Survival is the Priority of Some at COP21

2015-12-06-12-02-55-FullSizeRender (2)This morning, our Education Ambassador group met with two leaders in climate change work in Minnesota: Rep. Melissa Hortman and former MN state Senator Ellen Anderson, who spoke of Minnesota’s legislative history around renewable energy. It was exciting to hear Rep. Hortman talk about Obama’s work around energy, including:

  • In 2009, the bailout deal for automakers included improving fuel economy standards, setting a goal of 54.5 mpg by 2025 for new cars.
  • In 2013, Obama’s unveiled a 75-point Climate Action Plan in an address at Georgetown.
  • In 2015, China and the US reached a bilateral agreement on climate policy, with China agreeing to peak its emissions and the US pledging to cut emissions 26% by 2030.

Ellen Anderson, who directs the Energy Transition Lab at the U of M and acts as energy advisor for Governor Dayton, outlined her work on solar energy in the U.S. Her recent work includes writing solar proposals for U.S. universities. She wants to demonstrate that solar and other renewable energy systems are viable and can function in a way that brings economic prosperity. On climate change, she noted that the most vulnerable countries are also some of the poorest, with low-lying islands facing some of the highest risks. For these countries, energy is not the top priority at COP21; survival is.

2015-12-06-12-02-38-FullSizeRender (1)In the afternoon, our group went to a UNESCO event with actor and environmental activist Robert Redford and a panel of indigenous leaders from Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and the Marshall Islands. Each speaker focused on storytelling to convey the urgency for action on climate change. The Papua New Guinea leader stated, “Drinking water is scarce. Now we have difficulty to live. That’s what I want to tell you.” He showed a brief movie about his island, how people live, and the deforestation that threatens their way of life.

The speaker from the Marshall Islands, Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, talked about her homeland as being the ground zero of climate change. She is pushing for the Paris agreement to recognize a goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius versus the more popular 2 degrees. She stated, “At 2 degrees, my island is underwater.”

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