We’re Still In?

Tagalano Roa United Nations Climate change conference 2017 Bonn GermanyOn June 1st, President Donald Trump announced that the US would be pulling out of the Paris Agreement. But next week, he’ll be sending the Rex Tillerson’s third-ranking state department official and undersecretary for political affairs, Tom Shannon, to lead the US delegation at a United Nations conference in Germany to work with world leaders on the details of the Paris Agreement’s implementation.

Shannon will be on his way next week to join UN delegates, and representatives from industry, non-profits, universities, Indigenous groups and local governments to hash out the rules for implementing the Paris Agreement. Written in 2015, it was signed by 196 countries and so far has been ratified by 169. The only county in the UN that has not signed the agreement is Syria.

It’s difficult to understand the US’s position on climate change. President Trump, during his campaign and while in office has called for our removal from the Paris Agreement. The United States cannot officially withdraw from the treaty until 2020, so the US delegation will be there to negotiate the rules for measuring & tracking emissions. Their delegation will be Huffington Post John Kerry UNFCCC Climate Change Conference Marrakechmuch smaller than last year’s 90 person delegation, led by John Kerry, and they will not host an official US pavilion, which traditionally has been a space to engage with civilians, share relevant NASA or EPA data, and host presentation on how US public and private sector are engaging to combat climate change.  The delegation will mostly be there to protect US interests by ensuring that other countries are being transparent in their reporting methods and actually meeting their commitments.

Many environmental leaders are stepping up to fill the void of a smaller US presence in the conference. We’re Still In is a collaboration of state governors, mayors, CEOs, university presidents and tribal leaders representing about 120 million people (more than a third of the US population) who are committing their governors, mayors, businesses investors and universities global leaders reducing carbon footpringstates, cities, businesses, schools and nations to the Paris Agreement.  They are hosting an unofficial US pavilion, and sponsoring educational seminars and workshops to show the world that at the local level, US citizens are doing something to combat climate change.

Because the Constitution reserves the power of signing international treaties for the Federal government, this commitment is unofficial, and symbolic. But leaders of these groups firmly believe that action on climate change is absolutely necessary from a public health, economic and social justice standpoint. If we don’t act now to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, we’ll face rising sea levels, more ferocious extreme weather events- among the likes of Maria and Irma, droughts and heat waves that destroy cropland- and increased migration & conflict around the world.

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Former Mayer Michael Bloomberg (NYC), Gov. Jerry Brown (CA) and other prominent leaders from local governments will be leading the charge at this year’s conference. Both have mobilized private funds to support projects to reduce emissions worldwide. The Paris Agreement calls for $100 billion USD to be raised each year for 5 years, in order to help developing countries pay for the costs of sustainable development investments and rebuild after climate change related flooding or other disasters. Their presence at the conference will be part of a larger conversation going on there, a conversation to better engage those who don’t work in the government: to hear their concerns and use them as a resource to better enforce the Paris Agreement. Through this Facilitative Dialogue, countries will be able discuss what progress has been made since Paris, and ramp up efforts to meet their commitments to the Paris Agreement.

What makes the Paris Agreement unique from past UN climate change treaties is that each country is only hold to what they commit to contributing. So the US isn’t being told they have to pay anyone, our negotiators determined what would be a realistic amount that would fit our budget. The US has also committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 28% below 2005 levels. This sense of personal responsibility is part of what has inspired cities across the nation to prioritize renewable energy, promote LEED certification or green roofs, and take an audit of their energy consumption and emissions to see where they can become more efficient. Companies are seeing the returns of engaging in corporate social responsibility, not to mention the economic benefits of corporate sustainability policies. It has become clear to open minded leaders in government and industry that movement towards sustainability is not just economically and socially viable, but absolutely necessary for the United States. So let’s stand together and let the rest of the world know that We’re Still In.

By Sarah Voska

 

Sarah Voska is a delegate to the UN climate change conference, COP23, representing Care About Climate. Care About Climate is a 501-C non-profit that works in climate change education and communication. She studies Sustainable Management at University of Wisconsin-Parkside. Use the #ClimateSign to join the fight against climate change. Contact us at careaboutclimate@gmail.com with any questions!

Phoenix and Prescott: A Bumpy (but Successful) Road

After our first presentation in Tucson, Arizona we headed north to Phoenix early the next morning. We rolled into the massive city around noon and met with a staff member of the Salt River Project (SRP), which is a large water and electricity utility in the Phoenix Metropolitan Area. She is also going to Paris, France for the UN Climate Negotiations as an alumni of Vermont Law School. The Law School provides technical advice for the country of Myanmar because, like many developing countries, they do not have the resources or capacity to keep up with all the new research and negotiations due to lack of financial capital to support those efforts within the country. This is a systematic problem with large negotiating bodies like the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that leaves developing countries, once again, disadvantaged to fully participate. It was interesting to learn about what she was doing for Myanmar, but it was also interesting to hear that she is going to work on giving presentations to SRP so they are aware of the role they can play in reducing emissions within the state.

IMG_2291With the President’s Clean Power Plan, states in the United States will have to come up with a plan to reduce emissions by a certain percent (depending on the state) in the next year, or the Environmental Protection Agency will come in and make a plan for them. Arizona’s target emission reduction is 39% by 2030. This gives local utilities the opportunity to really think critically about their energy make up and what they can do about it.

After that discussion we headed to find our housing for the evening, however, the radiator cracked in the car we were driving, which delayed us for 3 hours as we had to get our car towed. Luckily, being carless would not stop us from our mission, and we had quite a few friends in the Phoenix area that were able to take care of us while the car was being repaired. Eventually we made it to our destination, and were stuck there for a day. It was a productive day full of writing, emailing, and pizza.

IMG_2288The following day was presentation day. Our car was not quite fixed yet so our friend let us borrow hers so that we could get to Arizona State University (ASU). ASU’s campus is large and covered in solar panels, recycling bins, and energy efficient buildings. Sustainability in engrained in ASU’s culture, which is important if we are to make the changes that we need to see in the world.

The Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability sponsored our talk at ASU. Students, faculty, staff, community group representatives, and community members came to the talk. ASU News was able to cover our event and came out with The Road To Paris: The 9 Things You Can Do to Influence the UN Climate Talks, which outlines the actions that I discuss that you can take within the presentation that I give.

After the talk, we met with a representative from the Citizen’s Climate Lobby. In early November we will be speaking at an Earth Festival and helping with a tabling event, which will have information about what folks can do during the UN Climate Talks to make a difference.

Shortly after we completed our tasks for the day, it was time to retrieve out car. We hopped in a cab with a man named Lance, and he blasted Ray Charles as we cruised down the I-10. Once we acquired our car we immediately started to drive to Prescott.

IMG_2300We arrived in Prescott, AZ around dinner time and were able to have dinner with Sierra Club members and students that are in charge of the Sierra Student Coalition at Prescott College. We learned about the environmental issues that Prescott is facing such as protecting the Verde river from pollutants, water shortages in general, a need for building and energy efficiency, a need for improved bike lanes, and a plethora of other topics that these groups are working on. We also discussed the importance of connecting local work to global topics because the work that we do locally is most important in pushing the conversation further.

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The next day we woke up bright and early for an interview on the Morning Scramble, which is a morning show that shows in Phoenix and areas of Northern Arizona. It was a great opportunity to be able to talk to folks that we would not traditionally reach about climate change, where the conversation around climate change is going, climate policy, and how it is affecting people on the ground.

After the interview we headed to Prescott College to talk to students about Care About Climate, and what they can do to help.

That evening we gave a talk in the Yavapai Title Conference room, which was sponsored by the Sierra Club- Yavapai Group. This audience was a little older and had different perspectives on how to address the issue of climate change, which was interesting to hear since we had been talking to students/university communities for the past two presentations. This group was more concerned with the enforceability of the agreement that we were creating and how we can keep the US accountable. I told them that it ultimately came down to their efforts, and it is up to us to make sure that we all Act On Climate together.

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