ANN ARBOR—University of Michigan faculty experts shared their reactions to the Paris climate agreement announced Saturday. Also, reaction from two graduate students who attended the event as part of a 10-person U-M delegation.
Richard Rood, professor of climate and space sciences and engineering, teaches a course on the climate change problem solving that covers the interface of interface of climate change with policy, business, public health and communication. He is posting his thoughts on COP21 at his Wunderground blog.
“This is a ‘wow’ moment in many ways. It redefines dangerous. It pretty much says not only do we have to reduce emissions to zero, but we are committing to removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere—a conclusion that we reach in class every year,” he said. “Far more ambitious than I expected two weeks ago.”
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Rosina Bierbaum, professor of natural resources and environment and environmental health sciences, is an expert on environmental policy, sustainable development and climate change adaptation.
The former SNRE dean serves on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and chairs the Science and Technical Advisory Panel of the Global Environment Facility. She was a lead convening author of the climate adaptation chapter in the latest U.S. National Climate Assessment and a review editor on a 2014 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report about climate change impacts, adaptation and vulnerability.
“The strong and historic Paris agreement finally sets the world on the path to avoid catastrophic climate change. It requires all countries to ramp up ambition on five-year intervals, and progress will be monitored in a transparent way,” Bierbaum said. “The clear focus on rapidly advancing technology will accelerate availability of lower-cost low-carbon options. American businesses, mayors, states and universities (including the University of Michigan) have pledged climate action. The momentum must be maintained, but today we should celebrate the marriage of diplomacy and science in forging a deal that promises a more sustainable Earth for future generations.”
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Andrew Hoffman, education director of the Graham Sustainability Institute, is professor of natural resources and environment, and management and organizations.
“From my particular viewpoint, I am interested in how this landmark deal will alter both the market implications and the political discourse over climate change,” he said. “First, this deal is the signal that many companies have been looking for for years. Knowing that controls on greenhouse gas emissions would eventually be set, that day has now come. The corporate sector was present to an unprecedented level in Paris, and their support for action was a critical factor in making this deal possible.
“This agreement sets a clear marker that it is time to factor carbon reductions into financial, operational and infrastructure decisions. The market shift precipitated by controls on greenhouse gas emissions is about to begin, one that will create both winners and losers, and all sectors will be compelled to consider how this will impact their financial balance sheet and strategies.
“Second, this deal alters the political calculus over climate change in this country. While the scientific establishment has been saying for years that climate change is real and a response is necessary, the Republican Party has been resolute in resisting that conclusion. It is time to break the link between a conservative worldview and belief in climate change. The truth is that many Republican politicians, congressional aides, lobbyists and staff believe in the science and the need to take action when safely behind closed doors. They are just waiting for the right political cover to come out in public with their views. Will the Republican voter base really take out their wrath if they do so? The day has arrived when the answer to that question is highly likely to be a resounding no.”
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Arun Agrawal, professor of natural resources and environment, was a lead author of the livelihoods and poverty chapter in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2014 report on climate change impacts, adaptation and vulnerability.
His expertise lies in the political economics of development, environmental governance, resource use and management, climate adaptation and institutional analysis. He is editor-in-chief of World Development, a multidisciplinary journal of development studies and coordinator of the International Forest Resources and Institutions Network.
“There has been a fair amount of soaring rhetoric about the significance of the accord. The real effects of the agreement will traverse a long, hard path, and will be visible only as the rubber of the rhetoric hits the rough road of political realities back in national capitals,” Agrawal said.
“I hate to sound a somewhat less-than-enthusiastic note, but to my mind the key question about whether this is a historic climate agreement will be determined by the market’s reaction. Watch on Monday early morning. If there is a big selloff in fossil fuel company stocks—primarily coal and oil—then yes, the deal is historic and has set us away from the emissions path that will lead to disaster globally.
“When the heat and dust die down, it will be interesting to remember that the accord’s historical significance is primarily in getting poor nations to agree to contribute to emissions reductions. The adoption of the 1.5 degrees aspirational target is no doubt a good thing, but all the critical decisions have been deferred to subsequent years.”
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Avik Basu, researcher in environmental psychology, is co-editor of the 2015 book “Fostering Reasonableness: Supportive Environments for Bringing Out Our Best.” He will be in Paris through Dec. 12 to observe the climate meeting as part of a 10-person U-M faculty and student delegation.
“The Paris agreement is an imperfect but important step forward in the global effort to address anthropogenic climate change,” Basu said. “While the agreement leaves out specifics on emissions reduction targets, timeframes and financing, it does provide an aspiration to limit temperature increase to 1.5 degree Celsius as well as a framework for countries to work together on this defining challenge of of our time. The effectiveness of the agreement will only be known in the years to come.”
U-M graduate students who attended the Paris conference:
Mayank Vikas is a graduate student at the School of Natural Resources and Environment. His current academic area of focus is environmental policy and planning. He is a lawyer and has worked in India with both corporate law firms and not-for-profit organizations. Vikas is a recipient of the Fulbright-Nehru Master’s Fellowship. He attended the first week of the conference.
“I am cautiously optimistic about the Paris Agreement, but do not share the bonhomie being displayed by many others,” he said. “The text of the agreement has accommodated some of the key demands of various human rights groups, which is an encouraging sign. However, the text is not perfect and will need greater action before it can achieve its goal of limiting global warming to under 1.5 degrees Celsius.
“It is ironic that an agreement that seeks to combat climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions does not mention words like fossil fuels, coal, oil or the shipping and aviation industries. Even the mention of an aspirational 1.5 degree warming limit appears to be misleading, given that without more ambitious emission cuts, we are headed towards a 3 degree or more warming.”
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Matthew Bishop is a graduate student at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. His current academic area of focus is science and technology policy, with a focus on climate and energy policy. At COP21, he hoped to identify meaningful ways for future Michigan delegations to get involved. He is a Dow Sustainability Fellow and works at the U-M Climate Center. He attended the second week of the conference.
“The moment of agreement was almost anticlimactic after such a long process that was grueling, even for those who weren’t up all night negotiating,” he said. “There’s a huge sense of relief in Paris that we got this done, but questions linger as the focus shifts to all of us at home to do our parts. Undoubtedly, this is a big deal. But is it enough?”