Gillian Bowser and Jakob Lindaas at the U.S. Climate Action Center in Bonn. More than 100 American leaders held 44 events before thousands of in-person attendees and millions more watching from around the world.
They went to Germany for different reasons, though they were united by one goal: a commitment to combat climate change in the world.
Colorado State University researchers Gillian Bowser, Julia Klein and Jakob Lindaas attended the Bonn Climate Change Conference in November. They recently talked with SOURCE about what they took away from the meeting, including what inspired them, and what’s next.
Gillian Bowser, Warner College of Natural Resources
This was the ninth time Bowser, a research scientist in the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory, attended the climate talks, also known as the Conference of the Parties, or COP. She described this go-around as a working event.
“We have the big Paris Agreement in place, and now, they have to cross all the t’s and dot all the i’s,” she said. “It’s all about implementation.”
The Paris Agreement is scheduled to go into effect in December 2018.
But didn’t the United States withdraw from the agreement?
“It didn’t make a difference whether the U.S. pulls out or not,” Bowser said. “We have five years, and a lot can change in five years. A lot is still moving forward.”
In a first, Fiji led this COP, partnering with Germany, which could better host the 25,000 people who attended. Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama encouraged dialogue among all involved in meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement.
CSU faculty support climate change action
As of December 2017, nearly 200 faculty have signed a pledge to voice concern about global climate change and acknowledge scientific evidence that exists for human-caused climate change. The pledge was drafted in late 2016 by a small group of CSU faculty who have spent most of their academic careers studying various aspects of climate change science, impacts, policy and communication.
Bowser said it was inspiring to watch the leadership of small island states around the world.
“There were a lot of cities talking about extreme high tides, hurricanes, and other extreme weather events that people are experiencing now,” said Bowser. “While these events are occurring, what can we do to adapt toward this maybe increasingly common future?”
Bowser said an additional important outcome at the COP was a gender action plan. The main concern was making sure in all of these actions that we maintain equity and balance, which means including women and young people, she said.
“Whether it’s who receives grants or even the composition of delegations going to the COP, it’s to make sure gender and equity are considered in every step,” Bowser added.
Jakob Lindaas, Walter Scott, Jr. College of Engineering
Lindaas, a graduate student in the Department of Atmospheric Science, went to the COP through his work with the American Meteorological Society. The size and scope of the conference — with more than 60 concurrent sessions at one time — was pretty overwhelming, he said.
“I wanted to find out how, when and where science is being discussed or brought up in the process,” Lindaas said. “It is a political process, so the answer tends to be ‘not always’ and in very particular ways. But, nevertheless, it’s there.”
He learned that negotiators pay a lot of attention to international organizations that review science or contribute to observations. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change conducts a comprehensive review of the research every five years, but they stop short of providing directions on what the response should be, Lindaas said.
One potential shortcoming is that those involved in climate change discussions at this level only draw upon literature that has a lot of support. “A lot of new science happens in the interim,” he said. “How and when those scientific findings get translated into knowledge relevant to policymakers, I’m still less clear on.”
Recent research Lindaas said people should pay attention to includes studies on the tipping points within the climate system, including sea ice melting or permafrost thaw.
“It’s an area of active research but I’m not sure negotiators and governments include that too much in their political calculus,” said Lindaas.
While in Bonn, he met a like-minded group of scientists from Purdue University who are conducting research on if and when policymakers consider these tipping points.
“This research can hopefully make the negotiating process more robust in the future,” he said.
Julia Klein, Warner College of Natural Resources
For Julia Klein, assistant professor in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability, the COP experience was a bit different than previous years. She is currently making a documentary that focuses on three people in the Andes Mountains in Peru who are responding to climate change in unique and different ways.
“Most of the world’s tropical glaciers are in the Andes, and they are disappearing at alarming rates,” said Klein, adding that half of the glaciers there have disappeared since the 1970s. “There’s no question that climate change is happening. Everyone there is living it in real time. It’s not some abstract future.”
One of the subjects of her film, Saúl Luciano Lliuya, is a farmer and mountain guide in Huaraz, the second largest city in the central Peruvian Andes. He is suing RWE, an electric utilities company based in Germany, for climate damages to the region.
Lliuya attended the climate talks in Bonn and was shadowed by Klein and a film crew. Coincidentally, he won a significant court ruling in Germany, which was covered by international media.
Klein said the victory is exciting, historic and precedent-setting.
“RWE doesn’t operate in Peru,” she said. “Saúl is a person who is susceptible to the effects of climate change, and there’s a responsibility there by companies that are contributing to it.”
Klein also attended sessions at the COP that focused on similar legal cases. One group in Oregon is suing the U.S. government and several federal agencies over a failure to protect their right to clean water and air and a livable future.
“On the legal front, where governments are failing, some people feel like the courts are potentially a really powerful avenue for pursuing climate action and justice,” said Klein. “It is emerging as a fairly significant issue globally.”
Lindaas’s travel to Bonn was supported through a graduate fellowship awarded by the Office of the Vice President for Research.