Time to take stock

You’ll notice, if you go down this blog, that it’s been a while since I have written anything. I had the best of intentions of writing regularly, but at the turn of the year, many things happened at once: I got a job at the SHRUB Cooperative in Edinburgh, working as a Circular Economy Coordinator; I became the Chair of the Policy Subgroup of 2050 Climate Group; and I got a drumming group to lead for the Beltane Fire Festival 2018.

These things filled my days to the brim; occasionally somewhat too much. I’ve had some of the best times of my life, although hardly any time to notice or process it. Every evening and every weekend were filled with things. It’s been beautiful; it also been intense.

Now, as the summer is finally here in Edinburgh, I am choosing to free up some of my time and take stock. This is a placemarker post; expect more writing to come as I swap my old responsibilities to different ones, potentially ones that take a bit less time overall. I like learning new things, gaining new skills, embracing change; and soon it’s time for new adventures. For now, though, I think it’s time to enjoy the sun, and take stock.

The featured image at the top of this post is a picture from a practice for Beltane Fire Festival. Below are a few of the things I’ve done while I’ve been away from this platform.




“Now go change the world, folks!” – 2050 Climate Group Welcome Address at ESIC2018

The text below was first given as a Welcome Address at Edinburgh Sustainable Innovation Conference in March 2018, on behalf of 2050 Climate Group.  It was then published on 2050 CLimate Group’s blog here: http://2050.scot/blog/2018/04/06/siri-pantzars-welcome-address-esic2018-now-go-change-world-folks/

My name is Siri Pantzar and I am the Chair of the Policy Subgroup of the 2050 Climate Group. 2050 is an organisation that aims to engage, educate and empower young people to take the lead in solving climate change, mainly through our flagship programme which is called the Young Leaders Development Programme. More on that a little bit later though.

First I want to thank Buchanan Institute for this opportunity. I have always been very impressed with the work that Buchanan Institute does in bringing voices of students and young people to new forums and situations. I think, in this Year of Young People, we should all be focusing on how to best involve young people in solving the big challenges of our times. And obviously one of the biggest challenges our world faces today, one of the defining issues for our generation, is climate change, and the transition to a more sustainable society. It is crucial that we young people are included in that. I see two reasons why this is particularly important.

Firstly, because this is the world we have grown up in. The key international agreement for addressing climate change, the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change, was adopted the year after I was born, in 1992. Climate change wasn’t on my parent’s radar when they were growing up, because the science wasn’t there yet. Our generation has always known that climate change is something we need to address. It is our default setting, which makes us able to see things slightly differently from the previous generations.

Secondly, because we are ultimately the people who will have to deal with the consequences, regardless of what we do. Some projections say that by the time I am 40, the climate will have warmed by 2 degrees celsius. There is no business as usual for us – the world will change regardless of what we do. All we can do is decide what that change looks like.

As I see it, there are two options available for us. We can pretend that we can continue living our lives as they are. This will lead to changes that we have no control over. We all know these: warming, storms, shortages of food, flooding, parts of the world becoming uninhabitable due to drought, or due to being underwater. Or we can take control of the changes: create a more sustainable, clean, low-carbon world, with active transport, different ownership patterns, adaptation solutions, and clean energy which is used efficiently. Neither scenario is easy, because change is not easy; but change is inevitable. All we can do is choose to do the hard work now, or deal with unplanned changes later.

At the Edinburgh Sustainable Innovation Conference we have both older and younger generations gathered together around these issues. I would first like to address the young people, to whom my main message is: go out there. Take chances – those offered to you and those you have to go and seek out. Make mistakes. Suggest things. Question things. Try things. Many things, especially in this country, were designed for a radically different time. We can change them to better suit the time we live in. We need to re-think the ways we live, we work, we travel, we have stuff. So do that. Some of the things you try out will not work, but you’ll know better for next time. Many things will work out much better than you dared imagine. The Year of Young People gives us all a unique platform, a mandate, to do this; and I urge you all to take advantage of that.

In many ways the 2050 Climate Group, my organisation, is a prime example of just how much you can get done if you do that, if you stop worrying about mistakes and lack of experience, and just start doing stuff. The organisation was created as a chain of successful experiments: the Youth Climate Summit, then Young Leaders Development Programme, then Young Leaders Development Programme 2. In a few years it has grown from 25 to 60 volunteers and now employs staff, and we have trained over 250 people with leadership skills and climate change awareness.

And this sense of “just go for it” runs through the organisation. This is the third time I ever talk to an audience outside university assignments. The first time was at a United Nations climate conference. Later on, some of the Young Leaders that have recently finished with the programme are hosting a workshop, sharing their learned knowledge and skills. Speaking of that, I asked them what they would like me to say to you all. They said one of the key lessons for them had been that the only way forward is to start doing something. Climate change and the sustainability transition that we need are big challenges and can feel paralysing, but small steps lead to new ways of thinking, which leads to more and bigger steps. So carry a keepcup. Call your MP. Talk to your friends and family. Just do something, and other things will come along.

Finally, I’d like to address those people that don’t feel like they fit in the young people category, because there is an important role for you too. We can go out to find opportunities to be included, but there are spaces into which we need to be invited; so invite us. And not just as token representation, because that’s a waste, both for us and for you. Young people have skills and perspective that you don’t, just like you have skills and perspective that we don’t; we should all take advantage of that. We are natives of systems – coding, internet, social media – that older generations will never grasp the same way; like learning languages, the most creative use comes from childhood learners. We also have different perspective – young people have yet to get used to “how things are done” and thus can show where the discord happens between old systems and new challenges. But in order for us to share that perspective with you, you need to encourage us. Allow young people into all decision-making spaces, amplify their voices, have reverse mentors, and you’ll find new solutions to new problems, as opposed to old solutions to new problems.

If this rings a bell and you want to include young people but you’re not quite sure how, we at 2050 might be able to help you with that. We’ve been running our programmes for several years now, which have resulted in some incredible, active, strong young voices in the field. So get in touch with us, and we can talk about how we can work together. Similarly, if you’re a young person and want to lead in this change but aren’t quite sure how, we have some fantastic stuff coming up right now – our next Summit is on 28th April 2018, we are currently recruiting for new volunteers, and recruitment for the next Young Leaders Development Programme will start soon too – go on our website, sign up to our newsletter and follow us on social media, and you’ll find out about everything that’s going on.

That’s it from me for now. Now go change the world, folks. Thank you.

Communicating Climate in a Complicated World – and why I love 2050 Climate Group

Adventures of a first-timer in a United Nations Climate Conference – Final Part

The following blog post was originally published on the 2050 Climate Group website, which can be found here .

It is largely inspired by a talk by George Marshall, and most of the points that I make are in fact his; to find out more about his work check out his organisation Climate Outreach or read his excellent book “Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change”.

Finally, for ease: this is the last post I will write about COP23, if you haven’t yet stumbled into the previous ones you can find them here: Part 1 , Part 2 , Round-Up .

“It is such a precious thing, this conference. People who are all passionate about climate change, discussing solutions, research, projects, and policies. Everyone is keen. Everyone is interested. Everyone is buzzing.

It’s a shame that that’s all pretty much restricted to this event though.

When we go home, we go back to the silence on climate change. Most people don’t talk about climate change in their everyday lives. People around us are concerned, but don’t voice it, don’t engage with it, and more often than not don’t see it as an immediate issue that they have to do something about in their own lives, or one that impacts them. It’s in the future, it’s those poor polar bears, it’s in the small island states and in Africa. While this motivates some people to buy clean energy, turn down the heating or vote for greener candidates, most people are more concerned about immediate issues (or ones they perceive as such): getting a job, paying their bills, getting food for your children, getting a mortgage. Climate change is indeed big and bad, but essentially something somewhere else, for somebody else with more time on their hands to do.

One of the things I’ve constantly been impressed with about 2050 Climate Group is how it really addresses this issue, through making climate change relevant for young professionals by bringing it to the sphere where we have to operate in. We might want to do something about climate change, but often focus instead on things that will pay our bills, add experience to our CVs, or build us networks. 2050 fits into that framework. It makes being a part of the global action against climate change useful and fun to us, in our own specific terms, together with other people like us.

Yesterday I attended a talk by George Marshall, and I realised how special and crucial that is. George Marshall is a climate change communicator and the founder of Climate Outreach, a non-profit research organisation supporting those that want to work on climate communications. He stresses that tailoring the message is crucial; too often we use the same polar bear and disaster images, too often the messages are tailored to us who are already keen and identify with the issue, not to those that are not. Especially as we see the global politics reaching points where major countries can elect leaders that don’t believe in climate change, we, as people who know that this should not be a partisan issue, should acknowledge that we have allowed it to become one. There are values that we all hold dear involved in promoting climate change action, but they are not the same values for those on the left, as for those on the centre right, or those in faith communities, or environmental activists, or coal worker communities, or British people or Finnish people or Chinese people. For some it’s a question of justice and planetary environment, and those messages get aired often; for others it’s about fairness, or working together, or bringing the world to balance, preserving our heritage, protecting the world that is a gift from God, or keeping champagne production possible in Champagne. Authenticity is key; we want to see people who are like us, and care about the same things as we do, tell us that we can work together to protect those things. That’s why we can’t leave talking about climate change to environmental activists; their messages are relevant for people like them, but then again, people like them are in most cases already engaged.

Most importantly, these conversations need to happen and continue to happen, outside this bubble. Often they aren’t easy; at least I often inherently assume that no-one else is interested and that I come across as nagging, which is unlikely to be true. We need to create space, and have conversations, and make spaces for conversations that are appealing and create communities. The 2050 Climate Group has provided that for many of us; now we need to continue to spread it out to everyone else.”

COP23 – Highlights

Adventures of a first-timer in a United Nations Climate Conference – Round-Up

After a day travelling home on trains (for those interested: Bonn-Cologne-Brussels-London-Edinburgh, 9am-7.30pm), and another one catching up with life admin at home, I thought it’d be nice to do a little round-up post gathering highlights from the trip through the interactive medium of a collection of tweets. You’ll notice that most of them carry the hashtag #2050atCOP23 . I was at the COP as a part of the delegation of 2050 Climate Group (so many thanks for 2050 for the opportunity to go, as well as to the University of Edinburgh who helped us get accredited!), and that hashtag was our way of tracking what we had been up to. You can use it to find out what the week 2 crew are up to at the moment. Also check out the group at www.2050.scot ; we work on engaging, educating and empowering young people to take the lead in tackling climate change.

This will not be my last blog post from COP23 – one is currently going through organisational check-ups as I wrote it for the 2050 Climate Group – but it’ll provide a bit of an overview of the event as a whole for anyone interested.

As those of you who read the first blog post I wrote about COP23 will know, I arrived at the event directly from the plane, with flat hair and loose-fitting jeans.

The first event I made it to was a press conference on using legal means to act on climate change. The panelists included young people who’d sued their government over climate change. It was acknowledged that legal processes are often slow, boring and incomprehensible for those of us that haven’t studied law, but that that shouldn’t stop us from using them. Attention was also drawn on the crucial part that scientists being able to attribute single events to climate change plays in making litigation possible.

I did also follow some of the actual negotiations, although not much as it was immensely slow and difficult to follow, even having studied the Paris Agreement in great detail.  This discussion was on the Article 9.5 of the Paris Agreement, in which developed countries agree to disclose information on climate finance streams, and on how exactly that would work in practice.

The next day was the youth day of the conference, and included this panel of young African women discussing the lack of engagement by African youth in climate decision-making, due to political and resource reasons.

You’ll notice that this is when I discovered the grid app for photos. The third day I attended was the energy day, when I hopped around a good half a dozen energy events.

…and also saw Al Gore.

The space in the COP is divided to a few areas. There is the “Bula Zone” which hosts the negotiations and only some of the participants have access. Then there is the “Bonn Zone”, where a variety of ‘side events’ take place, in a dozen meeting rooms, but also in pavilions hosted by various countries. The Nordic Council of Ministers shared a space, which was one of the coziest pavilions in the area (although some were hard to beat; India with its occasional yoga classes, Fiji and sing-along sessions in the evenings, and Germany and free coffee, for example).

I wish I’d taken a selfie with him, but the conversation was so interesting that it didn’t cross my mind! George Marshall is one of my favourite climate people (read his book, “Don’t Even Think About It!”) and he held a talk in the UK Pavilion, which ended up lasting over 2 hours and was easily one of my favourite parts of the whole COP.

My second trip to the Bula Zone included this midway stocktake of the progress of the negotiations. Very interesting, although I felt that most of the disagreement was in the sub-text which I didn’t quite understand. Next time.

Loss and damage is one of the more contentious issues of climate negotiations. Also, look at the Fiji Pavilion! So lovely!

This was the first event in which we as the 2050 Climate Group took part. It was a busy event by Adaptation Scotland on climate-ready cities in Scotland, and how Adaptation Scotland, Climate Ready Clyde and 2050 Climate Group work on addressing adaptation across Scotland, and particularly in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

By the time we were on it was standing room only at the event (!)

Then there was our own event! In which we all spoke, presenting the current work and future plans of 2050 Climate Group, and running a workshop on youth participation in policy-making.

Natalie Bennett was also there, which was pretty cool (!) – generally we had a really good audience, the room was full with engaged people interested in increasing participation and engagement of young people across the world.

Like I mentioned earlier, the trip home was a full-day train adventure across northern Europe and the UK. Virgin Trains East Coast kindly provided us with free travel from London to Edinburgh, which made the trip that much more affordable for us, as we covered all other expenses ourselves, the volunteers that we are.

Even in this year that has been packed with exciting things, this past week stands out. Part-festival, part-negotiations, part-education, I came out of the COP23 being more committed, more confident and more excited than ever. The big changes that are bound to happen in the next few years and decades will not be easy. But I am ready.

Listening to The Enemy on Energy Day at COP23

Adventures of a first-timer in a United Nations Climate Conference – Part 2

A couple of days in, and I’m starting to adapt to the world that is the COP23. The formal COP23 app, while not as convenient as it could be, sends me alerts on all the events I’ve highlighted; every 15 minutes I get a reminder of several things I can’t make it to because there’s just so much going on and I can only be in one place at a time. And sometimes need to eat. But it is nice; there is never a dull moment and always something to do or learn or explore. Today was particularly tough on the overlapping events front as one of the themes was energy, one of my main interests in this context. And while I attended plenty of events, the key insights of the day I got from two occasions where actors that would easily be considered “the enemy” braved the stage.

It should be noted here that I absolutely think everyone, whatever their industry, should be involved in the transition to a low-carbon economy, and that companies and people involved in, for example, fossil fuels, have plenty of expertise and knowledge that we should be directing to the right direction, instead of casting them aside. This is one of the key thoughts I had going into environmental politics from offshore energy industry recruitment; that there is no point in having people with so much knowledge and expertise sit idly at home when they could help provide the technical expertise necessary for renewables and who knows what else. Jeff Merkley, the Senator of the State of Oregon, also brought this up today – that in the name of social justice and a just transition, it is important that no fossil fuel worker is left behind.

Regardless, it’s hard to not see these companies and organisations as a little out of place in a conference full of defendants of the environment and people swearing by renewable energy. The Energy Day opening event had a representative of Shell defend their continued relevance in this changing time. He argued that the transport sector low-carbon transition will require both time, during which demand for fossil fuels will continue, and extended infrastructure, in which Shell is involved through, for example, providing electric car charging facilities and a pilot hydrogen refuelling station in London. He also argued that while power generation is reaching a point where a pathway is visible for decarbonisation, other industries such as cement, metallurgy, shipping and aviation show currently no clear path forward, which will sustain the demand for fossil fuel services. An audience member challenged Shell on continuing to drill for more fossil fuels at a time where we can’t afford to burn them if we’re to reach the Paris Agreement targets; the Shell representative turned to demand and supply arguments and declared an aim for a managed transition to defend the company’s actions. I’m not sure how convinced I am by this, but it is clear that it is the responsibility of users to reduce demand, rather than expect fossil fuel companies to reduce supply unless there is a business case for it.

From one controversial actor to another. Via a detour to see (the less controversial) Al Gore speak – providing the room with terrifying images of the changing environment and exciting prospects for the future, which was inspiring even if there was nothing particularly new in what he was saying – I followed up with a panel on aviation, featuring an international airline organisation and representatives of various airports. It was a difficult event to attend; on one hand, I felt that the incremental changes proposed by the airlines were nowhere near enough, and as much as I appreciate the efforts of airports to go zero-carbon in their activities, it feels a bit beside the point to focus on having LED lights at airports when their existence supports high-emitting planes coming and going. On the other hand however, what is the alternative? We are used to a connected world, and while some air transport can be replaced by high-speed trains and video-conferences, I can’t see people willing to stop flying entirely – including myself. In that light, having airlines commit to carbon-neutral growth from 2020 and a reduction in emissions thereafter is… something? There were also some interesting new things for me: for example, that 5% of airline emissions are emitted taxiing on the ground, and that planes have to take inefficient routes to avoid military airspaces, go round country borders and due to poor airport navigation.

This having been my first full day at the COP (from 9.30am to 7pm and counting), I find myself exhausted from the amount of information and people and action. As I am writing this, I’m sitting next to a stage and in the background there is a young man playing guitar and singing (Despacito at the moment, it seems), so I think I’m going to leave you with a few videos of some of the entertainment I’ve seen here. It’s not all deep discussions here, sometimes there is a need for men (or women; but in this instance, men) and guitars.

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And now for some entertainment! #cop23

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Thoughts of a COP newbie

Adventures of a first-timer in a United Nations Climate Conference – Part 1

I know it has been radio silence from me for a few weeks. A combination of work, volunteer projects, and many travels got in the way of writing much. I have a backlog of a few posts that I’m going to be posting in the next few weeks as things calm down (if they do – life as a freelance environmentalist has so far proven to be full of unexpected projects, twists and turns!) but right now I’m keen to document the exciting adventure I’m currently living through – the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of Parties, affectionately called COP23 by those following these kinds of things.

I arrived in Bonn yesterday and, perhaps against common sense, immediately made my way to the conference. In my travelling gear I was an odd sight among the formally dressed negotiators, observers and members of the media – although not as much as I could have been, as some of the people were definitely only slightly scrubbed-up field environmentalists and activists rather than career diplomats. Interesting mix of people. I like it.

I was recommended not to write a formal blog post on the first day I arrive by some more experienced COP-goers, and I understand why – taking it all in is an intense experience, I ended up wandering aimlessly and ending up in various events mostly by chance for most of the afternoon and evening, and got to my accommodation exhausted afterwards. But I also want to record these impressions, because it already all kinda makes sense, and I want to remember how it feels like when it didn’t.

Like I said, I attended events mostly by accident. I went to a press conference on the use of litigation as a form of climate action, and listened to young people who have sued countries and actors for climate change, and to lawyers and scientists who work in attributing climate events to climate change to help these cases. I sat in formal negotiations on climate finance mechanisms, and they were just as confusing and detailed as I expected, although I hadn’t quite processed how incredibly long it takes to get anywhere when you have all the countries of the world wanting to say “we thank this body for its work and appreciate it”. And I couldn’t help feeling disoriented by the fact that the delegates become the countries – “EU, you have the floor”, “Thank you Philippines”, these are real people, but also not. I also went to an event by Climate Action Tracker, which discussed the mostly insufficient national commitments to climate action. It left me waiting for news from the US – the #WeAreStillIn non-federal campaign should be announcing exciting things soon – and also aware of the changes in the field, from equity and fair-sharing principles to the ever-speeding up development. Where we are now is not promising – but there are things happening all across the world that give me hope that change is coming, fast.

The Bonn Zone – the area where countries and organisations present their work, hold side events, and which is accessible to much more people than the Bula Zone which hosts the negotiations – is an exciting hub of beautiful projects, interesting commitments and people who are interested in the same thing as me. It’s much more free-form – we were listening to singing from the Fiji Pavilion as we sat in the EU pavilion at the Climate Action Tracker event, India Pavilion was running yoga and the Nordic Pavilion had gin & tonics (although only for attendees of events – I need to turn up earlier next time!).

The question is, of course, will I, or the COP, save the world while we are here? Probably not. However, what I can see is many people working for the same goals through different methods in different places, sharing information, ideas, inspiration and best practice, and getting motivated by each other; and that just, maybe, might.

Meet Refuse Refuse!

Aiming for a better world with less waste, through art.

In this blog post, I thought I’d share a project I have been working on together with a few fellow Masters’ graduands (fun fact: graduand is a word for a person who has finished working for a degree but has yet to graduate. I bet you didn’t know that, unless you have been one. The spellchecker on this site clearly doesn’t).

I recently wrote a post outlining the project, which is called “Refuse Refuse!”, on its website (which you can find here). I’m cross-posting it here as this is going to be a large part of my life in the next month or so. In 10 days’ time, I will be heading to the US to attend Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U), promoting the project, networking, hopefully attracting some funders, and sharing ideas with other ambitious people from around the world.

So what am I talking about?

After much preparation throughout the last year, we are excited to introduce “Refuse Refuse!” – an interactive arts installation project, inspired by behavioural-change research, to be presented at the Clinton Global Initiative University conference in approximately a month’s time.

The physical project will see daylight later in the year, piloting at the University of Edinburgh with further potential in other universities and schools across the city and the UK. But before this, there’s still plenty of work to be done, from drafting and building to funding and publicity. The project planning was mostly done as a part of our application to Clinton Global Initiative University, and we thought it would be good to share the plans with all of you. Comments are wholeheartedly welcome, and if you would like to collaborate or help please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Essentially, “Refuse Refuse!” wants to refuse accumulating more refuse on campus and raise awareness of how closed-loop systems can mitigate climate change and improve working conditions for waste workers.

“Refuse Refuse!” was initiated as a Clinton Global Initiative University project, which means that it was designed to be new, measurable and attainable right from the start. ‘’Refuse Refuse!’’ advocates for sustainable, climate-conscious behaviour by addressing the carbon footprint of disposable items and poor recycling practices, combining art, academic behavioural-change research and environmental advocacy. We approach waste-management problems through the medium of accessible, interactive theatre installations, informed by behavioural psychology.

The initial project of the RR team is a portable theatre installation replicating a recycling conveyor belt of a waste facility. Theatre installations are especially suited to behavioural-change work, with their ability to be social, interactive, emotional, non-judgemental and fun. The “Refuse Refuse!” project is inspired by visits to Edinburgh’s municipal recycling facility, and presents to university students the reality of waste and recycling, addressing their individual values and knowledge, while engaging them in a sociable experience both through their engagement with the installation and through social-media networks. This addresses the Social and Individual aspects of the three-part ISM model of behavioural change – the aspects most lacking in the university context, as we see it.

The objective of “Refuse Refuse!” is to engage students to reduce, refuse or recycle waste properly; as mentioned above, we aim to shorten the disconnect between waste and how it’s processed through hands-on, memorable participation in an art installation. In the short-term, our goal is to build an understanding among students of waste management and recycling; in the long-term we aim to create social norms of waste reduction and good recycling practices. We want to lead the change for a sustainable future by encouraging students to see the impact of their actions on others and on the environment.

In short, our project will encourage people to “Refuse Refuse”!