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SPA Kicks Off Webinar Series on Pathways to a Decarbonized Economy and a More Livable Planet

Panel of international experts weighed in on global progress on decarbonization

On March 4, the SPA Center for Environmental Policy (CEP) convened a panel of international researchers to discuss the politics of climate change, as China, Germany, India and the United States employ strategies to reduce carbon emissions.

The event, the first in CEP’s Pathways to a Decarbonized Economy and a More Livable Planet Webinar Series, was moderated by SPA Professor Todd Eisenstadt, who spoke of the inclusive nature of the 2015 Paris Agreement but also of its lack of enforceable standards or implementation.

“[The international climate treaty] helped a lot of nations overcome some internal dissent to participate and make pledges for emissions reductions,” Eisenstadt said. “It does have a way to increase the ambition, but the problem with the Paris Agreement is that that ambition is perhaps not fully present at this time.”

Scientific models suggest that without decisive action, the world may warm by as much as 3.3 degrees Celsius or nearly 6 degrees Fahrenheit. For many leaders, the perceived political trade-off between reducing greenhouse gas emissions and economic development creates obstacles, Eisenstadt said.

In the U.S., President Biden recently rejoined the Paris Agreement, but both Democrats and Republicans look to influence the centrist’s climate agenda. Green New Deal advocates want broad investments in infrastructure and transportation based on a renewable-based energy grid, and zero emissions by 2050. Meanwhile, many on the right resist the costs associated with such a transformation, or, following former President Trump, still deny the existence of climate change altogether.
The U.S., China, and India emit about half of the world’s carbon. Panelist Ryna Yiyun Cui, assistant research professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy and co-director of its China Program and the Center for Global Sustainability, explained China’s efforts to phase out coal and achieve the benefits of carbon neutrality.
“Clean air can improve public health and the quality of people's lives and provide a better quality of jobs,” Cui said. “It can also spark technological innovation and create new economic opportunities for sustained long-term growth for China.” To achieve that vision, China is educating the public about energy use, promoting smart urban planning, and pushing for structural change in power generation.

India is making significant progress to reduce emissions, in part because of its geopolitical and development aspirations, said panelist Navroz Dubash, a professor at the Centre for Policy Research, a leading public policy think tank in India. With 10% of the nation’s energy generated by renewable sources, there is growing acceptance of the co-benefits and economic opportunity that comes with innovative green technology, he said.

“India is definitely a case where our sectoral measures or domestic policies are actually a whole lot more ambitious than what we choose to pledge globally,” said Dubash. “India could really play a role in telling stories about transitions with other countries. How do we do a technology transition [from coal dependency] to decarbonized electric industry? This is a slightly more modest role for India, . . . as a middle power, that I see as being most productive.”

The final speaker, Miranda Schreurs, director of the Environmental Policy Research Center at the Technical University of Munich, discussed the dynamics in Germany and the European Green New Deal. The Green Party in Germany emerged to advocate for the phase-out of most of the country’s nuclear power plants. The public generally has “no appetite” for nuclear energy, said Schreurs, which shifts the national focus to developing other forms of renewable energy.

Recently, the EU signaled strong support for reducing carbon by pledging 35% of its research funds to climate-friendly technology. More evidence-based narratives and solutions are needed to address shared environmental challenges among countries, said Schreuers. “A lot of what we hear about climate change is doom and gloom, and there is reason for that. But at the same time, [there are] a lot of huge opportunities associated with it.”