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AMWA Conference Closing Remarks

It’s been an interesting and inspiring few days and we’ve heard a lot of different perspectives. So much important science has been discussed and many solutions have been explored.  We have daunting and ambitious goals before us.  As we close the conference, I feel both the weight of these daunting challenges but also optimism that perhaps the ship is turning, and we are heading in the right direction.  To achieve the 2-degree pathway, we will need to be at net zero emissions by 2100.  To meet the original 1.5-degree pathway goal, we need to be at net zero by more like the year 2070. If we’re not on that path, the UN predicts we will have as many as 1 billion climate refugees by the middle of this century.  

Within our compelling mission to decarbonize, perhaps the most important challenge is electrification. We will have to essentially rewire the electrical grid which will require modernization and a doubling in the size of our existing grid. This means adding 1 million more electricians globally as we electrify everything with renewable energy.   

In terms of global GHG emissions, we have made precious little progress on reductions which is highly concerning. Globally GHG emissions aren’t coming down, the best we can say is they have stabilized.  There remain some confounding trends that don’t seem to be improving quickly enough.  For example, 40% of ship traffic GHG emissions are from the movement of fossil fuels across oceans. In terms of the ancillary costs of our fossil fuels-based economy, the UNEP estimates roughly 9 million people per year globally are exposed to levels of combustion particulate that are the key driver to respiratory health risk and death.  A wonderful co-benefit of decarbonization will be vast improvement in air quality particularly in overburdened communities.  Clearly, a greater worldwide focus is needed on meeting interim emissions reduction targets to achieve the ultimate goal of zero net emissions and carbon neutrality. Our most critical task is precisely to embrace a sense of urgency. With that in mind, we have to acknowledge the challenges, but we also need to embrace the good news and, after working for three decades within the sustainability and climate discipline, I can say that the good news is encouraging, inspiring and hopeful.

Let’s first zoom in on the southern hemisphere at the location of our planet’s lungs, so vital to our survival in terms of climate and biodiversity; this is of course the Amazon rain forest.  Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s victory and commitment to rain forest preservation and carbon sequestration and management is heartening indeed. Lula, Brazil’s both historical and incoming president, was greeted enthusiastically at COP27.  Lula has vowed to reverse the destruction of the Amazon rainforest that accelerated under president, Jair Bolsonaro. He promised the conference the Amazon would reach “zero deforestation” by the end of the decade and said “There is no climate security for the world without a protected Amazon”.

Meanwhile, in the US, the Biden administration has earmarked $450 Billion for the greening of our economy with a percentage targeted for overburdened and indigenous communities within the infrastructure bill and the Inflation Reduction Act. The Inflation Reduction Act makes clean energy cheaper by aligning financial incentives with decarbonization which gives a lot more folks in the US better reasons to work on clean tech development.  If implemented properly, the Act will also encourage new manufacturing around clean technology and create millions of new jobs within the sector throughout the US.

As the clock ticks, and projected climate impacts become observed impacts, we also see more progress now than ever before. The recent push for decarbonization has become such an important focus, and a central task of our era that is driving much important innovation. Here are some recent examples of initiatives taking place on a global, international level to decarbonize the planet: 

 •    The Mission Innovation Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) Launchpad is a coalition of countries launching a global effort to advance CDR projects for negative emissions. Members include Canada, the European Commission, Japan, Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Each member has committed to build at least one pilot or demonstration by 2025. The CDR Launchpad is the first ‘sprint’ of the Innovation CDR Mission, which was launched at COP26 last year.

•    National governments and major cement companies have joined a global public-private commitment to scale up Decarbonizing Cement with Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage (CCUS) in the cement sector. Organizations will collaborate on technical, economic and social dimensions of early cement CCUS projects to show how the field can develop rapidly, effectively, and responsibly.

•    Then, there’s the UN International Maritime Organization which set a goal to cut the maritime greenhouse gas emissions by at least half by 2050. One approach to decarbonization is cold ironing, where a vessel shuts down all on-board power generation from diesel engines and connects to shore power supplied by the local utility. Using renewable utility energy, the industry can lower in-port CO₂ and other pollutant emissions up to 98% almost overnight. As a result, custom shore power systems are increasingly popping up at ports throughout North America. 

On a regional level, there’s been much progress in my corner of the world with California’s leadership on Carbon Neutrality. Led by Governor Newson, the State of California has done a great deal to set the framework for achieving carbon neutrality.  Let’s take a brief look at how California is planning on addressing this big, daunting, ambitious goal through the set of recently passed regulations which includes California's statewide carbon neutrality by no later than 2045, achieving net negative greenhouse gas emissions, renewable energy at 100% by 2045, creation of a carbon capture and storage program, and carbon sequestration and emissions reductions on natural lands.   

While it’s obviously not all about California, we do have the world’s 5th largest economy and draw lots of attention globally, and California’s regulatory framework provides much needed leadership on climate.

Moving more locally to cities and counties, we’ve seen an increase in those adopting climate action plans, or CAPs. CAPs are the tools we use to try and meet GHG reduction targets and to adapt and become more resilient to climate challenges.  CAPs are meant to be comprehensive roadmaps that outline the specific activities that agencies will undertake to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  

More personally, I serve on my county’s Sustainability Commission and we’ve established a low-carbon cement ordinance to ensure we are using the least carbon intensive building materials available.  These types of local actions are much more available and possible than they were even a few years ago.  Positive actions like this are happening in other cities and counties across the world as the climate for climate action is much improved

Let’s finish with a flourish and a lighting round, if you will, of recent good climate news: 

•    The large furniture and home goods retailer IKEA has committed to make all deliveries fully electric by 2025,

•    Engineers at Purdue University have created the whitest-ever paint which could greatly reduce the demand for air conditioning, it has the cooling power of 10 kilowatts, more powerful than the central AC for most houses

•    An all-electric airplane just completed its first successful test flight.  The E-viation Alice plane holds 9 passengers and flew for eight minutes before landing.

•    530,000 new battery-electric vehicles were registered in the U.S. between January and September. That’s a 57 percent increase over EV registrations from the same period in 2021.

There are so any positive climate developments, I could go on. But let me say that the challenge is daunting, we will need to be both resilient and adaptive as move into the future, but as someone who has toiled in the sustainability and climate space for over three decades, I can honestly say that never have I felt more optimistic.  I’d like to finish with a quote from one of the most resilient and adaptive human beings who ever walked this earth…Nelson Mandela... “It always seems impossible until it is done.”  

Thank you and I hope to see you at another climate event soon as we all try to get this done by sharing data, success stories and lessons learned collaboratively.


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