Second of two parts
In less than a week, world leaders, including representatives from the Philippines, will converge in Glasgow, Scotland for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change's 26th Conference of Parties (COP26).
As promised, allow me to share with you the second part of the virtual interview with one of the most prolific and influential climate scientist, Dr. Michael E. Mann.
Federigan: We know that world leaders from both the developed and developing world will converge this November in Glasgow, Scotland. What do you think are effective strategies that developing and least developed countries can employ during this climate negotiation?
Mann: I think it is incumbent upon younger folks — who are likely to inherit the worst impacts of climate change — to do everything they can to hold the older folks who are in power accountable.
We have a global youth climate movement [led by people] like Greta Thunberg and youth climate demonstrators around the world who are putting pressure on policymakers, especially politicians, opinion leaders and [the] influential from the world's largest industrial economies. We need to put pressure on them, the United States included, to take dramatic action because we can't solve this without the major industrialized countries of the world committed to solving this problem. The global south alone can't do it. We need the global north to be on board and, what I think, the most powerful thing that you have today is your voice and we've seen that in a profound way.
... I have heard stories of fossil fuel executives who have children who have been following the youth climate movement, who have been following Greta Thunberg and the others, and have asked them, have gone to their parents who are fossil fuel executives and say, "Why are you destroying the planet?" I am sure that's difficult for them to hear. But they need to be hearing that. They need to be feeling that pressure.
Greta once famously said "you need to panic." What she meant is that we shouldn't panic and throw our arms in the air and behave irrationally but what she meant was we [must] make those in power panic... feel the pressure. And take the actions necessary because we can't do it alone. We can't implement carbon solutions, carbon pricing, subsidies for renewable energy, blocking new fossil fuel infrastructures. You and I can't do that ourselves. We need our politicians to do that. We need to force them to be doing our bidding rather than the bidding of powerful fossil fuel interests.
Federigan: The Paris Agreement states that the developed world should provide climate finance amounting to $100 billion every year from 2020 to 2025. This amount will be made available to developing and least developed countries for their adaptation and mitigation projects. At present, we know that this amount has not been achieved. How can we ensure that developed nations or the developed world will fulfill this particular promise?
Mann:... [I]n a sense, it's the same answer that I gave before. It all comes down to using your voice, using the moral authority of your words and your actions to hold power brokers accountable. That is the only way we will be able to do that. I am glad that you were explicit with this question because I talked about the need to provide financing to developing countries for the purpose of mitigation so they can leapfrog past the dirty fossil fuel stage on to developing clean energy infrastructure.
... [P]eople in the global south have a greater vulnerability to the impacts of climate change and that means we need to provide assistance not just to help them leapfrog past fossil fuel to clean energy but to increase their adaptive capacity and to reduce their vulnerability, which means building coastal defenses to guard against sea-level rise and other means to decrease vulnerability, for example, to these extreme weather events. And so, we are a far cry right now from the $100 billion that the Paris Agreement provides for. I think, right now, between the United States, the United Kingdom and the other countries... $20 billion or so.
We have a lot of work left to do here and, again... COP26 is going to be really important. We are going to need to get industrial countries on board with making more substantial commitments. The only means we have to do that is our voice — the moral authority of our voices and our demands for action. And we've seen that we can make a difference when we speak up, we speak out, when we engage in collective actions to raise awareness and put greater pressure on policymakers.
Federigan: What kind of transformational climate actions from whom are needed to ensure that net-zero will happen by 2050?
Mann: There has been a lot of talks these days about future tech, carbon capture and sequestration at massive scale and geoengineering. There are technological developments that will help us... but I do think it's dangerous for us to allow politicians, policymakers and others to kick the can down the road... by saying, "Oh yeah, we will develop this new technology, we will remove the carbon from the atmosphere. Trust us, by 2050, we're gonna get it done."
Sometimes, that is used as a crutch for inaction today. Focusing entirely on a target 30 years from now when many of these politicians won't even be around, by the way, to answer for their actions... yes, we need to be net-zero by 2050, but we also need to reduce carbon emissions by 50 percent by 2030. And that's not gonna be done with future tech. That's gonna be done by taking advantage of the solutions that we already have.
There are researchers like Mark Jacobson, Stanford and the Climate Solutions Project that have demonstrated the pathway based on existing renewable energy technology.
We don't need a miracle like people like Bill Gates like to say. Bill Gates likes to say that we need a miracle — some new magic future tech. I think he's dead wrong about that. I think he's wrong about that because he and others like him downplay the role that existing clean renewable energy technology can play today. So, we don't need technological innovations to solve this problem. The limitations right now aren't technological, they are political. What we need is the political will to scale [up] the clean energy solutions that we have now.
Yes, there will be technological innovations. We may, down the road, develop reliable carbon capture technology that can, at the very least, help us offset some of those still difficult to decarbonize sectors like air travel, cement production... We might need some amount of carbon capture and sequestration to offset those areas of the economy where it's difficult to bring carbon emissions down to zero. It's likely that we will have far more efficient forms of renewable energy including solar, wind, geothermal, etc.
But, too often, that talk about future technological progress is used as an excuse for not scaling up the clean energy solutions that we have right now. So, we have to not allow the focus to be diverted from actions that need to be taken now by those looking to kick the can down the road. Simply, as a way of continuing business-as-usual.
The full recording under the title "Weather Forecast — Trouble: Why We Need to Act on Climate Change Now" is now available in Aim for Resilience on Spotify at this link: https://open.spotify.com/episode/ 1H6UykpagqgOW8dPE4FPX0.
The author is the executive director of the Young Environmental Forum and a nonresident fellow of Stratbase ADR Institute. He completed his climate change and development course at the University of East Anglia and an executive program on sustainability leadership at Yale University. You can email him at [email protected]