Good COP, BAD COP – Mexico 2010

A Climate Scientist’s Plea to the SBSTA
by -- December 1st, 2010

The Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA), as its name suggests, acts to synthesize scientific findings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and convey it to the Conference of Parties (COP) for policy decision-making.

SBSTA plenary with the Chair Mama Konaté of Mali second from right. Copyright Leila Mead/IISD

SBSTA plenary with the Chair Mama Konaté of Mali second from right. Copyright Leila Mead/IISD

As this is my first experience at a UNFCCC, I did not entirely know what to expect.  During the opening of the SBSTA I had a notion that it would consist of countries debating on the findings of IPCC and how it can be used to inform policy decisions as stated in the description of SBSTA responsibilities.  Unfortunately, there was little of this.  IPCC was scarcely mentioned and scientific findings were even scarcer.

Many topics were discussed during the opening meeting.  There was a strong call for continuation of the Nairobi Work Programme (NWP; created to assist specifically developing countries and island states to improve understanding and assessment of climate change and make informed decisions based on this).  In short, greenhouse gas inventories, systematic climate observations, metrics to calculate CO2 equivalence, carbon dioxide capture and storage and standardized baselines were also discussed.

Brazil intervenes on Carbon Capture and Storage at the plenary SBSTA. Copyright Leila Mead/IISD.

Brazil intervenes on Carbon Capture and Storage at the plenary SBSTA. Copyright Leila Mead/IISD.

Various countries voiced interventions of their view on a given issue, but rarely were opinions supported with scientific findings, leading me to believe alternative (political) motives for most opinions.  I recognize that a great deal of negotiation happens behind closed doors, but as a graduate student studying climate science it appears that the body implemented to synthesize and convey scientific findings are making decisions too heavily based on political agendas.  I realize climate change mitigation is inherently political and fiscal, but the farther decisions are removed from science, the less likely a substantial outcome will present itself.  Scientific findings are the basis and motivation for the COP’s collective agreement to tackle this uphill battle, and thus I believe it is imperative for the SBSTA to weigh more heavily on the climate science and less on political agendas.

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