Climate change cobenefits: new opportunities for policy?
This week, I’ve been attending the 3rd annual Governor’s Global Climate Summit at UC Davis, where I am a PhD student in Ecology. With only a month and a few days left until Arnold finishes his term as governor of “the great state of California” as he calls it, he’s pulled out all the stops to be sure that his legacy of climate work is remembered. But perhaps more interesting has been the undertone of the conference: recognizing the co-benefits to other areas when we address climate change.
To be fair, Arnold has the right to gloat: It was only two weeks ago that Prop 23 failed in a state referendum, which would have halted his Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32) to establish an emissions reduction program on par to what federal legislation has aimed to do. The Governator spent a good part of his speech Tuesday remarking about the process of defending his climate change bill noting that the Texas oil companies that wanted to squash AB 32 spent millions trying to do so and hoped to “kill California’s environmental laws.” But in the end Prop 23 failed by not a small margin- but by a full 22 points, which certainly did demonstrate the commitment to climate change policies from the people of California, not merely the legislators.
And while George Schultz (former Reagan Secretary of State and strong supporter of AB 32) hopped on stage to chant, “No on 23!”, the pomp and circumstance of celebrating Prop 23’s defeat was soon overshadowed by a very different theme: co-benefits. Climate change is not merely climate change anymore — it is now a platform in which many other issues can be addressed.
Take for example, Governor Granholm, who yesterday touted the benefits of clean, green energy for the state of Michigan after they set up policies to encourage renewable battery companies to come into Michigan. Sure, it makes environmental sense to use renewable batteries — but Granholm wasn’t as concerned with the environmental benefits as the job benefits that came with it — 63,000 new ones by her count as a result of 17 new businesses coming into Michigan to manufacture these batteries. Jobs in Michigan means jobs that aren’t going to China and India in her perspective, and hell, if we can create an environmentally friendly product — that’s a win win. A climate-jobs co-benefit.
What about others? Louise Jackson, a renowned UC Davis professor and agroecologist spent the morning discussing the potential to pay farmers for environmental co-benefits that have both climate, water, and other environmental benefits. Meanwhile George Schultz proposed that climate change mitigation offers unprecedented benefits for national security and urged the Pentagon to get involved. Harrison Ford extolled the co-benefits of preventing deforestation in tropical areas. Climate change benefits yes, but untold other benefits to local livelihoods, plant biodiversity, water quality, and medicinal opportunities.
All of these insightful comments have led me to believe that we’ve been addressing climate change policy in the wrong way. Instead of focusing solely on climate change, why not use climate change as a platform upon which so many other positive policies could be created? Yes, we need real and clear commitments to reducing emissions and funding for adaptation throughout the world — but perhaps we can also create reductions and gain new allies in the fight for climate change if we recognize that it never has been and never can be a single issue. Climate change will affect us all and affect all things on the earth — and as such, it requires broad reaching policies to address it.
Yesterday, George Schultz stated with regards to Prop 23, “This is a people’s issue and the reason we won with 22 percent is because we got all the votes — we appealed to voters across the political spectrum.” He further urged that citizens and politicians shouldn’t get stuck on the one thing they can’t agree on — rather let’s focus on the many things we do agree on. When we start to recognize that climate change is truly a people’s issue and that it can be addressed through policies that can benefit a host of other issues — be it energy independence, national security, or food production — we can also see the creative ways in which it can be addressed with or without an international agreement or even federal legislation. Though we still need these types of initiatives to make significant progress, we can also consider what else can be done now. As Arnold said yesterday, “The Green Revolution is moving ahead with or without an international agreement … and we are moving ahead and doing our work.” Perhaps now we can think about it in a more creative way.