U.N. summit is ‘one last shot at avoiding catastrophic climate change,’ U of M expert says

By: - October 29, 2021 2:51 pm

Climate protest before the Democratic debate | Andrew Roth

The U.K. will host the upcoming Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, in partnership with Italy, which runs from Sunday through Nov. 12. 

COP26, which is expecting representation from nearly 200 countries, will bring parties together to accelerate action towards goals of the Paris Agreement and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Areas of focus for this summit include the phasing out of coal, commitments regarding industries such as aviation and cement and increased financing.

Sean Hammond, Michigan Environmental Council policy director, said Michigan is taking a leading role with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signing an executive order last year establishing the Council on Climate Solutions that advises her and the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) on how to implement the Michigan Healthy Climate Plan, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and steer the state toward carbon neutrality. 

“We hope the plan put forward by that council matches or exceeds the urgency from the COP26 summit to cement Michigan’s place as a leader in the fight against the worst ravages of climate change,” he said.

The 2019 conference (COP25) took place during the Trump administration after former President Trump pulled the United States from the Paris Agreement. U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calf.), along with other Democrats, still attended the conference to represent the commitment of the U.S. to the issue of climate change.

Under President Joe Biden, the U.S. rejoined the Paris Agreement and made climate change a key priority, appointing former Secretary of State John Kerry special climate envoy and allocating $550 million for clean energy and extreme weather preparation in the Build Back Better compromise announced Thursday. 

Biden also hosted some of the largest countries at a global summit in April outlining a new Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) for the U.S., a 50-52% reduction from 2005 levels of economy-wide net greenhouse gas pollution by 2030.

Jennifer Haverkamp is Graham family director of the University of Michigan Graham Sustainability Institute, a professor at Michigan Law School and a veteran of seven U.N. climate summits. She said that the U.S.’ role is pivotal in the upcoming conference.

The nations heading to Glasgow bear the grave responsibility of delivering commitments stringent enough to give us one last shot at avoiding catastrophic climate change,” she said, also adding that the Biden administration and the U.S. will be strongly looked upon to deliver on their own goals.

Residents in a Grosse Pointe Park neighborhood throw out damaged belongings after the flooding on July 1, 2021 | Ken Coleman

The recent report from the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) highlighted that global warming is posing more of an immediate existential threat than previously believed. The report suggests that quick and ambitious plans for greenhouse gas reductions be implemented as the Earth’s average temperature is set to rise by 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial times by 2030.

Another highlight of the report from the IPCC is the focus on policy changes regarding land, transportation and energy sources as an increase in the earth’s average temperature could trigger various natural disasters, including flooding, which Michigan has faced this year.

Democratic legislators from the Michigan Senate and House unveiled a $5 billion climate resilience and water infrastructure this past August to help mitigate the effects of that flooding. This new plan will also assist in restoring Michigan’s outdated and faulty infrastructure. However, it has not gained traction in the GOP-led Legislature. 

Trish Koman, a University of Michigan assistant research scientist and faculty research program manager, believes there is still time to take action to curtail carbon emissions and other pollutants warming the planet. 

“To promote health, especially for children and vulnerable groups, we need to make immediate and sustained progress towards a low-carbon future,” Korman said.

COP26 serves as a key step, according to Hammond, for global leaders to commit to stopping the worst impacts of climate change. 

“The targets discussed by many countries so far are not sufficient to minimize warming based on the latest scientific studies,” Hammond said. “Michigan, the U.S., and the world should look toward the countries targeting net zero in short time frames as not only the best solution, but one that is necessary.”

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Shanika P. Carter
Shanika P. Carter

Shanika P. Carter is a freelance writer, author, and adjunct communications instructor. She is also the Principal Consultant of The Write Flow & Vibe, LLC (www.writeflowandvibe.com), offering writing, editing, and content development services to a variety of clientele, including fellow authors and businesses. Shanika has written for various publications, including Blackdoctor.org, The Lakeshore West Michigan, Rapid Growth Media, Grander Magazine, and Women’s Lifestyle Magazine. She is the author of the nonfiction book To Lead or Not to Lead, which was released in 2019.