AS COP27 falls short, U.S. policies position Michigan to meet healthy climate goals, expert says

By: - November 23, 2022 3:30 pm

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Michigan is moving ahead to meet its goals in the MI Healthy Climate Plan thanks to an upgraded U.S. commitment to tackling climate change, according to an environmental expert.

That support is critical as the just completed United Nations 27th Climate Conference (COP27) fell short, with participants’ focusing on an effort to assist vulnerable countries bearing the brunt of climate change. 

More than 200 nations met in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt from Nov. 6 to Nov. 20 to discuss their efforts implementing policies agreed upon at last year’s conference in Glasgow as well as the Paris Agreement and Convention. 

Although member nations agreed to create a “loss and damage” fund for wealthy nations to compensate those vulnerable countries, there were no agreements made to phase out the use of fossil fuels, according to a report from USA Today

Jonathan Overpeck, an interdisciplinary climate scientist and dean of the University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability, said this year’s conference was not successful, citing a lack of effort to cut down on carbon emissions. 

Jonathan Overpeck

The good news is that the bipartisan infrastructure act — Public Law No. 117-58 —  and the Inflation Reduction Act — Public Law No. 117-169 — will help Michigan achieve its goals, Overpeck said.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced the healthy climate plan in September 2020. It calls for achieving economy-wide carbon neutrality in the state, reducing Michigan’s greenhouse gas emissions to zero by no later than 2050. The plan’s interim goals include reducing greenhouse gas emissions by more than 50% by 2030.

“Our Michigan healthy climate plan was timed extremely well. So we’re asking for money and help just when the money and help is available from the federal government,” Overpeck said. 

Most climate action efforts are driven by very blue states on the East and West Coast, Overpeck said. While Michigan leaned heavily Democratic in the recent election, Michigan is a purple, industrial heartland state, Overpeck said. 

“I think it’ll send the right kind of message if our state achieves climate goals that are on par with the best in the nation,” he said. 

Additionally, Michigan’s climate efforts will be a boon to the state’s economy, Overpeck said.

“Our car industry or mobility industry is completely retooled now, and focused on electrified mobility and getting EVs on the road,” he said. “The market for that globally is just expanding super fast. So it’s a way for us to be right at the forefront of a really rapidly expanding global market.”

“The whole plan for Michigan’s climate action is focused on other ways that we can not only solve our climate crisis at home, but we can hopefully capture bigger market share abroad and outside of Michigan, so I think it’s going to be very exciting,” Overpeck said. 

Without an agreement to phase out fossil fuels at COP27, government subsidies for electric mobility help to even the playing field against the oil and gas industry, he said. 

“Quickly, electrified mobility is becoming the cheaper mobility. You know, it isn’t there yet, but it will be within just a couple of years,” he said.

While electric vehicles are only going to get cheaper to own and operate, that’s not the case for internal-combustion vehicles, Overpeck said.

“Gasoline, of course, is prone to big huge spikes and high prices and just lack of predictability. So people are going to be moving towards electrified mobility for economic reasons,” he said. 

Additionally as the effects of climate change inevitably worsen in other parts of the U.S., Michigan should be able to avoid some of the more destructive effects if climate change is stopped, Overpeck said. 

However, Michigan will still face its own climate issues. According to a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Michigan is on track to face an increase in extreme rainfall, alongside more intense summertime droughts and concerns of extreme heat in urban areas.

Flooding is really the biggest climate change curse in Michigan, Overpeck said. 

Michigan will focus on building infrastructure for the anticipated changes in climate, instead of current conditions, Overpeck said. 

Alongside improving infrastructure to deal with flooding, there are additional resources dedicated toward heat waves. In addition to funds in the Inflation Reduction Act, the Biden administration issued its Justice 40 Initiative to ensure 40% of federal funds are invested in disadvantaged communities. 

NOAA warns of rising temperatures, particularly in urban communities like Detroit that are at risk of extreme heat as a result of the urban heat island effect. That occurs where dense concentrations of pavement and buildings combined with high temperatures and humidity can create dangerous heat index levels.

Such rising temperatures are especially concerning for individuals who can’t afford air conditioning or proper cooling in their homes, Overpeck said. 

“Heat waves tend to kill more people than just about any other climate impact. So we have to make sure that people aren’t dying because of that. Money is available,” he said. 

Rising temperatures and increased extreme rainfall may also lead to more harmful algal blooms in waterways, including the Great Lakes. Addressing the issue will require more sophistication in farming to keep nutrients from entering waterways, Overpeck said.

“The cool thing is we know what these problems are, and we’re working hard on the solutions. In many cases, the money coming from Washington is really going to help get it done.”

 

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Kyle Davidson
Kyle Davidson

Kyle Davidson is a reporting intern for the Michigan Advance. A recent MSU graduate, Kyle studied journalism and political science. He has reported on community events, breaking news, state policy, and the environment for outlets including the Lansing State Journal, the Detroit Free Press and Capital News Service.

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