COP 23

Latin America

“Teaching environmental economics to students helps them connect to climate actions!” — Elsa Maria Cardona Santos, Mexico, Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research

*this is not one of my five blogs for the final assignment

“I left a journalism career to explore how to more effectively communicate science and environmental news.”— Ione Anderson, Brazil, Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research


The economics of climate change is simple. Ask Elsa Santos of the Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research (pictured above) and she will tell you the same.

When we burn fossil fuels, we emit CO2 into the atmosphere, and this leads to many harmful effects (global warming, drought, sea level rise, natural disasters…you know the drill.) These effects are known as negative externalities, an economics term meaning unintended consequences, occur because those who produce the majority of emissions do not pay the consequences, and those who are harmed are not fairly compensated.

Latin America is among the countries who are disproportionately harmed by climate change.

Effects of Climate Change

According to the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, Latin America will experience the following effects of climate change:

  • Savannization: the process of tropical rainforests in the Amazons turning in to savannahs from humidity
  • Losses in biodiversity, extinction of species
  • agricultural productivity will decrease, hunger will increase
  • drought
  • sea level rise
  • coral bleaching

Specifically, Central American countries and Mexico rely heavily on subsistence farming.  Temperature rise and desertification will reduce agricultural productivity.

Additionally, the rural population living in the Amazon Basin are very vulnerable to climate effects. For example, in Brazil, only 58% of these people have access to drinking water.

However, due to additional social issues (like health, education, poverty), governments do not have the resource to take adaptation or mitigation measures. Much of the national response is not that effective. There are many inconsistent warning systems at the local level.


National Perception of Climate Change

People in different nations perceive their vulnerability to climate change differently. For example, Bolivians are aware of the threat and impact to their individual needs (ie relationship between climate change and food supply.) while Peruvians perceive the impacts in terms of security and social cohesion.

Leiserowitz’s team found that people in Latin America perceive climate change as a greater threat when they understand that humans are the major cause.

Highlighting Local Solutions

  • Ione Anderson promotes IAI research activities to the United Nations.  
  • She developed a newspaper for the Smithsonian Institution’s traveling exhibit “Ocean Planet” and developed other outreach programs that promoted ocean conservation at the National Museum of Natural History.
  • She also produced a  free Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on the Impacts of Climate Change in Latin America in Spanish, which has reached over 7.5 thousand participants. MOOC created in response to a demand for high-level scientific educational outreach products in Spanish in Latin America to support SDG 13 Target 13.3 to “improve education, awareness raising and human and institutional capacity on climate change mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction and early warning.”
COP 23


EU flag representing LIFE, a climate finance mechanism to support climate action

National Climate Action

The European Union plays a critical role in global climate policy. The European Commission, the executive of the EU, often sets centralized climate targets, which requires member states to focus on the issue. This also sends a message to the public that individuals should take climate change more seriously.

A flag representing EU’s LIFE fund, a climate finance mechanism that supports climate action.


However, like a child resents the demands of their parents to do chores, animosity and negative sentiment toward the European Commission can cause Europeans to avoid this priority. However, climate and energy “self-identity” is not the same across member states in the EU. In the same way, it is likely engagement with climate change differs.

This blog post would be too long if I tried to cover all 28 member states of the European Union and their individual climate perceptions. So, I will highlight Germany, because it is the site of the recent United Nations climate conference as well as a prominent climate leader.

Effects of Climate Change

The effects of climate change don’t hit as close to home in Europe as they do in Africa or other developing nations that I’ve highlighted in my blogs. Just like meat eaters don’t see what it takes for a steak to arrive on their plate for dinner, citizens of developed nations are separated from the most severe effects of their fossil fuel use.

Yet, there will still be local impacts. Germany will experience warmer summers along with increased risk of flooding and drought. These consequences will affect agricultural productivity in the East and decrease winter tourism in the mountainous regions. Though still critical, these consequences are less threatening than the security issues faced on a daily basis by Africans and Pacific Islanders.

Public Awareness of Climate Change

Despite the difference in direct climate impacts, German citizens have a high level of environmental awareness and rank environmental protection as among the most important social issues facing the country.

A report about national climate perception suggests that the media has a significant impact. Citizens gather a majority of their information about climate change from TV programs, radio, and newspapers, and coverage is relatively high. This shows how an open press can have a positive impact on climate literacy.

Seemingly at odds with this level of support for climate, the economy relies significantly on industry and mining. While we were in Bonn, activists staged a coal protest in a mine near the conference site. Despite the national rhetoric,  continued dependence on fossil fuels in Germany runs counter to the narrative that party delegates shared in support of renewable energy at the conference.

This compelling distinction inspired me to learn more about climate perception among the general public. Climate and environmental issues are often addressed in the context of the government’s energy transition plan, referred to as “Energiewende,” which aims to source 80% of energy from renewable sources by 2050.

The public has mixed opinions on the viability of this initiative, primarily as a result of coal dependence. Mining shapes the culture of certain regions and communities, like Bonn. Additionally, much of the benefit of the energy transformation is expected to support large corporations and industries, while the costs burden the general public.

Fossil fuel protests, positive media coverage, and a mixed political narrative add flavor to the discussion of climate change in Germany.

60% of Europeans recognize that climate change is harming people today. Only 41% of Americans share this sentiment. So despite its problems, among developed countries, Europe is a climate leader worthy of admiration. At least, there is a reason to have hope knowing that Europeans consider climate change a top priority.

Though it is difficult to assess how mobilized individual European citizens are overall, you can see the work of two climate leaders below:

Highlighting Local Solutions

“Climate Change is still an issue of human rights and gender inequality.” — Camilla Schramek, Climate Change Communications Officer at CARE Climate, Copenhagen











  • Camilla working for CARE in Copenhagen, Denmark. This job has enabled her to engage with innovative climate solutions that prioritize the well-being of women and children.
  • “I am tenacious in addressing climate change, forging strong relationships with business partners, and finding solutions to some of society’s most complex problems.”
“200 species went extinct TODAY!!!!!” —Felix Charnley, Southwest England
  • Felix is an activist who was inspired to climate action by a compelling story of the unfortunate murder of conservationist, Jairo Mora, in Costa Rica.  He now works in a Costa Rican community to train and employ indigenous people to rescue and protect leatherback sea turtles.
  • The leatherback sea turtle is the largest and most endangered of all turtles. They are affected by habitat loss and poaching.

  • They work to relocate nests from the encroaching shoreline, monitor eggs during the incubation period, and remove plastic pollution from the shoreline.

  • “I am at COP 23 because I want to find people who do similar work successfully. I figured that maybe I will even find something totally new and inspiring. I met someone during the Conference of Youth who does an education and coral cloning program in the Bahamas. This encouraged me to move away from the ecotourism thing and discover education instead. I want to promote research and information-sharing along with my turtle rescue efforts.”
COP 23


Effects of Climate Change

India is considered one of the most vulnerable countries to the effects of climate change due to high rates of poverty, illiteracy, and dependence on agriculture. Drought, rising sea level, pollution, and increased storm intensity threaten the livelihoods of this rapidly growing rural population.

As the third largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions, India plays an important role in global environmental politics. Because 25% of Indians live below the poverty line, it is perhaps more difficult for the average Indian citizen to take climate action than it is for Americans or Europeans.

National Climate Action

Unfortunately, economic inequality underlies India’s development and confounds its ability to take uniform climate action. Seemingly at odds with the climate agenda, India also must improve the quality of life for its people by increasing per capita energy consumption. To provide greater wealth for impoverished citizens, the government must invest in sustainable, energy-efficient infrastructure and clean, renewable energy on the road to development.

The national government is in the process of implementing the National Action Plan on Climate Change, which divides the “climate change agenda” into eight “national missions” for mitigation and adaptation. These missions include National Solar, Enhanced Energy Efficiency, Sustainable Habitat, Water, Sustaining the Himalayan Ecosystem, Green India, Sustainable Agriculture, and Strategic Knowledge for Climate Change missions.   The Advisory Council on Climate Change, chaired by the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, ensures that the country makes significant and efficient progress. However, this commitment in government does not necessarily reflect the general public’s feeling about these issues.

Public Awareness of Climate Change

A survey of the public awareness of climate change in India found that less than 40% of the population is aware of climate change. More reassuringly though, 80% of those who are aware of climate change perceive it as a serious threat to themselves and their families. While many Indians may not be immediately familiar with the issue of “global warming” most accept the idea if given a short description of the phenomenon. However, only 7% of Indians claim to know “a lot” about it.

Recognizing risk is an important step. However, it isn’t enough to inspire action. Social barriers often preclude Indian citizens from taking individual action to reduce their carbon footprints.

Education is the main predictor of climate change awareness. Specifically, improving literacy for females can have tremendous benefits for society. Educating women, in this case through promoting climate awareness, is correlated with decreasing population growth and reducing rural poverty.

Highlighting Local Solutions

Jeebanjyoti Mohanty, Senior Program Coordinator for Inseda India recognizes the potential of local climate solutions to empower and educate women and support India’s nationalmitigation efforts.


Models of local solutions on display at INSEDA table at COP 23 to improve life in Indian villages. See: improved cookstoves, solar dryer, solar greenhouse, and organic compost basket.




Hear a short excerpt from our conversation below, as Jeebanjyoti describes the importance of solar cookstoves and rural advocacy to train, educate and empower women.

“The women of the hills are more affected by migration of man to outside hills, so the women are empowered to use technologies for climate solutions & sustainable energy links to livelihood improved women’s social status.”Jeebanjyoti Mohanty, Sr. Programme Coordinator for Inseda (Integrated Sustainable Energy and Ecological Development Association

  • “This is an organic compost basket where they cultivate vegetables and sell them in the market for their livelihood. This is a solar cookstove, it is a bamboo structure, a material that is easily available and affordable. We train women to build these structures and advocate for their rights, in order to promote empowerment and raise awareness of sustainability.”


COP 23

Pacific Islands

“Because we are all in the same canoe!” —Cornelia Schuetz, Germany; Inise Vonoyawa Mucunabitu Tikocawaci, Fiji
The photo above represents the ideal partnership between developed and developing nations working together to preserve traditional island culture.
  • Together, both women, one from Germany and the other a native Fijian, represent the island’s travel industry. Their sign references a quote from the Fiji’s prime minister’s inspiring speech at the beginning of the conference, which highlighted the urgency and importance of climate action. Both women are in attendance at COP 23 to advocate for protecting Fiji’s beauty for all the island inhabitants and its future visitors.  
COP 23

Shining a Spotlight on Global Climate Action

From Europe to Fiji: How National Identity Shapes Perception of Climate Change

This November, I had the extraordinary privilege to attend COP 23 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change a.k.a the UN Climate Change Negotiations in Bonn, Germany as a representative of Emory University.

This unbelievable event draws distinguished diplomats, politicians, activists, and interested students, like myself, from around the world. Everyone knows (I hope.) what the world accomplished in 2015 when countries gathered in Paris to create the Paris Agreement—an unprecedented feat of collaboration from 197 countries with the common objective of keeping warming below 2°C  (re: small island nations under water, extreme weather events, you get the picture, it’s not pretty).

Following the initial creation of the Paris Agreement, the talks have shifted to focus on the implementation of this ambitious agenda. My pass enabled me to access the Climate Action zone— an exhibition space for individuals and organizations dedicated to innovative solutions for climate change. They promoted solutions ranging from mitigation and adaptation to technology and media efforts.

I learned about work that reaches across sectors (public, private, nonprofit) and levels (national, state, city, local) as well as between countries and communities. But I made it a priority to place a special focus on individuals. Individuals across the world who are taking action. Individuals who are STILL IN.

In the United States, the We are Still In movement, unites subnational efforts by cities, universities, companies, and communities to take action.  This campaign demonstrates the the potential for outsize impact of local stakeholders. Yet, it’s message is largely confined to the unique circumstance of federal inaction in the United States.

As a result, I partnered with Chasing Coral to use their We are Still In photo campaign as an avenue to highlight diverse and global perspectives on the We are Still In movement at COP 23 in Bonn. I asked people to write why they are “still in” on a sheet of paper and photographed them holding their handwritten sign. The conversations I had with these people gave me further insight into how global perspectives on climate action differ.

As I wandered through the conference hall (a series of exhibitions for each country on display), I wondered how national identity influences an individual’s perception of climate change.  How do these individuals see climate change and what are their motivations to take action?

The following series of 5 blog posts will focus on how climate perception is shaped by national circumstance. Naturally, a sampling bias arises in interviews, as those attending the COP are likely people who:

  1. believe in climate change.
  2. recognize the urgency of the issue.
  3. be mobilized to make a difference.

I predicted that trend would arise regarding their individual motivations for action as a product of their national identities.  From discussions with these impressive people, I attempt to compare their climate perceptions and assess how national identities impact those perceptions. My conclusions are significantly supplemented by outside research on climate perceptions as well as information collected at side events at the conference.

I invite you to learn from my experience at COP 23!

Learn about global perspectives on the urgency of climate action.

Explore multimedia components that allow you to see the face and hear the voices of these amazing activists.

These stories make a compelling argument for why the United States government and concerned or disengaged Americans must take a stand and join as we, as a united human family fight the effects of climate change.

I hope what you find here will inspire you to take action.

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COP 23


Climate Change in Africa: A Foreign Concept & A Daily Threat

In northern Nigeria, desertification plagues the land.

Lake Chad, the source of water for 50 million residents of this region lost 90% of its water mass in the last 45 years, shrinking from 25,000 km2 to 2,500 km2.

Drought leaves the fulani herdsman, who are dependent on the survival of their cattle to migrate east in search of food, water, and a new livelihood. Arriving in the east without resources or a stable source of income, former herdsmen are met with desperate conditions. Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, and other terrorist groups see these people as ideal prey for recruitment to their organizations.

In the west, erosion (exacerbated by deforestation, increased land use, and population growth) leads to landslides that sweep away children, homes, and entire villages. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, one landslide took 40 children with it. With urban population growth, deforestation, and increased rainfall (all consequences anthropogenic climate change) these incidents will become more frequent.

But how do people who experience events like these in developing nations perceive the urgency of climate action? I thought that if people were seeing the consequences mentioned above every day, they would be mobilized to take action….right?

Wrong. What I learned from interviews and further research suggested an important consideration. Due to a lack of climate literacy in developing nations, few people are actually even aware of the concept of climate change. An obvious barrier to taking action.

Anthony Leiserowitz’s team at the Yale Program on Climate Communication found that education level is the strongest predictor of public awareness of climate change.

I had failed to think of the fact that experts and activists from the developing world who were in attendance at the Climate Conference in Germany are not an accurate reflection of the general public’s awareness of climate change!

Most Africans perceive climate change through noticing changes in temperature and weather patterns, impacts that affect seasonal growing cycles, agricultural productivity, and other impacts, but they cannot put a name to the phenomena causing these changes.

However, Leiserowitz confirmed that Africans are aware of climate change perceive it as a greater threat to themselves and their families than people in most other countries.

The impact it has on the livelihoods of Africans is both a salient issue and a daily struggle. This led me to conclude that the felt impacts of climate change may actually be a stronger influence to inspire action than the mere awareness of the human influence.

This idea was supported by my interview with Prince Goodluck Obi of Nigeria. Prince Goodluck is the head of two prominent organizations dedicated to protecting the rights of children; including United Nations of Youth Network-Nigeria (UNOY) and the Global Alert for Defense of Youth and the Less Privileged (GADYLP). He promotes climate education in Nigerian schools, by starting green clubs and offering tree planting opportunities for young students in order to make them responsible environmental stewards. He strives to educate youth about the challenges of climate change and inspire them to create a better future for Nigeria.

“My commitment as a climate action activist will help to make the world a better place to live in as we clear the challenges confronting climate action!”

Hear Prince Goodluck’s inspiring story in the podcast below: