A landmark report from the United Nations’ scientific panel on climate change, as summarized in the New York Times, paints a far more dire picture of the immediate consequences of climate change than previously thought and says that avoiding the damage requires transforming the world economy at a speed and scale that has “no documented historic precedent.”
Issued on Monday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of scientists convened by the United Nations to guide world leaders, the report, “describes a world of worsening food shortages and wildfires, and a mass die-off of coral reefs as soon as 2040 — a period well within the lifetime of much of the global population.” This report makes some of the recent commitments following the Global Climate Action Summit even more important.
For the Global Climate Action Summit September 12-14, more than 4,000 mayors, governors, investors, entrepreneurs, civil society organizations, and CEOs of some of the world’s biggest companies gathered in San Francisco.The three-day event, organized by California Gov. Jerry Brown, aimed to highlight efforts around the world to address climate change and to build support for even deeper commitments to addressing the climate crisis. With hash tags like #2020dontbelate, #stepup2018, #ParisAgreement, and #ClimateChangesHealth, social media was on fire about the urgency to take climate action. However, according to Joel Makower of Green Biz, the event unfortunately didn’t garner much attention in the mainstream media.
I had the opportunity to attend the Global Climate and Health Forum, a climate affiliate event organized by the Global Health Group at UCSF’s Institute for Global Health Science, Health Care Without Harm, the U.S. Climate and Health Alliance, and the Global Climate and Health Alliance. The forum brought together over 250 leaders from national and local governments, health systems, public health agencies, civil society, and international health organizations to build the community of climate and health professionals, share success stories of health action for climate, and generate momentum and commitments for action on climate and health.
“It’s blindingly clear that climate change is the greatest health threat to future generations,” stressed Dr. Hawgood in his opening remarks. Christiana Figueras, Executive Secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change from 2010 to 2016, passionately suggested that the missing piece is downright public outrage and challenged the audience at UCSF to, “cause global public outrage about air pollution caused by fossil fuels.” Her recent opinion piece in The Washington Post is titled “This is absolutely unacceptable.”
From Talk to Commitment
The list of commitments and calls to action that resulted from the summit is lengthy (see this great summary in Green Biz. UC, UCSF, and UCSF Health have stepped up to the following climate-action commitments and campaigns:
- The UC system committed to 100 percent clean energy by 2025, in addition to broadening goals for green buildings, sustainable procurement, and zero waste. In addition to its 100 percent clean energy commitment, UC will endeavor to reduce its energy-use intensity (energy per square foot per year) by 2 percent year over year through more efficient measures. Mirroring standards long in place for campus buildings, new acute care facilities must now meet energy-efficiency requirements based on industry-leading benchmarks. No new UC buildings or major renovations after June 2019, except in special circumstances, will use on-site fossil fuel combustion, such as natural gas, for space and water heating.
- UCSF Health plans to join onto the Climate and Health Call to Action, which outlines a set of ten priority policy actions for health leadership to advance ambitious progress towards global climate and health goals.
- UCSF Health signed onto the We Are Still In campaign, which now counts 3,540 signatories pledging to uphold the goals of the Paris Agreement. Health care, which accounts for 10% of the US carbon footprint, is the latest sector to join the We Are Still In coalition, strengthening the message to the world that the United States is committed to the Paris Agreement. UCSF Health joined 21 U.S. health systems, representing 918 hospitals and over 1 million employees in 41 states to sign the We Are Still In pledge.
- UCSF Health is part of the Health Care Climate Challenge, which represents the interests of more than 17,000 hospitals and health centers. The challenge is based on three pillars: mitigation (reducing UCSF’s own carbon footprint), resilience (preparing for the impacts of extreme weather and the shifting burden of disease), and leadership (educating staff and the public about climate and health and promoting policies to protect public health from climate change).
- Along with 119 hospitals in California and 23 million patients served, UCSF Health has joined Dignity Health, Kaiser Permanente, Providence St. Joseph Health, and Sutter Health to form the California Health Care Climate Alliance to drive stronger commitments from California’s health care sector and to work with policymakers to support the state’s climate goals.
“UC Health’s new carbon neutrality and 100 percent clean energy goals demonstrate a strong commitment to protect their patients and all Californians from toxic air pollution and the negative health impacts of a warming climate. Practice Greenhealth applauds UC Health’s vision and commitment and urges other hospitals to follow its lead,” said Gary Cohen, president and co-founder of Practice Greenhealth and Health Care Without Harm.
Energy and Transportation Related Commitments
If you are feeling down about the lack of progress on climate action, this list might cheer you up. According to Green Biz, 300 new commitments, 50 of which are related to energy and transportation, were made at the summit, including the following:
- 488 companies from 38 countries adopted emissions-reduction pathways in line with the science of the Paris Agreement, representing $10 trillion of the global economy, equivalent to the value of the entire NASDAQ stock exchange.
- 23 multinationals, with revenue of more than $470 billion, committed to taking their fleets to zero emissions.
- 42 financial institutions representing more than $13 trillion in assets committed to helping cities, states, and regions finance climate action, including the European Investment Bank and The World Bank.
- 21 companies announced the launch of the Step Up Declaration, dedicated to harnessing the power of emerging technologies and the “fourth industrial revolution” to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to “ensure a climate turning point by 2020.”
- More than 30 energy-intensive industry and property players set smart-energy and net-zero-carbon targets for buildings.
- 26 cities with 140 million in population committed to buy only zero-emissions buses starting in 2025 and create zero-emissions zones in their cities starting in 2030.
- More than 3.5 million additional electric-vehicle charging points will be installed by 2025, and a goal was set for hydrogen transportation to be zero-emissions by 2030.
- More than 100 global supply-chain actors and investors, managing more than $2.8 trillion, pledged to work to halt deforestation and native vegetation loss in Brazil.
New Bills Signed
In addition to all the above commitments, California Gov. Jerry Brown was busy signing a variety of new bills that boost California’s leadership on climate action. While the Trump administration pushes to revive the coal industry, Gov. Brown signed Senate Bill 100, which drastically ups the state’s clean energy goals and commits to 100 percent zero-carbon emissions in just a few decades. The bill pledges that California will obtain 100 percent of its power from clean sources by 2045.
As reported in the Huffington Post, Brown said, “There’s no understating the importance of this measure. SB 100 is sending a message to California and the world that we’re going to meet the Paris Agreement and we’re going to continue down that path to transition our economy to zero carbon emissions and to have the resiliency and sustainability that science tells us we must achieve.”
In addition, on the first maiden voyage of a plug-in, hybrid electric ferry, Brown signed a comprehensive package of eight bills into law that are aimed at dramatically reducing carbon emissions by boosting the number of zero-emission vehicles and charging stations in California and getting dirty cars and trucks off the road.