Pavilions at the COP

If you’re following along with this blog, you might understand by now that there are many different parts to this absolutely huge conference. It’s almost like there are several different conferences going on: the actual negotiations (only some of which are open to observers like us), the official side events (which operate more like a traditional conference), tabling (small exhibit booths near the enormous eating area), and pavilions (more on these below). These different events can be quite far away from each other – it can take 20 minutes during crowded times to walk from one end of the conference center to the other. Also, there are two permanent buildings that house this COP, as well as a complex of temporary structures connecting the areas. I took the below picture right at the start of the temporary structures (which, by the way, are heated, lit, and ventilated) – you can see them extend for quite a ways.


The pavilions are located in the temporary structures. Many of them are hosted by countries, though also some NGOs and a few businesses. Most pavilions contain a seating area where the country/organization hosts its own full series of lectures and receptions. Here are pictures of just some of the pavilions – they can be very ornate! Take a look through and pay careful attention to what each group is choosing to highlight about itself.



Britain & Northern Ireland

Britain & Northern Ireland 2

Britain & Northern Ireland

European UnionEU

EU 2



Gulf Cooperation Council (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar*, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates)

Note: in 2017, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt cut diplomatic ties with Qatar. I’m unclear whether Qatar is still technically in the GCC, but as you’ll see below they actually had their own pavilion.

Gulf countries

Gulf countries 2

IETA (The International Emissions Trading Association)



India 2_resize




Nordic countries

Nordic countries

Fiji & New Zealand

Pacific countries


Poland 4

Poland 3


Poland 2


As mentioned above, Qatar was not included in the GCC pavilion.








South Africa

South Africa

South Korea

South Korea



Thailand 2



Turkey 2


The US does not have an official pavilion this year (take a wild guess why), but instead the #WeAreStillIn network borrowed the WWF “Panda Hub” for three or four days mid-COP. It looked to me like they actually repainted this wall!


Time is running out

The COP presidency posted new text (144 pages!) at 3 a.m. this morning, with a slightly revised text posted at 10:15. The closing plenary was originally scheduled for noon; it’s been pushed back until 3 p.m. Old COP hands in RINGO are betting on 7pm or Saturday as an actual time. Evidently, the press has already been told that they need to re-apply for badges (observers’ badges will be extended, but the press have a lot of equipment, so they are treated differently).


Here in Katowice, the crossing lights are a steady green with a steady beeping sound when it’s safe to cross; when time is running out, the green man starts blinking and the rhythm of the beeps changes to a galloping sound: da da dum, da da dum, da da dum. I feel as if we should be at the galloping stage, because that red light is coming.


Guess Who Said It

COP24 has been a crazy experience. Diplomacy at work is sometimes undiplomatic. Below are some quotes that I heard/read at some events.

  1. “Now that we are done with the skit”, we can move on to our speakers for today. – Moderator Wells Griffith in a side event titled “US innovative technologies spur economic dynamism” on December 10 after protestors were escorted out.

The side event was heavily anticipated by COP24 attendees who had to line up to enter the event. The room was packed way before the event was supposed to start. There was a heavy security presence because an Action (a demand/protest) was organized for the side event. While waiting outside the room, I could hear “shame on you” and “keep them in the ground” being chanted inside. Those of us outside joined in. After the protestors were escorted out by security, the doors opened again, and I was able to enter the room to hear the panelists.

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  1. Our goal is “to improve the resiliency, efficiency, and competitiveness of coal fire plants” …. “The question is: do we continue using old coal technology used in the 1970s or move forward with new technologies which will be near-zero emitting?” – Steve Winberg, assistant director at the US Department of Energy speaking at the same panel as above on December 10.

Winberg was clearly facing difficulty defending his position supporting coal industries. When someone from the audience asked him why the Department thinks it is necessary to reduce emissions from coal plants when Trump has been calling climate change a hoax, he went on to talk about how we are privileged because we don’t use wood and fire to cook like people do in many other countries, and that we are not appreciative of our privilege. It was completely unrelated. Since he’d been on the job for a year, he had worked to make the coal industry more efficient, and since nobody had told him to do otherwise, he would continue.


  1. “The sun does not shine 24 hours a day. Wind is not available 24 hours a day. But you can get enough LNG [Liquified Natural Gas] in a few minutes.” A spokesperson from Sempra Energy speaking at the same event as mentioned above on December 10.

There’s nothing more to say.

  1. “I’m warning all of our people here that if you let this go, then it signals that we are mitigation-centric. We need to signal that we are supporting more adaptation.” – Delegate of Saudi Arabia on including the 1.5 C Special Report on the guidelines for the Green Climate Fund (GCF) on December 11.

Saudi Arabia was being difficult in the meeting to draft the guidelines for GCF. He went on to say that the committee does not understand what they are doing by trying to include a mention of the 1.5 C Special Report in paragraph 7, so the Saudis have to enlighten them. They made the effort to block the mention of the IPCC report wherever they could.

  1. “…and together, we can proceed to be more resilient, along with the SDGs… I really don’t know what they are… to limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees.” – President of Maldives in his speech at a side event about “Loss and Damage and the SAMOA strategy for 2030” on December 12.

The Pavilion erupted with giggles when the president said this sentence. I wasn’t sure if he said it as a joke or whether he really did not know what SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) are. He then went on the reference the “IPPC” report twice and also said “I’ve been told to read from a statement, but I really don’t want to do that. Anyway, I guess I have to return to it” in the middle of his speech. The next day, however, the President of Maldives called on all parties to support the IPCC 1.5 C Special Report on behalf of all small island states, so I suppose his statements the previous day were for giggles…

  1. “Yes, this is a manel, not a panel. We should consider that.” — Moderator of a panel on “New Adaptation approaches in the age of the SDGs” in the Japanese Pavilion on December 13.

In the Q&A, one participant raised the point that there were five men on a panel about local adaptation projects, when, in fact, women tend to be actively involved in the household, farming, or other work as breadwinners. This point is especially true in rural areas in developing countries since men often migrate to urban areas in search for better economic opportunities. One of the panelists explained that their adaptation projects address gender imbalances in rural areas and include women in implementing adaptation projects. It was unfortunate that there were no women in the panel, but it wasn’t the panelists who organized the event.

  1. “Our partners are smart. Partners. Not me. And not even you.” Adau from Timor Leste, leading the discussions on Loss and Damage (L&D) on behalf of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), December 14.

It was a grim moment for the LDCs knowing that there’s no finance being discussed for L&D in the Katowice text currently being renegotiated at the time of writing. The developed countries are completely trying to scrap away L&D according to Adau, they kept pushing discussion on this issue until finance came up under Articles 9.5 and 9.7 last night, and they’re attempting to merge the issue under adaptation. But the reality is that L&D requires at least double the amount of money that has been allocated for adaptation so far. Adau left the room early to return to negotiating with other countries. A gentleman from Bangladesh mentioned that his country is attempting to pilot a 2-year loss and damage national mechanism, which was a ray of hope.

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Former VP Al Gore

On Wednesday, former US Vice President Al Gore spoke in one of the plenary rooms. Apparently he does this every year, and he didn’t present particularly novel information, but it was still very neat to see him up close.


Also fun was to be able to seat in the delegate seats. I ended up at the Kingdom of Lesotho. There was a bit of confusion around my seat halfway through the talk – delegates from Lesotho came to sit there, were surprised to find other people, and were told by a security guard before I fully understood what was going on that seating had been opened to all. Luckily, there was room for the delegates to sit down next to me and we had a friendly, whispered conversation about the famous Al Gore of An Inconvenient Truth. They also shared the below flyer with me.


Back to Gore’s presentation, here are some extremely sobering and occasionally encouraging facts that he shared:


Above: The energy trapped by man-made global warming pollution is now “…equivalent to exploding 500,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs per day 365 days per year.” James Hansen, Former Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.


Above: Graphic showing increased deviation (between 2005-2015) from the mean of the frequency of unusual temperature occurrences. Baseline is from (but I’m unsure because it’s blurry) 1951-1990. Graph shows in particular increased warmer than average days as compared to baseline. 


Above: One June 26-27, 2018, Quriyat, Oman set a world record for the hottest overnight low temperature ever recorded: 42.6C (108.7F). The town remained above 41.6C for 51 hours.


Above: The jet stream is becoming “wavier”. Steeper troughs and higher ridges mean weather systems progress more slowly, raising the chances for long-duration extreme events, like droughts, floods, and heat waves.


Above: A recent national survey shows that 69% of Polish citizens favor a phaseout of coal by 2030.


Above: Enough solar energy reaches Earth every hour to fill all the world’s energy needs for a full year.


Planetary Boundaries

Speaking of famous white dudes, I also had a chance to see a brief presentation by Johan Rockstrom, a very well-known climate scientist who leads research on the ‘planetary boundaries’.


Rockstrom said that there are three key climate facts:

  1. We are living in a new geological era, the Anthropocene.
  2. The Holocene is the only period that we know for certain can support sustainable societies (i.e., meet the SDGs), so we need to get the Earth back to those characteristics.
  3. However, ecosystems can be shifted irreversibly by breaching tipping points – and so we might not be able to get back to the Holocene.

The time to act must be now, he says – and the SDGs are the framework to use to get there. Finally, he advocates for people (researchers, policymakers, etc.) to not pick and choose SDGs to focus on, but instead to see them all as an inseparable package.

Media amplification of messages

Jonathan Watts of the Guardian published an article Thursday about using the term global heating instead of global warming.

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It was interesting to read this article because I was in the audience for the side event when Watts asked Richard Betts a question about global heating. This was the sequence: an observer? an activist, perhaps from Italy or Spain? asked “Hans Joachim Schellnhuber” (as Watts called him, though on the panel he was called more simply “John” and he noted that he had spent many years working in the UK) whether activists using the term global heating were supported by the evidence. Schellnhuber promptly took responsibility for the term, stating that he and his colleagues had used the term “hothouse earth” in their paper in PNAS, and that this might have sparked laypeople’s use of the term global heating. Heating, said Schellnhuber, was a more accurate term than warming.

After an intervening question or two, Jonathan Watts asked Richard Betts whether he agreed with Schellnhuber; Betts confirmed that he thought “heating” was a better term, because the energy systems of the earth were changing. That became the subtitle of the Guardian article, with an eminently British image focused on the British heatwave of this past summer.

Was Watts wanting to amplify the voice of southern European activists via the authority of the UK Met office? Was he wanting to credit a local boy (UK Met office) rather than a German scientists (Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research)? Did he just want to give Richard Betts some attention in a panel where almost all the questions went to Schellnhuber? I’m just curious–but I was fascinated to see this kind of journalistic intervention in action.


Carbon capture: a necessary evil?

Yesterday, I went to an event on demystifying carbon capture technologies. They are here, but are they here to stay?


Sallie Greenberg, a geologist at the Illinois State Geological Survey talking about experiments they have conducted in Illinois to inject CO2 into saline aquifers. Her team has shown that it is a proven method that could be scaled up to provide storage of CO2 out of the atmosphere. There are obvious challenges with sighting and injecting but she believes this can contribute to fighting climate change.


The co-founder of the world’s first commercially available carbon capture technology gave a presentation about how his team’s product has a net 90% efficiency in pulling carbon directly out of the air. It pulls out carbon and liquifies it. Water is also a byproduct of the process. It has been rolled out across several European countries.


This is a scheme of how the first negative carbon plant in Iceland works. Its hooked up to a geothermal plant to provide the heat necessary to remove carbon. The chemistry to me is not clear but this seems promising.


The founder did recognize that this is not the solution to climate change. In fact, he stated that trees and nature-based solutions a better option. However, he cited that with the decline of the use of petroleum products, the world will still need a carbon source for industrial products.

What do you guys think about carbon capture? Will it be necessary if we overshoot the 1.5 mark?

For the MPFS 6th grade science class…

I just wanted to mention a program called the Science and Technology Policy Fellowship, run by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. There are ten of these AAAS fellows at COP: the picture here is of Gillian Bowser, a professor at Colorado State University who has brought a group of students to the negotiations here. You may have also seen a picture of my colleague Liz Nichols in earlier posts.


Part of why it’s important to have these scientists here is that one big argument at the international government level is how seriously we should take science. (I believe we need to take the science very very seriously.) AAAS fellows are getting a lot of practical experience about how policy and science relate to one another.

Maybe some of you will one day be scientists, professors, AAAS fellows!


What if we miss the target?–or, Climate scientist disses William Nordhaus

The second half of the title is aimed at Jennifer Peck and any other economists who might be dropping in. 😉

If you don’t want to read on, here’s the argument in a nutshell: John Schellhnuber sat down last night with Nicholas Stern and they agreed that the problem with Nordhaus’s work on climate is that it does not consider non-linearities–the assumption throughout is that we can get to 3C in a steady state of gradually rising temperatures.

This panel began with talks by Richard Betts and Katy Richardson of something known as the Helix project, which is working to create much higher resolution models of climate with real-world applications. I arrived at the beginning of the food part of the panel, and I’ll try to represent that in a separate post, but the big ticket item here was John Schellnhuber, founder of the PIK: the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, the top-ranked climate think tank. He gave a terrific and fairly terrifying if low-key presentation. As John noted, the room was terrible: the slides were barely visible due to lighting issues, and the fans periodically made the presentations almost inaudible. But here’s the webcast for the panel as a whole. I encourage you to watch it.



Here is (the start of) my rough transcription of the first part of the talk, plus some of the Q&A.

John began by saying, almost casually, “We will miss the target. The question is by how much.” He noted that “this is the most important session of COP 24, and it should not be happening in a side event. The question is how much can we bear and still sustain civilization.”

IMG-8923 IMG-8925

John’s critique of the SR1.5 is familiar: they just went back through existing papers, looking for consensus. “The picture is too rosy; they are not dealing with non-linearities.”

This past summer’s devastating drought in Germany was caused by the meandering of the jet stream, itself due to the warming of the Arctic: as the temperature differential between the Arctic and warmer regions decreases, the jet stream moves into a series of curves (raspy [sp?] waves, apparently 7 of them over the surface of the planet).

IMG-8931We are seeing more synchronicity of extreme events due to the “holding pattern” created by these planetary wave dynamics.


PIK tried to publish a paper about these planetary wave dynamics back in 2001, but it was rejected by all reputable journals (which is when John knew he was onto something important); it was finally published in PNAS in 2013.

John proposed thinking of tipping points as the vital organs of our planet.

What will happen, he suggested, was that as we pass key tipping points, these organs will be transformed. Some will die: the coral reefs. Some will be transformed: the Amazon will turn from tropical rainforest to savannah.


The Greenland ice sheets are experiencing non-linearities.


Regional weather patterns will also be affected: Pennsylvanians might pay special attention to the impact of a weaker Atlantic overturning (which may be helping produce our harsher winter weather).


John’s major point was that we have hit major tipping points already: the die is cast.


John compared the tipping point with glacial melt to removing the plug from a bottle. This slide was actually a simulation, so it’s worth going to the webcast, to get the fuller effect here (among many other reasons).


The Paris Agreement was a kind of guardrail: at 2C, we pass or engage some five tippoing points–but if we go above, then others follow (the Amazon, the Boreal forest, El Nino, permafrost, and so on). This was the “second most important slide.”


There was also a global map of potential tipping cascades, but my photo is too blurry to read. I’ll include the photo below, bad as it is, just as a basis for saying that the little globe in the middle of the diagram is far more likely to fall into a hellish red hot area than it is to wobble its way to a safer landing zone.


There was some “good news” in that PIK has gotten better at forecasting El Ninos and monsoons, and that improvement has the capacity to save millions of lives–but that seems like small potatoes in view of the destruction forecast by the presentation as a whole.

John thought methane hydrates were indeed a sleeping giant, but he thought that tipping point wouldn’t kick in for another thousand years. “But we should be funding research on this! We can’t wake that giant!”

Someone asked all the panelists to tell one story about 3C global heating in Europe. Richard pointed to the forest fires in Spain, Portugal, and Greece and one of the most confident predictions in the new modeling. John replied, “With 3C sustained globally, we would have a temperature rise of 4.5 in Europe. Southern Spain would be part of the Sahara.”

Someone from the climate observatory in Brazil asked why John was so much more pessimistic now than he had been in Paris. He replied with three reasons: 1) we have more scientific knowledge showing that we are entering the slippery slope; 2) the complete lack of action since Paris, despite heroic efforts on various parts; 3) the election of madmen like Trump and Bolsonaro.

That pretty well blew out my day. I had a migraine, but even without it, I think I would have found it hard to focus. The projections don’t surprise me: I am a card-carrying climate pessimist at this point. But it’s oddly difficult to hear one’s views confirmed so authoritatively. I keep hoping someone will persuade me I am wrong. Apologies for the bad slides and the bad news.


The Critical Role of Cities

I study urban governance of climate change, so while at the COP I am focused on conversations regarding ‘sub-national’ and/or ‘non-state’ actors (to use common UNFCCC language), and in particular conversations regarding cities.

To some extent, city-level discussions are out of place at a UN conference, which hosts negotiations among federal government representatives. However, when it comes to addressing climate change, national-level negotiations may not be the most effective. Or rather, it would be “insufficient” – as one speaker said today – “to have a theory of change that relies exclusively on national governments.”

As of this year, the UN published data that over 55% of the global population now lives in urban areas, and this number is expected to still grow significantly over this century. One social scientist describes the modern age as blanketed in an “urban fabric”, such that all regions – cities or rural – are influenced by a globalized, urban-centric culture. A majority of the planet’s people, built infrastructure, and economic assets are based in cities. So cities are generally important to the modern world. But for all of the above reasons their involvement is also essential to achieving the goal of limiting planetary warming to 1.5C.

This fact is strongly recognized in side events at this year’s COP, though it seems to me it hasn’t quite reached the high-level negotiations. In these past two days, I have heard local representatives from many countries talk about successes in their cities, and how these changes are essential in order for their countries to meet their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) as committed to in the Paris Agreement.


There are other exciting developments in the works. The IPCC recognized a need for more research and data on cities, and so held the first CitiesIPCC conference in Canada this past March. Additionally, some of the scientists who wrote the IPCC Special Report on 1.5C also released (at a session yesterday! See picture below) a summary of the special report specifically written for urban policymakers.


Finally, novel networks have been developing within countries, such as: #WeAreStillIn in the US (which both Swarthmore College and Swarthmore Borough are signatories of), the Japan Climate Initiative, and Alianza para la Acción Climática in Argentina. I also learned today that there is a fairly new network of these networks, called the Alliances for Climate Action.



It will be a fascinating political science and climate policy-making question in the years to come as to how to incorporate such non-state actors (which include not just cities, but also businesses, higher ed, civil society, etc.) into international climate negotiations. There needs to be a place for them at the table, and this has the potential to shake up the standard practice of state-focused negotiations. As another speaker said today, it will only be via “constructive engagement” between state and non-state actors that we will be able to sufficiently “accelerate NDC implementation.”