Guest: Michael Jenkins, Founding President and CEO of Forest Trends and former Senior Forestry Advisor to the World Bank
World leaders are gathering in Glasgow for a major UN meeting on climate change. And some leaders are taking it more seriously than others.
After 18 months of COVID and a turbulent geopolitical map, this global convening of leaders is setting the stage for the environmental future of planet Earth. What are the main takeaways from this meeting? This week, Michael Jenkins, President and CEO of Forest Trends, joins Altamar to discuss the state of the world’s climate problem and what global powers can do to fix it. Jenkins previously served as Associate Director for the Global Security and Sustainability Program of the MacArthur Foundation, Senior Forestry Advisor to the World Bank, and advisor to USAID. He has contributed to and authored numerous books and publications and won several prizes in his field.
Leaders from around the world in Scotland are to talk about the huge elephant in the room: climate change. “We have to really remember that even just two months ago, it wasn’t clear that there was going to be a COP and certainly not clear that it was going to be in person. So, I think we just have to keep that in mind, in terms of what the expectations are at COP. I do have some hopes that there are going to be some important steps forward,” said Jenkins.
But it is clear that there are some focal points to the conversation at the meeting. “One of [the takeaways] is that the work [Forest Trends] do[es] and has historically done, which is about forests and nature based solutions, is really now on center stage and there are commitments that are going to be really important in terms of new financing for those issues. We’ll also see more commitments coming out of the finance sector, which I think is really a critical piece of this equation…we’ll see an incredibly important presence at the COP from indigenous peoples and local communities…I think we need to remember that this is just a place in time on the continuum of our work around addressing climate issues,” says Jenkins.
“What does success look like after this is over? What would have been the ideal takeaway? There’s a lot of talk about funding climate change initiatives for the developing world. What is the definition of success after this?” asks Altamar’s Muni Jensen. “What we’re hoping comes out of this this event is doubling down on [the commitments made in Paris five years ago] and actually ratcheting up on those commitments. And we’re seeing a little bit of that already with Saudi Arabia announcing that they’re going to be net zero by 2050, those kinds of commitments make those NDCs stronger and stronger in terms of real action,” answers Jenkins.
But the push for climate change comes at a time of energy confusion. “It’s a worrisome moment for those of us who support moving as fast as possible on the climate continuum. This is a moment where gas and energy prices are going through the roof. I’m just worried that climate change and the environmental movement will face so many political difficulties and I’m worried that come springtime, we’re going to be facing a renewed populist reaction to a lot of this,” says Altamar’s Peter Schechter. “That is what I would say is the trillion-dollar question really is the transition that we’re going to have to go through in a pretty rapid way around energy and the energy sources we use and the prices of that energy. I’ve heard so many times the folks in the energy sector argue that the use of coal allowed us to pull a billion people out of poverty and create energy for the world. And that’s true, but right now, if we continue down that path, we’re going to snuff out the planet,” answers Jenkins.
Coal, in particular, is the fuel that must be given up first. “I think we’re going to need to be really creative in terms of the shifts that we make and thinking about the full array of energy sources that will move us down that path of reducing emissions. People are wondering whether nuclear energy is an option again and is on the table. And do we think about something like natural gas as a transitional energy source. Each of them has risk and rewards to them. And I think we just need to be more thoughtful about that,” says Jenkins. But in sharing the same sentiments of Greta Thunberg, we have to think beyond the present. “Society as a whole needs to recognize that the path we’re on is going to lead to the snuffing out of life on planet Earth as we know it, and we can’t do that. And we need to be thinking about not only our realities today and the price we pay at the pump, but we need to be thinking intergenerationally. We need to be thinking about our kids and our grandkids. And what is that real cost of that gallon of gas that we put in our car today,” reflects Jenkins.
The attendance of world powers at COP26 is spotty and calls into question the intentions of many countries. Some of the world’s political leaders did not show up and seem uninterested in participating in discussions about climate. Leaders from some of the world’s biggest nations – Brazil, India, China, Russia, for example – skipped the meeting. “What we’re seeing in Scotland with who’s showing up and who’s not showing up is a mirror of what’s going on in the world. We’re in this space right now, a lot of the people that can’t come to COP will be people from Africa, as they’ve not had access to vaccinations. So there’s an equity issue there…And then you have the political overlay, which are the tensions between China, the United States, and Russia—different countries that are bringing agendas and overlaying those agendas onto the climate agenda. [John] Kerry has been working, traveling the globe, trying to get people to show up, to make commitments, to do all those kinds of things, but the climate game is being played in a much broader game that has less to do around climate and more to do around fundamental issues of equity and more about access to resources,” explains Jenkins.
President Joe Biden is clearly making a statement by bringing a huge, top-level delegation to COP26 to prove that the US has returned back to climate leadership. “We [the United States] just are back at the table [after] being out of the game in the last administration, so that’s a huge signal. And the US is still the most important country when you think about commitments and driving the agenda globally,” says Jenkins.
Is our guest optimistic or pessimistic on the outcome of this meeting, and what are the main takeaways? Find out more by listening to the latest Altamar episode, available wherever you get your podcasts. You can download the episode here.
Image Source: UNFCCC / Kiara Worth