As UN climate negotiators work to define and articulate the rules to implement the Paris Climate Agreement ahead of COP24 later this year, thousands of civic, business, state, and NGO climate experts descended on San Francisco to attend the Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS). The goal was to inspire bold commitments, share innovative approaches, and address the key gaps in transitioning from a fossil fuel based economy.
During the opening plenary, Johan Rockstrom discussed the “exponential transformation” ahead of us and highlighted the apparent urgency for action given the impending tipping points as the world continues on its path of fossil fuel dependence. Despite hopeful economic signals in renewable technology markets, climate media outlets have been clear on the simple fact that the national climate commitments made to date under the Paris Agreement simply don’t add up to meet the emissions cuts necessary to keep global temperatures under 1.5C. Thus under the leadership of California Governor Jerry Brown, GCAS was undertaken to inspire subnational leaders and private business figureheads to make bold(er) commitments for a carbon-neutral future and to fill the gap on national commitments.
Over the course of one week more than 300 side-events supplemented the summit. There was an overarching focus on the impacts of land-use decisions and the need to go beyond energy procurement to work on tough issues like decarbonizing heavy transport, reducing food waste, and enhancing investments in natural climate solutions and direct carbon capture technologies.
At the Low-Emissions Solutions Conference (LESC) over 200 businesses, academics, and policy representatives gathered at the University of San Francisco to discuss implementing solutions to speed-up the low-carbon transition.
The event focused on the relationship between climate change and land management – with a clear emphasis on untapped solutions for reducing emissions and drawing carbon out of the atmosphere through better land management. Presenters dove head-first into the data. Key themes included: 1) We’re running out of time to address the climate challenge, 2) land is integral for slowing climate change and harnessing solutions, and 3) policies are needed to kickstart implementation of climate solution – especially in relation to land use.
Bill McKibbon, a world-renowned environmentalist, opened the LESC by playing a personal video in which he captured a massive glacier melt into the ocean in mere minutes illustrating how climate change is happening now. “Solutions that take too long aren’t solutions, we need a suite of solutions that are going to make change happen – and quickly.” His urgency set the tone for the remainder of the discussions over the course of the day.
In response to similar calls to action from their constituents, policymakers from Hawaii, Mexico, Brazil, and California shared the details behind their climate efforts, (California and Brazil are the world’s 5th and 6th largest economies respectively) highlighting again the power of local governments in addressing the climate challenge. “Even the individual is important,” panelists agreed, “It’s important to have the support and drive from the local community to raise the issues on the agenda.”
We also heard from Valery Miftakhov, Emotorwerks, Enel who discussed the role of large scale utilities and their vision for the future. Enel is a progressive company that is putting a lot of effort into electric vehicles and other transport opportunities. Emotowerks is one of their flagship companies that is excelling in this market and leading the transition to clean travel.
As policymakers and businesses highlighted the importance of society in pushing for climate action, academics focused on the facts of the current emissions trajectory – highlighting clear gaps in current climate targets, alongside possible scenarios for failing to meet rigorous climate targets. One of the clearest ways for taking immediate action, modeling showed, was to preserve and restore natural carbon sinks like forests and wetlands. “Addressing climate change through land solutions versus energy solutions isn’t a helpful way to look at the climate problem,” said Emily McGlynn, PhD student at University of California, Davis. “Mitigation and carbon sinks is not an ‘either or question,’ it’s a ‘both and’ question.”
The discussions that were started at the GCAS LESC event highlighted that there is much work to be done to further understand and illustrate the complex tradeoffs at the land-energy nexus. The challenges raised will continue to be discussed during a LESC panel at the International Conference on Sustainable Development (ICSD) during Climate Week in New York and as a LESC affiliate side event at COP24 in Katowice later this year.
To read a summary of the event and find the speaker presentations please visit the LESC resource page at http://lowemissions.solutions/news.