Combating Global Climate Change at the Regional Scale

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Combating Global Climate Change at the Regional Scale

Read full article by Lisa Foderaro @blogsColumia, PC: Lisa Foderaro

With climate change affecting different parts of the world in different ways, a group of Columbia University faculty members gathered last week to examine regional approaches to the climate crisis in a forum that marked the 10th anniversary of the Columbia Global Centers.

The panel discussion, “Combating Climate Change: Regional Responses to Global Challenges,” touched on topics as wide-ranging as food security in India, metal mining in Latin America, drought in the Middle East, and air quality in Africa. Although the participants’ research spanned both geographic and subject areas, they seemed to agree on one thing: there is no one-size-fits-all strategy for dealing with climate change.

The participants said, too, that engagement with the Columbia Global Centers — located in nine major cities, from Mumbai to Istanbul to Santiago — helped them appreciate the distinct characteristics and priorities of each region when it comes to the climate crisis.

Jason Bordoff, director of the Center on Global Energy Policy, said that one of the key takeaways from the Global Centers is the “perspective of what a global problem looks like,” adding that it looks “really different in Bangladesh than it does in Berkeley, California.” As an example, he said that while there was a campaign to bypass natural gas — cleaner than coal, but still a fossil fuel — and move straight to renewable energy in the United States, such an approach was unrealistic in places like China or Africa.

“Brookline, Massachusetts and Berkeley, California have banned the use of natural gas for heating,” he pointed out. “We can debate whether that’s a sensible policy solution in Brookline or Berkeley. It’s not when you are using firewood and dung for cooking and when switching to liquified natural gas would be a massive win.”

The panel brought together a diverse group of Earth Institute scholars. In addition to Bordoff, a top adviser on energy and climate in the Obama administration, the panelists were Ruth DeFries, University Professor and Denning Family Professor of Sustainable Development; Josh Fisher, director of the Earth Institute’s Advanced Consortium on Cooperation, Conflict and Complexity; Lisa Sachs, director of the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment; and V. Faye McNeill, professor of chemical engineering. The discussion was moderated by Alex Halliday, director of the Earth Institute.

Halliday asked the panel whether they detected a new sense of urgency among elected officials and policy makers around the world. The response was a resounding “yes,” though not necessarily in the ways one might expect.

In India, for instance — where DeFries is studying the move away from nutritious, drought-resistant grains like sorghum and millet in favor of rice and wheat — the conversation on climate change “has really taken hold.” Until a few years ago, she said, it was difficult even to broach the subject since global warming was viewed as “Western-driven” or “somebody else’s problem.”

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December 18, 2019

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