French Influence on North American Attitudes to Change

French Influence on North American Attitudes to Change

Canadian advocate for the environment and writer of many books on the subject, David Suzuki summed up the Paris outcome this way: “When our children’s children look back to what we did to keep our planet liveable, they may see this year’s United Nations climate conference in Paris as a turning point.” But even before Paris, there was a lot of work going on around the world, even in the US, where Anna Clarke reported on the rather unique gatherings in Texas (and elsewhere) called the French Ameri-Can Climate Talks (FACTS). Read More

From David Suzuki:

When our children’s children look back to what we did to keep our planet liveable, they may see this year’s United Nations climate conference in Paris as a turning point.

The 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) may have been our last chance for a meaningful agreement to shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy before ongoing damage to the world’s climate becomes irreversible and devastating. Government ministers, negotiators and world leaders spent the first two weeks of December creating a guide for the next stage of humanity’s action on climate change.

Nations that met in Paris are responsible for over 95 per cent of global emissions. On December 12, following multiple rounds of long meetings, they revealed the final text of the Paris Agreement.

Though far from perfect, it’s a significant achievement. When nations last attempted a global climate pact — in 2009 at COP15 in Copenhagen, Denmark — negotiations broke down and the resulting declaration was considered a failure. The Paris Agreement, in process and outcome, is a dramatic improvement — a product of the growing urgency to act on the defining issue of our time. It’s the first universal accord to spell out ways to confront climate change, with Canada and other industrialized nations required to transition from fossil fuels to 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050 and developing nations by about 2080.

Before meeting in Paris, governments drafted plans to reduce national carbon emissions beginning in 2020. One COP21 negotiation goal — a review mechanism to encourage countries to improve targets over time — was achieved, giving hope that reductions will keep global temperature rise below the 2 C limit beyond which science indicates the consequences of burning fossil fuels will become catastrophic. Present commitments won’t quite get us there, but the called-for improving of targets every five years will get us closer. Past experience shows that once a commitment is made to address a crisis, many unexpected opportunities and solutions result. The agreement also acknowledges that limiting temperature rise to 1.5 C should drive future goal-setting.

Canada’s delegation had the added goal of rebuilding the country’s reputation as an environmental leader. For years, we received countless “Fossil of the Day” awards for short-sightedness and stonewalling negotiations.

Responding to calls from citizens countrywide, our delegation returned to a more co-operative approach, advocating for inclusion of human rights and indigenous knowledge, along with recognition of the critical importance of the 1.5 C goal. Canada still received two “Fossil” awards, for lacking emissions-goals ambition and limiting availability of funds for “loss and damage”, but compared to some nations, our country was a positive force.

The world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, China, was criticized for trying to water down requirements for a common emissions-and-targets reporting system and opposing a process to require countries to update emissions-reductions goals every five years, advocating instead for voluntary updates.

Compromises produced a final product that falls short of assigning liability for past emissions and providing dependable “loss and damage” payments to nations already suffering from the effects of climate change. Ongoing pressure is also needed to ensure targets are met and become more ambitious over time. Despite these shortcomings, the Paris Agreement is a leap forward in the fight against climate change. Funding for vulnerable and developing nations, plans to ratchet up ambition at regular intervals and recognition of the role of indigenous knowledge will play major roles in future action.

The first step in realizing stronger goals for Canada begins now. Our government promised more ambitious targets and a framework for cutting carbon pollution and expanding renewable energy within 90 days of the conference, by March 11, 2016. We’ve learned Canadian leaders will stand up for important issues, but we need to push them to be as ambitious as possible. I believe Canada’s commitment will inspire people at all levels of society to propose ways to speed up our shift to clean, renewable energy, and reduce waste through greater energy efficiency.

The global community has taken a big step to get human civilization back on track. It’s up to us to ensure that the planet we want — with clean air, safe water, fertile soil and a stable climate — stays within reach, for our sake and the sake of our descendants.

By David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Climate and Clean Energy Communications and Research Specialist Steve Kux.


French-American Climate Talks on Texan Soil

Huffington Post/Blog (19 November 2015)

As the world mourns the victims of the terrorist attacks that took place last Friday in Paris, plans for the upcoming United Nations COP21 climate talks have shifted into crisis mode. The disaster will not stop the event from going on, but the atrocity underscores the need for an alternative strategy for galvanizing consistent climate action.

One approach: more effectively bridging the local and the global.

As a precursor to COP21, the French embassy developed the French Ameri-Can Climate Talks (FACTS) to raise awareness on global climate issues in North American cities. The talks brought public authorities at the federal, state and city levels together with academic, business and civic leaders to dialogue across sectors, compare approaches and identify ways forward.

The success of the talks highlights the value of city-level diplomacy for spurring climate commitments, with the benefits of a localized approach and on-the-ground leadership.

“FACTS are taking place all over America and Canada,” said French Consul General Sujiro Seam, who presented at events in Dallas (Sept. 17), Houston (Oct. 22) and Austin (Nov. 13).

With three out of the 12 cities on the program roster in Texas, my home state has become a FACTS focal point. As a top producer of fossil fuels and renewables, Texas is a stronghold of energy production, but the state is also the nation’s top emitter of energy-related CO2 emissions. These distinctions put Texas in a risky position when it comes to climate change.

According to the Risky Business Project, unmitigated climate change could accelerate the impact of floods, heat waves, hurricanes, tornadoes and water scarcity in Texas, leading to economic losses as well as loss of lives.

The Risky Business Project’s findings include the following impacts:

•             Texas is likely to have among the nation’s highest increases in heat-related deaths due to a changing climate.

•             Extreme heat will also likely decrease labor productivity for the 38% of state workers in high-risk, outdoor industries such as farming, manufacturing, and construction.

•             Without changes in agricultural practices and technologies, staple Texas crops like corn and cotton will likely face significant declines in yields.

•             Consumers will likely face higher electricity bills due to increased demand for air conditioning. Electricity system performance will also suffer declines from the impact of extreme heat on power lines and related grid infrastructure.

•             Rising seas and storm surges along the Texas coast are likely to cause substantial damage.

Talking climate in Texas

Investors and corporations in Texas are taking notice. In Dallas, the SMU Hunt Institute for Engineering & Humanity hosted Climate Extremes with support from Earth Day Texas, Schneider Electric and Air Liquide.

The half-day program featured opening remarks by Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, who insisted that climate change should not be a controversial or partisan issue. Great leaders solve difficult problems “not by pontificating but looking at reality the way it is, understanding what you have to work with and figuring out how to do it,” he said.

“For business, the added cost of cooling our buildings and protecting our workers from excess heat impacts the bottom line. The cost of getting raw materials through storm-ravaged areas can hold up production and cut into profit margins … and the fluctuating cost of a carbon-based transit system can impact the ability to forecast future growth.”

Two panels of experts whose scholarship and work are focused on climate issues reinforced the mayor’s message that climate action is good for business.

In keeping with the local-global connection, a unique feature of the event, Patrick Caron, CIRAD director general in charge of research and strategy, delivered the keynote while Earth Day Texas founder Trammell S. Crow gave remarks. Garrett Boone, co-founder of The Container Store and Chairman of the Board of TreeHouse, was also among the panelists. (The two business leaders have been teaming up for a greener state since launching the Texas Business for Clean Air coalition in 2006.)

“I’m very happy with how the Climate Extremes event turned out. I’m told that it was the single largest event on climate change ever organized in Dallas, with 300 participants from public figures to high school students and live-streaming,” Seam said.

The Houston event at Baker Institute at Rice University explored ways that climate change responses can provide business opportunities, including speakers from ENGIE, a multinational utility, as well as from power companies EDF and Edison Electric.

Panelists agreed that climate change presents substantial opportunities, particularly in renewable energy, energy efficiency and climate-smart technologies.


“We set out to mobilize stakeholders and organize events that would enable high-quality dialogue and debate about global climate change, and we accomplished this,” Seam said.

“Through these conversations, we discovered that climate change can be addressed at the local level so that people can decide on a course of action for themselves.”

Finding middle ground

That climate change adaptation can be business-friendly and localized is particularly important in states that resist federal mandates. Organizing a legislative briefing, Seam acknowledged that some Texan representatives and senators are “not very forthcoming on climate views.”

But he did find interest from a few individuals, including Sen. Rodney Ellis and Rep. Rafael Anchia, who told the Texas Tribune that “Texas businesses actually are far ahead of state lawmakers when it comes to acknowledging the warming trend.”

Seam also conveyed that there was also “a good level of responsiveness” from the Texas Renewable Energy Industry Alliance.

Fortunately, Texas has a number of pioneers in market-based solutions at its disposal. SMU Hunt Institute Director Eva Csaky, who hosted the Dallas event, spent 18 years at the World Bank forging private sector solutions for sustainable development.

“I have experienced the power of market-based solutions in many countries around the world,” said Csaky. “They have the potential to result in transformational impact by solving pressing environmental and social problems simultaneously.”

She added that the most successful examples all required multi-sector collaboration and social innovation. To that end, Csaky announced the launch of the Inclusive DFW Consortium, an initiative to enable stakeholders to collectively contribute to the development of market-based solutions for climate change adaptation and inclusive economic development in Texas.

Among the collaborators in the consortium is atmospheric scientist Katharine Hayhoe, one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people and leader of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech.

Bringing together faculty from top universities including Texas A&M, SMU, Rice, UT Austin and St. Edwards, FACTS events have helped spur initiatives whose effects will continue to reverberate long after COP21 is over.

“Texas definitely has a competitive edge. The state is extremely strong on research in energy and water,” said Seam.

I asked what the French government hoped to see come out of COP21. According to Seam, the French government expects:

1)            A new international agreement that would be universal, legally binding and ambitious enough to achieve the goal of maintaining global warming below 2 degrees Celsius

2)            Commitments from countries to act on climate at the national level. At least 158 counties have made commitments thus far. For example, the U.S. has committed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28% (compared to 2005 levels) by 2025.

3)            Approval of financial and technology package. It will take a lot of money to implement these solutions, in particular in developing countries.

4)            Recognition that climate action is not only a matter to be addressed through national governments, but also one that non-state actors can address.

In the meantime, non-state actors can address climate change. We don’t have to wait for a global conference to do it.

The FACTS conferences have activated this process in cities across America. Now, it’s up to citizens to keep the momentum going by holding leaders at every level accountable.

“Climate change is here for the long run. We’re mobilizing people to reduce global emissions,” said Seam. “Cities have a tremendous role they can play. I hope we end up with some strong commitments.”


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