“On climate change, we’re moving from controversial conversations to how fast and how far can we move,” said Robert Orr, dean of the University of Maryland School of Public Policy, at the opening plenary of Climate Action 2016 forum.
The forum was hosted by the University of Maryland on May 4 at the Adele H. Stamp Student Union as a public conference supporting the objectives of the Climate Action 2016 summitbeing held in Washington, DC on May 5-6. A wide range of individuals attended the forum, including UMD students and faculty, and experts from organizations including the Global Environment Facility, World Business Council on Sustainable Development, U.S. Agency for International Development, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. State Department, World Resources Institute, United Nations, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and We Mean Business.
Following Dean Orr’s welcome remarks, University of Maryland President Dr. Wallace Loh encouraged the audience to think about the issue of climate implementation as an important call to action. “This is a very very special moment for this university,” he said. “This is a call to action, and government can’t do it alone. The reason we are doing this is not just because we do research, we have to translate that research in a way that makes an impact.”
U.S. Senator Ben Cardin continued Dr. Loh’s sentiments, saying, “I am a proud Maryland senator because we represent a state that is a leader on climate issues. Climate change affects all communities from Maryland, all over the world.”
The first keynote address was delivered by Tim Wirth, vice chair of the United Nations Foundation and the Better World Fund. “We’ve known for a long time that the climate change problem loomed large,” he said. “Until very recently, the world could not get together to figure out what to do. We need to understand, learn and respect what came out of Paris.”
Wirth continued to say, “The Paris Agreement provides a roadmap for our world’s future. Anything big like climate change requires engagement and persistence—every little step counts.”
Deputy Director of the Sciences and Exploration Directorate and Acting Director of the Earth Sciences Division of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Goddard Space Flight Center, Dr. Piers Sellers, delivered the second opening keynote address. During his speech, Sellers credited part of his appreciation for the Earth to his time as an astronaut. “Seeing the world from space allowed me to love the world and its inhabitants like never before,” he said. “The Earth is warming, the ice is melting and the oceans are rising. I think it’s going to be tough to reach our goal, but I’m grateful that the outcomes of COP21 are based on science.”
Tracks for the forum focused on analysis and tools to support decision-making, climate and civil society, city and sub-national implementation, resilience/adaptation, energy and sustainable land use. Between sessions there was a luncheon plenary on “Catalyzing Climate Action at Scale: The Role of Philanthropy and Innovative Finance,” with panelists Nancy Kopp, treasurer of the State of Maryland; Stephen Heintz, president of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund; Naoko Ishii, CEO and chairperson of the Global Environment Facility; and Adam Wolfenstein, co-managing partner and chairperson for Encourage Capital. The panel was moderated by Kathy Calvin, president and CEO of the United Nations Foundation.
When talking about the University of Maryland’s efforts on climate change and sustainability, Calvin said, “This campus is walking the talk of sustainability.”
“What we need is innovation in finance to counterbalance the push for innovation in technology,” said Wolfensohn. Heintz added that one of the barriers holding back the effort to provide innovative finance is the current way of thinking. “I think the biggest barrier is conventional thinking,” he said. “We’re dealing with an economic model that’s 250 years old.”
Ishii agreed that there is a need for innovation and change. “We need to find a way to transform energy, agriculture and food systems,” she said.
The forum concluded with an engaging closing plenary titled, “The Next Generation of Climate Action: A Conversation Between Today’s and Tomorrow’s Leaders,” which featured Martin O’Malley, former governor of the state of Maryland; Keya Chatterjee, executive director of the U.S. Climate Action Network; Niraj Palsule, graduate student at the School of Public Policy; Isabela Barriga, undergraduate student at the School of Public Health. The session was moderated by Christina Bowman, graduate student at the School of Public Policy.
In regards to climate action, Chatterjee said, “We really need civil society to hold government accountable.” Former governor O’Malley stated, “It’s really about taking action. Small things done well make bigger things possible.”
“We need to tell the story in the narrative that it’s going to be a future with more—more health, more prosperity, more opportunities,” O’Malley said. “I believe one of the biggest impediments we have is the lack of trust we have in one another. It’s important that we create a compelling scoreboard that everyone else can see.”
In addition to his view on climate action, Palsule also shared his thoughts on dealing with those who oppose climate action. “It’s not just that you need them to wake up,” he said. “You need them to wake up on time.”
Following the forum, the University of Maryland hosted a reception at the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC, as a kick-off event for the Climate Action 2016 Summit, which will see the multi-stakeholder dialogue to advance climate action continue.
You can view photos from the forum on the School of Public Policy Flickr account.