ESRL Quarterly Newsletter - Winter 2011

ESRL in Cancun

Ravishankara, Schnell give key state-of-the science presentations

COP16 logo.

ESRL’s Russ Schnell and A.R. Ravishankara were among a few dozen U.S. scientists chosen to speak publically during international climate negotiations in Cancun, Mexico this fall. The two gave independent talks at the U.S. State Department-sponsored “U.S. Center” during negotiations of the 16th Conference of Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, in December.

Ravishankara, Director of ESRL’s Chemical Sciences Division, discussed the intersection of air quality and climate change and win-win strategies to address both. Schnell, Deputy Director of ESRL’s Global Monitoring Division, spoke about the changing atmosphere and the importance of tracking greenhouse gases.

David Herring, Communications Director for NOAA’s Climate Program Office, said the two ESRL scientists did an excellent job describing how science can guide and inform international decision making.

“Anytime you can get someone talking directly with a scientist who is good at communicating, well, that’s the best you can hope for,” said Herring, who helped organize programs at the U.S. Center. “The whole world doesn’t usually have access to world-class scientists like Russ and Ravi – but in this case they did. There they were on stage, speaking to the world about very important science, and they couldn’t have done any better.”

The audience at the U.S. Center included members of the press, policy makers, staff from negotiating countries, non-government organization representatives, other researchers, and thousands more people who watched events online.

Ravishankara, Director of ESRL’s Chemical Sciences Division, spoke on a panel with NASA colleague Hanwant Singh; the two scientists highlighted knowledge gained during air quality field campaigns conducted over megacities in the last 20 years, including Mexico City and Los Angeles. Those and other studies have revealed how human activities can sometimes contribute to both air quality problems and climate change—and therefore how policies to deal with one can also help with the other.

Although Ravishankara has served since 2007 as co-chair of the scientific assessment panel of the Montreal Protocol, an international agreement to protect the ozone layer, this was his first participation in COP, he said. “I felt it was important to help show how science can identify win-win opportunities,” in which policies to deal with air quality also help mitigate climate change, and vice versa. Reducing emissions of soot (from inefficient fuel combustion) to protect human health, for example, may also mitigate the climate warming effects of the dark particles. 

Russ Schnell presents.

Schnell, Deputy Director of ESRL’s Global Monitoring Division, spoke about steadily increasing amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere, and the importance of international, cooperative programs to track and understand those gases.

“Even if the negotiators weren’t going to come to any major agreement, the information exchange at the centers was terrific,” Schnell said. “There was so much good data flowing around … It’s important for the politicians to realize how many people are involved and concerned about climate.”

Herring agreed. “The U.S. Center represents the way in which the State Department communicates and projects an image and voice about the United States to the international community,” he said. With scientist panels and an interactive touch table computer on which visitors could explore U.S. climate-related activities, the U.S. delegation showed that “we’re at the table, contributing,” Herring said. “The story we told was that we’re committed to helping with international negotiations, to playing an active role in knowledge gathering, sharing data, tools, techniques…all to help guide and inform adaptation and mitigation decision making. Our story was heavily laced with science but in a way non-scientists could easily understand.”


Photo by David Herring, NOAA