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Let’s Talk About Climate Change

This past Wednesday, SIPA’s Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP) hosted a panel discussion, Prospects for Climate Solutions, to discuss the future of climate and worldwide involvement. Deputy Editor Elisha Zhao listened in.

For places like Miami Beach and the Florida Keys, climate change means investing hundreds of millions in preventative infrastructure. Such were former U.S. Congressman (Representative for Florida’s 26th District) and CGEP Distinguished Visiting Fellow Carlos Curbelo’s opening remarks, relaying the immense reality of our deteriorating relationship with our Earth.

He went on to discuss the need for bipartisan cooperation in tackling such a heady issue, touching on his work during the Obama administration to push the Bipartisan Solutions caucus, set with three intentions: 1) depoliticize, 2) oppose anti-climate policy, and 3) welcome new solutions. The main idea, however, seemed to be moderation, calling for both parties to ultimately yield and work together.

That set the tone for the rest of the panel, headed by Jonathan Elkind, also a CGEP Fellow and Senior Research Scholar, and joined by Kristina Costa, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, Alex Flint, Executive Director of Alliance for Market Solutions, and Rhiana Gunn-Wright, Policy Director for the Green New Deal.

The first question of the night: What is the role of fossil fuels going forward? If we are to phase them out, when is the right time? Flint suggested that global policy needs to incentivize better solutions, but a timeline is yet, and may always be, uncertain. And beyond the energy sector, overlapping spheres of life like transportation and industry may be more unyielding in the movement toward decarbonization, as Costa said, referencing the Yellow Vest protests in France. The goal, nonetheless, said Gunn-Wright, must be zero carbon, and whichever method of phasing out must be responsible, innovative, and accelerated by all means.

This transitioned us to the next topic: what is/should be the role of government policy? Evidently, the government presents a large influence, and it’d be a waste to not act on such a scale, said Gunn-Wright. The need to annually make global energy investments while keeping the U.S. economy robust was countered by a point that the current pace of the market is simply not fast enough. The best course of action seemed to be government intervention to guarantee commercial opportunity, while alleviation of those who may be negatively impacted by a move like the carbon tax.

What, then, is the role of government innovation? Panelists encouraged funding research and development to support the technology for power storage, carbon capture, etc. Congressman Curbelo noted the surprising shift in the Republican party’s attitude towards climate: that day, the House held two hearings on climate change for the first time in years.

Going back to the consequence of leaving people behind, Congressman Curbelo maintained the necessity of a “just transition,” meaning “policy that does not abandon people and communities in yesterday’s technology spaces.” Lower income families will face the greatest challenges, and to mitigate that the House had repealed a gasoline and air fuel tax within the larger movement towards progress; again, compromise was emphasized. Gunn-Wright left us with a powerful conclusion: a “net-zero economy that is still stratified has still failed.”

Finally, the panel addressed a Twitter-posed question before opening up to questions from the audience: How do we consider equity, political feasibility, and social acceptance of better energy policy in addition to what was mainly discussed tonight, that is, economic efficiency? Congressman Curbelo cautioned keeping tracking of ambition while Gunn-Wright argued we should let it run. Society as a whole simply needs to acknowledge that climate change is a real threat, and that will take transformation.

Audience members asked pressing questions as well: A recently released report by the UN warned that we had 12 years left before hitting 1.5 C — how can policy, quantitatively, even stand up to that? There seemed to be no one solution, but the urgency of it all can’t escape us.

The panel closed with a hopeful remark on the new energy and conversation surfaced by the Green New Deal, a shifting political spectrum, and the beginnings of negotiation.

Image via Center for Global Energy Policy

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