Presidents Column November 2018
The Other Shoe Falls: New U.S. Climate Report Predicts Dire Consequences from Climate Change
At the end of last week (23 November), when most Americans were enjoying their post-Thanksgiving holiday and starting their Christmas shopping, the U.S. Government released Volume 2 of the Fourth National Climate Assessment of the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP). The report represents the “other shoe dropping” following the USGCRP’s release of Volume 1 last year, and comes on the heels of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on Global Warming of 1.50C, released just a month or so ago.
Collectively, these reports demonstrate how the full scientific community has come together to speak in a unified and authoritative voice that climate change is occurring in a noticeable and measurable way, and that the change has broad consequences to the quantity and quality of our water supply, our health, our ecosystems and ecosystem services, our agriculture production and food supply, our infrastructure, our oceans and coastlines, our tourism and recreational resources, and on the livelihoods, economies, health and cultural identities of our indigenous populations. Most importantly, Volume 2 shows how we are experiencing increasing numbers and lengths of heat waves, longer growing seasons, fewer cold spells, and sunny day coastal flooding, all of which have important consequences on the severity of the impacts listed above.
In too many cases governments, especially at the national level, fail to recognize and take proper action, and even to believe, the warnings that the global scientific community is giving us. Even as the USGCRP Volume 2 report was being issued publicly, the New York Times ran an article on the addiction that many countries still have to using coal to achieve their economic development goals. Coal, the dirtiest of all possible fuels with respect to greenhouse gas emissions, remains plentiful and accessible in many parts of the world. Coal is used for approximately 40% of electricity energy production, and its use continues to grow worldwide. According to BP Global, nearly three fourths of our global coal usage occurs in Asia.
These climate impact reports demonstrate how critical it is that the renewable energy community also speak in a unified and authoritative voice on how renewable energy technologies working together is the solution for mitigating the perils of climate change. This was certainly the message coming out of the REN 21 Academy held in Berlin on 19-21 November (see the ISES November Newsletter with a report on the academy). Traditionally, renewable energy organizations were often “stove-piped”, meaning they each represented just one of many renewable energy technologies. Each had a relatively weak political voice when compared against the powerful and more unified fossil fuel interests. In the past couple of decades this situation has been changing, with the renewable energy community coming together under the roof of more inclusive entities, such as REN 21, the REN Allicance (which ISES will be hosting a joint side event at COP24 with), the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the Renewable Energy Working Party (REWP) of the International Energy Agency (IEA), and non-government organizations such as the World Wild Fund (WWF), World Resources Institute (WRI), World Future Council (WFC), Greenpeace International, the Sierra Club, and many others. More recently we have seen the emergence of cross-sector organizations such as the GO100% RE Platform. ISES has also taken on this challenge by forming partnerships with many of these like-minded organizations and broadening the scope of its activities (particularly through its webinars and conferences).
But as the fossil fuel interests begin to see the possible end of their global dominance in energy supply, they are rallying governments and financial institutions to maintain and expand support to their industry. They especially see the dramatic drop in costs of renewable energy, coupled with increasing costs to extracting their fossil resources and with the growing external impacts of the use of these resources, as clear threats to their survival. Although the transformation of our energy system to a cleaner, renewables-based system is moving forward, progress is continuously impeded by fossil fuel interests who have learned to tap in to global populist movements to preserve the status quo and to avoid the work force displacements and economic shifts that the energy transformation and responses to climate change will inevitably cause.
Thus, I applaud the statements coming out of REN 21’s Academy discussions, and the efforts of many organizations, including ISES, to form coalitions and partnerships to make our voice unified and louder. But much more needs to be done, and to be done quickly, based on the results coming from the climate science community.
ISES will continue to work with its current partners, and use its publications and outreach activities (newsletter, webinars, publications, conferences, Young ISES, Solar Energy Journal), to fulfill its three basic strategies for achieving its vision of a 100% Renewable Energy World: Communicate its work on technology innovations, renewables working together, and the technical possibilities of a fully renewable energy supply; Connect the researchers and emerging professionals with the decision-makers community, as well the broader stakeholder community; and Advocate for the rapid expanded use of renewable energy technologies to address the urgent need to mitigate the impending impacts of climate change.