Glasgow climate summit: U-M experts available to comment
Written by Jim Erickson
Delegates from nearly 200 countries will gather in Glasgow, Scotland, at the end of the month for the COP26 climate summit, described by some as a make-or-break chance to curb greenhouse gas emissions and stave off the worst ravages of climate change. University of Michigan experts are available to comment.
Jennifer Haverkamp, a veteran of seven U.N. climate summits, is a former ambassador and special representative in the Obama State Department, where she led U.S. negotiating teams to successful climate agreements under the Montreal Protocol and the U.N. International Civil Aviation Agreement. She is the director of the Graham Sustainability Institute and teaches at the Law School and Ford School of Public Policy.
Her areas of expertise include United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change diplomacy and negotiating dynamics, short-lived climate pollutants such as methane and hydrofluorocarbons, and issues at the intersection of climate change and international trade and competitiveness.
“The nations heading to Glasgow bear the grave responsibility of delivering commitments stringent enough to give us one last shot at avoiding catastrophic climate change,” she said. As the IPCC’s latest report made clear, we are incontrovertibly on the brink of making climate disasters the norm, and cutting potent short-lived climate pollutants like methane, nitrous oxides and HFCs are essential next steps.
“The Biden Administration will be welcomed back to the table, but as it presses others to do more, they’ll be looking for proof the U.S. can deliver on its own ambitious goals.”
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Trish Koman is an assistant research scientist in environmental health sciences at the School of Public Health and faculty research program manager at the College of Engineering Multidisciplinary Design. In recent studies led by Koman, researchers mapped the exposure to wildland fire smoke in California and the communities in Michigan that will bear the brunt of climate change.
“Global leaders have the opportunity to take decisive action at the COP26 climate summit to promote the health of children today and to safeguard their well-being into the future,” she said. “Children are especially vulnerable to negative consequences of climate change such as from air pollution, heat, and extreme weather.
“As the IPCC report shows, we still have time to take bold action to curtail harmful carbon emissions and other planet-warming pollutants. To promote health, especially for children and vulnerable groups, we need to make immediate and sustained progress towards a low carbon future.”
Avik Basu, an environmental psychologist at the School for Environment and Sustainability, will lead a delegation of 13 U-M graduate students to the Glasgow summit. The students will observe the negotiations, attend side events and interact with various experts. U-M has sent student delegations to U.N. climate change conferences since 2009, and Basu was involved in the 2015 Paris climate summit.
Basu’s research focuses on the behavioral side of environmental challenges and includes addressing climate adaptation in the developing world through scenario planning. He helped establish a partnership between U-M and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which has led to student projects on climate adaptation in the Seychelles, Namibia and Nepal.
“Due to the pandemic-induced postponement of COP26, the countries of the world are behind in their negotiations to decide on how to implement the 2015 Paris Agreement,” he said. “Key negotiations to be carried out at the upcoming COP26 include increasing climate ambition from each country, determining how carbon markets will work, and financing climate action.
“The University of Michigan students attending COP26 represent the generation who will be impacted by climate change and will have to adapt to it. Their understanding of climate efforts at the international level can help them, in their careers, know which levers they can push to mitigate and adapt to climate change.”
Kaitlin Raimi, associate professor at the Ford School of Public Policy, is an expert on climate change communication and behavior. She investigates how individual actions to act on climate change interact with support for public policies. She also studies public perceptions of carbon removal techniques and how learning about these strategies affects public support for actions to reduce emissions in the first place.
“While most people are very aware of climate change itself, less than 20% of the public has ever heard of carbon removal,” she said. “Experts fear that the increasing discussion of carbon removal could lull people (both members of the public and policymakers) into thinking that these strategies are a technological silver bullet—that we don’t need to worry about polluting CO2 into the atmosphere because we can always vacuum it up later. Some studies have indeed found that learning about carbon removal can undermine public support for emissions-reductions policies.
“The truth is that carbon removal cannot replace efforts to reduce emissions; it is at best a strategy to help reach climate goals alongside substantial emissions reductions. The good news is that this misperception is easily corrected: When people are simply told that strategies like carbon removal are only a small piece in the big puzzle of climate action, they get it. Thus, both policymakers at COP26 and reporters covering it need to make clear to the public that even if carbon removal is included in the portfolio of strategies to meet climate goals, most of our efforts still need to focus on reducing emissions.”
“To cut the carbon footprint of the built environment, it is imperative to deploy concrete with low embodied and operational carbon,” he said. “This means concretes that can permanently sequester CO2, and which are extremely durable and contribute to eliminating repeated infrastructure repair. Such technology is currently available, waiting to be scaled.”
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Joseph Eisenberg, professor of epidemiology at the School of Public Health, is an expert on infectious disease epidemiology. He is part of a group of scientists who are involved with the Modeling Infectious Disease Agents Study, an NIH-funded program that focuses on infectious disease transmission modeling with a particular focus on waterborne pathogens.
He’s done extensive research in coastal Ecuador, which is experiencing increasingly dramatic and unpredictable patterns of flooding and drought because of climatic variability and change, including research showing the impact climate in the tropics has on transmission of rotavirus.
“Increasing extreme weather events will result in shifting patterns of infectious disease spread,” he said. “Some regions will have more stable transmission and other regions less stable transmission, and this will vary across infectious diseases. Public health surveillance will need to learn how to adapt to these changing patterns.”
Jonathan Overpeck is an interdisciplinary climate scientist and dean of the School for Environment and Sustainability. He is an expert on paleoclimate, climate-vegetation interactions, climate and weather extremes, sea-level rise, the impacts of climate change and options for dealing with it. He served as a lead author on the authoritative Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2007 and 2014 reports.
“The year 2021 has been unprecedented in terms of climate disasters, both in the United States and around the globe, and is a clear sign that the climate crisis is becoming truly dangerous to society and the planet,” he said. “It is also clear that climate adaptation is essential, but not sufficient.
“To avoid much greater impact of climate change, the major carbon-emitting nations of the globe must act now to make major greenhouse gas emission reductions before 2030, and to keep global warming from exceeding 1.5 to 2.0 degrees C above preindustrial levels,” he said. “Otherwise, we run a serious risk of crossing climate system thresholds beyond which much larger, and largely irreversible, climate changes and impacts become unavoidable. Politicians in Washington, D.C., and at the Glasgow COP26 need to do whatever it takes to save the planet and its people from a truly devastating future.”
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Mark Flanner is a professor of climate and space sciences and engineering at the College of Engineering. His research focuses on understanding processes that govern the cryosphere—the Earth’s ice sheets and glaciers.
“Events of the last decade have shown us that climate change is here and now,” he said. “Although coordinated action is needed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, there is also room to mitigate some warming through emissions of other pollutants like methane, black carbon and halocarbons.”
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Kyle Whyte, professor of environmental justice at the School for Environment and Sustainability, serves on the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council and is an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. He is also a contributing author of the North America chapter in the IPCC’s next Working Group II report, which assesses climate change impacts, adaptation and vulnerability. He also leads a subsection on Indigenous peoples and climate change in that report.
“Climate change impacts pose severe risks for communities who have experienced generations of economic, social, cultural and political discrimination,” he said. “It remains to be seen whether countries will genuinely come to the table with solutions to lowering their carbon footprints that are—at the same time—environmentally just solutions.
“For generations, many Indigenous peoples have endured land grabs and environmental degradation at the hands of businesses and governments. It is now widely documented that land dispossession and pollution contribute to making some Indigenous peoples more vulnerable to current and future climate change impacts.
“Indigenous peoples are among the most active groups in the world calling for the transformation of energy systems toward reliance on just and renewable energy. Countries that fail to respect Indigenous peoples’ self-determination, consent and aspirations for renewable energy economies will set forward policies that deepen environmental injustice and slow the transition to sustainability.”
Sue Anne Bell, assistant professor at the School of Nursing, is a nurse scientist, nurse practitioner and disaster expert. Her research focuses broadly on the health effects of disasters and the impact of climate change on human health within a health equity framework. She is particularly interested in the long-term impact of disasters on human’s health, in developing policy that protects and promotes health throughout the disaster management cycle, and in the relationship between community resilience, health disparities and disasters.
“Extreme weather events, from wildfires to floods to hurricanes, are devastating communities across the globe with increasing frequency and severity,” she said. “What is badly needed is to be able to take a proactive approach to these events, one that considers mitigation and adaptation strategies, rather than the current reactive approach that is employed. We have to find a way to get ahead of these events.”
Todd Allen is professor and chair of nuclear engineering and radiological sciences at the College of Engineering and founding director of Fastest Path to Zero, an interdisciplinary U-M initiative that helps communities meet ambitious climate goals. He has written about the role that nuclear energy can play, including this op-ed in The Hill: “Global climate efforts require nuclear energy—and the US is positioned to lead.”
“President Biden pledged to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to 50% of 2005 levels by 2030,” he said. “Nuclear energy accounts for half of our existing zero-carbon electricity, but nuclear power plant shutdowns such as Palisades in Michigan are going ahead. We can’t keep our promises by continuing to replace nuclear power with hopes, good intentions and fossil fuels.”
Volker Sick is a professor of mechanical engineering at the College of Engineering and director of the Global CO2 Initiative, a $4.5 million effort at U-M to accelerate the process of removing carbon dioxide from the air and turning it into useful products. Learn more about the effort and how it could lead to making Nike Airs out of air in this podcast.
“Strategies to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere need to be part of our approach to limiting climate change, and they will scale best if they are also economically sustainable,” he said. “We propose global standards for comparing different technologies based on how well they fix carbon dioxide and for their profit and market potential. These will be necessary to guide both research and private investment—and fairly evaluate claims for carbon removal incentives such as the U.S. tax code 45Q.”
Richard Rood, professor of climate and space sciences and engineering at the College of Engineering, is an expert on U.S. weather modeling and can discuss the connection between weather, climate and society. He is also a co-principal investigator at GLISA, the Great Lakes Integrated Sciences and Assessments, a federally funded partnership between U-M and Michigan State University.
“The pressure is growing on all parties as we run up to COP26 in Glasgow. The extraordinary heat and flooding of summer 2021 in the Northern Hemisphere has heightened public concern about climate change and, in some cases, sent a shock through some scientists and policymakers,” he said. “The resurgence of coal and oil use after the pandemic have sharpened the pincers of the reality we face as energy security, economic security and environmental security tighten on each other.
“The need to add substance and teeth to the Paris Agreement will be at the forefront of the meeting, but the importance of having widespread, regional, realistic approaches to address the inevitability of sustained warming will be emerging as the intractability of the global response becomes accepted.”
U-M will send 13 student observers to the COP26 meeting, and Rood co-led a course training the students ahead of the event.
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Jeremy Bricker is an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at the College of Engineering and heads the Hydraulic and Coastal Engineering Lab. His research focuses on threats posed to infrastructure by climate change and severe weather events.
“Climate change forces us to enact both mitigation and adaptation measures,” he said. “Mitigation is helped by energy storage, to smooth the difference between power consumption and intermittent generation by renewable sources. A mix of storage technologies for different timescales is needed, and mature technologies like pumped hydro storage should play a large role in this.
“Adaptation also encompasses a variety of options, including grey and green measures, as well as retreat from areas that become hazardous. Do we take a reactive or proactive approach?”
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Peter Adriaens is a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the College of Engineering and a lead researcher at the Center for Smart Infrastructure Finance. His research focuses on new and efficient funding mechanisms for public and private infrastructure systems.
“It is estimated that $4 trillion will need to be invested over the next 10 years to stabilize carbon emissions,” he said. “Climate finance policies, particularly in the EU, but discussions being initiated in the U.S., are increasingly requiring that environmental (or ESG) performance of investments needs to be tracked and made transparent to investors and the public.
“Our work seeks to integrate the financial and environmental performance of climate adaptation investments into rules-based smart contracts on the blockchain to reduce the disclosure friction that currently exists in the market disclosures of such performance. Blockchain Triangle, one of our partners in the Center for Smart Infrastructure Finance, was selected as one of 10 companies globally to present the value proposition of its ‘ESG token’ at COP26.”
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Aubree Gordon, associate professor of epidemiology at the School of Public Health, works on infectious disease epidemiology and global health, particularly the epidemiologic features and transmission of influenza. She is an investigator with the Centers of Excellence for Influenza Research and Response and director of the new Michigan Center for Infectious Diseases Threats and Pandemic Preparedness. She can discuss the impact that climate change can have in exacerbating the likelihood of future pandemics.
“Due to climate change and increasing global populations, it is likely that the emergence of viruses with the potential to cause large outbreaks or pandemics will only increase in the coming decades,” she said.
Barry Rabe is a professor at the Ford School of Public Policy and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. He is the author of the 2020 book “Trump, the Administrative Presidency, and Federalism,” which examines U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement and other executive actions whereby former President Trump reversed direction from former President Obama.
“The upcoming COP26 meeting presents a major test of the ability of the United States to not only pledge renewed commitment to climate action but whether it can actually make a convincing case that it will actually deliver on any pledges,” he said.
“The U.S. leadership desperately wants to demonstrate credibility after a quarter century of ups and downs in American policy and a general failure to sustain a serious climate mitigation commitment. Pending decisions in Congress will have enormous influence on whether the U.S. can emerge as a credible player internationally.”
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