It’s a Small COP: COP17

It’s a Small COP: COP17, The Kyoto Protocol and Miyako Ecology Center
“The 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 7th Session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties (CMP7) to the Kyoto Protocol” opened Monday, November 28 in Durban, South Africa. The history and details of these meetings are available on the official website

This meeting, like its predecessors, brings together interested parties from around the world to address the issue of climate change: governments, scientists and advocacy groups.

The international community formally addressed climate change in 1992 with the creation of the UNFCCC at the ‘Earth Summit’ in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Annual meetings – the Conference of the Parties – began in 1995. The third meeting (COP3) was held in Kyoto. It was at this meeting, on December 11, 1997, that the Kyoto Protocol was adopted. This resolution for the first time outlined legally binding reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by industrialized countries, with measurable changes to begin in the 5-year period of 2008-2012. Currently, there are 193 parties that have ratified the Kyoto Protocol. The United States of America was one of the original 84 countries to sign the protocol, but it is the only signatory nation to never ratify the treaty (UNFCC, Kyoto Protocol, Status of Ratification website, Nov. 25, 2011)

The Kyoto Protocol expires at the end of 2012. Previous attempts to either extend the treaty or to replace it with a new treaty have been unsuccessful. Thus, COP17 is the last chance to salvage the gains of the Kyoto Protocol. Two years ago, at COP15, the delegation from Tuvalu, a nation of low-lying islands, wept during their presentation. They can no longer grow crops on their islands because the soils have become too salty due to the rise of sea level. Moreover, the urgency to address rising levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) is greater than ever. The latest measurements of CO2 in our atmosphere exceed the worst-case scenarios predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and 2010 tied with 2005 as the warmest years on record.

It’s a Small COP, How to be ‘Eco’ (Green) at Home, and The World’s 24 Hours
The city of Kyoto has long been associated with international culture and environmental concerns. Four years after the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol, the Miyako Ecology Center opened (Miyako is an older name for Kyoto used when it was the capital, Photo 1). This center contains permanent exhibits that relate humans to their environment, particularly focusing on energy and water: demonstration gardens on the roof and walls, various types of solar panels, windmills, etc. (see Photos 2-4). They also host workshops and special exhibits (more on these topics to come). Currently, the Miyako Ecology Center houses a special COP17 exhibit, ‘The World’s 24 Hours’. Also in time for COP17, they hosted two workshops last weekend: ‘It’s a Small COP’ and ‘How to Be Eco (Green) at Home’ (see Photo 5).

Photo 1: Miyako Ecology Center, Kyoto, opened in 2002 to further the goals of the Kyoto Protocol. Note the solar panels at top.

Photo 2: Interactive display that demonstrates the efficiency of different light bulbs: incandescent, fluorescent and LED. You have to crank those pedals fast to light the incandescent bulb.

Photo 3: Four different vines are grown on the south side of Miyako Ecology Center (MEC). Both the City of Kyoto and the MEC advocate growing plants on walls and roofs to insulate buildings, in this case to cool in the summer. 

Photo 4: Part of the rooftop demonstration garden and solar panel arrays at MEC.

Photo 5: Flyers for two of COP17 events at the MEC: ‘World’s 24 Hours’ exhibit (left) and ‘It’s a Small COP’ (right). 

It’s a Small COP’ began with a short introduction to the Miyako Ecology Center, as well as background on the Conference of the Parties and the Kyoto Protocol (e.g. some of the details above, Photos 6-8). Mr. Tomoo Arakawa led the main exercise, ‘The Trading Game’ originally developed by Christian Aid (see Photo 9). The game simulates international trade, relevant to issues of fair trade (or not!) and potential emissions trading under the Kyoto Protocol. We were divided into 7 groups of 3-4 players. Each group was given a set of materials, which included some of the following: paper, scissors, pencils, rulers, compass, right triangles, and other shapes (Photos 10 & 11). A market was set up to ‘buy’ various pieces of paper for set prices (Photo 12). However, the game was not fair; not all groups received the same materials. One group had two pairs of scissors, while my group had none. Those groups that lacked scissors, rulers and/or shapes had to negotiate to either buy or rent materials to cut out their shapes for sale.

Photo 8: This slide states the date of the Kyoto Protocol (December 1997) and the opening of the MEC (April 2002).

Photo 9: Mr. Tomoo Arakawa-san leads the ‘Trading Game’. On the white board are the prices to be paid for different shapes of paper.

Photo 10: The materials of the game. Some groups received excess paper and tools; others received only paper.

Photo 11: Going to work. Paper cut to the proper size and shapes were sold at market.

Photo 12: The market. Actually, the two different ‘buyers’ had different standards of quality. They also based their decisions (to buy or reject) on the origin of the ‘country’. The work of poor groups was examined more carefully. 

As the game progressed, some of the rules appeared to change. The price of some shapes suddenly increased, but later ‘collapsed’ (see Photo 13). One group had their workspace taken away piece-by-piece (a modular table, Photo 14). Another group suddenly began producing stars from green paper (Photo 15); neither the paper nor an explanation for the stars was provided to other groups. Not surprisingly, those groups that started out with better materials ‘earned’ the most money – the goal of the game. The group that lost their table also lacked scissors and eventually stopped ‘playing’.

Photo 13: Market prices changed during the game, some going up dramatically only to crash later. 

Photo 14: The three people at the end of the table made up the poorest group. They were displaced from their ‘island’ (table) and stopped ‘working’.

Photo 15: A rich group at the front of the room. They were secretly provided with green paper and the opportunity to sell ‘stars’. Poor groups were not given any information about the stars, nor did they have access to green paper.

Afterward, we were debriefed about the game and discussed its implications. The initial inequities between groups represent real differences between nations. The ‘poor’ nations were set up in the back; we had a hard time reading the board where prices were posted, whereas the ‘rich’ groups in front could more readily respond to changes in the ‘market’. The rich countries also benefited from special contracts (green stars) and were given stickers to place on their ‘products’ that made them more valuable (name brands). Finally, one of the ‘rich’ groups represented a multinational corporation; it was actually in charge of the market prices. That group was ‘played’ by staff members and meant to be aggressive in their negotiations (and generally not nice). They also had spies placed amongst the other groups; the spies tried to influence negotiations for the benefit of the ‘rich’ (Photo 16). The group that lost its table was meant to represent Tuvalu, the island country about to be submerged by rising sea level.

Photo 16: The man in the middle of this group was actually a spy, working for Mr. Shiba–san and his corporation (see Photo 17).

Participants expressed a range of emotions, from frustration and cooperation, to expressions of guilt and apology by the ‘mean’ staff players (Photo 17). Ideas of fair trade and some of the organizations that label ‘Fair Trade’ items also were discussed. We ended with another look at COP17 and the future of the Kyoto Protocol. In particular, we were asked about the positions of select countries at the start of COP17: Would they agree to an extension of the Kyoto Protocol? America was one of the countries examined. It was pointed out that historically, America has added more to atmospheric CO2 levels than any other country. As the only American in the room, I was asked how I felt about it. ‘Terrible,’ I said. America has not signed the existing treaty and does not plan to sign an extension. A stated concern is that China was not required to meet any reduction targets under the previous treaty, because of its status as an emerging economy. The group was also asked about Japan’s position (all the other participants were Japanese). Surprisingly, Japan does not intend to sign an extension to the existing treaty, because neither America nor China – the two biggest emitters of CO2 today – have agreed to limit their emissions. Three others were mentioned:

  • The European Union would sign an extension of the treaty, if countries with substantial emissions (like China) agree to a date to begin their reductions.
  • China would agree to an extension of the existing treaties, except for the provision that would require them to start reductions.
  • Finally, Tuvalu absolutely supports an extension of the treaty. Industrial nations must take responsibility for their emissions, and third world countries must also be part of the solution.

The participants agreed the workshop was a success (Photo 18). It opened our eyes to some of the realities of international relations, and the latest on the Kyoto Protocol. The last slide presented was another cartoon by High Moon, showing the differences between our ‘head’ – what we think we should do, vs. our ‘body’ – what we really do (see Photo 19). Note that the two are often quite different.

Photo 17: This man, Mr. Shiba-san, played the leader of a multinational corporation. He acted very pushy and initially demanded 80% of profits for renting his scissors. The sign he holds says, ‘bad after taste’ to communicate his angst at playing the role. Mr. Shiba–san works with the MEC and another environmental group focused on climate change.

Photo 18: The staff take a bow at the end of ‘It’s a Small COP’.

Photo 19: Cartoon by High Moon that shows how what we think we should do (heads in the cartoon) and what we actually do (bodies) are often quite different. It is not easy to carry through with the actions we know are needed to make a difference.

I was at first surprised to learn that Japan was ready to give up on the Kyoto Protocol. However, the initial change to new energies is costly, and it is unfair to expect other countries to pay these costs when the biggest players (America and China) refuse to join the effort. Unfortunately, this outcome suggests our future climate will change even farther beyond the worst-case scenarios mentioned above.

The World’s 24 Hours looks at the typical day of kids from other countries. You begin by filling in a ‘24 hour clock’ worksheet of your normal day (Photo 20). Then you compare your ‘normal day’ to a child from another country. Seven countries were represented: Bangladesh, Bolivia, Fiji, Maldives, Mongolia, Nepal and Niger (Photos 21 & 22). Two of the most interesting differences were bed times and school times. Kids went to bed anywhere from 8:00 (Bolivia) to Midnight (Mongolia), and awoke as early as 4:30 (Maldives) or 5:00 (Fiji). The girl from Bolivia stays in bed 11 hours (8:00PM -7:00 AM). Some kids spent eight hours or more in school (Fiji, Niger) while others only went half time (Bolivia, Maldives).

Photo 20: ‘The World’s 24 Hours’ introduction and worksheet, completed by Reiko.

Photo 21: Displays of seven kids from seven countries: their 24-hour day, and other features of their country.

Photo 22: The 24 hours of a boy from Niger.

In addition to their ’24 Hours’, a list of questions was asked about their countries: Describe your typical food, home, schoolroom, etc. (see complete list below). The last few questions asked about garbage, availability of environmental information and climate change. Most of the kids responded with some knowledge and concern about climate change, with many referencing aid agencies as the source of their knowledge. However, it was clear that garbage was the more immediate issue: preventing garbage from contaminating the ground (landfills), and just keeping garbage off the streets. Several kids also reported new recycling programs, driven largely by aid agencies. Others noted that hunger was the most pressing issue.

The last part of each country’s exhibit was an example of the current affects of climate change. All responded with examples: drought and desertification in several countries (Mongolia and Niger, Photo 23) and floods/mudslides in others (Bangladesh and Bolivia, Photo 24), or both (Nepal); loss of coastal erosion due to rising sea level (Fiji) and the bleaching of coral reefs (an important tourist attraction, Maldives, Photo 25). None of the kids knew of any coordinated response to climate change within their country.

Photo 23: Three photos of climate change in Mongolia: a receding lake, desertification of grasslands, and desert encroaching on a small city.

Photo 24: A girl from Bangladesh describes her day and the increase of floods.

Photo 25: The Maldives, an island nation in the Indian Ocean with spectacular coral reefs, depends on tourists for much of their economy. A warm-water event in 1998 led to coral bleaching. Recovery has been weak, and will be unable to keep up with long-term increases in water temperatures.

Finally, a separate set of panels presented the history and details of the Kyoto Protocol, and the current policy of the City of Kyoto. As already noted, the protocol is running out, and its history was presented above. A pair of panels showed: 1) the 2009 CO2 emissions for the top 14 countries, and 2) compared them to the reductions they had agreed to under the Kyoto Protocol. Only 11 of the 14 countries were shown in the second graph; the other three had not committed to any reductions: China (1st in emissions for the first time in 2009), America (2nd) and India (4th). Although 2009 was a slow year economically, only three countries met their targets: Russia, the European Union, and Hungary. [Japan had promised a 6% reduction (vs. 1990 levels) and achieved a 4.1% reduction.]

The City of Kyoto has set their own goals with plans to achieve these goals. As of April 2011, Kyoto established a goal to reduce its CO2 emissions by 40% in the year 2030. This plan was created with the companies and citizens of Kyoto, and conservation organizations. Collectively, they will promote several actions to reach their goal, and will encourage the many tourists that visit Kyoto to also participate in their efforts (see Photos 26 & 27). The actions include:

  • Encourage plants on building faces and roofs
  • Eat local food
  • Reduce garbage/Increase recycling
  • Educate people
  • Encourage people to do something ‘green’ every 16th of the month (associated with this idea is the ‘Do you Kyoto’ campaign, mentioned in an earlier blog; this campaign includes the question, ‘Do you do something good for the environment?’
  • Encourage citizens and companies to use renewable energy
  • Encourage companies to establish environmental management systems
  • Encourage people and companies to use energy efficient machines
  • Encourage companies to sell energy efficient machines
  • Encourage use of public transportation, bicycles and do not idle your engine when stopped

The Miyako Ecology Center provides a model for many of these suggestions. The center receives many visitors and school groups, and in recent years has sent ‘ambassadors’ to other cities and countries (e.g. China). I will be spending more time there in the next few months to report on their specific ideas (Photo 28).

Photo 26A: Display panel shows the City of Kyoto action plan to reduce their carbon emissions 40% by 2030 (1 of 2). See text for translation.

Photo 26B: Detail of ‘Do You Kyoto?’ icon with subscript, ‘Do you do something good for the environment?’

Photo 27: Companion panel of 26A.

Photo 28: The Miyako Ecology Center welcomes all. It is a fun and informative center of environmental information and opportunity.

Questions from ‘The World’s 24 Hours’ exhibit:

  • What kinds of houses do people live in, what is the housing standard in your country?
  • What type of infrastructure: electricity, water, gas?
  • What do you eat regularly?
  • How do you say ‘Earth’ in your language?
  • What are the main forms of transportation (and public) transportation?
  • How is your school? Number of students? Classroom?
  • How do people process household garbage?
  • What do people think about the environment? Do you talk about it at school?
  • Is your country affected by climate change/global warming? If so, what type of problem(s)?
  • Are people in your country concerned about climate change/global warming? What kind of solution(s) do they apply?

3 thoughts on “It’s a Small COP: COP17

  1. It was great looking at your blog. I have just visited the Miyako Ecology centre in Kyoto today and found it very interesting to see what other people see the situation.
    I like to use this blog as a reference on my blog also to spread the words. Thank you for this post.

  2. Pingback: Happy Earth Day from Kyoto! Miyako Ecology Center Celebrates 10th Year | Glendale Community College Blog

  3. Pingback: Season’s Greetings: Autumn in Kyoto | Glendale Community College Blog

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