19 October 2010

Stanford's Law Conference Panel: Thinking Globally - International Climate Change Action

Michael Wara, Dan Clune, Kath Rowley Photo: Mary Vincent
By Mary Vincent - Twitter @MaryVincent

I firmly believe that it's important to be aware of the law and how it affects business, society, and ultimately you.
For history, I attended last year's 2009 Conference Keynote by Mary Nichols, Chair of the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and met her. My Article on her Keynote is here for reference.

This year's 2010 Panel Thinking Globally - International Climate Change Action had the following Description:
"We need a global solution to climate change now. Last year's United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen was inconclusive, and the United States Congress failed to produce comprehensive climate change legislation. Scientists and the general public acknowledge that human-induced climate change will transform ecosystems and human populations worldwide. This panel will explore current and future efforts to address climate change at the national and international levels. Panelists will bring their expertise from international negotiations and the U.S. Department of State, energy efficiency programs and emissions trading programs in Australia, and California's climate change agreement with the Jiangsu Province of China. The panel will also address future possibilities for effective international agreements and predictions for the upcoming 2010 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun."
The Speakers were:
Michael Wara (Panel Moderator), Assistant Professor of Law, Stanford Law School
Dan Clune, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Oceans, International Environmental, and Scientific Affairs, U.S. Department of State
Kath Rowley, Director, U.S. Programs and Global Research, Climate Policy Initiative

Dan Clune discussed the following 3 areas in his Presentation:
1. What the Obama Administration is doing
2. The US is the 2nd largest emitter of Greenhouse Gases (GHG), and China is the 1st largest emitter
3. Copenhagen and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
  • US renewable energy production will double by 2012. The Department of Defense will reduce emissions by 34 percent by 2020.
  • The EPA is continuing to regulate GHG from power plants.
  • Copenhagen was negotiated by heads of state and put forth specific national targets to reduce GHG. 80% agreed on targets to reduce emissions. Copenhagen provided financing to 3rd world countries, a tech transfer program, and a program to reduce deforestation (REDD). The Copenhagen Agreement is a basis for moving forward. Todd Stern is the US special envoy for climate change negotiations.
  • Negotiations contain these main areas: 
    • 1. Mitigation and Reporting - China and India need to reduce GHG and need to be part of this negotiation. They signed onto the Copenhagen accord. However, they believe they now have the right to increase emissions because the US had done so in the past. That is the WRONG perspective.
    • 2. Financing - The US is providing 30 billion dollars for the efforts, and Dan's department is working on that. 1 billion dollars is being donated to address deforestation, particularly for Indonesia
    • 3. Technology Development and Transfer
  • Dan states that the Cancun Mexico conference in November doesn't seem to have high expectations.
  • The US doesn't have a Ministry of Environment, however, the EPA and DOE are big players.
  • We're at a point where countries need to stop ommitting and stop blaming; we need to take action and move forward.
  • Dan told this 'Story'....
    • Two people are tied on a railroad track and are blaming eachother for being on the track with a train coming straight at them..The Two people figured out that instead of arguing, they said, "Shouldn't we work together to see how we can both get off the track?"

Kath Rowley discussed the following:
  • Australia has recently been a party to the Kyoto Protocol. 
  • Australia is a major energy exporter.
  • There are countries (islands) that will not exist anylonger because of rising sea levels, and all the people will need to relocated.
  • Like the current US administration, Australia agrees on climate science, and agrees on the need for a carbon price.
  • Australia established an Office on Climate Change. She states, "If you already have great coordination then coordination will be better. It needs to be a priority and high officials need to be involved."
During Q&A, I mentioned my background in Green IT and Low Carbon Food, and mentioned the importance of including Food and Agriculture in the equation. Specifically, 
  • The UN Report stating that Animal Agriculture causes 18% of GHG, more than transportation, 
  • Copenhagen did have Agriculture discussions on the Agenda, however, I didn't hear about concrete outcomes
  • Ghent, Belgium has gone vegetarian once a week to reduce emissions
  • Bon Appetit Management Company reduced meat and cheese in it's operations to reduce emissions, and
  • UK hospitals are cutting meat to cut carbon
I asked the panelists if they could share the current status of Sustainable Agriculture in the Climate Negotiations:
Michael Wara mentioned the problem of substituting fish for cows (highest GHG emitter). He mentions Fish populations worldwide are already in a state of collapse, therefore, it's important to keep in mind not to substitute one problem for another.
Dan mentioned my point was a very important question, and needs to be further addressed. Also, it's important to keep in mind there is strong representation of cattle interests worldwide.

Here is my Summary:
I'm very thankful that Stanford continues to include Climate Change in this Shaking the Foundations Law Conference and brought in respected Climate individuals for their 2010 event. 
There are many people trying to work hard to reduce GHG.
Dan's story of 2 people tied to a railroad track: arguing and blaming eachother for being on the track with the speeding train heading towards them and then deciding they should figure out how to untie themselves was very telling. This is really the story of what's happening here. 
Countries, Businesses, Communities, and Individuals all need to agree to move forward and reduce emissions for the benefit of the Earth and it's population right now. Also, Michael's point of not substituting collapsing fish populations for cattle was a very good one.
Remember how MTBE (the oil oxygenator) was originally approved and used with the goal to improve air quality but ended up polluting groundwater?
We need to make sure we continue implementing the RIGHT solutions quickly, and from an Agriculture perspective, introduce more sustainable and nutritional plant-based options for all people involved. This is exactly why I started Gratitude Gourmet, to start talking about sustainable plant-based solutions to the climate problem.