Stephen P. Nash and Virginia Climate Fever

This post was written by Heather Widener, communications director for the Virginia Association of Museums, who has been with the organization for 12 years. She can be reached at hwidener@vamuseums.org.

News headlines flare up now and again over the persistent and troubling issue of climate change. It is easy to feel that these predictions are “far off” or that we are helpless against the shifting realities of the world. Virginia Climate Fever: How Global Warming Will Transform our Cities, Shorelines, and Forests, written by Stephen P. Nash, brings these realities home for Virginians – particularly those who act as stewards of our historic and cultural landscapes.
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The Virginia Association of Museums (VAM) recently held its annual conference in Williamsburg, Virginia. One of our most popular conferences, this year’s event drew over 450 museum professionals and service providers from around the Commonwealth and beyond. One of the conference’s exciting draws was Nash, our keynote speaker. Nash is a journalist and the Visiting Senior Research Scholar in the Journalism Department at the University of Richmond and author of Virginia Climate Fever. During the keynote speech, Nash discussed potential impacts of climate change on Virginia’s coastal historic, cultural, and archaeological sites.

Says Lisa Martin, senior program director at Reynolds Homestead, “Global warming has always been a concern for me, but I’ve always thought of it in terms of how it might impact the natural history of our nation and world. Stephen Nash brought home with urgency the cultural impact that climate change will have on our museums, historical sites, and archaeological digs. To imagine the history that could be lost with nearly 200 sites in Virginia alone being affected really makes the issue of environmental change a topline concern for those of us who work in these fields. His presentation was impactful, pertinent, and engaging.”

Combining nearly 30 years of scientific research with data from the Department of Historic Preservation and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, Nash’s presentation addressed climate trends, physical strategies for adapting to sea level rise, and advocacy to keep Virginia’s historic resources at the forefront of our state’s climate policy.

“Climate change is already upon us but we still have time to work out good plans in the face of it, and avoid making the worst of it. We have responsibilities to each other, to the natural systems we depend on, and to Virginia’s landscape, one of surpassing richness and beauty.” – Stephen P. Nash, Virginia Climate Fever

The Virginia Association of Museums (VAM) is a statewide network serving the museum community. VAM has over 2,000 members, including individuals, businesses, and member organizations, ranging from historic houses to botanical gardens, aquariums, zoos, children’s museums, historical societies, art museums and galleries, battlefields, military museums, and more. Our vision is a united museum community inspiring the world around us. Learn more at www.vamuseums.org.

On Earth Day 2016, There Is More to Be Done

ProjectARCC welcomes Linda Tadic, CEO of Digital Bedrock, on our first anniversary. A year ago today a group of archivists came together to discuss our profession’s future and the Earth’s future. Happy anniversary and happy Earth Day!

At the Paris Climate Change talks (COP21) in December 2015, 195 countries signed a non-binding agreement to lower their greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 2100. While the world celebrated the unanimous vote, and there is no denying the importance the conference had in raising the profile of climate change, it is clear that the agreement didn’t go far enough.

COP21’s goal: Get countries to promise to decrease their greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) so the global temperature won’t rise above 2° C (3.6° F) by 2100. That temperature increase is scientifically accepted as the threshold for catastrophic climate change. Prior to the conference, countries submitted the GHG emission levels they believed they could achieve (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, or INDCs). However, the INDCs are disappointing and outright deadly: if countries only achieve what they propose, the global temperature will rise 3.5° C (6.3° F) by 2100. A critical part of the agreement states that countries will aim to lower their GHG emissions lower than their INDC, but those are just words with no actionable steps behind them.

A minimum of 55 countries must sign the agreement on Earth Day 2016 for the agreement to become binding, and there is no guarantee the minimum signatures will be achieved. The US Supreme Court recently voted to put a stay on President Obama’s regulation of coal plants pending the results of a lower court ruling, which puts the US involvement in COP21 at risk. This decision caused large GHG emitting countries such as China and India to doubt the US seriousness to the Paris agreement; they had agreed to sign only if the US showed serious efforts.

Climate change is too serious an issue to be left to national governments to solve alone. Where positive change is occurring is with more nimble entities: local governments (states/provinces, cities), industry, individuals, and investors. Investors are increasingly not investing in oil and coal, but in renewable energy since that’s the future in this New Climate Economy. Aviation, transportation, and ICT industries are enacting technological efficiencies to decrease their industries’ GHG emissions.

Archives intersect with ICT through our use of hardware and energy. Our hardware and network choices in how we store and manage digital content, the energy devices used, and our digital preservation actions impact the environment.

In 2015, I gave a series of presentations on the environmental impact of digital preservation at conferences for SEAPAVAA (Singapore), IASA (Paris), and AMIA (Portland, Oregon). The slides and background research and notes are available for download at the Digital Bedrock website. The documents will be updated from time to time with the recent version date noted.

What we do as individuals and archival custodians can impact the wider world. In a talk at UCLA on January 12, 2016, Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and the UN Envoy for Climate Change, referred to “climate justice,” eg, climate change + social injustice. Fighting climate change is a personal, political, and social battle that must be fought on all fronts at our disposal, including the choices we make with our technology and preserving our collections.

— Linda Tadic

Questions? Comments? Email: ltadic@digitalbedrock.com

 

 

Your Input Needed: Sustainable Archives Research

As ProjectARCC has demonstrated, sustainability has become increasingly important in the archival community. The sustainability coordinator, Bomin Kim, and archivist, Aliza Leventhal, at Sasaki Associates have joined up to study how archives can approach sustainability from a “triple bottom line” approach; looking at impacts on social, environmental, and financial concerns.

We are asking questions such as:

  • How can archival spaces be more sustainable?
  • What impact does a geographic or climate region have on an archival space’s ability to be simultaneously more energy efficient, comfortable, and cost effective?
  • And, what impact do occupant controlled environmental features (ex. blinds, thermostat, lights) have on an institution’s budget?

In order to start answering those questions we need to know more about the existing archival spaces and need your help!

Please respond to our brief (10-15 minute) survey that asks for specifics about your holdings, facilities, indoor comfort, as well as what sustainability means to your institution. With this information we aim to develop generalized regional case studies to create best practice guidelines on a sliding scale of sustainability can be achieved for archives of varying sizes and locations.

We will be sharing the results of this survey, as well as our sliding scale guidelines later this fall.

Please click here to start the survey

CFP – Libraries and Archives in the Anthropocene: A Colloquium

Call for Proposals

Libraries and Archives in the Anthropocene: A Colloquium
May 13-14, 2017
New York University
Website: http://litwinbooks.com/laac2017colloq.php

As stewards of a culture’s collective knowledge, libraries and archives are facing the realities of cataclysmic environmental change with a dawning awareness of its unique implications for their missions and activities. Some professionals in these fields are focusing new energies on the need for environmentally sustainable practices in their institutions. Some are prioritizing the role of libraries and archives in supporting climate change communication and influencing government policy and public awareness. Others foresee an inevitable unraveling of systems and ponder the role of libraries and archives in a world much different from the one we take for granted. Climate disruption, peak oil, toxic waste, deforestation, soil salinity and agricultural crisis, depletion of groundwater and other natural resources, loss of biodiversity, mass migration, sea level rise, and extreme weather events are all problems that indirectly threaten to overwhelm civilization’s knowledge infrastructures, and present information institutions with unprecedented challenges.

This colloquium will serve as a space to explore these challenges and establish directions for future efforts and investigations. We invite proposals from academics, librarians, archivists, activists, and others.

Some suggested topics and questions:

  • How can information institutions operate more sustainably?
  • How can information institutions better serve the needs of policy discussions and public awareness in the area of climate change and other threats to the environment?
  • How can information institutions support skillsets and technologies that are relevant following systemic unraveling?
  • What will information work look like without the infrastructures we take for granted?
  • How does information literacy instruction intersect with ecoliteracy?
  • How can information professionals support radical environmental activism?
  • What are the implications of climate change for disaster preparedness?
  • What role do information workers have in addressing issues of environmental justice?
  • What are the implications of climate change for preservation practices?
  • Should we question the wisdom of preserving access to the technological cultural legacy that has led to the crisis?
  • Is there a new responsibility to document, as a mode of bearing witness, the historical event of society’s confrontation with the systemic threat of climate change, peak oil, and other environmental problems?
  • Given the ideological foundations of libraries and archives in Enlightenment thought, and given that Enlightenment civilization may be leading to its own environmental endpoint, are these ideological foundations called into question? And with what consequences?

Formats:

Lightning talk (5 minutes)
Paper (20 minutes)
Proposals are due August 1, 2016.
Notifications of acceptance will be sent by September 16, 2016.
Submit your proposal here: http://goo.gl/forms/rz7uN1mBNM

Planning committee:

  • Casey Davis is Project Manager at the American Archive of Public Broadcasting at WGBH and co-founder of ProjectARCC: Archivists Responding to Climate Change<https://projectarcc.org/>.
  • Madeleine Charney is Sustainability Studies Librarian at UMass Amherst and co-founder of the Sustainability Round Table of the American Library Association<http://www.ala.org/sustainrt/home>.
  • Rory Litwin is a former librarian and the founder of Litwin Books, LLC<http://litwinbooks.com/> (Colloquium sponsor)

ProjectARCC Honored with NEA Archival Advocacy Award

nea_spring2016On April 2, ProjectARCC was awarded the New England ArchivistsArchival
Advocacy Award for 2016. Each year, NEA grants the Archival Advocacy Award
(AAA) to an individual or institution demonstrating extraordinary support
of New England archival programs and records – politically, financially, or
through public advocacy. The award was presented at the NEA Spring 2016
Meeting awards ceremony in Portland, Maine. Past recipients include Digital
Commonwealth and Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC).

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NEA’s former president Jill Snyder presented the award and highlighted ProjectARCC’s work to motivate the archival profession to affect climate change. She mentioned ProjectARCC’s collaborations with the Society of American Archivists’ Committee on Advocacy and Public Policy (CAPP), the American Library Association’s Sustainability Roundtable, and DearTomorrow.

Casey Davis accepted the award on behalf of ProjectARCC and thanked the New England Archivists for awarding ProjectARCC with the Archival Advocacy Award. She noted that just a year ago at NEA’s Spring 2015 meeting in Boston, Casey gave a presentation at REPS’ “Revolt Against Complacency” session, identifying areas in which archivists could make an impact on climate change. Several NEA members immediately responded to the call to action, and on Earth Day 2015 ProjectARCC was formed. Today, ProjectARCC’s membership has grown to more than 60 members across the United States.

Congrats to the entire ProjectARCC community!

Over the past year, ProjectARCC has presented at numerous conferences,
including the Society of American Archivists, the Association of Moving Image
Archivists, and Massachusetts COSTEP. This month, Rose Oliveira and Genna
Duplisea will be presenting at the Keeping History Above Water conference
in Newport, Rhode Island. ProjectARCC has hosted several events this year,
including one at ALA Midwinter in collaboration with ALA’s SutainRT and “On
the Brink,” in collaboration with Simmons College SCoSAA.

Members have contributed numerous blog posts on the ProjectARCC blog, as
well as for the SAA Issues and Advocacy blog  and New England Media and Memory Coalition. ProjectARCC members have been interviewed by Infotecarios, a publication for Latin American information professionals, and Lost in the Stacks, a public radio program. ProjectARCC has also hosted Tweet-ups in collaboration with ALA’s Sustainability Roundtable. ProjectARCC member Eira Tansey recently published a peer-reviewed article on climate change risks and impacts.

During COP21, ProjectARCC members marched with thousands of other activists
at the Boston March for Jobs, Justice and Climate.

ProjectARCC members are making impacts within their own institutions, including
curating exhibits featuring historical materials documenting climate change,
and creating and distributing surveys on sustainability and building
efficiencies.

ProjectARCC committees are continuing to work on specific projects,
including collecting stories from archivists on disaster experiences
(Protect), creating a brochure describing actions that archives can take to
become more sustainable (Reduce), compiling a list of archives that
preserve collections related to climate change (Elevate), and assisting
DearTomorrow in preserving their collection of letters, photos, and videos
to the future (Preserve).

 

And finally, ProjectARCC is collaborating with Library Juice Press on a
colloquium in May 2017 titled “Libraries and Archives in the Anthropocene,” which will take place at New York University. More information to come about this event!

Our thanks to the New England Archivists for awarding ProjectARCC the 2016 Archival Advocacy Award and for their support of our work. Congratulations to everyone involved in ProjectARCC!

 

 

DearTomorrow, A Conversation with the Future About Climate Change

Thanks to NEMMC (New England Memory & Media Coalition) for this original post from our founder Casey Davis.

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Since May 2015, I have been working with a team to develop a new online space where people can post letters, photos and videos to their children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, future children and future generations about climate change.

As a professional archivist, I was drawn to this project because the collection will become a long-term archive, a record of how people are currently thinking about and taking action on climate change. These messages will be collected over the next five or so years and then re-released back to the public in the years 2030 and 2050, for the recipients and for future generations to see when they are older.

My contributions to the project include managing the letters and metadata and helping coordinate with potential long-term repositories to preserve the collection for research and understanding by future generations.

It has only been in the past several years that I have become aware of the seriousness of climate change and have spent time reflecting on how, as an archivist, I could participate in developing solutions. I want to make a contribution not only to the documentation of this important period of time, but also participate in activities that help shape this period of time. That is why I have joined the team of DearTomorrow and also founded Project ARCC, a task force of archivists striving to motivate the archival profession to effect climate change.

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DearTomorrow recognizes that one of the greatest challenges for addressing climate change is the disconnect between future climate change consequences and the need to take action now. By asking people to reflect on climate change through the eyes of someone young that they love, the project aims to make climate change a more relevant, accessible and immediate issue.

I personally experienced this shift in thinking when I wrote my own DearTomorrow message. In my first letter, I wrote about my October 2014 life-changing experience of coming to terms with the imminent threats of climate change on the future of our planet and its impacts not only on society but also on the responsibility of archivists to preserve history for future generations. For months after I had this awakening, I was paralyzed in fear. I was unable to talk about it with many of my family members who still deny climate change, and I didn’t know what to do about it to have a personal impact. In my second letter, written several months later, I wrote about how ProjectARCC was making a difference within our profession, and how the fear that I experienced was turned into action.

I’m not a parent yet, but as an archivist and as someone who thinks about the past — and a lot about the future — I understand the importance of preserving this epochal moment in history for people to one day understand what we knew, what we didn’t know, and what we did about climate change. DearTomorrow will be a resource for our loved ones to look back and see the actions we took for them. It will be a resource for scholars and researchers to gain an understanding about this moment in time. And right now, it is a bridge to action among those to take the time to think about the people to whom they are writing and for whom they are taking action on climate change.

I invite you to learn more about what I feel is a very powerful and important project, and think about ways that you can contribute to the project. Here’s how:

  1. Participate in this historic project by writing your own letter to the future. The key here is to think about someone young and important in your life who will access your message in the year 2030 or 2050. What will you say to them about the world we currently live in? Write about how you currently think about the challenge of climate change. Or perhaps reflect on a place or experience that is important to you and that you would like to preserve for them to experience in the years to come. The process is open-ended so what you say is up to you. Submit your message with a photo that is important to you.
  2. Participate in the photo promises project. Think about one new action that you could take in 2016 to reduce your environmental footprint.  This could be something in the home or in the community. Write it down, take a photo and submit it to deartomorrow.org.
  3. Participate in the crowdfunding campaign. Our team has raised over $14,000 in donations and commitments from over 150 people ranging from $10 to $1500. Contributions in all amounts are welcome.

Contribute a skill or expertise to the project. Our all-volunteer team is always looking for creative and motivated people to join in the project. Contact us if you have an idea about how you can contribute.

— Casey E. Davis

Reporting On the Brink

ProjectARCC and the Simmons College Student Chapter of the Society of American Archivists (SCoSAA) co-hosted On The Brink: Archives, Climate Change, and the Future. The event, held on the Simmons College campus, was also live streamed; a recording of the event is forthcoming.

The two-part event featured both presentations by panel members and an open Q&A session afterward. The panel was composed of Casey Davis, project manager at the American Archive of Public Broadcasting and founder of ProjectARCC; Lisa Pearson, who is Head of the Arnold Arboretum Horticultural Library and Archives; Trisha Shrum, PhD candidate at the Harvard Kennedy School and co-founder of DearTomorrow; and Lucas Stanczyk, Assistant Professor of Political Science and Affiliated Faculty of Philosophy at MIT.

Davis presented on her personal revelation regarding the urgency of climate change and the importance of archivists to understand and respond to the challenges presented by this phenomenon. Shrum’s presentation combined an introduction to the DearTomorrow organzation with a discussion of developments in behavioral psychology that may prove useful in motivating the public to make and support environmentally conscious actions. Pearson presented a brief historical introduction to the Arnold Arboretum and provided an insightful look at how the library, archives, and grounds of the Arnold Arboretum have been (and could be!) useful to activists and researchers. Bringing the event to a somber and grounded conclusion, Stanczyk emphasized the nature of climate change as a longitudinal and international issue, and presented figures concerning emission benchmarks that must be attained in order to reduce and mitigate the impact of global climate change on the environment.

For some people, the biggest takeaway from events like these can be the revelatory understanding that climate change is a serious and imminent threat that will affect all people, everywhere (though not equally so; less-developed nations, and areas closer to sea level, are in more immediate danger). For the initiated, events like On The Brink serve to remind us of our purpose and spur us on to continued action. As a culmination of mutual cooperation between SCoSAA, ProjectARCC, and our panel presenters, the event was also a reminder of the importance of collective action to mobilize real change concerning climate change. While individual environmentally conscious actions are effective and important, our voices are strongest when unified. ProjectARCC is just one example of an organization that rallies concerned individuals who share a mutual association around the issue of climate change. Finding a way to become involved in environmental activism– be it at the community, institutional, state, or national level– is the next critical step in transforming concern over climate change into real action.

Each of these speakers brought this revelation about in different ways. Davis’ presentation on Project ARCC highlighted the potential benefits of tapping into mutual association (through a shared professional interest) to rally members of the community around an issue. The involvements and accomplishments of ProjectARCC since its founding are a testament to this. Shrum demonstrated how environmental activists can tap into social networks and insights into human psychology to better unify and inspire people to collective action. At the local level, Pearson shared information about how researchers, community members, and the interested public are making use of the Arboretum’s resources to advance scholarship and activism goals.  

— Chris Kaplan

Dramatically Reducing An Archive’s Carbon Footprint by Working with the City

ProjectARCC members Blake Relle and Danielle Cordovez set out to highlight an organization that took steps to positively impact the climate. Through Twitter, we learned that the City of Toronto Archives won the “Race to Reduce” challenge by lowering energy consumption by a staggering 59%. They were able to achieve this through C40 Climate Leadership Group initiatives instituted by the city. Relle and Cordovez spoke with the City Archivist at the Toronto City Archives, Carol Radford-Grant , and Project Manager, Prashant Bhalja, to learn more about this impressive accomplishment.

The C40 Climate Leadership Group consists of different government bodies and agencies within major cities whose focus is to make a positive impact on the global climate. In an effort to show leadership, Canadian officials announced plans to encourage the development and use of energy efficient solutions to take action against the effects of Greenhouse Gas emissions.  Being the largest city in Canada, Toronto took the lead in implementing C40 initiatives to show that they were actively doing their part, and not just talking about what should happen.

The city of Toronto approached the staff at the Archive to see if they would participate, and lower their energy consumption. The staff was thrilled to be part of this project for three reasons. First, the building that houses the archive was over twenty years old, and in need of upgrades. Secondly, the building’s energy consumption was higher than comparable constructions in the city, and throughout the Province of Ontario.  Finally, the staff had a hard time keeping the temperature, and relative humidity at safe levels due to the city’s extreme weather conditions.  In the winter the temperature, factoring in the wind chill,  temperatures can may fall to -40 degrees Celsius.  In contrast, the relative humidity in the summer ranges from 80% to 90%.

Making improvements to the building was necessary, and would allow safe, long term storage for the collections.  Improvements  included the installation of a new HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning)  system, and energy efficient boilers to to properly regulate temperature, relative humidity, and the air flow in the building. The new boilers require little energy to function. The  HVAC system is automated, and lowers consumption in practical ways such as shutting  off when the loading doors are open.  Radford-Grant reported that very little problems arose during the installment of the HVAC system, and boilers as the archival staff worked well with Bhalja, and discussed concerns in advance to ensure low risk of damage to the collections.

With the new HVAC system and boilers,  the Archive lowered electricity use from 200 -250 to 130 kilowatts monthly,  resulting in a 59% reduction in energy use. The reduction was so severe,  that the meter was checked and replaced by the gas and electric companies to make sure it hadn’t been tampered with.  To maintain the low monthly number, Radford-Grant and Bhalja agree that daily monitoring of consumption, in addition to staff training on how best to utilize the equipment is necessary.

Radford-Grant and Bhalja’s  advice to archivists planning to implement energy reduction practices are:

  1. Every building has room for improvement to minimize energy use. Look for it.
  2. There does not have to be a choice between lowering energy and climate control. Comfort should not be sacrificed for conservation. There is a balance that optimizes both goals.
  3. Collaborate with your area, and research municipal initiatives for Greenhouse Gas Emission reduction.

To continue their efforts, the City of Toronto Archives hopes to install a new air conditioner and improved insulated windows in the coming years.

For us at ProjectARCC, two important lessons came out of the interview with Radford-Grant and Bhalja. First, people tend to believe that they, as one person, cannot do anything to affect climate change. That is not so: each person can do their part to make a positive impact on the climate. One can install solar panels, install new windows, or install lights the automatically turn on and off. Each small thing adds up. A lot of things over the course of history have changed because one person stood up and said, “Enough is enough.” In other words, there are things that everyone can do.

Secondly, we need to work together. We are global citizens and have a duty to leave the planet in better shape than we found it. There is a lot of talk in the archival profession about working together. If we do not start working together now, when will we? We need to ask ourselves — in the style of President Kennedy — “Ask not what your planet can do for you, but what you can do for your planet.”

— Blake Relle and Danielle Cordovez

Elevate a Climate Change Exhibit

Two weeks ago, ProjectARCC challenged archivists to elevate their collections related to climate change using #PreserveClimate. There’s also a survey archivists can fill out for collections to go into a larger project.

One example of an archive that has recently elevated their materials related to climate change is the American Archive of Public Broadcasting. In late October, the American Archive of Public Broadcasting (AAPB) launched its Online Reading Room, providing the public with access to thousands of historic public television and radio programming dating back to the 1950s. As part of the inauguration of the Online Reading Room, AAPB staff launched three curated exhibits featuring content that is topically and historically significant. AAPB Project Manager Casey Davis curated one of the three exhibits, the title of which is “Climate Change Conversations: Causes, Impacts, Solutions.

The exhibit highlights television and radio conversations with climate scientists, activists, journalists, historians, and students who used the venue of public broadcasting to discuss climate change for more than a quarter of a century. In these recordings, they have repeatedly communicated the science of human-driven climate change and its impacts in interviews, call-in radio shows, debates, public lectures, news programs, and documentaries.

While scientists and activists have consistently used public broadcasting to disseminate information about climate change, the conversation has changed over time. In the 1980s, focus was primarily on communicating the potential threats of global warming. Since then, programming has increasingly examined the actual impacts, and in addition, struggled to keep the American public informed and engaged.

Organized into six sections, the exhibit highlights public broadcasting recordings of conversations on climate change—its causes, impacts, and proposed solutions—from 1970, the first year that Earth Day was celebrated, to the present. Among the recordings include conversations with Gus Speth, former Dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, James Hansen, the first scientist to testify before Congress on the threat of global warming, former Vice President Al Gore, three recordings with Bill McKibben, writer and activist who founded the international organization 350.org, Katharine Hayhoe, climate scientist who has become well-known for communicating climate change to fellow evangelical Christians, and David Brower, founder of Friends of the Earth.

What’s in your collections?

What to Know for the Paris Climate Talks

 

ProjectARCC is challenging archivists from around the world to elevate and broadcast their collections that relate to climate change. Use #preserveclimate to join the conversation and add to the database!

This week, an important and big climate change conference started in Paris, and will continue until December 11th. In the wake of the 13 November terrorism, an already high-profile meeting will take on new meaning. It would not be hyperbolic to say what could come out of the Paris meeting could chart the very path of human existence for our foreseeable future.

This is a brief post that includes some useful links and a very quick primer to help ProjectARCC allies understand the significance of the road ahead. If this primer leaves you wanting more, I highly recommend this short graphic novella of the history of international efforts to manage climate change. A text-based timeline can also be found here.

WHO?

The Paris talks, often referred to in shorthand as COP21 (or the 21st meeting of the Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCC) will be the most recent attempt to bring together the international community to committing to real reductions in carbon emissions that will keep the world as close to not exceeding 2º Celsius of warming as possible. 2º Celsius has been the benchmark target set by the climate change policy community for several years, and exceeding this target will almost certainly cause severe and irreversible changes to the world climate. We have already warmed the planet by 0.8º Celsius since the late 1800s. Because reduction of emissions would have to be so dramatic to bring current projections to 2º or less, many scientists and policy makers are now reckoning with adaptation to a planet that could warm by at least 4º Celsius by 2100, if massive reductions in carbon emissions are not immediately implemented.

WHERE?

Paris, France (specifically, Le Bourget, which is just outside Paris). COP meetings rotate between regions, and France applied for the 2015 Western European hosting turn back in 2012. The actual meeting can only be attended by national delegations of the UNFCC parties, intergovernmental agencies and non-governmental organizations with officially-recognized observer status (e.g., the World Bank), and journalists. However, close to the official meeting location, there will be a venue that will host activities that the general public can attend.

As this blog post goes to press, following the Paris terrorist attacks French authorities are committed to going forward with hosting and security for the official meeting events, but will not allow any public street marches associated with the climate talks. At past climate summits, such as Copenhagen in 2009, public demonstrations served an important role in giving voice to those most vulnerable to climate change’s disasterous effects.

WHEN?

While the meeting will take place over the course of 12 days, there has been significant groundwork laid over the past year. The initial negotiation sessions began in February, in Switzerland. The meeting in Paris will be the final vote to accept the framework to measure progress on each country’s committed reductions.

WHY?

In general, the COP (Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) takes place every year (since 1995). In addition, you may see things like “CMP” when reading about COP — this refers to parties which signed on to the Kyoto Protocol, which was the first time binding greenhouse gas emission targets were set. This year is the 21st conference of COP, and the 11th conference of CMP (i.e., COP21/CMP11). The United States is a party to the UNFCC, but never ratified the Kyoto Protocol, citing concerns over lack of emissions reductions from developing countries. This is why the recent carbon emissions agreement between China and the United States is a huge deal — it represents perhaps a loosening of the “Which country should cut first and faster?” question that has often derailed recent international climate negotiations.

HOW?

The biggest difference with this round of climate talks is the model to which countries are pledging individual emissions reduction targets. Each country has set their own target, known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC)– on the plus side, this means countries may be more likely to actually meet reduction goals, something that has been elusive in the past. On the other hand, many experts note that even if all countries meet their own self-defined targets, it will not be enough to collectively stay under the 2º target. The World Resources Institute has developed an interesting visualization tool for the submitted INDCs.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR?

Historically, a stumbling block in climate talks has been tension between reduction expectations of highly developed countries with high emissions (such as the United States) compared to rapidly developing countries (such as China and India). Meanwhile, many Pacific Island nations are literally reckoning with going underwater, possibly in our lifetimes. There will likely be significant discussion over the obligations of developed countries to assist extremely vulnerable and under-resourced countries cope with the effects of climate change.

— Eira Tansey