US set to exit Paris climate accord: U-M experts can discuss
With the United States set to exit the Paris climate agreement Nov. 4, there’s a lot at stake in today’s presidential election. University of Michigan experts are available to discuss the significance of this moment and how the election outcome could shape the international effort to reduce carbon pollution and control global warming.
David Uhlmann served for 17 years at the U.S. Department of Justice, the last seven as chief of the Environmental Crimes Section, where he was the top environmental crimes prosecutor in the country. In 2007, he joined the Michigan Law faculty as the inaugural director of the Environmental Law and Policy Program.
“If the fate of American democracy is on the ballot today, so too is the future of the planet,” he said. “It is one more way that the stakes could not be higher in this election. Whether we have any chance of avoiding catastrophic climate disruption will be decided by this election.
“The Trump administration rolled back nearly every climate action taken by Obama and will double down on those policies in a second term. The United States will withdraw from the Paris Agreement the day after the election and will reenter the agreement and pursue urgent climate action only if Biden wins.”
Recent piece by Uhlmann in The Atlantic: The Climate Crisis is Still a Crisis
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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 a new book, “Trump, the Administrative Presidency, and Federalism,” which examines U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement and other executive actions whereby President Trump has reversed direction from former President Obama.
“As an executive agreement that was designed to bypass Congress under Obama, Paris is among the easiest shifts to make in any new administration,” Rabe said. “The greater challenge, of course, would be to move beyond a ‘return to Paris’ and begin to develop new policies that would actually put U.S. emissions on a path to meet Paris targets. Neither the executive or legislative paths for that will be easy. Without these, America’s rejoining of Paris would be largely symbolic and likely lack credibility globally.”
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Trish Koman, research investigator in environmental health sciences at the School of Public Health, contributed to a report authored by more than 100 former government scientists and policymakers with specific suggestions for an incoming administration to reset the course of environmental policy. She says that as a nation, we need to rebuild our trust in science and apply expertise and data to develop evidence-based policies to protect children’s health, especially from the threats of climate change.
“The health of our children and future generations is on the ballot because of the importance of acting quickly to mitigate climate change,” she said. “Several authoritative scientific reports synthesize the evidence and conclude that children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and those children in low-wealth families or communities of color face even higher health and safety risks.
“Air pollution-related respiratory disease, waterborne diseases and heat stress morbidities are all made worse by increases in CO2 emissions, yet, we have many cost-effective solutions that can reduce harmful emissions, promote a stronger economy and protect our health.”
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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 2020 presidential election choice is stark when it comes to climate change. If Trump wins, the U.S. continues to move backward on climate action, whereas if Biden wins, action to stop climate change will become a top priority,” Overpeck said. “Biden is committed to putting the U.S. back in the lead on climate action internationally, and to dramatically step up climate action domestically in many ways that will yield a surge in well-paying jobs, plus the promise of less expensive energy and a cleaner environment.
“Perhaps most important, a Biden administration will be committed to environmental justice and making sure everyone benefits as our nation—and the world—transitions to a planet without human-caused climate change.”
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Jennifer Haverkamp, director of the Graham Sustainability Institute and professor from practice at the Law School, is a veteran of seven UN climate summits and a former ambassador and special representative in the Obama State Department. At the State Department, she led U.S. negotiating teams to successful climate agreements under the Montreal Protocol and the UN International Civil Aviation Agreement.
“U.S. leadership at the highest levels of government gave us the Paris Agreement, and its global ratification, in record time,” she said. “Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement created a leadership vacuum that other nations have struggled to fill. Biden’s commitment to bring us—one of the world’s highest per-capita emitters—back to the table is critical for giving other nations the confidence to go all-in at the scale the crisis demands.”
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Tony Reames is an assistant professor of energy justice at the School for Environment and Sustainability and director of the Urban Energy Justice Lab.
“The Trump Administration has made deregulation a priority, particularly around the environment,” he said. “The rollback of these protections disproportionately impacts communities already overburdened by past limited protections and environmental injustices.
“A Biden administration would have the opportunity to pass stalled legislation on environmental justice, investments in clean energy infrastructure and housing quality investments to address issues that have become increasingly more salient during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as associations between increased COVID-19 risk and pollution, declines in clean energy workforce and housing and energy insecurity/unaffordability.”
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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.
“Improving lives across the world requires access to clean, affordable, resilient and equitably distributed energy,” he said. “U.S. leadership requires U.S. participation. The outcome of this election determines how we’ll contribute to improving lives around the world, and for generations to come.”
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.
“The last four years have seen attacks on U.S. science across many fields. This has been of detriment to our nation and to our trust as a member of the international community,” he said. “There has been significant damage to the integrity of our science agencies by extraordinary political framing of scientific communication.
“With regard to climate change and the Paris Agreement, if we walk away from this international agreement, it delegitimizes our voice and places our scientists and policymakers outside an important path to a solution. It will further fragment our already fragile, uneven narrative on climate change. It uses the same tactics of fragmentation and political framing we have seen in the U.S. COVID response. It is, fundamentally, corrupting.”
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Thomas Lyon is a professor of business economics and public policy at the Ross School of Business, a professor at the School for Environment and Sustainability, and director of the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise. He is a leader in using economic analysis to understand corporate environmental behavior and how it is shaped by emerging government regulations, nongovernmental organizations and consumer demands.
“The two candidates present starkly different visions of reality,” he said. “Biden recognizes that our planet faces a climate crisis, and offers a robust platform of policies to begin to turn the tide while we still can. The current occupant demeans science and makes unfounded claims that climate change is a Chinese hoax, pretending to ‘save’ the coal industry while it collapses due to market forces.
“With most of the West Coast of the U.S. suffering severe wildfires, and September the most active month in history for Atlantic hurricanes, America cannot afford to ignore the reality of climate change. The Biden/Harris platform calls for creating millions of new jobs in clean energy, emphasizing renewable sources of electricity and the transition to electric vehicles. The Republican Party literally has no platform this year, and the current occupant has no plan for the climate crisis, just as he has no plan for the COVID crisis.”
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Ben van der Pluijm, a geologist and professor of earth and environmental sciences, is an expert on geohazards and societal resilience.
“The Paris Agreement offers a false sense of security for our climate future,” he said. “Even if the world’s nations adhere to their promises to limit future greenhouse gas emissions to 1.5 C or 2 C warming, the year 2020 will become one of the coldest years of the rest of the 21st century.
“Under the Paris Agreement, atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations will continue to rise for a decade or more, and their warming impacts will continue for many more decades after that. Emission reduction strategies would have worked in the 1990s, but today we must prepare for growing conditions of heat waves, sea-level rise, extreme weather, wildfires, acidified oceans, and more.
“Instead of an emission reductions agreement only, we urgently need to develop atmospheric greenhouse gas removal strategies (‘negative emissions’) and create societal resiliency, especially for the less privileged that are the vast majority of people affected.”
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Sue Anne Bell, assistant professor in the School of Nursing, is a disaster expert.
“Climate change has been called the greatest threat to human health of our time, and the formal exit from the Paris Agreement marks another failure of the current federal administration to lead by example in addressing problems that have global impact,” she said. “Although the U.S. is the second-largest carbon dioxide emitter in the world, after tonight the U.S. will no longer join the 197 other member nations who have pledged to meet metrics to stop global warming. While work to combat climate change is happening on a community level, our country needs clear leadership based on science to address this existential threat to the health, safety and well-being of our nation and beyond.”