Plugged In

Hamilton's view of COP25: Science Museum representative is on the ground at the international climate conference

Monday, December 9, 2019
Posted by
Sarah Imholte

Patrick Hamilton, the Science Museum’s director of Global Change Initiatives, is passionate about finding solutions to the challenges our society faces as our climate changes.

This week, Pat is in Madrid, Spain, at the COP25 international climate conference. Pat is representing the Science Museum as a member of We Are Still In, a bipartisan network of representatives from all 50 states, spanning large and small businesses, mayors and governors, university presidents, faith leaders, tribal leaders, and cultural institutions that are committed to the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement and addressing the causes of climate change. 

We are proud to have Pat representing the museum on this international stage. He'll share frequent updates about his time at COP25 here on Plugged In, as well as on his Facebook page. Follow along!

Monday, December 9
The simple message in the image at right - and several variations on it - are what greeted me and thousands of other COP25 delegates and observers this morning as we flowed through the metro tunnel toward the Feria de Madrid, the vast convention facility housing this enormous international climate conference. 

The message concisely captures the tone of the conference. There is a palpable sense that the future that climate scientists have long warned us about with increasing urgency and precision has become the present. The discussions now recognize that planning without implementation is insufficient. There is also a realization that many national governments, as exemplified by the U.S., still do not grasp the enormity of the situation.

However, there is consolation in the shared appreciation that climate action across a wide range of subnational actors – cities, states, corporations, academic institutions, and cultural organizations – has exploded over the past two years. Many entities, on their own initiative, are drafting and implementing ambitious climate action plans and linking up in alliances to effect even greater change. 

An important message for me and other non-U.S. governmental attendees at COP25 to emphasize to other participants from around the world is that ambitious climate action continues to take place in the U.S. 

To that end, the U.S. Climate Action Center has organized bilateral meetings between members of We Are Still In and various delegations. The first will be this evening with the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), a group of 60 countries and counting who are the most susceptible to climate impacts. The CVF membership is diverse and spans geographies from Central and South America to Africa to South and Southeast Asia and small island nations across the globe. The CVF is not a formal negotiating block, but it holds a lot of moral and leadership power in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations. It reminds other nations that those most impacted by the climate emergency are typically those who had the least role in causing it.

Tuesday, December 10
Waiting yesterday for the Climate Vulnerable Forum delegation to arrive, I struck up a conversation with an executive from a major Bay Area corporation and a We Are Still In member,  as we stood outside the U.S. Climate Action Center conference room.  It was his first international climate conference; he had arrived with the mindset that whatever he did would be peripheral to the high-level government-to-government negotiations. His head was quickly spun around by the realization that the agreements and goals being reached and set by subnational parties, such as businesses, NGOs, and investors, were playing an instrumental role in helping to create more pressure for governmental delegations to reach agreements. 

Time will tell whether expectations from below help will catalyze the agreements that need to be reached in the next few days. But what is clear going forward is that the time of businesses, investors, academic, and cultural institutions quietly engaging in climate work is over. Much more continual and vociferous messaging from all sectors of society now is essential for realizing the large-scale mobilization necessary to meet the climate challenge.

Wednesday, December 11
Yesterday afternoon, I was part of a group of We Are Still In representatives that met with members of the environment committee of the German Parliament. The overriding purpose of these bilateral meetings is to convey the message that climate action is still happening in the U.S., despite federal inaction. The Germans had some questions:

The U.S. has officially announced that it is withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement, correct? And it has withdrawn its pledge to the Green Climate Fund, correct? So why does it insist on staying on the Loss and Damages Executive Committee, a core institution in the Paris Accord, when it has made clear that it has no intention of making any contributions?

We could offer no explanation or rationale. Others have noticed this behavior and called it out. The Climate Action Network publishes a daily newsletter that it hands out to conference participants as we stream through the COP25 entrance in the morning. Each issue identifies a Fossil of the Day – an entity whose behavior has been notably counterproductive. In its December 10 edition, the U.S. “achieved” not one but three Fossil of the Day awards.

While riding the metro back to my hotel yesterday evening, a young Spanish college student noticed my COP25 badge and struck up a conversation with me.  He is studying international relations at a university in Madrid and would be volunteering at the COP25 later in the week. I complimented him on Spain stepping up on very short notice to host this enormous conference when Chile had to withdraw. He nodded and said, “A few years ago, no one in Spain paid any attention to climate change, now we talk about it frequently because we are living it.”

Thursday, December 12
An astonishing feature to me of COP meetings is the nonstop flow of press conferences on a fire hose of topics. You step into the press briefing room, pick up a translation headset, and find a seat. The conference begins promptly on the hour or half hour and concludes 25 minutes later to make way for the next one, with participants quickly exiting the room for one-on-one press interviews outside.

I attended a press conference this morning organized by IPAM (Amazon Environmental Research Institute). It featured both the science director and executive director of the institute and a Brazilian Senator and former Environment Minister of Brazil (and now UN Champion of the World). Amazonian fires were a big news story back in August. Now that the smoke has cleared (for the time being), the assembled statistics are sobering. Emissions of carbon dioxide from Amazonian fires jumped 30% from the previous year. And the worst may be yet to come with the next fire season, because deforestation spiked up 88%.

The message was that these fires are a matter of great concern for Brazilians and for everyone. Brazil’s patrimony is being devastated. The rest of us are losing a vital element of planetary environmental stabilization on spaceship Earth because of the oversized role that the Amazon basin plays in global carbon and water cycles.

Friday, December 13

I noticed a striking sculpture this morning from across a vast hall and made it my destination. The artist Lorenzo Quinn has the hands of a child supporting the palazzo of Ca’ Sagredo in Venice – the birthplace of his mother and his wife – against the ravages of our climate emergency. These young hands represent to Lorenzo the present and the future and the awareness and hunger of youth for change away from our current planetary trajectory. 

Looking off to my left, I then noticed that the sculpture anchored a suite of posters about the importance of science in comprehending the multiplicity of Earth systems now exhibiting signs of abnormal behavior because of human-caused climate change.  One especially caught my attention. Prepared by the World Meteorological Organization, it shows mortality and economic losses from extreme weather events from 2015 to 2019. Economic losses in North and Central America and the Caribbean totaled an astounding $376 billion over five years – 8 times the economic losses from the rest of the world combined.

No matter how rich the U.S. is, how long can it endure enormous economic losses from extreme weather events made worse by climate change? How much longer can its wealth help insulate its population from increased mortality from climate change? And when will we rejoin the rest of the world to ensure that even worse future losses do not become reality?

COP25 concludes tonight, so this is my last post from Madrid. I look forward to continuing the work on the climate emergency in Minnesota with all of you.

jQuery(document).ready(function () {if(getCookie('currentSessionKey') != '') { setCookie('currentSessionKey', '', 0, 0, 3); setCookie('promptCounter', '0', 0, 0, 3); } var loginForm = document.getElementById('smm-tessitura-constituents-login'); var url = '/includes/cgaddon/cgui.php'; url += '?sessionid='; url += '&show=dialog'; if(loginForm && (loginForm.length) && (getCookie('promptCounter') == 0)) {document.getElementById('membershipModalOverlay').style.display = "block"; jQuery('#membershipModalBody').load(url);} else {document.getElementById('membershipModalOverlay').style.display = "none";} });