Climate Expert Mixes Hope With Fear In Addressing Climate Challenges

July 31, 2015



Jacob Scherr addresses challenges and hopes around climate change

Jacob Scherr has been at the forefront of addressing global climate challenges for forty years; and he is optimistic that we still have time to reverse the destruction from climate change. He says he sees a “groundswell of change.” But it’s imperative that we all act now.

Scherr is the Senior Advisor of Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) International Program.  He will share his vision of how to bring change about during his presentation Wednesday, August 12, at the American Renewable Energy Day (AREDAY) Summit in Aspen/Snowmass, Colorado.  The Summit runs August 8-13, 2015.  Scherr launched NRDC’s advocacy program in the 1980s and has led their work at each Climate Summit since the first one in Rio 20 years ago.

Scherr’s focus is “a new global architecture that will accelerate the transformation to a carbon neutral world.”  He will discuss getting people to understand that the COP 21 climate summit in Paris is about diplomats and world leaders coming together and linking to the world.  It’s about getting people to understand that the world has changed.

“I’ve been using the ‘architecture’ terminology to get people to understand how the world has changed. In 1997 (Kyoto protocol), China and India were considered poor countries and everyone blamed climate change on them. By 2009, they were major economies.  China is now the largest CO2 producer in world, but we all use the products China produces, so we are all responsible.”

AREDAY spoke with Scherr about his hopes for the Paris Climate Summit in December and what will make this Summit successful, as well as his fears and the changes he is seeing that give him hope.

Why Scherr is hopeful about the future – examples of positive change

Scherr says, “You can feel a momentum.  There’s something big going on. We have to engage people at every single level. It will be a fight because of vested interests. It won’t be easy but we have no choice. It’s an exciting time.” He says he sees a “groundswell of action around world.”  Here’s why:

  1. There is a new tone to the debate today – with increased awareness of the issues and increasing demand for climate action.
  • It started with the Sept 2014 People’s Climate March, which saw 400,000 people in the streets of New York.  It was the largest such gathering since the 1990 Earth Day (1 million people).  World leaders, major industries and companies have started to take action.
  1. The agreement between the United States and China last fall is significant because of its development of a structure to work together on energy efficiency, land use controls and city planning in a way that allows action now. It’s historic and important because the two countries are responsible for almost 35% of all CO2 on planet. Scherr calls it “galvanizing the groundswell.”
  1. The technology revolution over the last 15 years gives him hope. “We collaborate and cooperate now at such a different level. Interconnectivity has grown and the speed at which cooperation can happen has changed. We need a system that engages cities, countries, corporations and the public. We’ve seen a cultural shift – many people are living their lives in a more sustainable way today.”
  1. Coal use has declined slightly.
  1. Young people have a depth of knowledge about climate change that is encouraging and inspiring.
  1. In Miami, you’re now required to achieve silver LEED-certification in order to get a permit.
  2. More people today are working in renewables than in coal.
  1. Microsoft has been 100% carbon neutral since 2012.
  1. Ikea is making major investments in solar.
  1. Pope Francis’ new moral vision (see below)

The impact of global leaders on the world

Pope Francis’ June 18 encyclical said that a revolution is needed to combat climate change. “The Earth, our home, is beginning to look like an immense pile of filth.” “Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it,” he wrote.

In a June 2015 article, Time magazine summarized the five most important points of Pope Francis’ climate change encyclical.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said the current pathway is a global suicide pack – a free market revolution is the only way to save us. Under his leadership, governments have advanced international efforts to fight, mitigate and adapt to climate change.  But “time is running out to limit global temperature rise to 2 degrees C. It’s all hands on deck,” he says.

The Value of AREDAY, according to Scherr

“AREDAY is so important because it focuses on how to bring about the climate revolution and speed up what’s happening. What AREDAY can do is help to change the narrative away from CO2 reduction, because the abstract is very obscure. We need a new set of metrics that will move change as quickly as possible.”

At the AREDAY Summit, you can see evidence of a climate revolution. The presenters are on the frontlines of this revolution, which is very encouraging.  It is an opportunity to redefine what we’re doing.  It’s not just about CO2 reductions.  We need to focus on how we get there.  It’s not about losing pounds but how we change our diet.”

Expectations from COP 21 climate summit vs results from previous summits

The last time we made legally binding commitments on climate change was 1997 in Kyoto. The argument was about a carbon budget for the world.  “It was very top down and arbitrary,” says Scherr. “A lot of people were disappointed after the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009. In Copenhagen, we started from a 20thcentury model

of divvying up a carbon budget among all countries and deciding who’s going to pay and how much. It was one size fits all. We built a complicated international regime – the whole thing crashed down.  Now we have a different, bottom-up approach.  What’s happened is that we’re not only engaging countries, but also cities and states, such as California, which has the world’s seventh largest economy. That’s a big shift, so that’s the major focal point. What’s emerging now is a way of doing business differently.”

What will happen at the COP 21 climate summit in Paris?

“It’s becoming increasingly clear that we’re getting close to the bottom of the barrel on fossil fuels. This December’s COP 21 climate summit in Paris may be our last chance to get the global economy on a track to avoid large scale climate disruption.  Hopefully we’ll have the political will to do something about climate now. Countries and cities must make change as part of their own self-interest. They can’t be forced to do it.”

There are a number of commitments in place from countries and organizations.  We’re looking to taking these commitments to a higher level at COP 21.

Scherr’s vision for COP 21

“Accelerating the climate revolution going on now.” Scherr says we’re seeing a rise in solar, wind, and new battery technologies; and prices for these technologies have plummeted. “We’re seeing the level of investment take off in a way people haven’t expected.”

It will be a “huge manifestation of people demanding action now for transformation – plus 193 governments will finalize a framework to work on problems for the next 15 years. Paris is about action on many levels. One of the challenges is that governments will come together to cut a deal, but climate change is a local problem with global implications. We need to start acting now or we won’t get to where we need to be – a carbon neutral world by 2050.

What’s really important is not only to have that ambitious marker (25-28% reductions below 2005 CO2 levels), but also what President Obama, other leaders and companies do now. “We all have to be engaged.”




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