Around the Pier: Scripps Informs Science Policy at International Climate Conference

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Visitors from nearly 200 countries recently descended upon the vibrant and bustling North African city of Marrakech to attend the 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP22). The 2016 conference, hosted by Morocco from Nov. 7-18, was the latest in a series of global climate change policy negotiations led by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Some 20,000 people attended COP22, including the largest-ever delegation of students and researchers from the University of California San Diego and Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Amid the two-week frenzy of international policy negotiations, Scripps and UC researchers were on hand to inform delegates and negotiators of the most up-to-date climate science findings. (View Scripps at COP22 video and photo gallery.)

The University of California contingent was composed of 10 Scripps graduate students, five Scripps faculty members, one postdoctoral researcher, one staff member; two graduate students from UC San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy; and five delegates from other UC campuses. All were representing the UC Revelle Program for Climate Science and Policy, a non-governmental organization that represents the UC system at the annual COP summit.

“It was amazing to see so many countries and cultures come together to combat worldwide climate change,” said Scripps postdoctoral scholar Maya deVries, a first-time COP attendee. “Even in the face of significant changes that occurred in the U.S. during the conference, I found that the general mood of the meeting was optimistic. Many countries are working towards a common goal and that will continue to move forward.”

Scripps Oceanography hosted a COP22 exhibit showcasing critical programs and new observational technology used by Scripps and other scientific organizations to monitor and understand the effects of climate change on the environment. The exhibit drew attention for its large model biogeochemical Argo float, a new model within the global array of free-drifting profiling Argo floats that measure the temperature and salinity of the upper 2,000 meters of the ocean in or near real-time.

“Scripps is not only a major global player in making global climate observations but also in communicating science findings from these observations to policymakers,” said Scripps graduate student Yassir Eddebbar. “This was especially clear from the overly-crowded Scripps booth at COP22, which saw entire delegations and influential policymakers come by to investigate our ocean observing programs and how they relate to their national interests and national climate plans.”

Eddebbar, a Moroccan native, described his overall COP22 experience as incredible and said he enjoyed sharing the rich and vibrant culture and history of Morocco with fellow conference attendees.

“It was a personally fulfilling experience to go back to Morocco under a scientific/policy framework, having left there for California as an 18-year-old high school graduate. The Scripps delegation was very active and engaged with policymakers during this conference, which made the experience even more fulfilling,” he said.

Scripps Oceanography delegates led a record number of press conferences and panels at COP22, where they were able to convey the importance of the ocean in absorbing and regulating the impacts of climate change.

One of the overarching goals of COP22 was to build upon the successes of last year’s COP21 conference held in Paris, where 195 countries signed the monumental Paris Agreement to combat climate change. The agreement, which entered into force on Nov. 4, lays out a global action plan to put the world on track to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2°C. It also notably marks the first inclusion of ocean science into the final COP agreements text.

“Oceans were perceived as being largely extraneous to the negotiations in 2013 when I first attended,” said Scripps graduate student Natalya Gallo. “In contrast, at COP22, a whole Oceans Action Day was devoted to discussing an ocean and climate strategy under the UNFCCC, and key negotiators, intergovernmental agencies, NGOs, and scientists all participated. As an ocean scientist, this shift in attitude gives me great hope and suggests the possibility for more cooperation between ocean scientists and national governments during development of national climate action plans in the future.”

Gallo, a veteran of the COP process having attended three previous years, led two press conferences at COP22. She also gave a presentation during Oceans Action Day, where she discussed the results of a recent analysis on how countries were including oceans in their national climate action plans. The analysis was a joint effort Gallo recently worked on with biological oceanographer Lisa Levin and UC San Diego political scientist David Victor.

“I was pleased that the work generated a lot of interest with negotiators,” said Gallo, noting that she and Levin directly reached out to lead negotiators from countries that were acting as leaders in including oceans and also to countries that did not include oceans, despite having large marine territories. “I hope these conversations may inspire negotiators to give more thought to the role the ocean plays in climate mitigation and adaptation during the next revision cycle of national climate action plans.”

Veerabhadran Ramanathan, a distinguished Scripps professor of climate and atmospheric sciences, led a high-level joint press conference on Nov. 14 which included panelists from the UN Environment, the World Health Organization, the Governor of California’s office, and other world-renowned scientists and energy experts. During the conference, titled “Fast Actions to Prevent Extreme Changes,” Ramanathan and co-panelists released a report titled “Under 2 Degrees Celsius,” which details what societal action will be needed to keep global warming below dangerous thresholds.

“Marrakech gave me insight into how global policy is informed by the science born here at Scripps Oceanography,” said Scripps graduate student Travis Schramek. Along with deVries and Scripps graudate student Kirk Sato, Schramek co-led a press conference on how new technologies can aid in making marine protected areas (MPAs) effective.

“This was the largest forum I've ever spoken in and it was aimed at a very diverse audience,” he said. “This helped me to evaluate the work I'm involved with in a different light, which was a great exercise in getting out of the weeds and thinking about how my skills can help address the needs of coastal communities.”

The results of the United States election sent shockwaves throughout the conference, but by the end of week two, the overall mood seemed more hopeful, as heads of state and government from around the world issued the Marrakech Action Proclamation, a reaffirmation of global commitment to the Paris Agreement.

“We welcome the Paris Agreement, adopted under the Convention, its rapid entry into force, with its ambitious goals, its inclusive nature and its reflection of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances, and we affirm our commitment to its full implementation,” the proclamation reads.

Secretary of State John Kerry also reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to addressing global climate change during a Nov. 16 speech at COP22, in which he spoke about the importance of science to inform policy.

“It’s within our power to put the planet back on a better track. But doing that requires holding ourselves accountable to the hard truth.  It requires holding ourselves accountable to facts, not opinion; to science, not theories that haven’t been proven and can’t be proven; and certainly not to political bromides and slogans,” said Kerry, speaking to a packed house including a number of awe-struck Scripps graduate students and delegates. “Let us stand firm in support of the goals that we set in Paris and recommit ourselves to double our efforts to meet them.”

deVries said she was “dazzled” by Kerry’s speech, as well as that of other high-level diplomats such as UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon.

“Some of my favorite moments occurred while I was talking with directors of NGOs in the exhibit hall or discussing satellite data with NASA scientists after a side event at the U.S. Center,” said deVries, reflecting upon her experience.

“Overall, I believe I have a much deeper understanding of how science works its way into climate policy and I’m excited to apply all that I learned to future endeavors in promoting climate change action.”

Longtime Scripps supporters Ellen Lehman, David and Peg Engel, Gail Fliesbach, philanthropic investment fund Global Good, and others provided funding to send the student delegates to COP22.

– Brittany Hook

Related Image Gallery: Scripps Oceanography at COP22

Related Video: Scripps Oceanography at COP22

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