Equilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by Altria — Hot mic catches Queen criticizing 'irritating' climate inaction

Equilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by Altria — Hot mic catches Queen criticizing 'irritating' climate inaction

Today is Friday. Welcome to Equilibrium, a newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability. Subscribe here: thehill.com/newsletter-signup. 

A livestream caught Queen Elizabeth II calling out world leaders’ lackluster commitments to both the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) and the global climate crisis as a whole, The Guardian reported.

Speaking of the event — which Chinese President Xi Jinping will not attend in person and Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinOvernight Defense & National Security — Quick vote on defense bill blocked again Kremlin claims Ukraine may try to win back rebel-controlled regions by force Blinken threatens coordinated sanctions on Russia over Ukraine MORE has not yet committed to, according to Reuters. The Queen called it “extraordinary” that she’s “been hearing all about COP,” but that she still has “no idea” who’s coming, Reuters reported.

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“It’s really irritating when they talk, but they don’t do,” she added.

The Queen will attend COP26 alongside other members of the royal family, like Prince William and Prince Charles, who called COP26 a “last chance saloon” for effective climate action, The Guardian reported.

Today we’ll look at the results of another major U.N. conference that focused on biodiversity for the past week — but which failed to attract U.S. participation. Then we’ll turn our attention to another complicated international diplomacy issue: the controversy over Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline, which has driven hundreds of arrests in D.C. this week. 

For Equilibrium, we are Saul Elbein and Sharon Udasin. Please send tips or comments to Saul at selbein@thehill.com or Sharon at sudasin@thehill.com. Follow us on Twitter: @saul_elbein and @sharonudasin

Let’s get to it.

Biodiversity partnership advances, with US absent from talks 

While world leaders gathered this week in Kunming, China, to advance a global framework to curb the loss of biodiversity, the U.S. was absent from the conversation, E&E News reported, published in Scientific American.

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This week’s talks were the first part of the U.N.’s 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15) Convention on Biological Diversity, with part two scheduled to take place in the spring. During the talks, officials adopted the Kunming Declaration — a pledge to negotiate a global biodiversity framework by the conference in May 2022.

“We have taken a critical step towards writing a new chapter for our planet and for our societies,” Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, said in a press statement.

Another COP? Isn’t COP26 just around the corner? It is, but that’s an entirely different COP — the 2021 U.N. Climate Change Conference, or the Conference of Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

COPs are what the U.N. describes as “the supreme decision-making body of the Convention,” and the numbers coincide with the years since the respective convention.

As far as the climate convention is concerned, COP26 was supposed to happen in November 2020, or 26 years since 1994, when the UNFCCC entered into force, but was postponed due to the pandemic. COP1 took place in 1995 in Berlin.

But back to biodiversity: Like the 26th climate COP, the 15th biodiversity COP was postponed due to the pandemic. (The Convention on Biological Diversity went into force in 1993, but COPs did not occur every calendar year since its passage.)

At the centerpiece of this first part of COP15 was the adoption of the Kunming Declaration, which Maruma Mrema said will help “engage the entire world in the task of putting nature on a path to recovery by 2030.”

Ambitious funding pledges from China, E.U., U.K. and Japan: At the gathering in Kunming, which occurred part in-person and part virtually, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced the 1.5 billion-yuan ($233 million) Kunming Biodiversity Fund, according to the COP15 news release.

The European Union, meanwhile, declared that it was doubling external funding for biodiversity, and the governments of France and the U.K. also made commitments to increase funds devoted to biodiversity, the news release said.

A coalition of financial institutions, whose assets amount to 12 trillion euros, or around $14 trillion, pledged to protect biodiversity through investments, according to the release.

The government of Japan also announced a $17 million extension to its Japan Biodiversity Fund.

 

A MESSAGE FROM ALTRIA

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'THE MOST IMPORTANT GLOBAL MEETING YOU’VE PROBABLY NEVER HEARD OF'

But where was the U.S.? For three decades, as E&E News reported, the U.S. has failed to ratify the Convention on Biological Diversity. Washington has stayed out of the fray even as most of the world has signed on, including Russia and China, according to E&E.

In fact, the U.S. is now the only country in the world aside from the Vatican that is not a party to the Convention, The New York Times reported.

Although Republican lawmakers have argued against doing so for decades, the Biden administration also has invested little energy in the subject, E&E noted.

“It reinforces the notion that the U.S. is a fair-weather partner when it comes to environmental conservation, including issues of climate change,” Stewart Patrick, from the Council on Foreign Relations, told E&E.

More than just a side event: Fitting with this predicament, the Times described the Convention as “the most important global meeting you’ve probably never heard of,” stressing that the ongoing biodiversity collapse could equal climate change as an existential crisis.

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Last words: “If the global community continues to see it as a side event, and they continue thinking that climate change is now the thing to really listen to, by the time they wake up on biodiversity it might be too late,” Francis Ogwal, one of the leaders involved in negotiations, told the Times.

 

Hundreds arrested as activists test Biden’s climate promises 

The week started with federal ceremonies honoring Indigenous Peoples Day. By its end, hundreds of Indigenous and allied activists had been arrested in Washington, D.C., during five days of protest actions aimed at getting the Biden administration to reconsider the controversial Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline through the Great Lakes region.

First steps: More than 650 activists organized under the umbrella of the People Vs. Fossil Fuels were arrested for locking themselves to fences in front of the White House and occupying the offices of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) for the first time in almost half a century, The Hill reported.

The last time such an occupation occurred was in 1972 under the auspices of the American Indian Movement. But its concerns about Indigenous self-determination still resonate, Ponca Tribe elder Casey Camp-Horinek told Inside Climate News.

“We still have every treaty that has not been upheld,” Camp-Horinek said.

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A million petitions: As part of those protests, on Tuesday activists piled up a dozen cardboard boxes containing more than a million signed petitions from Americans requesting that the Biden administration and the Army Corps of Engineers conduct a new environmental review of the project.

'HONOR OUR TREATIES'

What do activists want? That’s summed up by what one woman shouted as she was escorted out of BIA headquarters by federal police: “Stop Line 3! Honor our Treaties,” according to Indian Country Today (ICT).

Short-term, they want President Biden to order a review and ultimately cancel the permit for the expansion of Enbridge's Line 3 pipeline. In June, the Department of Justice announced it would uphold the Trump administration's approval of the pipeline, according to The Hill.

Longer term, they want the administration to take more aggressive action on cutting greenhouse gas emissions, as well as expanding control for Indigenous people over Indigenous land, particularly the broad swaths of the country where tribal nations signed treaties with the U.S., which Washington, D.C., and state legislatures later superseded, ICT reported.

A controversial pipeline: The recently completed Line 3 has emerged as a flash point because it will ship heightened volumes of the world's most polluting oil across the unceded traditional territories of the Anishnaabe people, according to a report in Vox.

In doing so, activists say it would lead to new carbon emissions equivalent to 40 new coal plants, Vox reported.

What is the case for it? Largely geopolitics and harm reduction owing to Canadian energy policy. Canada's Liberal party, which recently won a tight federal election on a platform of net-zero by 2050, is also banking on decades of continued extraction from the bitumen mines in Northern Alberta, according to the National Observer.

Those mines produce bitumen: a tar-like form of oil (sometimes called "heavy crude") which, thanks to a quirk of Canadian energy infrastructure, has to be exported to the U.S. to be refined before it can be re-imported into the population centers of Eastern Canada to be sold.

Enbridge has said that the renovated Line 3 is safer than its predecessor, which was responsible for the largest-ever inland oil spill in the U.S., according to Minnesota Public Radio.

A pressing paradox for two countries: Canada’s bitumen pipelines — both Enbridge’s Line 3 and the TransMountain, now owned by the Canadian government — represent a dire threat to the country’s climate ambitions, The New Statesman wrote.

But “opposing pipelines — and going against the powerful oil and gas sector in Alberta — would be a short-term political gamble that [Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau hasn’t so far been willing to risk,” the paper continued.

Last words: President Biden is setting himself up for a similarly untenable position, the petitions dropped off at the Army Corps of Engineers offices suggested. 

You have declared a code red climate emergency, stating that ‘the nation and the world are in peril,’” the petition said. “We agree. It is past time to act in accordance with your declaration.”

A MESSAGE FROM ALTRIA

Altria’s companies are leading the way in moving adult smokers away from cigarettes – by taking action to transition millions towards potentially less harmful choices. Learn how at Altria.com.

Follow-up Friday 

Turning back to issues we’ve explored throughout the week.

Southern California, Arizona agencies to explore water recycling partnership

  • This week, we looked at a few water supply issues — including a Canadian city’s decision to import 21,000 gallons of water, as well as the drought ravaging Afghanistan.
  • The Southwest U.S. is also battling extreme drought, while the Colorado River supply dwindles. To “help restore balance to the over-stressed river,” Southern California and Arizona agencies are partnering to plan one of the largest water recycling plants in the country, a news release from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California said.
  • The Central Arizona Project — the 336-mile conduit that conveys Colorado River water across Arizona — and the Arizona Department of Water Resources will contribute up to $6 million toward planning the “Regional Recycled Water Program,” a $3.4-billion project that could produce enough water to serve 500,000 homes, according to Metropolitan.
  • Arizona’s initial contribution could lead to a long-term investment in the project’s construction and operation, in exchange for some of Metropolitan’s Colorado River share, Metropolitan General Manager Adel Hagekhalil said in the news release.
  • “Eliminating the supply-demand imbalance that threatens the Colorado River will take both reducing demand, through conservation, and adding new supplies, like recycled water,” Hagekhalil added.

Southwest U.S. braces for probable La Niña this winter, making bad conditions worse

  • On Tuesday, we looked at a study that revealed how 6 million children are driven into undernutrition during a single bad El Niño season. El Niños typically cause strong winds and excess rains, particularly in the tropics, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
  • NOAA’s National Weather Service announced on Thursday that weather conditions indicating a different system — La Niña — have emerged, with an 87 percent chance of a La Niña occurring from December through February.
  • Some key effects of La Niña could include an extended Atlantic hurricane season; worsening drought in the Southwest U.S.; elevated fire risk; increased odds for a stormy winter across the Northern U.S. and a mild, dry winter in the South; and increased tornado activity in the Plains and South in Spring 2022, The Washington Post reported.
  • This would be the second La Niña in two years after just a five-month respite, and these conditions could leave already struggling Southwest residents with what Discover described as “the second blow in a debilitating double punch to the gut.”

 

Please visit The Hill’s sustainability section online for the web version of this newsletter and more stories. We’ll see you on Monday.