It’s an honor to attend COP23 in Bonn, Germany as a member of the University of Minnesota’s official delegation and as a member of the multi-sector Climate Generation delegation. At the University, we have official “observer” status for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCCC, as a research institution. This means we can attend official negotiations. Kind of like at the State Capitol, the official meetings are public, but as the high-level negotiators get closer to final decisions, some sessions are closed. Climate Generation is an education-oriented non-governmental organization (NGO) focused on climate literacy and education along with youth and community engagement, and their mission aligns with our mission at the Energy Transition Lab.
I am attending week one (Nov. 6-10) of COP23, or the 23rd Conference of the Parties, to focus on energy and climate policy. My goal is to: understand the role the United States plays in international climate negotiations in today’s political and policy landscape, to learn from the 197 other countries participating and how they are tackling the energy transition, and to share Minnesota’s story of transitioning to a clean energy economy.
It is important for the world to know that the people of the United States are moving forward on climate leadership and clean energy – with or without the support of the federal government. There is hope that we will continue to make progress despite President Trump’s intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. Recent analysis shows that the U.S. will likely meet President Obama’s targets of 26-28% carbon reduction under the Clean Power Plan – even if Pres. Trump repeals it. That’s because the clean energy economy is roaring ahead, wind and solar are now the cheapest energy source, and Americans from all sectors are stepping up to fill the vacuum on national action.
Leadership is coming from the bottom up, led by cities, states, companies, universities, and individuals – hundreds and hundreds of them have pledged to uphold the Paris Accord targets. In our state of Minnesota, our policies in the last decade have resulted in 23% renewable electricity and cutting coal-powered electricity in half, and we are only getting started. Our largest utility, Xcel Energy, plans to be 85% carbon free and generate 60% of its electricity from renewable energy by 2030 (or sooner). We have already met the Clean Power Plan targets, and have demonstrated that we can do this at a low cost while maintaining reliable power.
Minnesota is leading the way for the “heartland” of America, showing that you can cut carbon, build out renewable energy, create thousands of good-paying jobs, and save money by shifting to a clean energy economy. In preparation for our trip, many of our Minnesota delegation recently met with Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith. She said our state is completely committed to this clean energy transition and feels a sense of urgency to move forward faster.
In Minnesota, like elsewhere, we have a lot of work to do to reach state goals of 80% carbon reduction by 2050, or beyond. As we stand with virtually every other country of the world to face this challenge, we acknowledge the urgency and need for greater ambition.
As COP23 approaches, a very big question looms: what will the official U.S. federal government participation look like? U.S. officials have said they will play a “constructive and positive role.” According to E & E News Service (10/31/17), the U.S. government plans to send a delegation led by a career diplomat, Thomas Shannon, who has called climate change “one of the world’s greatest challenges.” It remains to be seen how the delegation will represent a president who has expressed contrary views.
As I leave for Germany, I will be contemplating the role of policy and leadership in solving the Grand Challenge of climate change and energy transition. Democracy requires elected officials to lead and citizens to hold them accountable, but good citizenship also asks each of us to do our own part. It is remarkable to see how bottom up leadership adds up to make a compelling difference!
For another pre-COP23 perspective, watch my interview with WCCO anchor Esme Murphy and meteorologist Mike Augustyniak.