EVST Professor Dan Spencer

dan spencer at cop24 climate change conference

Attends United Nations COP 24 Climate Change Conference in Poland

EVST Professor Dan Spencer and recently retired Philosophy Instructor Pat Burke recently attended the United Nations COP 24 climate change conference in Katowice, Poland December 2-9, 2018. As part of a sabbatical leave, Spencer has been studying ecological restoration in places as diverse as Iceland and the Greek’s Aegean islands, spending the month of October on the island of Tilos, which is in the process of becoming the first carbon neutral island in the Aegean. They followed two months in Greece with ten days in Poland to witness firsthand the UNFCC process of setting international standards so that nation signatories to the historic 2015 Paris Accords have a way to measure their progress on reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.

The conference proceedings were made more urgent by the recent publication of two critical reports: In October, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released their Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5 C that documents that even holding global warming to 1.5 C – 0.5 degree below the Paris target will lead to very disruptive ecological and social change across the globe. To prevent global warming beyond 1.5 C, the earth community must decrease greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2030 (only 11 years away) and reach net zero by 2050. A month later, in November, the US Government released its fourth National Climate Assessment that concluded that unless we rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, “rising temperatures, sea level rise, and changes in extreme events are expected to increasingly disrupt and damage critical infrastructure and property, labor productivity, and the vitality of our communities.”

As Burke noted, “The effects of climate change have been more serious and accelerated than any of the scientists thought. The science says we’ve got to figure out how to keep 1.5 degrees as an absolute maximum. Even then, we’re going to experience potentially disastrous results.”

Despite these grim reports, there were many encouraging developments among the nearly 23,000 attendees at COP24. The official delegates did succeed in crafting the rules to measure GHG emissions from each nation state. Because the Trump administration has vowed to withdraw from the Paris accords in 2020, the main US presence at COP 24 was the We're Still In coalition of cities, states, and NGOs, that showcased a range of climate actions taking place across the U.S. And the presence of thousands of delegates under the age of 30 brought youthful energy, idealism and commitment to the heart of the conference, while putting the spot light on the need for climate justice.

But the challenges ahead to keep warming below 1.5 C are sobering. “There are many good small-scale efforts to move in the right direction. But we’re not talking about incremental changes over the next 20 or 30 years–we’re talking about the need to become carbon-neutral over the next 15 years," noted Burke. "It’s going to take the kind of close cooperation of nation-states that we have never seen. It’s not just screwing in a few fluorescent light bulbs or developing electric cars. It’s a huge challenge.”

Or, as Spencer concluded, “If I were a betting person, given the daunting challenge, we don’t stand much of a chance. But what I sometimes say is, “There’s no hope, so let’s get to work.”