Guns, Garbage and Gas: A Sampling of COP16 Side Events

Side Event at COP16 (photo: adoptanegotiator)

While most of my posts from Cancún have focused on the progress in the climate negotiations, that is only one element of the UN climate change conference. Each day there are dozens of side events where researchers and policymakers talk about specific responses to the climate crisis.

This afternoon as the high level ministers delivered their statements on the negotiations, I attended three side events.  These give you a flare for what one could expect to encounter in a typical day.

The first one was organized by the European Parliament and focused onj what the EU is doing on the policy front to encourage energy efficiency.  For many of the developed countries, a significant proportion of their emissions are the result of waste.

Recognizing that waste is one of the “low-hanging fruit,” that should be easy to eliminate with education and the right incentive structure, they have adopted some pretty simple and inexpensive policies to address this issue.  Ivo Belet talked about the new energy labeling program, where by the end of next year, many products will have to have written on their packaging their greenhouse gas content.  He discussed specifically a new labeling system for automobile tires, saying that tire performance is a strong determinant of fuel efficiency.  Give consumers the information, and they are more likely to make smart purchases.  Conincidentially, a group of Republican-led House members came out today against better auto fuel labeling in the US.  The EU is implementing a lot of simple and effective policies.  One wonders why policymakers in the US are incapable of learning from their European counterparts.

Later, I went to a side event sponsored by the government of Brazil.  Two researchers from the Institute of Applied Economic Research presented work estimating the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that could be mitigated from stronger recycling programs in the country.  They proposed a shift in the incentive system to give a better price for certain recyclables based on their total ecological worth, rather than their simple market price.

The last event I went to was sponsored by the United States Departement of State and involved three uniformed representatives from the Department of Defense.   The topic was the national security consequences of climate change–a topic that gets very little treatment in both the political and policy circles.

The Pentagon representatives portrayed themselves as fully engaged with the implications of climate change.  The bulk of the discussion by the presenters, however, was on adaptation.  Given the fact that many military bases–particularly naval–are situated in threatened environments, it makes sense that they would be concerned with the impacts of climate change.  They mentioned that climate change is given treatment in the Quadrennial Defense Review–a major departmental strategic document.

I found it interesting to hear these servicemen talk about the climate threat and to reflect on the disfunction in Congress on climate.  Many of the most anti-science members of Congress  like Inhofe or Fred Upton also purport to be “pro-military.”  I’m wondering how they resolve these incongruities!