by Dr. Ricky Rood
The Conference of the Parties – 21, COP21, is upon us, and our University of Michigan Delegation first-week flight of students is in Paris. They are in the frenzy of lots of people with lots of energy and events and ideas. I JUST heard on the radio, KOA in Denver, that terrorist concerns are “overshadowing” the “environmental” meeting in Paris; I see no evidence of that from our students or faculty, or from the many friends who are sending me reports from Paris.
Seems that I was on to something with my theme, expressed in the first blog in the series, of how things might be different going into COP21 than they were in 2009, the time of the COP in Copenhagen. Must have been a good idea, because there are several good articles about what is different about COP21. Here is one from New York Times, and here is one from a policy perspective from Foreign Affairs.
I like the analysis in both of these articles. In the New York Times analysis, the importance of the U.S.-China bilateral agreement is at the top of their list. Also in that article, the fact that people are looking at this as a starting point, perhaps really a re-starting point – that is, this meeting will not deliver a document, a policy, or an agreement that will “solve” the problem of greenhouse emissions and dangerous climate change. An important idea in the Foreign Affairs analysis is the role of India. Though India is a relatively small emitter compared to the U.S. and China, India’s emissions are expected to increase tremendously. I take the point of the article is inclusivity of India, and I note that we have gotten off on a bad start by John Kerry’s objectifying India as a challenge. If there is one lesson I teach on climate-change problem solving, it is the need to include all parties as partners that contribute to solution. This sort of objectification, or placing a country, a people, as the other, perpetuates a colonialist or patronizing mindset that will not work.
Bon Henson has an excellent entry on the start of COP21, framing this as the opportunity moment. He talks about the convergence of events and people, and the willingness of people and nations to take the problem seriously. This is, in Henson’s analysis, at least in part due to the new diplomatic strategy of this COP, the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) (from the U.N. Site). The bilateral agreements such as theU.S.-China climate agreement, fit into this strategy. (I have a brief discussion in my previous entry).
I want to summarize my lengthy previous COP entries on why COP21 might be different. I will conclude with something specific, concrete, and counterintuitive that is critically important. The more or less official mantra of why this COP is different is that technology and finance are lining up to make fossil-fuel alternatives economically viable as global-scale energy sources. I think that this is true, but more important, I think that people and businesses are starting to believe this. This increased acceptance by people is motivated in part by the growing realization that the climate is, indeed, changing. This is realized through weather events, droughts and floods, and very importantly through what is happening at our coasts – sea level rise and storm surges. Also important, I believe the non-productive, scientific arguments about “is this event caused by climate change?” have diminished. More and more writers realize that trying to separate weather events from their underlying climate and assigning them to “changed” and “unchanged” climate is, only, of academic interest. (entry point to old Rood blogs on event attribution)
I have also given a relatively high significance to the exposure of the duplicitous role of Exxon. This reporting makes it excruciatingly clear of fossil-fuel interests denying what is known for the benefit of corporate profit and positioning. That brings me to my concrete and counterintuitive item, which I think is a game changer – hydraulic fracturing or fracking.
Fracking, it seems, has brought us, the U.S., a high-level of energy security. I have written in many blogs that energy security always trumps climate change. If this trump card is removed from game, then the game is different. (Energy Security and Fracking, Coal and Fracking, Fracking and Policy Opportunity)
This fracking card is, however, a very complicated card. Fracking brings us more natural gas. Natural gas is indeed a more environmental friendly fossil fuel than coal, which it is presently displacing. However, we cannot simply move to a natural gas economy and address climate change. We have to move forthrightly and directly to wean ourselves from natural gas. Fracking also exposes many other environmental challenges, including methane release, water use, and water pollution. In addition, fracking brings forward public policy issues of local versus state versus federal regulation over natural resources and extraction. These policy issues are some of the most difficult, contentious and important energy and environmental issues in our current folder of difficult problems.
Again, fracking has a pivotal role because it brings us energy security – not that it brings us clean burning natural gas. Energy security has always trumped climate change in the past, and that card is, I hope, off of the table. Natural gas is a blessing and a curse. Natural gas does allow us to use less coal, perhaps less oil, but we will have to get off natural gas quickly. I don’t like the idea that it buys time, because there is really no time to be bought.
Now, lets bring in Exxon again. Last night I saw a commercial where Exxon was talking about how the natural gas it was producing was helping us reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. And there is this neat article and graphics in the Washington Post of how the U.S. gets its energy. While looking at it on my smart phone, I got a popup ad from Exxon about clean natural gas. Exxon is, perhaps, the climate friendly corporation, perhaps, the most Orwellian example I know.
I am hopeful that the COP in Paris will be a convincing start of moves towards rational climate and energy policy. I imagine that on any single day there will be more pressing and demanding policy considerations, like terrorism. However, on every single day, energy and climate will be on the agenda. We are passing the point where it is too expensive and too disruptive to address climate change.
Follow the University of Michigan student delegation on
@ClimateBlue on Twitter
I am putting up material on the Facebook site.
Follow the U.S. efforts at COP 21
Follow the U.S. Center on Twitter: @US_Center
Check out the schedule of events: http://uscenter.tumblr.com/schedule
Follow along with the White House: https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2015/11/24/follow- along-global-agreement-act-climate
Week 1 University of Michigan Delegation at COP21, Paris: Paul Edwards, Matt Irish, Mayank Vikas, Lizz Ultee, Brian La Shier