide details on the financial, technical and capacity-building support to developing counties
• create a “Green Climate Fund” and so on.
But there are definitely problems
• What is the amount of the Fund?
• What is the limit target for CO2 emissions?
• Who will monitor the Climate Fund? World Bank?—developing countries won’t agree.
• Controversy for REDD?
These are the questions unsettled, and there are way more problems.

However, these two texts at least saved UNFCCC. It did give people hope that international agreement can happen and U.N. has not come to a complete deadlock. But we also know, clearly, that this outcome cannot save the planet.