Dispatch from Bonn – Day Three

Posted by on November 9, 2017

Conversations “just happen” at the Bonn climate conference — and it’s one of the joys of being here.

On Day Three, returning from Bonn on a crowded train, I struck up a conversation with two women associated with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, Japan’s NASA.

I learned that Japanese satellites have pioneered the technology of remote sensing of greenhouse gas emissions. Currently, the Japanese are working with Jet Propulsion Lab and other international partners on verifying GHG emissions — checking the math that industry self-reports. The Japanese are very close to refining this technology, scrutinizing down to the square foot. Ideally, the technology will deter cheating. Let’s say there’s an LA-based refinery as an example; if the operators know a group of satellites are checking what they put into the air, then that refinery might report their emissions more accurately.

I suggested that one day we take emissions reporting away from the accountants altogether — and simply inform industries, via satellite data, how much climate pollution they’re culpable for. (No cheating in this scenario.)

Japan is launching a new carbon-sniffing satellite next year. This is very good news. But I expressed my fear of the denialists in the current federal administration who seek to substantively defund NASA’s earth sciences program. My new Japanese friends wouldn’t speak ill of the United States . . . but I spoke enough for all of us.

The need for additional climate data — and the fear of losing it — was also aired in an earlier talk by Professor Joanna Haigh of Imperial College London. The act of data gathering, analyses, and dissemination are key ways that developed nations, like the U.S., can aid developing nations. She fears that the U.S. is abandoning this important role.

I also had a wonderful conversation with a gentleman from LC3, located in India, about a new concrete mix — one that saves 30% of greenhouse gas emissions over conventional concrete — has to do with a mix of blend of limestone and calcined clay that is beyond my knowledge of chemistry. I was fascinated by this potential, as  Metro and Caltrans plan to use billions of tons of concrete in coming decades.  What if we build our new infrastructure using this lower-GHG method?

And sometimes you go abroad only to meet a neighbor. I had tea with the “sustainability guru” of Facebook, headquartered in Silicon Valley. We discussed climate adaptation — Facebook’s corporate HQ is built at sea level — as well as the difficulties of arranging power purchase agreements (PPAs) with utilities that are allergic to sustainable modes of energy.

Hey, there are 20,000 stories in this climate city; this has been three of them.