Real solutions are needed at COP21

Op-eds Opinions
Illustration by Niusha Derakhshan, Design Director
Illustration by Niusha Derakhshan, Design Director

In February of this year, Republican Senator Jim Inhofe threw a snowball on the floor of the American Senate in a spectacle intended to debunk the scientific consensus on climate change. Since then he has portrayed climate change as left-wing lunacy, told Pope Francis to butt out of the discussion, and stated that Congress will not approve the $3 billion pledge President Obama made to help poor countries reduce their carbon emissions. Inhofe is a leader in the war on science.

One would not expect Inhofe to be even vaguely interested in attending a conference where the scientific consensus on climate change is embraced — and yet he is. In fact, he has announced plans to take his battle against the “global warming conspiracy” (a phrase borrowed from the title of his book) to Paris for the United Nations’ 21st annual Conference of Parties, COP21.

Also going to Paris will be Dr. Sybil Seitzinger, the new Executive Director of the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (PICS) based here at UVic. Unlike Inhofe, she is looking forward to the agreements coming out of COP21.

“Climate change is a global problem. We need global solutions but we need local action.” Dr. Seitzinger presents a holistic worldview. “Whatever we do here at PICS and in B.C. is affected by what is going on in the rest of the world.”

Indeed, alarm bells are going off all over the world. The Pentagon officially considers climate change a major threat to global security. The drought in California is threatening North American food security. Climate change continues to be a causal factor in the Syrian War. French president François Hollande has even warned that “we won’t have hundreds of thousands of refugees in the next 20 or 30 years, but millions,” thanks to climate change. Most world leaders accept that the urgency is much greater this time than at any previous conference, and despite the terrorist attacks on Paris in November, 147 heads of state plan to attend COP21.

Seitzinger draws attention to the need for a positive outcome from COP21 being greater than ever, but that there is also a need “to support that outcome.” In particular, she has identified the need for the creation of a “knowledge platform” where organizations, businesses, and nations can share information on effective climate action. Organizations that work on climate solutions are integral to providing that support.

PICS stands out because it is independent. It is located in House 1 at UVic, where it leads the collaborative efforts of four B.C. universities. At the moment, PICS supports 77 graduates and post-docs from UVic, UNBC, UBC, and SFU, with 14 internships. These researchers address the difficulties faced by both private and public enterprises. They explore ways to make products and practices more environmentally friendly, taking the human dimensions of climate change seriously.

Seitzinger came to PICS to work on tangible solutions. She is a highly cited, globally networked leader with insights into ecological interdependencies and interconnections that have real-world value. Her new position at PICS enables her to work with leaders in higher education, government, business, and civil society to make those solutions into realities.

This academic freedom, innovation, and interdisciplinary approach are vital in the effort to make climate change something we all remain focused on. “Everyone going forward — entering the workforce, raising families — are going to be faced with climate change,” said Seitzinger. “We’ve never faced anything larger than this.”

Seitzinger is setting out to make tangible adaptations to the realities of climate change possible. She will be leading research into how B.C. can meet targets emerging from COP21 regardless of whether a binding international agreement can be reached. While Senator Inhofe tries to convince people that scientists are just making up imaginary problems, the people at PICS will be identifying and working on actual solutions.