More than 1,200 United States governors, mayors, businesses, investors, and colleges and universities released a statement yesterday titled “We Are Still In,” declaring their continued support of the Paris Climate Agreement.
The businesses and investors speaking out for climate action include 20 Fortune 500 companies that generate $1.4 trillion in revenue annually. Participating city and state leaders collectively represent 120 million Americans ranging from New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio to Palo Alto Mayor Greg Scarff.
Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie and Dubuque Mayor Roy D. Buol are among the signatories. Cownie said in a written statement, “The recent action by the White House to withdraw from the Paris Agreement does not stop Des Moines’ efforts in advancing our own efforts on climate change. Cities like Des Moines will continue to work to make our communities more sustainable places to live.” Other statement endorsers from Iowa include state Attorney General Tom Miller; J. Bruce Harreld, president of the University of Iowa; Raynard Kington, president of Grinnell College; Paula Carlson, president of Luther College.
Cownie is in good company. Since the White House withdrew from the Paris Agreement, 17 governors have released statements in support of the accord, 13 governors formed the U.S. Climate Alliance and 211 mayors have independently taken on the climate action goals outlined in the Paris Agreement for their communities.
The “We Are Still In” press release concludes, “Today’s statement embraces this rapidly growing movement of subnational and civil society leaders, by announcing that not only are these leaders stepping forward, they are stepping forward together.”
Below, CGRER co-director Jerry Scnhoor interviews Mayor Cownie at COP21 in 2015.
President Trump is expected to back out of the Paris Climate Agreement, a 2015 climate accord that committed most of the world’s nations to limiting greenhouse gases. CGRER co-director, Dr. Jerry Schnoor, responded to the White House’s decision in a statement authored on May 31, 2017:
“President Donald Trump expects to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement this week. It is a sad time for U.S. leadership in the world. We should remain in the Agreement that we faithfully signed for important environmental, political, and economic reasons.
Climate change is already here – even in Iowa – and it is going to get much worse if we do not reduce our greenhouse gas emissions that are accumulating in the atmosphere and heating the planet. We recognize climate change in the Cedar Rapids flood of 2008, from which we are still recovering, and the (extremely unusual) Cedar River Basin flood of September last year. Temperatures are warmer, especially at night and in the winter. Intense precipitation is more severe and frequent. It is a wetter/warmer Iowa with more humidity in the air and greater runoff in our rivers.
At the global scale, ice is breaking and melting – in the Arctic, Greenland, Antarctica and land-based continental glaciers everywhere. Animals, which depend on the ice for fishing and hunting, like polar bears, are in trouble. Oceans are 30% more acidic than 50 years ago due to carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels, subsequently bleaching coral reefs and undermining fisheries. More frequent droughts and floods affect agriculture and food supplies. Sea level is rising and already influencing real estate prices and the number of days with “clear sky” flooding in the streets in Miami. Impacts on human health, heat stroke, air quality, pollen, emphysema and asthma, and the migration of mosquitoes and ticks as vectors of disease are especially worrisome.
Politically, the U.S. is losing its credibility in the world as a stable partner whether one speaks of the Paris Climate Agreement, NAFTA, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or NATO. Once broken, trust is hard to restore. America First means everyone else be damned, and friends can be difficult to find in times of need. Moral and ethical reasons would dictate that the richest country, which dumped more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than any other nation, should be the first to act. I stood in Paris with representatives from the most vulnerable nations like the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, and the Maldives, who are already losing whole islands to sea level rise and abandoning ancestral homes. I listened in Paris to coastal nations like Bangladesh, Senegal, Mozambique, and the Philippines, embattled by improbable storm surge and increasingly powerful storms. And my heart cries for the children of drought and famine in South Sudan, Somalia, and Ethiopia. These vulnerable countries profited the least from the fossil fuel age, but they suffer the most.
It is not often when 194 countries agree on anything. What makes the Paris Climate Agreement unique is that for the first time, nearly every nation (rich and poor alike) agreed on an equitable “bottom-up” plan to decrease emissions and to fund the most vulnerable nations. It is certainly not a perfect agreement, and it does not go far enough to stem the tide of climate change. More will be needed.
But the U.S. will not be a party to the agreement, and that is a major economic mistake. It is quite possible that China and President Xi Jinping will step into the limelight and lead the world forward. After all, China is already the world’s leading producer of solar photovoltaic panels and wind power. Interestingly, the Chinese written word for “crisis” has two characters. One character means “danger”, and there is certainly danger in the effects of climate change, both now and in the future. The other character stands for “opportunity”. It is the economic opportunity that the U.S. will miss, which China realizes fully. Transitioning from the fossil fuel age represents a great opportunity to create jobs, wealth, and prosperity for our children and for future generations. Iowa has already benefitted tremendously from wind power, turbine manufacturing, and energy efficiency. We stand to profit as well from solar photovoltaics, if we can but understand the crisis of climate change.”
Jerry Schnoor is Professor of Environmental Engineering and Co-Director of the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research at the University of Iowa. He attended the Paris Climate Convention in December 2015 as an official member of the media.
PARIS – Experts from around the world weighed in on the importance of carbon sequestration and other sustainable agricultural practices during a conference Thursday morning.
The United Nations General Assembly declared 2015 “the International Year of Soil” which was the focus of the “Agroeology and Soil Solutions” conference in the Green Zone at COP 21. The event featured a four-person panel with each participant having expertise in a different aspect of agriculture or soil science. Before the panel gave their individual presentations, the approximately 50 attendees were shown a four-minute documentary produced by the Center for Food Safety and narrated by food journalist Michael Pollan.
“In one handful of soil there are more organisms than there are humans on earth and we are only beginning to understand the vast network of beings right beneath our feet,” Pollan said in the film’s opening scene.
The short film discussed the impact of over-farming and other unsustainable practices that remove carbon from the soil and release it into the atmosphere, contributing to rising temperatures and other effects of climate change.
Hans Herren – President and CEO of the Washington D.C.-based Millennium Institute – was the first panelist to present. Herren holds a PhD in Biological Control from the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland and part of his presentation focused on the science behind carbon sequestration as he emphasized the need for dietary changes to improve soil health.
“If you don’t change the diet farmers can’t change the way they produce. People’s behavior in terms of diet is essential,” he said.
Kristine Nichols – Chief Scientist for the Pennsylvania-based Rodale Institute – was next to take the podium as she focused on research her center had done on a farm in Ohio. Nichols – who holds a PhD in Soil Science from the University of Maryland – said the carbon problem can actually be part of the solution.
“Really what we’ve got is a carbon problem and the problem is that we don’t have carbon in our soil.”
Nichols also addressed the negative effects of synthetic fertilizer and ways in which agriculture has become less efficient over the past half century.
“It takes more synthetic nitrogen fertilizer now to grow a ton of grain than it used to take in 1960,” she said. “Our systems are becoming far more inefficient because we’re not utilizing the biology.”
Nichols concluded her presentation with an interactive demonstration of the ability of different soils to retain water, showing that healthy soil can more easily retain moisture and filter excess liquid down to groundwater. Water retention not only helps soils to be more healthy but it also mitigates erosion and nutrient run off, both of which are concerns for farmers in Iowa.
The last of the panelists to speak was Precious Phiri, founder of the Zimbabwe-based EarthWisdom Consulting Co. Phiri focused on ways that grasslands, waterways, and livelihoods can be improved for African farmers and ranchers through better livestock management practices.
“We depend on livestock to get back our grasslands,” she said, adding “Overgrazing is an issue of time and not numbers.”
Phiri pointed out several examples in her homeland where proper grazing and agricultural techniques led to more permanent vegetation and waterways in the arid region.
The event concluded with a short question and answer session. During this time Nichols addressed the need for good research and the dissemination of information as well as strong policy that can lead to improved conditions.
“We needs to provide consistent and good information to people,” she said, adding “It is policies on the departmental level that would be beneficial.”
PARIS – Representatives from various European nations got together as part of a COP 21 conference on Wednesday to discuss the role of the insurance industry when dealing with the natural disasters, many of which are worsened by the effects of climate change.
Caisse Centrale de Réassurance (CCR) sponsored the conference entitled “The challenges of natural disasters insurance against the future climate.” Margareta Wahlström – who serves as the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction at the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction – kicked off the event by discussing the relationship between natural disasters and climate change to roughly 200 people in the Green Zone’s Nelson Mandela Auditorium.
“The face of climate change unfortunately is the increasing frequency, the increasing cost – be it social economic and political – of the disruptive phenomenon we call [natural] disasters,” she said. “I think the questions we want to debate today are about how and where can the insurance agency do more to be part of the solution.”
She emphasized the need to understand the social impacts of natural disasters which can have devastating effects on communities.
“What is the impact on education? Employment? Poverty?” she asked, adding “Almost every disaster in world increases poverty in rich countries and in poor countries.”
Following Wahlström’s presentation, the auditorium was shown the premier of “Get Ready: Adapting to cope with natural disasters,” a 30-minute documentary that highlighted several recent natural disasters around the world and the role that insurance and mitigation efforts can play in the aftermath of such events.
One such event was the serve flooding that hit Thailand in 2011, resulting in more than 800 deaths and $32 billion in damage. The ripple effects of the floods were seen worldwide as prices rose for hard drives and automobiles produced in the southeast Asian country.
The documentary also addressed efforts taken by communities to mitigate the effects of flooding and other natural disasters. The southern French town of Sommières was one place where new ideas have been implemented to mitigate the effects of flooding. Sommières now has it so that only businesses can occupy the ground level of buildings throughout the four square mile town. Additionally, the town installed mobile electric boxes and parking meters which can be easily removed in the event of another flood. In 2012, the United Nations recognized Sommières as a model city for its efforts to mitigate flood damage.
Another example of mitigation efforts came from a Duth engineer who designed a way to put homes, roads, and other structures on floats that rise and lower with the level of the water. Similar efforts have been tried in England and France has considered adopting such measures.
The conference concluded with a panel of insurance experts discussing various ways that insurance companies can adapt their services to better serve the needs of those affected by natural disasters. Much of the discussion focused on increased cooperation between private insurance companies and governmental agencies. (Editorial Note:I’ve chosen not to quote any of the panelists as many of them spoke in French and I was only able to understand them through an English translator.)
CGRER met up with Dubuque mayor Roy Buol at the COP 21 conference in Paris on Tuesday to discuss initiatives he and other mayors around the world have taken to address climate change.
*Some quotes have been edited for length and clarity*
FETTY: I understand that you’re over here in Paris to meet with other mayors along the Mississippi River to discuss water quality, agriculture, and other issues. What have you discussed thus far?
BUOL: I’m here with three other mayors from Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative and we’re here to talk to other mayors from other river basins about sustainability with a focus on clean water and food production. We’ve had some good meetings. We had an event in the Blue Zone yesterday and have another one today to announce what we’ve come up with and I think we might even have some signatories to that agreement.
FETTY: What are some of the initiatives that Dubuque has been doing in regard to sustainability and adapting to climate change? Are there any ideas you have recommended to the other mayors?
BUOL: I’ll tell you about some of the things that other mayors have ask me about. There are over 500 mayors here at the COP which I think really has brought a new energy to COP 21. In Dubuque we have three major projects in regard to sustainability and resilience. We have the Bee Branch Storm Water Project that we’re actually daylighting the creek to one of our older neighborhoods that’s had six disaster declarations in the last twelve years from flooding and flash flooding. So this project will literally create a creek that will redirect water at a very slow speed and when it’s not flooded it will serve as a linear park in one of our more challenged neighborhoods. It will be doing a lot of things to help clean that water as it drains into the Mississippi River. So that’s a climate resilience piece that we’re addressing.
Our historic Millwork District which is basically vacant and abandoned, we’re refocusing those old buildings into apartments, retail space, space for the arts. We received one of the first TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grants for streets. We have pervious pavers which will control runoff and filter water back into the system naturally.
Our third major project was our Water Resource and Recovery Center which was a 70 million dollar project. It replaces what used to be an incineration system for storm water. Today the byproduct of that process is fertilizer for farm fields and methane for capturing, cleaning, and putting into six micro-turbines that will produce the power that will actually run that facility and provide heat that will help with the digestive process. We’re looking at expanding that as we get richer types of waste. Also, we can actually compress that CNG (natural gas) to be used in the future.
FETTY: Are there any ideas that other mayors have discussed that would be applicable to Dubuque?
BUOL: We just had some discussions with other river basins about what they’re doing to clean water. Many of them are similar to the things we’re doing on the Mississippi. Creating flyways for instance, creating those backwater settings where migratory birds and things can live and water can be filtered through those areas. Creating hydropower has been done in many countries as a way to get away from petroleum-powered energy sources. There are a lot of similarities to what we’re doing. When we talk to people from these other river basins, especially in arid areas, where they have these extensive droughts, and we have these tremendous rainstorms, so they’re dealing with something a little different of a situation than we are on the Mississippi. For us it’s about clean water, taking the nutrients out of the water to make it cleaner for everyone down river. By 2050 we’re looking at another two-and-a-half billion people in the world. We’ll be at nine-and-a-half billion people. You put that on top of the fact that we’re going to dealing with some climate change that’s really going to change the way that food is produced. In the United States it’s an engineered process. We can plant a lot of crops in a very short period of time. We have seeds that are resilient to drought. Those types of things other countries don’t have. But if we meet that nexus where we’re providing food for the rest of the world and other basins aren’t up to speed, it will devastate our farming. It will create water really rich in nutrients that will contribute to the gulf hypoxic zones that we already have. We’re dealing with some major issues in the future if we don’t start to mitigate them now and help other river basins create that resiliency.
FETTY: Why is the issue of climate change something that Iowans should care about?
BUOL: The reality is that the climate is changing and it’s changing at a rate that has really accelerated compared to past history. The ebbs and flows of climate. I’m convinced man is a part of that process and we’re already seeing those changes occurring across the country, across the world. Extreme rains events, extreme drought events, temperature rises, sea-level rises. If we don’t start to mitigate those things now we’re going to be a point soon that it’s irreversible. One thing that I’ve heard here mentioned a lot of times is people talking about a different kind of energy with this COP 21 and that’s based on the number of mayors here and the projects that are happening in their cities which is really making a difference. Creating those best practices as examples that can be used globally. It seems to be a different COP from what I’ve heard from a lot of participants from around the world.
FETTY: Yesterday we spoke with Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie and he talked about how it can be easier to get things done at the city level as opposed to the state or federal level since it is a smaller level of government. Do you agree?
BUOL: I think it does work better at the local level. Our constituents have our phone numbers, they know where we live, they meet us on the street. It’s easier to form partnerships at the lower levels of government. In Dubuque for instance we have every entity that you can think of on board with our sustainable resiliency policies. Everything from the Chamber to businesses to nonprofits to schools to city government. Even individuals who step up and get excited about a project when they know they’re going to make a difference. They become part of the solution. When we created Sustainable Dubuque we had a citizen commission of forty people that engaged the community to see what they wanted sustainability to look like and that been hugely successful in our undertaking since then because the people feel like they’re part of that decision-making process.
Check back tomorrow for more Iowa-focused coverage from COP 21.
As the COP 21 climate conference enters its second week, three representatives from the University of Iowa’s Center for Global and regional Environmental Research (CGRER) are on the ground in Paris to cover the event. CGRER co-director Jerry Schnoor and graduate assistants Nick Fetty and KC McGinnis got together Monday afternoon for a question and answer session with Des Moines mayor Frank Cownie.
*Some quotes have been edited for length and clarity*
SCHNOOR: Today at COP 21, there was a meeting of the BlueGreen Alliance. Michael Brune – executive director of the Sierra Club – said cities are able to make dramatic progress compared to those at the national level, what’s he talking about and is that true?
COWNIE: What he’s talking about is the ability of cities to make decisions immediately. We don’t need to have an act of congress or an appropriation that might come 12 to 16 months down the road. If there are things that need to be done we can do them today. The federal government, short of a national emergency, is very slow to respond and react. We’re working in preparedness and mitigation techniques. We recognize from past experiences some of the vulnerabilities we have even in Iowa to extreme weather events such as flooding and extreme downpours which result in water issues: flooding, water quality issues, erosion. It talks about the future of the state of Iowa. It talks about the future of the city of Des Moines. So we’re able to jump in there and start working with it and we can immediately start working with some of our local players. So as mayor of the city of Des Moines, I can enlist some of my local businesses, schools, other governmental agencies, counties. We can partner together also talking to people in their own residences, their own homes, on what they can do to make some progress lowering their utility bills but more importantly, at least in the discussion here about carbon, by lessening their utility bills they can save 30, 40, 50 percent on their bill, it’s 30, 40, 50 percent less carbon they’re putting through their furnace.
SCHNOOR: For the city of Des Moines, what specific things can you cite in the area of sustainability and lowering your carbon footprint?
COWNIE: Well first of all, we’re one of the cities that signed on the Compact of Mayors agreement. There’s 120 cities that responded to the plea by the president of the United States to get local government to respond. What does that mean? It means that we’ve signed up and we’ve committed. Additionally, we’re going to do an inventory of our greenhouse gas emissions. The city of Des Moines has already done that. And then what you do is make a plan to mitigate and target for reductions. In Des Moines we’ve added hybrids and electric vehicles in our fleets. We’ve redone, re-purposed, re-energized buildings with new furnaces, new heating plans, new cooling plans, new windows, new doors, new insulation. Some of which we’ve really taken to the extreme level. Our old library, as you know you and I did a meeting there, that building is over 100 years old. It’s on the national historic registry. Now the World Food Prize is there. It’s a LEED platinum building and a historic structure. We’re doing all kinds of things with the public sector doing what we can do. Leading by example. And also using our powers at the city level to encourage our businesses to do the right thing. So when Wellmark made their new building, we offered some tax increment dollars to get them to rethink how they were going to build their new building and they came to an agreement with us and built the world’s largest – at the time of their opening – single-owner, single-occupant LEED platinum building in the world. Those are the kinds of things we like to see because it speaks to not only energy but it speaks to the health of buildings. It speaks to the food they serve. How people get to and from work using public transportation. So many aspects of it touch on carbon use.
SCHNOOR: Is an action agenda for a city like Des Moines somewhat easier to implement than say for a whole country?
COWNIE: That’s right. At the local level, one of the inspiring things we can do is I know mayors from around the country, I know them around Iowa. We share good ideas. I try to call it legitimate larceny. If somebody has a really good idea on how we can make improvements and achieve further reductions, I’ll steal their good idea and I hope they’ll steal mine.
SCHNOOR: There’s some wariness here at COP 21 that we’re going to fall short. There’s an emissions gap between what’s needed to control the environment to less than two degree warming, we seem to be short. And they’re talking about a more ambitious agenda. Could some of that ambition come from the Compact of Mayors and people like yourself?
COWNIE: Yes. I think that some of the talk I’ve heard is that if they have the cities and the cities commit, and the cities actually do the work and meet their goals, that could account for about 25 percent of that gap that you’re talking about achieving that two degree goal. But I think that one of the things that we all worry about is that there’s so much carbon in the atmosphere that there’s sort of a pent up increase that’s going to happen over the next 50 to 100 years, that we can’t do anything about today so we’ve got to lower the emissions. Figure out how to capture carbon. How to do so many different things and aggressively raise our ambitions to achieve many higher levels. I think local government is one of the places it can really move forward and we can spread that 25 percent hopefully to 50. We know that 70 percent of the energy that’s used happens in cities and the expansion and GDP and future is mostly going to be in cities so let’s rethink how the city ought to operate and let’s hope Des Moines is on the right track so we can get to a net zero city at some point or another.
Stay tuned to Iowa Environmental Focus throughout the rest of the week for continued coverage of the event. Follow CGRER and its reporters on Twitter: @CGRER, @JerryatCOP21, @nick_fetty, and @McGinnisKC.
The University of Iowa’s Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research (CGRER) will send three UI graduate students to attend the 2015 Paris Climate Conference (or COP 21) next week.
The three UI students attending the event are Nick Fetty, KC McGinnis and Andrea Cohen. Fetty and McGinnis are both masters’ students in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication who also serve as graduate assistants and communication interns at CGRER. Cohen is doctoral student in the College of Education who formerly served as Commissioner for the City of Iowa City Human Rights Commission. The three will be in Paris from December 7 through December 12.
Jerry Schnoor, CGRER co-director and environmental engineering professor will also attend COP 21 and will cover it for the academic journal, Chemical & Engineering News. Follow Jerry on Twitter @JerryatCOP21.
McGinnis, Fetty and Cohen will be providing daily updates on the climate talks and activities of COP 21 participants. They will be following topics that are of interest to Iowans including following the efforts of Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie and Dubuque Mayor Roy Buol who will also be in Paris. Their print, photo and video coverage will be hosted at www.IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org and www.cop21memo.weebly.com. Also follow them on Twitter at @CGRER, @nick_fetty and @mcginniskc.
Representatives from 196 countries are expected to attend the event which will run from November 30 through December 11. Event organizers hope that the diplomats from the various countries will be able to come to a “legally binding and universal agreement on climate, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C,” according to the COP 21 website.