In December 2015, INNOVIM meteorologist and science communicator Tom DiLiberto joined scientists and politicians from around the world at the 21st annual UN Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of Parties (COP). Here, he tells us about the experience.
Usually my day to day schedule involves getting to work, sitting at my desk, signing in, and doing work safely from the confines of my cubicle on the third floor of the National Center for Weather and Climate Prediction at the Climate Prediction Center. However, this past December, I found myself talking with governors, cabinet members, mayors and even a billionaire when I acted as an emcee at the Department of States U.S. Center at the UNFCCC COP21 in Paris.
It was in Paris that 195 countries negotiated and signed the Paris Agreement outlining targets and mechanisms for limiting global warming to 2°C while aiming for an even more ambitious target of 1.5°C. 1.5°C is a target argued for by many low-lying Pacific island countries that stand to witness their countries vanish beneath the waves should humans continue to emit greenhouse gases. Keeping global temperatures limited to only a 2°C increase would, in general, avoid the worst case outcomes, which is not to say that no negative outcomes would occur.
But why was I there? I didn’t negotiate. (And thank goodness because negotiators were routinely up until 4 in the morning arguing over details as simple single words in the eventual agreement.) Instead, I was helping to put a face to the tremendous amount of work being done by scientists, politicians, community members and businesses when it comes to tackling climate change. At the U.S. Center there were more than 40 “side” events over the two weeks of COP21 that focused on scientific research, policy, youth engagement, and business actions. This served in addition to daily science talks led by scientists from NOAA and NASA. My job was to serve as one of the two public faces for the U.S. Center as emcee of the events. I would answer questions from guests coming to the U.S. Center that could range from negotiators from other countries to business leaders to non-profit members to activists, which made for an incredibly lively and energetic atmosphere during the entirety of COP21. Plus, it was my duty to introduce the side events held at the U.S. Center stage including meeting with all of the speakers and panelists.
Since this was such an incredibly high profile and important global meeting, our events were also populated with a who’s who of world leaders. I introduced and met with the secretary of the interior, Sally Jewell, secretary of agriculture, Tom Vilsack, secretary of energy, Dr. Ernest Moniz, science advisor to the president, Dr. John Holdren, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Gina McCarty and the head of NOAA, Dr. Kathryn Sullivan. This is not even mentioning politicians from governors of states to mayors from across the country that made the trip to Paris to highlight the goals being met and made for their cities and states across the country. I even had the opportunity to develop and host my own side event on the impact our world’s oceans have on climate change. It was an incredible honor to have my own event listed among the already amazing list of events and speakers to grace the U.S. Center stage.
The goal of the U.S. Center was (1) to highlight the important scientific research being done across the country as well as to communicate what the science actually tells us about climate change by having actual scientists present their data. (2) To then take a step back and look at the measures being taken by governments at all levels, local to federal, to become more sustainable and to meet our greenhouse gas emissions promises. And (3) to illustrate the efforts taken by businesses and local communities as well to take the next step to reducing global greenhouse gas emissions.
This was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity to take part in a meeting with such far-reaching and long-lasting contributions to humanity’s attempt to stave off the worst impacts from climate change. I was honored to be trusted as a public face for not only the U.S. delegation at COP21 but for the country as a whole. It was a responsibility I did not take lightly. The Paris Agreement, while tremendous, was only a first step, though. It is up to us to make sure it has meaning.