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 Jan. 26: ‘A Tale of Two Seal Hunts: Contesting the Conflation of Canadian Sealing Activities’


Wednesday, Jan. 26 | 12-1 p.m.

The UCI’s Marine and Environmental Speaker Series will resume Jan. 26 from 12-1 p.m. with “A Tale of Two Seal Hunts: Contesting the Conflation of Canadian Sealing Activities.” The free virtual lecture will be delivered by Sarah Levy, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Oxford (U.K.) Faculty of Law.

The discussion will be moderated by Rechnitz Family/UCI Endowed Chair in Marine Environmental Law and Policy Randall Abate, who also serves as director of the Monmouth University Institute for Global Understanding. An open Q&A session will be held following the presentation.


The Canadian commercial seal hunt that occurs annually in Atlantic Canada has attracted international criticism for decades primarily due to animal welfare and wildlife conservation concerns. Although the Atlantic sealing industry is an entirely separate and distinct activity from Inuit sealing occurring in Canada’s Arctic, the two practices are regarded by many as one and the same. The conflation of Inuit and commercial sealing has been a deliberate effort on the part of industry, government, and interest groups that have propagated a misinformation campaign on the subject.

This presentation compares Inuit and commercial hunting activities, highlighting the differences between the purpose, practices, and scale of these hunts. With the distinctions between the two practices made clear, it explores the historic and ongoing ways in which the commercial sealing industry and federal government have perpetuated the conflation of the two. By failing to acknowledge the differences between Inuit and commercial sealing practices, special interest groups have been complicit in perpetuating this conflation as well, although several of these groups have recently worked to clarify the distinction between the two. As a result of the muddied dialogue on commercial and Inuit sealing, both food security and the survival of culture and livelihoods has been compromised in Inuit communities. Despite these ramifications, some Inuit support the commercial hunt because of how anti-sealing campaigns have adversely affected Inuit hunters. At the same time, other Inuit believe that the industry constitutes a wrongful appropriation of their sacred cultural practice, and are seeking to reclaim the practice as their uniquely protected right.

This presentation unpacks the distinctions between commercial and Inuit sealing practices, and explores the historic and ongoing implications of their conflation. It concludes that conflating Inuit and commercial sealing has been damaging for the harp seal species and Inuit communities alike.

Speaker Bio

Sarah Levy is a Ph.D. candidate at the Faculty of Law, University of Oxford, where she is conducting research on the laws surrounding Canadian sealing activities. In her doctoral project, she is exploring the conflation of Inuit sealing practices and the commercial sealing industry, with a focus on the intersections of animal, environmental, and Indigenous rights in this context. Sarah has been called to the Bar of Ontario and held positions at the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks at the Government of Ontario and Animal Justice Canada. She holds a B.A. (Hons) from Trinity College, University of Toronto in Ethics, Society, and Law and Environmental Studies, and a J.D. and Master of Environmental Studies from Osgoode Hall Law School at York University. She completed her master’s research on the topic of direct-action and international marine wildlife conservation laws, in which she explored the ways in which nongovernmental organizations fill the gap between law and enforcement where nation states fail to institutionalize conservation.




Student Q&A: Michelle Etienne and Samantha Pawlik on Fairness of N.J.’s Beach Badge Fees, Offshore Wind Impacts on Marine Life

Students in Professor Randall Abate’s Ocean and Coastal Law and Policy class recently delivered final presentations on issues they selected to concentrate on throughout the semester. Among them were Michelle Etienne who focused on whether local beach badge fees were consistent with the public trust doctrine, and Samantha Pawlik, who explored how New Jersey’s offshore wind farms will impact marine life. Learn about their findings in the Q&A and presentation slides below.

Presentation Title: “N.J. Beach Access: Do Beach Badges Violate the Public Trust Doctrine?”

Student Researcher: Michelle Etienne

Year and Major: Senior, Music Industry

View slides (PDF, 1MB)

What is the public trust doctrine and how does it relate to beach badge fees?

The public trust doctrine ​​is the principle that certain natural and cultural resources are preserved for public use, and that the government owns and must protect and maintain these resources for the public’s use. It originates from Roman law, was established in English Common law, and was adopted in the U.S. in state law. In New Jersey, the public trust doctrine applies to tidal waterways and their shores in the state and establishes that citizens have the right to fully utilize these lands and waters for a variety of public activities that must be protected. These public activities include navigation, commerce, fishing, swimming, bathing, sunbathing, and walking along tidal waterways and their shores. At the beach, the land that reaches the mean high waterline (wet sands) is public trust land managed by the state.

The public trust doctrine in New Jersey requires the state and local governments to ensure adequate access to public trust sites (i.e. the wet sands and open water). There must be adequate linear/lateral access, perpendicular access, and visual access to these public trust lands. This is where beach badges play a role. In order to access the dry private sands, and ultimately the public sands, many New Jersey beaches charge a fee. At each vertical and horizontal access point on the beaches, badge checkers await to make sure that beachgoers have paid a fee to access the beach for the day. The question is whether this practice of charging a fee to access private land and ultimately public land is permissible under the public trust doctrine.

Do you believe charging the public to use the beach violates the spirit of the public trust doctrine? Why or why not?

As a Jersey Shore resident, I am accustomed to having to purchase my seasonal beach badge each summer and the concept of beach badges has never seemed odd to me. However, in researching the PTD and the history of beach badges on the Jersey Shore, I believe that this practice violates the PTD.

beach badge signBeach badges were first introduced by the town of Bradley Beach in 1929 for the sole purpose of limiting beach access to only town residents and visitors in town hotels. But it quickly was recognized as a revenue-generating method and many beach towns followed suit. In 1972, in the landmark case of Borough of Neptune v. Avon-by-the-Sea, Avon-by-the-Sea attempted to charge less for badges for town residents and more for out-of-town residents to access its beaches. The court held that municipalities may not discriminate against nonresidents with badge fees. Although this case established that there may not be any discrimination in pricing, badge fees still restrict some people from being able to go to the beach. These fees also have no limit to how much they can be increased each year. In Avon-by-the-Sea alone, daily badge fees went up by $3 in just two years and a regular adult season badge increased by $10. Although these badge fees are the same for everyone, these fees are becoming more expensive, ultimately making it less affordable for some New Jersians to access the beach. This reality undermines the goals of the public trust doctrine and the duty that state and local governments have to ensure adequate access to public trust lands.

What are some ways that the state or municipalities can better uphold the rights granted in the public trust doctrine?

Many shore towns argue that badge fees are necessary to their town budget. The towns reinvest these revenues to help maintain the beaches for public use. While towns need to have adequate funding for beach maintenance, I have two suggestions that I believe would help towns raise adequate funds for beach maintenance while upholding the rights granted in the PTD.

My first suggestion is for the state to establish a percentage limit on the amount a town can increase its badge fees per season. Towns would need permission from the state to increase fees above these levels. This would ensure that towns aren’t increasing these fees too quickly and that they have legitimate, strong reasoning for these increases that are beneficial to the maintenance of public trust lands. My next suggestion is that all beach towns adopt a “Beach Utility,” which is a committee of town elected officials that dedicates all revenue derived from beach badge sales back into the maintenance of the beach. This would ensure that the money made from badge sales is used exclusively to maintain the private and public beach lands.

Presentation Title: “Implementing Safeguards for New Jersey Offshore Wind Projects to Address Impacts to Marine Life”

Samantha PawlikStudent Researcher: Samantha Pawlik

Year and Major: Senior, Political Science

View Slides (PDF, 1MB)

Your presentation examined the issue of offshore wind energy off the New Jersey coast. Where does progress on wind development stand in New Jersey today and what are the next steps?

New Jersey is currently approved to start construction of the nation’s largest combined offshore wind farm in 2024. The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (NJBPU) awarded a combined 2,658 MW of offshore wind capacity to Ørsted’s Ocean Wind II and Shell’s Atlantic Shores Offshore Wind, bringing the state’s total planned capacity to over 3,700 MW. Gov. Phil Murphy signed Executive Order No. 92 in 2020, setting the goal of 7,500 MW of offshore wind by 2035. The federal government, led by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), is responsible for identifying, leasing, and reviewing offshore wind areas and projects located between three and 200 nautical miles from the U.S. coast. BOEM will review and approve the construction and operation phases for the two projects, which includes environmental and technical reviews as well as design and implementation plans.

You discussed some of the risks that offshore wind projects pose to marine life, and cetaceans in particular. Can you describe what you found?

Although there is limited research on this topic, I was able to find enough information to conclude that offshore wind farms do have a significant impact on marine wildlife and their habitat. Excessive noise can affect marine wildlife behavior, particularly those species that are more sensitive to sound, that rely on their use of vocalization for communication, and those that use echolocation for navigation, such as cetaceans. Preconstruction activities of offshore wind farms include use of geosurveys that use high-energy acoustic sources to transmit sound, which creates an image of the seafloor. Construction requires a variety of sound-generating activities, including seismic exploration, excavation with explosives, dredging, ship and/or barge operations, and pile driving. Even during the operations phase of wind turbines, researchers have found that the slight vibrations that travel through the poles cause sound radiation through the seafloor. These activities all result in disturbances to marine habitat and can cause negative impacts to marine wildlife behavior and health.

What are some of the ways those risks could be mitigated on the technology and policy sides?

Offshore wind energy lease areasMitigating these risks through technology and policy reforms is key to implementing such a large-scale project in a safe manner. Cutting-edge technology has been a crucial component in the construction of offshore wind farms. My project discussed suction bucket and gravity-based foundations, which are new technologies that can be used in place of monopile foundations as a quieter and less disruptive alternative during construction. Collaboration between agencies to provide efficient documentation of progress and findings, transparency of information with shore towns and public education on the projects, and continued research efforts are all key to attenuate the threats posed by offshore wind farms. Duke University recently received a $7.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to assess the risks that offshore wind energy development along the East Coast may pose to birds, bats, and marine mammals. This type of research will help inform decisions and identify steps that can be taken to reduce harmful impacts on marine wildlife as offshore wind deployment increases.

Watch: Tribute to President’s Medal Honoree Robert Sculthorpe

Congratulations to Robert Sculthorpe ’63, ’15HN, on receiving the inaugural President’s Medal in recognition of his extraordinary service, philanthropy, and leadership. The award, created by President Patrick Leahy, represents the highest honor Monmouth University can bestow on an individual.

The video includes commentary by Director Tony MacDonald on Sculthorpe’s many contributions to the Urban Coast Institute. The UCI’s student research grant program and Monmouth University’s largest research vessel, the Heidi Lynn Sculthorpe, are named in memory of his daughter and in honor of his support.

MacDonald Joins the Citizen Campaign’s Law and Policy Task Force

Tony MacDonaldUrban Coast Institute Director Tony MacDonald has been named a member of the Law and Policy Task Force for the Metuchen, New Jersey-based Citizens Campaign. Founded in 1997 by government law and policy expert Harry Pozycki, the mission of the Citizens Campaign is to educate all Americans to the fullness of their political power and to introduce them to the shared experience of public service performed by participating in “No-Blame Problem Solving” of public issues.

The nonprofit organization consists of a community of practical problem solvers made up of volunteer government law and policy experts, civic leaders, civic-minded business people, high school and college students, teachers, veterans, and service-driven church members, dedicated to empowering fellow Americans through citizen leadership training and exposure to community-based public service options that offer citizens the opportunity to exercise leadership without having to run for public office. For more information about the organization and how you can get involved, visit

UCI to Assist Restoration of Barnegat Bay Marsh Islands

Barnegat Lighthouse

A view of the Barnegat Lighthouse overlooking the bay and marsh islands in Long Beach Township.

The Monmouth Urban Coast Institute (UCI) will serve on a team that has received $89,690 through the National Coastal Resilience Fund (NCRF) to develop a restoration plan for marsh islands in Barnegat Bay that can improve the system’s ecological health and protect nearby communities from flooding, coastal storms and climate threats.

Grantee Long Beach Township and the New Jersey Bay Islands Initiative (NJBII) will guide a core project team consisting of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Barnegat Bay Partnership, Stockton University, Ducks Unlimited, Mordecai Land Trust, The Nature Conservancy and the UCI. The team will use a GIS decision-support tool to prioritize five islands adjacent to the township that are in greatest need of restoration and best-positioned to reduce flood risk and exposure to residents. Appropriate nature-based strategies will be determined for restoring the islands, such as depositing dredged sediments along their perimeters, growing oyster reefs to curtail wave impacts, and building up plant communities that can stabilize the areas.

UCI Associate Director Thomas Herrington, a coastal engineer, will advise on the project designs and work with the team to develop cost estimates and other documents for evaluation by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Army Corps of Engineers and other agencies that would handle their eventual construction. Monmouth University students will also assist with research on the project.

The team’s grant proposal noted that the many small marsh islands throughout the bay provide critical protections to nearby communities, citing a study that concluded natural wetlands reduced annual flood risk to properties within 5 feet of mean sea level in the area by up to 70% over a wide range of storm characteristics. It also noted that they were habitats for endangered, threatened and at-risk species including the northern diamondback terrapin, piping plover, least tern, black skimmer, red knot and American oystercatcher.

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced funding for this and 48 other coastal resilience projects in 28 states and U.S. territories in a Nov. 18 press release. Click here to view a full list of projects funded through the NCRF 2021 grant slate.

Watch: Classes Aboard the R/V Heidi Lynn Sculthorpe

Step aboard Monmouth University’s floating classroom, the R/V Heidi Lynn Sculthorpe, to experience a few recent lab days from the Environmental Field Methods and Principles of Marine Biology courses. The 49-foot Heidi Lynn is Monmouth’s largest research vessel, with the capacity to take classes of over 20 students on the water.

The Environmental Field Methods course is taught by professors Keith Dunton and Sean Sterrett and the Principles of Marine Biology course is taught by Jason Adolf.

Reflections from the COP26 Climate Summit

Real Progress or Just ‘Blah, Blah, Blah?’

Monmouth University Urban Coast Institute (UCI) Director Tony MacDonald and Professor Randall Abate, Rechnitz Family/UCI endowed chair in marine and environmental law and policy and director of the Institute for Global Understanding (IGU), participated in the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), held Oct 31-Nov. 12 in Glasgow, Scotland. Over 20,0000 representatives of world governments, industries, advocacy organizations, scientific and policy bodies, and other interests gathered to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

MacDonald and Abate shared their impressions of COP26 and its outcomes in this session moderated by Monmouth University School of Science Dean Steven Bachrach on Dec. 2, 2021. Topics included:

  • Whether the conference lived up to its promise as the “last, best hope” for meaningful progress on climate
  • The U.S.’s renewed climate leadership, participation in the summit and commitments
  • The important role of oceans and the ocean-climate nexus
  • The threats of climate on displacement and migration
  • The role of youth activism and civil society, and other impressions from COP26

MacDonald and Abate chronicled the conference throughout the week in a COP26 Trip Journal published on the UCI website. Visit the page to view their blogs and photos from the event.

Speaker Bios

Randall S. Abate, J.D.

Photo of Randall AbateRandall Abate is the inaugural Rechnitz Family/Urban Coast Institute endowed chair in marine and environmental law and policy and a tenured full professor in the Department of Political Science and Sociology. He teaches courses in domestic and international environmental law, constitutional law, and animal law. Professor Abate joined Monmouth in 2018 with 24 years of full-time teaching experience at six U.S. law schools, most recently from Florida A&M University College of Law in Orlando, where he also served as associate dean for academic affairs. Professor Abate has published five books and more than 30 law journal articles and book chapters on environmental and animal law topics, with a recent emphasis on climate change law and justice. Early in his career, Professor Abate handled environmental law matters at two law firms in Manhattan.

Steven M. Bachrach, Ph.D.

Steven Bachrach became the dean of the School of Science at Monmouth University in 2016. Previously, he was the Dr. D. R. Semmes distinguished professor of chemistry at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. He also served terms as the assistant vice president for special projects, and Department of Chemistry chair. He began his academic career at Northern Illinois University where he earned the rank of full professor. Bachrach was an American Council on Education (ACE) fellow at the University of Redlands during the 2014-15 academic year. He maintains an active research program in computational organic chemistry, having published with dozens of undergraduate students. Dr. Bachrach has authored more than 150 publications, including his book Computational Organic Chemistry, and served as editor-in-chief of the Internet Journal of Chemistry. His latest book, Thinking Like a Physical Organic Chemist, is scheduled to be published next year with Oxford University Press. Bachrach is the recipient of more than $2 million in grant funding, most notably from the National Science Foundation, American Chemical Society, and the Welch Foundation.

Tony MacDonald, Esq.

Photo of Tony MacDonald, UCI DirectorTony MacDonald is director of the Monmouth University Urban Coast Institute (UCI). He was previously the executive director of the Coastal States Organization (CSO) from 1998-2005. CSO, based in Washington, D.C., represents the interests of the governors of the nation’s 35 coastal states and territories on coastal and ocean policy matters. Prior to joining CSO, Tony was the special counsel and director of environmental affairs at the American Association of Port Authorities, where he represented the International Association of Ports and Harbors (IAPH) at the International Maritime Organization on negotiations on the London Convention. Tony has also practiced law with a private firm in Washington, DC, working on environmental and legislative issues, and served as the Washington, DC, environmental legislative representative for the mayor of the City of New York.

Web App Allows Public to Monitor Conditions in Monmouth County Coastal Lakes

coastal lake readings graph

Residents of Monmouth County coastal communities can now view data on the health and characteristics of their lakes and compare them to others with a new web app created by the Coastal Lakes Observing Network (CLONet). The launch of the CLONet Data Explorer was one of a number of new initiatives and changes to citizen science activities announced for the year ahead at the CLONet Fall Meeting, held Nov. 16 at Monmouth University.

Through CLONet, university scientists and students train and equip community members to sample Monmouth County’s beach-adjacent lakes for properties such as temperature, salinity, clarity and dissolved oxygen levels, then file their readings into an online database. Since the summer of 2019, the citizen scientists and university researchers have been sampling Deal Lake, Fletcher Lake, Lake Como, Lake Takanassee, Silver Lake, Spring Lake, Sunset Lake, Sylvan Lake, Wesley Lake and Wreck Pond. A team was also recently formed to sample Shadow Lake in Middletown.

The web app allows users to view readings for all of the sampled lakes together on one graph; data for any single lake of interest vs. the average of all of the lakes; and averages for each lake by category. Users can toggle through date ranges to study data from specific windows of time, with new data from the sampling teams added to the system every two weeks.

UCI Community Science Coordinator Erin Conlon

UCI Community Science Coordinator Erin Conlon shares results from 2021 lake sampling.

As of the meeting, the citizen scientists had filed 897 sampling reports since the summer of 2019, with the data augmented by hundreds of additional samples taken regularly by Monmouth faculty and students. The Urban Coast Institute (UCI) received a $150,000 grant from the Jules L. Plangere, Jr. Family Foundation in July that will allow sampling to continue through at least the summer of 2023.

The funding also covered the purchase of 11 phycocyanin meters, which will be provided to each of the lake teams to enable them to measure harmful algal blooms (HAB) with greater accuracy. The handheld meters shine fluorescent light in the water to gauge the concentrations of “blue-green algae” – actually a potentially toxic bacteria called cyanobacteria — most commonly associated with HABs. Although the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) measures cell counts and toxin levels in the waters as its main indicators of HABs, the data from the two methods tend to tell very similar stories, according to Monmouth University Endowed Associate Professor of Marine Science and CLONet Coordinator Jason Adolf.

“An army of citizen scientists with phycocyanin probes can make a real contribution to the state’s efforts to manage and monitor harmful algal blooms, not just in coastal lakes but statewide,” Adolf said. “I’m excited to get our group started on it.”

Findings from 2021

Adolf and UCI Community Science Coordinator Erin Conlon provided a snapshot of the findings from this year’s data to attendees.

  • Particularly compared to 2019, 2021 was a “good year” for the lakes in terms of the low number of HAB events.
  • There was a high correspondence between the readings taken by the community volunteers and university, demonstrating the high quality of data being gathered by citizen scientists. The Monmouth staff members and students regularly sample each CLONet lake as a quality control measure and to bolster the volume of data project-wide.
  • Surges in salt levels were recorded in February and March, as snows melted and carried road salts into the drains.
  • Adolf and Conlon said the data gathered for pH testing was so varied from lake to lake that it didn’t seem to reveal any discernable patterns. Citizen teams will no longer record pH levels in 2022.

The data continued to show that the combination of high temperatures and nutrients made conditions ripe for spikes in HABs. While rainfall is suspected to be an important source of nutrients to these lakes, citizen data shows that not all of the lakes reacted the same after storm events. Citizen conductivity data suggested some lakes respond very quickly (within days) and other more slowly (1-2 weeks) to rainfall.

“This is a great illustration of how citizen data can be used to reveal important differences among coastal lakes, and how we need to think about individual lakes when we think about solutions,” Adolf said.

If you’re interested in volunteering to sample your community lake or would like more information about CLONet, email

Prof. Ramírez and Student to Present Research at International Population Conference

Geoff Fouad, Katerine Ramirez, James Allan

From l-r: Monmouth University professors Geoffrey Fouad, Katerine Ramírez and student James Allan.

Monmouth University Assistant Professor of Economics Katerine Ramírez and student James Allan will share their research paper, “Female Labor Force Participation and Care of Children in Coastal New Jersey,” which was co-authored with Assistant Professor of Geography Geoffrey G. Fouad, at the 2021 International Population Conference on Dec. 10. Organized by the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population (IUSSP) and the host country of India, the event is billed as the world’s largest international scientific conference on population and demography.

The conference brings together researchers, policymakers and practitioners from diverse disciplines and from across the globe, to present and discuss the latest research on a broad range of contemporary population issues. Ramírez will present the paper virtually on a 9 a.m. (ET) Spatial Networks, Clusters and Accessibility panel, with Allan participating in the Q&A session.

Ramírez, Allan and Assistant Professor of GIS Geoffrey Fouad conducted research for the paper over the summer with support from the Urban Coast Institute’s Heidi Lynn Sculthorpe Scholars Program. Drawing on federal and state data, the project explored the relationship between childcare availability, measured by the number of daycare facilities and their capacity, and the labor force participation of women in Jersey Shore communities. They further considered variables such as partners’ marital status, and number and age of children.

Scroll below to watch Allan present a poster on the subject from the School of Science Summer Research Symposium in August.

COP26 Trip Journal

Photo image of banner for COP26 conference in Glasgow, Scotland Oct 31 - Nov 12, 2021

(Updated 11/8/21)

UCI Director Tony MacDonald and Rechnitz Family/UCI Endowed Chair in Marine and Environmental Law and Policy Randall Abate arrived in Glasgow, Scotland, on Nov. 2 to participate as official observers at the UN’s COP26 climate change summit. Below we share some of their dispatches from the proceedings. Check back for updates.

In addition, view these media interviews with MacDonald and Abate:

ABATE: COP26: The Heat Is on to Secure Meaningful Climate Action

Nov. 3, 2021

Photo of Randall Abata at COP26 conference

Abate at COP26

Approximately 40,000 diplomats, heads of state, observers, and activists descended on the welcoming city of Glasgow, Scotland (population 635,000), to participate in the much-anticipated 26th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26) on Nov. 1-12, 2021. This number of visitors alone would strain Glasgow’s ability to host this major global event, yet approximately 100,000 protesters are expected to arrive on Saturday, Nov. 6, for the “Global Day for Climate Justice,” which should stir things up a bit.

I am happy and proud to represent Monmouth University’s Urban Coast Institute (UCI) at this year’s event as an officially recognized observer organization in the “Blue Zone,” where the diplomats and heads of state negotiate the terms of the agreements that the event yields. My colleague, Tony MacDonald, director of the UCI, joins me in participating in COP26.  It is his second COP (he attended COP21 in Paris in the “Green Zone” for civil society participants in 2015), whereas this is my first COP in any capacity.

Like many of its predecessors, COP26 embodies a clash of hope and despair in confronting the global climate crisis. Developed nations boldly convey slogans of hope such as “What Paris promised, Glasgow will deliver,” and “The U.S. is back” (in President Biden’s speech). This optimism is tempered by the realities that marginalized populations face in bearing the disproportionate burdens of the global climate crisis. A leader of a developed country aptly noted at the start of COP26, “The time to act was yesterday.” A chorus of impatient youth climate activists demanding an end to the developed world’s “empty promises” and “blah blah blah” on climate action underscored this sentiment.

COP26 has already delivered at least two reasons for hope in the first few days of the event: (1) the return of U.S. participation and leadership in these negotiations and (2) more active and engaged participation from the private sector in achieving “net zero” carbon goals. President Biden is sending the right messages regarding the return of U.S. leadership. Even if the U.S. doesn’t live up to those bold ambitions, the desire and intention to return to that leadership role is a tremendous boost to global climate governance efforts. Russia and China remain on the sidelines for now, but political pressure will mount for them to participate with the U.S. back in the game. Although it’s a low standard, the U.S. is poised to play a more significant role in climate change diplomacy than it did under the Obama administration, while it seeks to undo the shameful legacy of climate inaction during the Trump and George W. Bush administrations. President Biden has pledged $3.5 billion per year to finance climate mitigation and adaptation efforts in developing countries. This is a step in the right direction, but the U.S. can be much more ambitious than this first step. The response to Hurricane Katrina alone exceeded $9 billion.

The private sector also has been more visible than ever in these climate change deliberations. The responses to the climate change challenges that the world faces will not be attainable without full engagement and buy-in from the private sector. Green hydrogen, offshore wind, methane mitigation, and nuclear power exhibits were prominently featured in the Blue Zone. While there are dangers in the use of science and technology to achieve “quick fix” responses to climate change challenges through the use of certain geoengineering strategies, these clean energy technologies to promote a clean energy transition are essential to ensure that global warming remains below the critical 1.5 Celsius mark.

Stay tuned for the next entry, which will focus on some critical obstacles that threaten to undermine the ambition and inclusiveness of the COP26 deliberations.

On the Scene: Nov. 3-4

MacDonald shared these images from around COP26 on Nov. 3 and 4. Visit his Twitter account (@tmacdUCI) for more inside looks from the summit.

Photo shows Bill Gates (pictured far left) and Secretary of State John Kerry (pictured second from right) as they prepare for a panel discussion.

Bill Gates and Secretary of State John Kerry prepare for a panel discussion.

Photo of Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland challenges the U.S. and world to increase their commitments to offshore wind development.

Dramatic image of man up to his hips in flood waters: Welcome to Glasgow

When Tony saw this sign, it reminded him of a Robert Burns quote: “I’m truly sorry that man’s dominion has broken Nature”s social union.”

ABATE: COP26: Key Obstacles and Challenges

Nov. 4, 2021

Photo shows lines of people waiting to enter the COP26 conference

The line to enter the COP26 proceedings

Despite the optimism and hope that COP26 has ushered in, there are many reasons for despair. First, there have been critical logistical shortfalls in COP26 that have hampered global South participation in at least three ways. First, COVID-19 burdens have hit the global South harder than in the global North. As such, the financial and logistical challenges associated with travel to the U.K. during a global pandemic have limited participation from the global South. Worse still, strict COVID-19 protocols have limited room capacity for those able to attend in person in Glasgow. Finally, the COP26 virtual platform has been plagued by technological glitches, further diluting participation from the global South. All of these challenges compound the “climate apartheid” reality of the past three decades (i.e., the global North is primarily responsible for the global climate crisis and the global South bears disproportionate burdens from these impacts).

Second, the goal of climate finance at $100 billion per year also is a hot topic at this year’s negotiations and is essential to the success of COP26. This pledge of support from developed countries to developing countries for climate mitigation and adaptation that was made in 2009 in Copenhagen has not yet been fulfilled. There will be no guarantee that this goal will be fulfilled at COP26. Even if those pledges are made at COP26, pledges are only words until the funds are delivered, which has been problem with some past pledges from developed nations.

Third, although President Biden’s good intentions matter a great deal, they will matter much more when they are backed by concrete actions. A cruel irony surfaced in the U.S. in the week leading up to COP26. The U.S. Supreme Court granted a petition to review the legality of the Clean Power Plan, which is an essential mechanism through which to secure America’s compliance with its emission reduction commitments. Many environmental law scholars see the Supreme Court’s decision to review this challenge as a harbinger of bad news for the Clean Power Plan and the nation’s climate regulation ambitions. Worse still, gridlock in Congress has persisted throughout 2021 on proposed new climate regulation initiatives. With midterm elections looming in 2022, the U.S. may be on very shaky ground to deliver on the commitments it makes in Glasgow.

Cartoon image: Pandemic, Climate and Conflict. Instructor points to these words and states "The disasters are collaborating better than we are!"Finally, in addition to the challenge of mobilizing political will in developed nations on climate regulation ambitions, those laudable intentions often fall short in reality. Many countries have not fulfilled the emission reduction commitments they made at Paris in 2015. Therefore, COP26 is a day of reckoning to get on track toward even more ambitious goals. Based on the current state of compliance with Paris Agreement targets, a UNFCCC Secretariat report from July 2021 found that global greenhouse gas emissions are on track to increase by 16% by 2030, instead of the 45% decrease needed. This dark cloud will hover over the deliberations in Glasgow and propel an unforgiving “no margin of error” mandate to the projected outcomes.

In all other areas of domestic and global environmental governance, humans respond most effectively when there is a palpable emergency. The house has been on fire on our planet for several years now from climate change, yet we still are not embracing the emergency. Although climate change denial has eroded somewhat in recent years because of the palpable climate change-induced disasters around the world, the sense of urgency is still missing. We seem to expect our scientific and technological ingenuity to save us from this crisis as we have overcome other challenges throughout human history. Humanity’s ability to adapt to crises is our greatest strength, yet it is also perhaps our greatest flaw because it prevents us from addressing the root causes of the crises we face.

Stay tuned for the next entry, which will focus on the role of youth climate activism in seeking to raise the ambition of climate action at COP 26.

On the Scene: Nov. 5

Photo of plenary session with former U.S. Vice President Al Gore that Dr. Randall Abate attended.

Abate attended a plenary session with former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, who said, “Even if the pledges from COP 26 are fulfilled, it will only get us to 1.8 Celsius of warming. We need to do better … and we can do better.”

On the Scene: Nov. 6

Photo of panel on international partnerships for biodiversity, marine protected areas and climate that included National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Administrator Rick Spinrad.

MacDonald attended a panel on international partnerships for biodiversity, marine protected areas and climate that included National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Administrator Rick Spinrad.

Photos: Global Day of Action for Climate Justice

Randall Abate captured these photos from the Nov. 6 Global Day of Action for Climate Justice demonstration held outside of COP26. Mass mobilizations were organized in cities around the world.

Photo of protestors dressed in masks of various world leaders to show their displeasure with these leaders.

Protestors show their displeasure with world leaders.

Photo shows large group taking part in a march in Glasgow.

Thousands take part in a march in Glasgow.

ABATE: Youth Climate Activism May Be Our Last Hope

Nov. 8, 2021

In my youth, I didn’t think about the fate of the planet unless I was reading a science fiction novel. I was enjoying the world around me and soaking up all it had to offer, never imagining how fragile and exhaustible our ability to sustain life on this planet could be. I didn’t have to bear witness to unrelenting life-snuffing disasters as a result of climate change. I perceived nature and the built environment on this planet to be indestructible and infinite.

Photo of Dr. Randall Abate in front of art work designed for COP26 conferenceTimes have changed so quickly. Within the span of my lifetime, humanity’s perceptions of  the Earth have shifted from an unlimited paradise of resources to support our comfortable lives to requiring emergency life support measures to give ourselves and Earth’s systems a chance to endure what climate change has in store. This abrupt pivot in our relationship to nature affects all of us deeply, regardless of how fully we acknowledge it. But this learned helplessness that we feel as a result of this perilous new normal disproportionately burdens youth. Their carefree childhoods – and potentially the promise of their futures – have been stolen.

Climate change governance is challenging for many reasons: It is extremely costly, it has been plagued by debates about the reliability of the scientific data, and it requires forward-looking, altruistic behavior, rather than simply responding to clean up a mess. This temporal challenge of climate regulation is even more daunting during a pandemic and a global economic crisis. It is difficult, if not impossible, to overcome the human proclivity to just focus on getting through this month before we focus on what’s in store next year and ten years from now. But climate science demands that we respond with a lens that carefully considers short-term and long-term future scenarios.

Youth climate activism is the check in place in this process to help ensure that a forward-thinking approach to climate governance is sufficiently ambitious. While the enhanced youth engagement is encouraging, it may not be a game-changer in raising the ambition of the outcomes of COP26. Youth voices face many of the same obstacles that indigenous communities and small island nations faced in the COPs from previous decades. Structured processes for their participation are just starting to take hold and are growing quickly. YOUNGO is one example of a youth organization that has a formal advisory role to play in the proceedings, which I witnessed during COP26. But most youth are limited to protests in the streets to convey their concerns and suggestions.

Photo of protestors with signs at COP26Youth climate litigation in the past decade has been inspiring and impressively impactful in raising the ambition of climate regulation. But lawsuits and protests won’t save the planet in time. The domestic and international levels of governance need to approve and appoint future generations commissions with a charge that is specific to providing advice and consent in climate change legislation and litigation. Such commissions with broader charges to speak on behalf of future generations already exist in several countries around the world. Kim Stanley Robinson’s recent climate fiction novel, The Ministry for the Future, proposes a similar model. Efforts to address climate change simply should not be undertaken without a structured process to reflect youth participation and consent – after all, it’s their future at stake. Indigenous peoples have made progress in the past two decades with the concept of free, prior, and informed consent for projects that may impact their traditional lands. While this mechanism is a start, unless it is considered to represent a veto power on the project, it doesn’t go far enough. Similarly, mere participation of youth advocates in the climate governance process will guarantee that we fall short of what is necessary to protect their futures, and the futures of their children.

Youth climate activism is a social movement like many other social movements in the U.S. and the world. Some of these movements secured legal protections and social and cultural legitimacy relatively quickly, such as the LGBTQ+ movement, whereas others continue to struggle to secure the protections they deserve even more than a century after the movement began. For example, the Black Lives Matter movement is a reminder of the long shadow of slavery in the U.S. that perpetuates race discrimination in this country – something that the Civil War, the Thirteenth Amendment, and the Civil Rights movement failed to rectify. Youth climate activism needs a rapid trajectory like the LGBTQ+ movement to gain a foothold in securing the protection of their interests because there is very little time remaining to get this right.

In many ways, COP26 will likely be remembered as the beginning of a new era of holding governments accountable to youth expectations in climate governance decisions. The Rio Convention in 1992 marked the beginning of these global youth concerns with the rollout of three new major international environmental agreements, including the UN climate change treaty. I was moved by a 2020 short film, “Only a Child,” which I viewed at COP26. The film is based on a speech delivered by a 12-year-old girl at the Rio Convention. It compellingly portrays youth concerns at that time of what was at stake in the need for effective global environmental action. Unfortunately, those concerns have gone largely unaddressed. A quarter-century of empty promises on climate change governance has caused youth concerns to reach a boiling point.

Photo of young child holding sign at COP26 which states "Save Our Future"

Youth accountability efforts will continue to take the form of climate protests and climate litigation in the near term. But to the extent that politicians continue to fail to regulate climate change for the emergency that it is, youth climate activism may have no choice but to move beyond “tokenistic” objections with little to no impact, and resort to more confrontational methods of engagement, ranging from strategic direct action against the fossil fuel industry to organizing an Eco-Marxist revolution in climate governance.

Time is short and her future is on the line.