Information Booklet Q&A

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Knowledge & Wisdom Committee

Responses to Assembly Member’s Questions

From Plenary 1 - October 9th, 2021

1. How exactly are the Global Surface Temperatures in the Recent History Passage Chart calculated? Are they based on temperatures from a single location, or an average of temperatures from many points around the globe? The global mean surface temperature is based on a globally distributed network of land- and ocean-based measurements.  There are 32,000 land weather stations, weather balloons, radar, ships and ocean buoys.  Satellite observations can be used to complement the surface-based measurements.
2. Is there any evidence that humans have accelerated the process of biodiversity loss? Yes.  There is no doubt that human activities are destroying nature and causing the loss of biodiversity.  There are five major causes for the loss of biodiversity: (i) conversion of natural ecosystems, e.g., forests, grasslands, mangrove systems, to agriculture, plantation forests, roads and cities; (ii) over-exploited land and ocean-based ecosystems, e.g., overfishing; (iii) climate change; (iv) air, land and ocean pollution; and (v) introduction of alien invasive species.  All five activities have caused the loss of animals and plants, and the services nature provides for humans, e.g., food production, clean water, flood control, pest and disease control.
3. Are we capable of undoing all the damage we have inflicted upon the ecosystem? Can we make everything the same as before or will we inevitably face negative consequences due to our irresponsibility? No.  We can partially restore some of the heavily degraded ecosystems, but we can never come close to fully restoring them. For example, we can reforest some of the heavily deforested areas in the world, but many of these deforested areas are now agricultural fields, or used for livestock, or are roads and cities.
4. Where will the butterflies lay their eggs once the trees are gone? It is unlikely that all the trees will be gone, but there will be far fewer trees for butterflies, birds and other animals that rely on trees for their survival.
5. What can we do to mitigate the ecological crisis and to restore the ecological balance? We must stop converting our natural ecosystems (forests, grasslands, wetlands, etc), stop over-exploiting them (e.g., overfishing in the oceans), limit climate change, pollution and the introduction of alien invasive species.  We need to recognize the value of nature in decision-making.  We need more sustainable ways to grow our food and produce and use energy.
6. What is the significance of the increase in average global temperatures? A warmer world results in changes in rainfall patterns, sea level rise, more extreme weather events (floods, droughts and heat-waves), melting of mountain glaciers, melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice, and melting of sea ice.  These all adversely affect food production, the quality and quantity of water, the displacement of people due to sea-level rise and river flooding, an increase in vector-borne diseases (e.g., malaria and dengue) and heat stress-mortality, and loss of biodiversity.
7. We have always lived with calamities; however, their frequency seems to have increased so suddenly these days. Why is this the case? The rate of temperature change and the rate of the loss of biodiversity is unprecedented because of the rapid increase in the production and use of energy and demand for food, water, materials and medicines, all due to an ever-increasing and wealthier population.  The more people there are, and the more income they have, the greater the demand for energy and food.  Unfortunately the way we produce and use our energy and food is unsustainable – we must in the future produce our energy and food in a much more sustainable manner and consume it more sustainably.
8. How do we explain the regional differences in the effects of climate change? For instance, why do we have floods in some regions and droughts in others? Even in the natural world before humans started to change it, there were large regional differences in temperature and rainfall patterns.  The Earth does not warm uniformly in response to human activities.  The land warms more than the oceans and the high latitudes warm more than the tropics and sub-tropics.  This leads to regional changes in rainfall and other extreme weather events.  The Earth’s weather and climate is a complex system of interactions between dynamical, radiative and chemical processes on the land, oceans and atmosphere.
9. What are the main reasons for fires in large urban areas? The warmer the Earth becomes in areas which are becoming drier, there is more possibility of fires in urban and rural areas.  As vegetation dries in both urban and rural areas it becomes fuel for wildfires.  As the Earth warms we are seeing more floods and droughts in the same areas (i.e., the same area will see an increase in both floods and droughts because in most parts of the world we will see more heavy rainfall and less light rainfall).  The heavy rainfalls produce more floods and the light rainfall (or dry spells) produces more droughts, and hence the possibility of wildfires.
10. What should we do to deal with climate change? What are we capable of doing? How much time do we have left? WILL BE ADDRESSED IN FURTHER SESSIONS
11. How can we avoid and eventually stop burning fossil fuels? WILL BE ADDRESSED IN FURTHER SESSIONS
12. How will the rich nations respond to climate change and ecological crisis? WILL BE ADDRESSED IN FURTHER SESSIONS
13. Small farmers and rural populations are hit hard by climate change and ecological crisis. What can be done to support their livelihoods? WILL BE ADDRESSED IN FURTHER SESSIONS
14. How can low-income groups in general be supported to survive climate change and ecological crisis? WILL BE ADDRESSED IN FURTHER SESSIONS
15. How can people with disabilities be included in climate action? WILL BE ADDRESSED IN FURTHER SESSIONS

Questions from session 6 (2.2 P) - Covered chapters 7, 8 and 9 of the information booklet

1. On online platforms such as TikTok, we see videos of people from rich countries wasting food. Are developed countries really more aware than developing countries concerning their emissions? There is a lack of an adequate awareness of greenhouse gas emissions at the individual level in both developed and developing countries.
2. Is there a one-pager listing the little good steps we can take to reduce global warming? This could really help spread awareness within our communities about the simple acts we can do at an individual level. The Knowledge and Wisdom Committee does not know of a published list but here is a list that the Knowledge and Wisdom Committee:
  • Vote for politicians that have the ability/willingness to take a long-term view and who recognize the importance of the well-being of the environment, and also recognize that climate change and loss of biodiversity are not only environmental issues, but are economic, development, security, social, moral and ethical issues
  • Support organizations that hold leaders and companies accountable for not decarbonizing fast enough and therefore violate our human rights.
  • Vote by using your purchasing power
  • Buy goods that are sustainable
  • Demand sustainable investments from your pension fund & insurance companies
  • Conserve water and reduce food waste (30-40% of our food is wasted)
  • Buy energy-efficient appliances
  • Insulate your house
  • Walk more, bicycle more, use public transport more often, and telecommute if possible
  • Drive less, and replace a fossil car with an electric car
  • If you need to fly, use an airline that allows offsetting your carbon footprint
  • Inspire your neighbors and relatives by example
  • Teach your children about sustainability
3. There are many people in the world who still do not have access to electricity. Which sources of energy do they use? How can the transition to clean energy succeed for these populations who are also among the most vulnerable to climate change? At the moment too many poor people have to rely on biomass and dung to heat there houses, and many have no access to electricity.  However, off-grid modern renewable energy (solar and wind) provides a great opportunity for poor people, as the cost of solar and wind energy is decreasing .

From sessions 3, 4, 5 (1.3B, 1.4B, 2.1B) - Covered chapters 3, 4, 5 & 6 of the information booklet.

The questions from the Assembly members have been grouped under 5 headings:

  • Climate Science
  • Climate and Ecosystems
  • Climate and People
  • Climate Action
  • Climate Politics & Economy

Climate Science

1. What is the source of the graphs that we looked at during the session on October 12 (1.3B)? IPCC AR6 Final Report page 144
IPCC AR6 WGI Figure Page 144
IPCC AR6 WGI Figure Page 144
Global Surface Temperature Change IPCC AR6 WGI Pg 144 - GA Graph
Global Surface Temperature Change IPCC AR6 WGI Pg 144 - GA Graph
2. On the global surface temperatures graph that we looked at on October 12 (1.3B), we observe several fluctuations. What were their reasons? Since global temperatures were fluctuating even before humans existed, how can we know that the current climate change is human-made? Can’t it be related to Earth’s own natural processes which cause the temperatures to go up and down periodically? This is the graph that was used on October 12th to discuss global surface temperature change:
Global Surface Temperature Change IPCC AR6 WGI Pg 144 - GA Graph
Global Surface Temperature Change IPCC AR6 WGI Pg 144 - GA Graph
The fluctuations in temperature shown in the figure above are due to natural phenomena – the Earth has moved in and out of ice ages due to variations in solar activity reaching the Earth’s surface.  However, there is no doubt that the recent changes are due to human activity.  The scientific community has examined changes in solar output and volcanic activity, and neither of these can explain the increase in global mean surface temperature of the last 100 years, especially the rapid increase since 1950.
3. Why did the temperatures change between 1965-1975? Was it because of natural phenomena or human activities? This is the graph that the question refers to:

Source:  IPCC AR6 SPM7

Change in Global Surface Temperature (1850-2020) IPCC AR6 SPM7 - GA Graph
Change in Global Surface Temperature (1850-2020) IPCC AR6 SPM7

In any given time period global mean surface temperature responds to both natural phenomena (solar activity, volcanic eruptions and natural climatic variations which occur on decadal timescales) and human activities (emissions of greenhouse gases, aerosols and changes in land albedo). The period 1965-1975 is no different. There is no doubt that since 1950 the temperature increase is predominantly due to human activities – the increase cannot be explained by natural phenomena.  It is important to measure change over decades because internal variability, largely caused by the exchange of energy between the oceans and atmosphere, can amplify or offset warming by about 0.1oC in a decade.

4. Change in Global Surface Temperature (1850-2020) IPCC AR6 SPM7 - GA Graph TBC

Climate and Ecosystems

6. What does “feedback loop” mean? This is when one action leads to another action that enhances the first action. For example:  as the Earth warms due to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions (i.e., carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide) it can melt permafrost at high latitudes and release the methane which is trapped in the permafrost, which then increases the atmospheric concentration of methane that causes the earth to warm even more, which then releases more methane from the permafrost, and the cycle continues – it is called a feedback loop or a run-away effect.
7. What are the specific species of vascular plants that are projected to go extinct from now to 2050? If the majority of the plants will go extinct in the future, how will we survive without vegetables? TBC
8. Can you explain the basic characteristics of savannah and rainforest with examples? How will the former replace the latter? TBC
9. Can you unpack the role and importance of the marine collagen ecosystem in climate change? TBC
10. How is it possible to clean the oceans, and how much time will it take? TBC
11. How has climate change threatened the animals? TBC
12.Is there a relationship between volcanic eruptions and climate change? Yes. If there is a large explosive volcanic eruption, where the gases (including sulfur gases) and ashes reach the lower stratosphere, the sulfur gases get converted to sulphuric acid aerosols (small particles), which reflect incoming solar radiation, which then tends to cool the surface of the Earth.  Aerosols cool the earth partly offsetting the warming effect of the greenhouse gases.

Climate and People

13. Which regions have been worst affected by climate change? Which regions have been least affected? Is there any region which has not been affected at all? How can we explain these differences? All regions of the world are being affected by human-induced climate change, but to differing degrees.  As the Earth warms in response to the increasing levels of greenhouse gases, it warms almost everywhere, but not uniformly, precipitation patterns change, there are more extreme weather events, sea levels rise and glaciers and sea-ice melt.  The land areas warm more than the oceans and the high latitudes warm more than the tropics and sub-tropics.  The tropics and mid- and high-latitudes tend to become wetter and the sub-tropics become drier.  Most areas will experience more heat waves, floods and droughts, and sea level will rise everywhere.  So the Arctic region has warmed the most and will continue to do so.  The western half of Africa, North Africa and the Mediterranean have experienced the greatest degree of agricultural and ecological droughts, and low-lying small Island States and deltaic areas are suffering most from sea-level rise.
14. Is there a reason why developing countries have so many ecological disasters compared to first-world countries; yet they have less carbon emissions? The observed ecological disasters are primarily caused by land-use change (e.g., deforestation, conversion of wetlands and grasslands to monoculture agriculture and plantation forests), and over-exploitation of plants and animals (particularly a problem in the oceans – overfishing), as well as to a lesser degree climate change, pollution and invasive alien species. One million of the eight million animals and plants are threatened with extinction due to a combination of these threats,  It does not matter where the greenhouse gases are emitted, they become uniformly mixed in the atmosphere, although the response of the atmosphere is not uniform as noted in the answer to the previous question. 
15. In Mozambique, there is a region which is currently at war. Many people leave this region, become refugees, and face food insecurity. Is there a relationship between the ecological crisis on the one hand, and civil strife, refugee crisis, and food insecurity on the other? Yes. Climate change, and the destruction of nature can cause loss of natural resources (e.g, food and clean water), which can then cause conflicts in local areas, which can cause people to leave these areas.  Hence, there is a connection between climate change, the ecological crisis, conflict, food and water shortages and refugees.
16. What is the definition of “indigenous people”? What distinguishes them from other residents who live in the same region with them? Can you provide some examples of indigenous communities around the world? For instance, are there any indigenous communities in Bangladesh? A question of identity

According to the United Nations the most fruitful approach is to identify, rather than define indigenous peoples. This is based on the fundamental criterion of self-identification as underlined in a number of human rights documents. That is the reason, some prefer to be named First Nations, Original Peoples, Original Nations, among other names.

The term “indigenous” has prevailed as a generic term for many years. In some countries, there may be preference for other terms including tribes, first peoples/nations, aboriginals, ethnic groups, adivasi, janajati. Occupational and geographical terms like hunter-gatherers, nomads, peasants, hill people, etc., also exist and for all practical purposes can be used interchangeably with “indigenous peoples”.

In many cases, the notion of being termed “indigenous” has negative connotations and some people may choose not to reveal or define their origin. Others must respect such choices, while at the same time working against the discrimination of indigenous peoples.

It is estimated that there are more than 370 million “indigenous people” spread across 70 countries worldwide. Practicing unique traditions, they retain social, cultural, economic and political characteristics that are distinct from those of the dominant societies in which they live. Spread across the world from the Arctic to the South Pacific, they are the descendants - according to a common definition - of those who inhabited a country or a geographical region at the time when people of different cultures or ethnic origins arrived. The new arrivals later became dominant through conquest, occupation, settlement or other means.

Among the (indigenous peoples) original peoples  are those of the Americas (for example, the Lakota in the USA, the Mayas in Guatemala or the Aymaras in Bolivia), the Inuit and Aleutians of the circumpolar region, the Saami of northern Europe, the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders of Australia and the Maori of New Zealand. These and most other indigenous peoples have retained distinct characteristics which are clearly different from those of other segments of the national populations.

Understanding the term “indigenous”

Considering the diversity of indigenous peoples, an official definition of “indigenous” has not been adopted by any UN-system body. Instead the system has developed a modern understanding of this term based on the following:

●     Self- identification as indigenous peoples at the individual level and accepted by the community as their member.

●     Historical continuity with pre-colonial and/or pre-settler societies

●     Strong link to territories and surrounding natural resources

●     Distinct social, economic or political systems

●     Distinct language, culture and beliefs

●     Form non-dominant groups of society

●     Resolve to maintain and reproduce their ancestral environments and systems as distinctive peoples and communities. (United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, 2021)

17. How do indigenous communities contribute to environmental protection? What are some of the indigenous communities most threatened by the plant biodiversity loss? Original Nations (indigenous peoples) have an intimate relationship with nature and Mother Earth. Their way of thinking and doing in reciprocity, reverence, respect and responsibility in relationship with their territories are based in biocultural practices that protect life systems.

As original nations (indigenous) around the world face extreme climatic events that threaten their livelihoods and well-being, responses that stem from indigenous knowledge, experiences, wisdom and world views are being emerged.  The Indigenous Peoples’ Bio cultural Climate Change Assessment Initiative (IPCCA) has emerged as an innovative response, bringing together indigenous knowledge and science in a process which links biocultural realities with complex global processes. 

Use of biocultural methods and tools involve communities from around the world in the assessment of climate change and local well-being and the development of evidence-based responses for climate change adaptation.

Most of the territories of Original Nations are being threatened by development  programs (mining, deforestation, urban sprawl, fossil fuel companies and the like). Original Peoples in the Amazon like the Huni Kui, Sapara, Quichuas, among others are being threatened by oil companies, mining and deforestation activities. The same happens in the Congo Basin and among the Otomi, Mazahua and Mexica- Nahua in Central Mexico.

18. Is transhumanism an element of environmental justice? Transhumanism is a social and philosophical movement devoted to promoting the research and development of robust human-enhancement technologies. Such technologies would augment or increase human sensory reception, emotive ability, or cognitive capacity as well as radically improve human health and extend human life spans.

From the indigenous perspective, transhumanism is contrary to the natural life cycles and should be seen as environmental injustice not as environmental justice. This is based on the notion that human species are the dominant species on earth. From the perspective of indegenous communities, Artificial Intelligence should be in service of protecting the whole life systems, not just to the human species.

Climate Action

19.           What can be done to avoid droughts? The highest priority is to limit human-induced climate change, and then adapt to changing precipitation patterns, through managing water resources at the watershed scale.  Also we need to conserve and save water, and use it much more efficiently than we do now in many parts of the world.
20. How can people change their behavior to counter climate change? What can we do as individuals? In what ways can we engage our own communities for climate action? Individuals can (same answer to question 2 above in the first section of questions).

●     Vote for politicians that have the ability/willingness to take a long-term view and who recognize the importance of the well-being of the environment, and also recognize that climate change and loss of biodiversity are not only environmental issues, but are economic, development, security, social, moral and ethical issues

●     Support organizations that hold leaders and companies accountable for not decarbonizing fast enough and therefore violate our human rights.

●     Vote by using your purchasing power

●     Buy goods that are sustainable

●     Demand sustainable investments from your pension fund & insurance companies

●     Conserve water and reduce food waste (30-40% of our food is wasted)

●     Buy energy-efficient appliances

●     Insulate your house

●     Walk more, bicycle more, use public transport more often, and telecommute if possible

●     Drive less, and replace a fossil car with an electric car

●     If you need to fly, use an airline that allows offsetting your carbon footprint

●     Inspire your neighbors and relatives by example

●     Teach your children about sustainability

21. Referring to point 5 on section 6b, how can the carbon dioxide be successfully removed from the atmosphere through the conservation and restoration of ecosystems? Conserving ecosystems, especially those that are carbon-rich (e.g., forests), rather than destroying them, means that the carbon in the soils and biomass (i.e., trees and other vegetation) is not released to the atmosphere.  Restoring degraded ecosystems (e.g., deforested areas, drained wetlands, converted grasslands) by replanting with native vegetation can sequester carbon from the atmosphere.

Climate Politics & Economy

22. What should the governments do to fight climate change? They should have an action plan that will achieve the Paris target of limiting warming to less than 2oC by 2100 and preferably 1.5oC. This will require all governments to contribute to reducing global emissions of greenhouse gases by about 50% relative to current emissions by 2030, and achieve net-zero emissions by mid-century.  This will require transitioning to a low-carbon economy, where; (i)  the use of fossil fuels to generate electricity and heat is eliminated, unless the carbon is captured prior to release into the atmosphere and then stored in depleted oil and gas wells, deep oceans and saline aquifers, and replaced with renewable energy technologies; (ii) energy is used more efficiently, e.g., electric cars, efficient buildings and appliances; (iii) more sustainable land-use practices (e.g., sustainable agriculture and forestry, and stop converting natural habitats); and (iv) elimination of fossil fuel subsidies and taxing carbon emissions.
23. What resolutions have come out of the COPs so far? Have the COPs produced any written agreements to implement these resolutions? All Governments agreed in Paris in 2015 to limit warming to less than 2oC and preferably 1.5oC by 2100. They also submitted written voluntary pledges (Nationally Determined Contributions) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  Hopefully new written pledges will be made at COP-26 in Glasgow this November.
24. Why were the targets set in previous climate agreements not achieved? What good are these agreements if they cannot be implemented? Is there any sanction mechanism for countries who do not fulfill their pledges to fight climate change? The Paris national pledges were voluntary and not legally binding, therefore there are no sanction mechanisms for failure to achieve the emissions targets. Some countries made their targets others didn’t for a variety of reasons, e.g., after President Obama pledged to reduce US emissions, President Trump argued that climate change was a hoax and repealed all executive orders that would have helped the US reduce its emissions significantly.  However, even under the Trump presidency, some States, cities and businesses did reduce their emissions.  Other countries, e.g., Australia, also has leaders who are not committed to fulfilling the Paris climate agreement.  Some developing country commitments were contingent upon financial assistance, which has to some degree been lacking.  While not perfect, the Paris Climate Agreement is very important.
25. Inclusiveness is very important in climate talks. Did the previous COP meetings include representatives of the indigenous peoples? Yes.
26. How can we balance economic growth that can guarantee development with environmental protection? This is the big challenge.  But to succeed we must transform our economic, financial and productive systems. We need to complement the use of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) with measures of inclusive wealth (built, human and natural capital) in decision-making, as inclusive wealth is a better measure of sustainable economic growth.  We need to eliminate environmentally harmful fossil fuel, agricultural, fisheries, and mining subsidies which promote environmental degradation.  We need to internalize externalities into the prices of goods and services (i.e., tax pollution), and we need to embrace sustainable production and consumption (i.e., a circular economy).  We need to stop investing in fossil fuels and unsustainable agriculture and invest in a low-carbon economy and sustainable agriculture, forestry and fisheries.  We need to transform our energy, agriculture and water sectors and address them as one interconnected productive system.  We need to reassess our norms, values and governance systems.
27. How can global trade arrangements such as tariffs change the prospects of climate change? Won’t these arrangements have negative social consequences? International trade must be re-assessed.  Fossil fuel and agricultural subsidies need to be eliminated, and if the initial costs of food and energy increase then social safety nets need to be developed.
28. Some multinational companies claim to be leading the way in eco-friendly practices. Should we support them if we want to help? Can they help to pave the way for national governments? We must absolutely support multinational companies that are genuinely eco-friendly.  A lot of research is currently being conducted to develop indicators of environmental performance to assess how eco-friendly business practices are. In some cases, possibly many cases, the private sector is leading Governments in the transition to sustainability.  The World Economic Forum and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development are leading players in this arena.