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Climate Action 2016: Catalyzing a Sustainable Future


At the Climate Action Forum

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Last Wednesday, Mai and I attended the Climate Action 2016 Forum with Steven Walz, Director of the Department of Environmental Programs (DEP) here at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG).  The Climate Action 2016 summit was being held in Washington last week from 4-6 May 2016 and we were lucky enough to attend the opening forum on the first day. The main program was being held May 5-6, 2016 in the District. 

The Climate Action Summit was designed to bring international stakeholders together to strengthen their approach to climate implementation and deepen and expand the action coalitions of government, business, finance, philanthropy, civil society and academic leaders launched at the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Summit 2014 in New York, and since then developed through the Lima to Paris Action Agenda.  It was also the first official follow up to the COP21 in Paris last December.

Some of the key highlights included:

  • Welcome and opening remarks from Senator Ben Cardin. Senator Cardin spoke about being part of a Congressional delegation that went to the COP 21 in Paris last year. He added that it was unprecedented to have led 10 US Senators (representing 10% of the U.S. Senate) to a single place in Europe (Paris). He said this action by the U.S. shows that the country will support the Paris Agreement and assured the audience that every week in the Senate and Democratic caucuses, there is time being allocated to climate change issues.
  • Former Congressman and Senator Tim Wirth focused on the need for taking action.  He spoke to the students in the audience (from the University of Maryland) and shared that politicians face difficult, intricate and fascinating decisions every day. But on the top of that list are issues that are existential in nature, including the control of nuclear weaponry and the stabilization of the global climate. He called the series of political agreements on climate change “miraculous and exciting” and gave credit to those who were part of the effort.
  • Dr. Piers Sellers, Deputy Director of the Sciences and Exploration Directorate and Acting Director of the Earth Sciences division of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center spoke of his perspective as a scientist and astronaut on the need to address climate change. He highlighted our moral responsibility to leave a habitable planet for future generations and encouraged us to be realistic, practical and flexible in finding solutions to tackling this global problem.
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View of the Grand Ballroom at the Adele H. Stamp Student Union, University of Maryland during the Luncheon Plenary on Catalyzing Climate Action through Philanthropy & Innovative Investments. The panel featured Naoko Ishii, Chairman of the Global Environment Facility and Maryland State Treasurer Nancy Kopp.

In addition to the opening session, I attended three breakout sessions, two of which were on the City and Sub-National Implementation Track.

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Presentation Slides by Paolo Bertoldi, Senior Expert, Institute for Energy and Transport, European Commission Joint Research Centre 

The first was on Low Carbon Cities: The European Covenant of Mayors Initiative organized by the European Commission Joint Research Center. This session looked primarily at cities and regions and various model of multi-level governance for the implementation of climate policies. Speakers from the Joint Research Center emphasized the importance of support given to cities and citied that assessment reports of 25 cities’ Sustainable Energy Action Plans (SEAP) under the Covenant of Mayors has proven useful to cities who are in the midst of preparing their plans.

Dave Ribeiro from the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) spoke about the City Energy Efficiency Scorecard which identifies leaders and laggards in energy efficiency efforts, as well as best practices that may be replicable to other cities across the U.S.

In session two, I attended the session on Starting the Discussion: Transformative Climate Action through National and Local Government Coordination and Collaboration. Tom Bailey, Head of Research for C40 spoke about the need for vertical integration in unlocking climate action from a city perspective. Citing a report Unlocking Climate Action in Megacities: The City Practitioners’ View that would be launched on 5 May 2016 by Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo, he spoke about the need to understand and practitioner perspectives on the leading challenges to urban climate action, covering all global regions and all urban sectors – providing clarity and context on the challenges faced by our cities. The goal is to provide a common understanding to allow collaboration amongst those who work with or in cities on climate action.

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Second breakout session

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The third breakout session

The third session on Implementing the Paris Agreement: Research and Analysis to Support a Below-2-degree World focused on the need for sharing of research and analytical tools in order to achieve successful implementation of goals set at various government levels. Panellists included Dr. Jae Edmonds, Chief Scientist and Batelle Laboratory Fellow, Joint Global Change Research Institute;  Johannes Friedrich, CAIT Project Lead, World Resources Institute; Dr. Sean McMahon, Senior Scientist, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center; and Dr. Allen Fawcett, Branch Chief, Economics, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It was moderated by Dr. Nathan Hultman, Director, Center for Global Sustainability who incidentally from 2014-2016, worked at the White House on the Obama Administration’s climate and energy policy team. He has participated in the UN climate process since the Kyoto meeting, and is a contributing author to the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report and Special Report on Renewable Energy. 

I was particulary excited to find out that he had helped develop the U.S. 2025 climate target, worked on U.S. bilateral engagements with China, India, Brazil and others, and participated in the international climate negotiations in Lima and Paris. Currently, his research focuses on national climate target-setting and assessment, U.S. emissions mitigation policy, energy technology transitions in emerging economies and international climate policy. He teaches courses on climate change policy and energy policy. I think that it's great that government officials can move into academia and hope to see more of that back home!

So overall I was really interested in this session because of my work back home in Singapore as a research associate and of the policy-research interface. I felt that many of the points resonated with how I approach my research that informs policy and vice versa. 

The need for decision relevant open data tools was emphasized by Johannes Friedrich, CAIT Project Lead, World Resources Institute as a way to ensure greater understanding of the challenges faced by cities, countries and governments. He added that the goal of tools is to multiply one’s impact by allowing others to leverage on your research and tools. Back home, we rely a lot on publically available sources of data and information such as the WRI CAIT tool, International Energy Agency (IEA) balance tables, World Bank data etc, and so this was an interesting perspective given by someone behind the scenes working hard to improve the user interface for greater impact of research. 

All in all, it was an amazing opportunity to have attended the Climate Action Forum and by extension to have been a part of the Climate Action Summit 2016. Words cannot express how happy I am to have been a part of this effort, and also to have listened to many great speakers and practitioners speak and to learn from them. I’m grateful to MWCOG for organizing this for us and to Stephen who took us there! :)

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Myself, Mai and Lantom at the Climate Action Forum

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