Just What Is the New York Climate Summit?

Published: 4:10 AM GMT on September 24, 2014

Just What Is the New York Climate Summit?

Added on September 24, 2014: Here is a video with interviews made by Bard MBA Students during the march.

By all accounts the People’s Climate March in New York stands as a great success. I see in the comments a few of you made it to the march. (New York Times Report) If you send me links to your blogs I will post them here – or, guest blog with photos? I also heard a report of a raucous good time in Oakland, CA.

The march was timed to precede the United Nations (U.N.) Climate Change Summit. In 2009 there was an energetic U.N. meeting in Copenhagen. I was at that meeting and wrote a bunch of blogs. Given all of the energy and expectations of the Copenhagen meeting, what has happened since that meeting is viewed by many as a bust. As climate-change policy efforts have clawed their way back, the energy is now focused on 2015 and the Conference of the Parties in Paris. The expectations in Paris are high – from their website, “The meeting will mark a decisive stage in negotiations on the future international agreement on a post-2020 regime, and will, as agreed in Durban, adopt the major outlines of that regime. By the end of the meeting, for the first time in over 20 years of UN negotiations, all the nations of the world, including the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, will be bound by a universal agreement on climate.”

I see the New York Climate Summit as an effort to rally the troops and start a crescendo, trying to assure some success in Paris. The New York summit is named “Climate Summit 2014: Catalyzing Action. And from the U.N. website “There is a sense that change is in the air. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has invited world leaders, from government, finance, business, and civil society to Climate Summit 2014 this 23 September to galvanize and catalyze climate action. He has asked these leaders to bring bold announcements and actions to the Summit that will reduce emissions, strengthen climate resilience, and mobilize political will for a meaningful legal agreement in 2015. Climate Summit 2014 provides a unique opportunity for leaders to champion an ambitious vision, anchored in action that will enable a meaningful global agreement in 2015.” There is comprehensive information on the web page, including the statements from the different nations.

The press coverage I have heard, and I don’t have cable, dish or even an antenna – the press coverage I heard prior to the meeting often touted the “presence” of business and corporations. Just to be tedious, in the past corporations, which see opportunity, have been present at climate-change meetings. (Note careful use of “which” instead of “who.”) Touted on the U.N. page Oil, gas industry launches ‘immediate-impact’ plan to slash global warming emissions. I leave it to the reader to analyze the content of that announcement.

Over the past few months, there have been the releases of high profile climate-change documents. A document that garnered much attention because of the gravitas of the authors is Risky Business: The Economic Risk of Climate Change in the United States. This report uses standard risk-assessment approaches and focuses “on the clearest and most economically significant of these [climate-change] risks: Damage to coastal property and infrastructure from rising sea levels and increased storm surge, climate-driven changes in agricultural production and energy demand, and the impact of higher temperatures on labor productivity and public health.”

Risky Business reaches conclusions using the harshness of numbers, for example: “There is a 1-in-20 chance—about the same chance as an American developing colon cancer; twice as likely as an American developing melanoma – that by the end of this century, more than $701 billion worth of existing coastal property will be below mean sea levels, with more than $730 billion of additional property at risk during high tide. By the same measure of probability, average annual losses from hurricanes and other coastal storms along the Eastern Seaboard and the Gulf of Mexico will grow by more than $42 billion due to sea level rise alone. Potential changes in hurricane activity could raise this figure to $108 billion.”

Rather than focusing on risk and cost, the New Climate Economy takes a different approach: “For such decision-makers, climate change is rarely a primary concern. Their motivations are to promote short-term economic growth and job creation, increase market share and profitability, improve energy and food security, build competitive cities and reduce poverty. Yet their decisions powerfully influence the trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions. So the core question the project has sought to answer is: how can decision-makers achieve their economic and social goals while simultaneously reducing the risk of dangerous climate change?”

The report from New Climate Economy, Better Growth, Better Climate, starts with “We live in a moment of great opportunity.” (I have been ending my class and lectures with that statement for several years. Shouldn't I get some credit?) What I have read and heard (they have a pretty cool website, I can hear and write at the same time), I like this report. Thinking just a little bit, we have been dealing with weather and climate for all of our existence, spending money to harden our buildings for storms, levees to manage floods and money to rebuild. Therefore, spending money in a changing climate is not entirely a situation of we used to spend no money on weather and climate, now we have to spend money on weather and climate. Our opportunity is to try to spend our money intelligently in a changing climate – plus, the need to spend money to keep those changes from getting completely out of hand. (In the spirit of possibility, What's Possible, the opening film for the U.N. Summit.)

The last report I will mention is one by Timothy Wirth and Thomas Daschle, two former senators. Some of my favorite people to listen to are former senators and former bureaucrats. Some months ago they wrote A Blueprint to End Paralysis Over Global Action on Climate. This opinion piece got some play in the run up to this week’s climate summit. They directly focus on the 2015 meeting in Paris with four principle elements:

1. affirmation of global objectives

2. making national commitments to emissions reductions

3. agree to a systemic review of their emissions reductions pledges

4. finance

With regard to finance Wirth and Daschle maintain, “The capital needed for a global shift to low-carbon energy systems can be mobilized from highly liquid but risk-averse institutional investors, such as pension funds, insurance companies, and sovereign wealth funds, which have assets of more than $80 trillion. The way to attract these funds is to engage public finance entities as partners to reduce investment risk, particularly in developing countries, and ensure safe, predictable returns.” (Wirth interview on Living on Earth)

Wednesday morning, September 24, 2014, in New York City there will be an event sponsored by the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), which will be “highlighting the new steps the United States Government is taking to help empower developing nations to boost their own climate resilience.” The event “will feature remarks by Dr. John P. Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; Timothy E. Wirth, Vice Chair of the United Nations Foundation; Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Dr. Suzette Kimball, Acting Director of the U.S. Geological Survey.” (I am quoting from my invitation. Sadly, I am not in New York.) This event will be adding some material support to the statements made Tuesday (September 23, 2014) by President Obama.

No matter how tomorrow’s event goes, Dr. Holdren will have a hard time beating his performance as framed by Jon Stewart on the Daily Show. In my little world this is practically viral, so I am sure that I will be the last to pass it on. May as well remind you of John Oliver’s take on climate change as well. Do owls exist?

r





Figure 1: A ton of carbon dioxide in Copenhagen. It’s still about the same size and we have a lot more of them in the atmosphere.

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