COP27 climate conference in Egypt: U-M experts available to discuss
Global climate talks in Egypt are heading into the home stretch with many issues still unresolved. Negotiators from nearly 200 countries have gathered in Sharm el-Sheikh for the COP27 conference in an effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions and avoid the worst ravages of climate change. University of Michigan experts are available to comment.
Jonathan Overpeck is an interdisciplinary climate scientist and dean of the U-M School for Environment and Sustainability. He is an expert on climate and weather extremes, sea-level rise, the impacts of climate change and options for dealing with it. He served as a lead author on the authoritative Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2007 and 2014 reports.
“The success of the COP27 will hinge on making notable progress in three areas,” he said. “First, will the COP27 result in a more aggressive path to exiting the fossil fuel era, global decarbonization and the halting of climate change? Second, will the wealthy countries most responsible for climate change commit to greater efforts to help other countries of the world reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, especially by enabling a faster transition away from fossil fuel use? Third, will the wealthy countries most responsible for climate change commit to helping other countries already most impacted by climate change recover from these impacts and avoid further impacts?
“In other words, will the COP27 see speedier action to halt the climate crisis and ensure that this action is more just than in the past? Thus far, signs are that the COP27 could be a modest success, whereas wild success remains elusive.”
Jennifer Haverkamp is director of the Graham Sustainability Institute and a professor from practice at Michigan Law and the Ford School of Public Policy. She is also a former co-chair of the U-M President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality.
“Don’t expect to learn whether countries make any progress on funding the harms vulnerable countries are already suffering until the wee hours of the weekend,” said Haverkamp, who is an environmental lawyer and a former ambassador and U.S. climate negotiator.
“Even for what this year should have been—a more routine ‘implementation COP,’ the urgency is so great that expectations were still high. Bright spots include Lula’s (Brazilian President-elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva) recommitment to protecting the Amazon and the restart of U.S.-China climate talks.”
Gregory Keoleian is a professor of sustainable systems at the School for Environment and Sustainability, professor of civil and environmental engineering, and director of the Center for Sustainable Systems, which was established in 1991 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. He has led more than 100 research studies, analyzing life cycle energy, greenhouse gas emissions, the costs of conventional and alternative vehicle technology, renewable energy technologies, buildings and infrastructure, consumer products and packaging, and a variety of food systems.
“We are still far away from carbon reduction trajectories that align with IPCC targets. There is an ongoing lack of major investment by the largest fossil fuel-based energy companies (Saudi Aramco, Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Shell) in renewables, energy storage and other technologies critical to decarbonizing the energy system.
“This is particularly striking when they are sending windfall profits to shareholders instead of transitioning their businesses and financing renewable projects in developing countries where the most vulnerable populations are experiencing the greatest climate impacts. Energy industry projections of fossil fuel use in 2050 demonstrate their lack of commitment and therefore the need for more aggressive policy action such as windfall taxes, removal of subsidies, and climate reparations to accelerate clean energy transitions.
“Financing Climate Action is a key theme of COP27. There has been recent progress, particularly with the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, new Biden Administration initiatives announced at COP27, and major private sector action including the automotive industry’s growing investments in vehicle electrification to decarbonize mobility.”
Eric Kort is associate professor and associate chair of graduate studies in the Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering at the College of Engineering. Kort studies the atmosphere and climate, and his work has focused on using observations to advance our understanding of greenhouse gases and air pollutants. His group has pioneered the use of satellites to study methane emissions from oil and gas fields as well as cities. Kort’s work has been shown on the floor of the U.S. Senate and used directly in determining laws and regulations. Most recently, his group has shown that natural gas flares do not function as designed and that fixing this problem could have large climate benefits.
“Methane is a potent short-lived climate pollutant, and rapidly reducing methane emissions is a key step in mitigating near-term warming,” he said. “Measurements made by the scientific community over the last decade have repeatedly and clearly shown that emissions of methane from the fossil fuel sector have been underreported and that our present infrastructure and regulatory environment does not minimize emissions.
“Advances in measurements mean that observations of methane emissions from satellites and aircraft have become better, cheaper and able to find and quantify large methane polluters. At COP27, we have seen the announcement of major initiatives for both the U.S. (through proposed EPA rules) and the globe (through a new U.N. program) outlining pathways that measurements will become foundational in locating and identifying large methane emissions. If these initiatives are successful, we could see notable reductions in methane emissions in the coming years.”
Sue Anne Bell is an assistant professor at the School of Nursing and a trained nurse practitioner. Her expertise is in disaster preparedness and response, community health and provision of health care in emergency response settings. She is active in multiple emergency preparedness and response activities, including serving on the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Advisory Council, with recent deployments to the COVID-19 response, Hurricane Maria and the California wildfires.
“Risk for more frequent and severe extreme weather events—with record-breaking heat waves, devastating wildfires with smoke covering large swaths of the United States, and worsening drought occurring just this summer alone—is expected to increase globally without aggressive action to stall or reverse some of the effects of climate change.
“Extreme weather events disproportionately affect countries, communities and individuals with less resources, and the reasons why certain groups are disadvantaged on a daily basis will play out in greater force during these events. Alongside the actions needed to curb the effects of climate change, a proactive approach to addressing extreme weather events is needed now, starting with investments into supporting communities globally—with a focus on those most at risk—to withstand and recover from the effects of these events.
“At COP27 this week, the White House announced a number of new initiatives that will strengthen the U.S. government’s role in addressing climate change impacts. These initiatives signal strong action on the part of the U.S. in terms of taking a global lead on climate issues. What remains to be seen is if these actions will represent a prolonged commitment. Communities need years of support to be able to see impact. Investments into climate resilience must be in for the long haul.”
Richard Rood is a professor of climate and space sciences and engineering at the College of Engineering and professor at the School of Environment and Sustainability. He is an expert on U.S. weather modeling and can discuss the connection between weather, climate and society. He is also a co-principal investigator at the Great Lakes Integrated Sciences and Assessments, a federally funded partnership between U-M and Michigan State University.
“This year’s meeting takes place at a time when emissions continue to be high, but there is increasing recognition that an energy transition is underway. Because of that transition, we can reasonably expect to see a drop in emissions in some countries over the next five years.
“In the U.S., the Inflation Reduction Act is the most significant legislation to address climate change in our history. The recent midterm elections will likely stabilize the implementation of the Inflation Reduction Act, as well as shore up U.S. participation in the global community.”
Jeremy Bassis is a professor of climate and space sciences and engineering at the College of Engineering researching the fundamental processes and mechanisms by which ice sheets and glaciers respond to climate change. He combines a variety of field observations (e.g., GPS receivers and seismometers) with satellite imagery and theoretical/numerical analysis to understand how glaciers and ice sheets break and flow and how this translates to past, present, and future sea level rise.
“Climate change is pushing ice sheets closer and closer to tipping points. Once these tipping points are exceeded, portions of our ice sheets will irreversibly collapse,” he said. “We don’t know exactly when these tipping points will occur, but we do know that limiting warming will both reduce sea level rise and the probability that we push past these tipping points.
“Although there is uncertainty in how much global sea level will rise in the coming centuries, this is already having devastating effects on vulnerable coastal communities. We need to act urgently to make sure we are ready for what is coming. This includes working with local communities on adaptation plans and with social scientists, historians and community organizers to make sure our plans don’t magnify existing inequities.”
Ben van der Pluijm is a professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. His work focuses on societal resilience and environmental change.
“Whether or not progress toward reduced greenhouse gas emissions is made through eventual phasing out of fossil fuel burning—progress that remains stubbornly slow—the impacts of a warming atmosphere will continue to impact modern human society for many decades to come,” he said. “Under reduced and even zero emissions scenarios, we will still see more heat waves, more droughts, more damaging storms and greater food and water insecurity as the atmosphere-ocean-land nexus continues to adjust to changing conditions.
“Extreme impacts—including accelerated sea-level rise and ocean circulation changes that radically alter regional climate—can be avoided with corrective actions that remove and store anthropogenic greenhouse gases from today’s atmosphere. These corrective measures get little to no attention because of the technological challenges and costs to remove low-concentration particles (like 415 parts per million of carbon dioxide) from the atmosphere. Meanwhile, continued climate warming will disproportionately affect the billions of poor and less-privileged people of our world, who will bear the brunt of modern environmental change.”
Jeremy Bricker, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at the College of Engineering, investigates the resilience of structures and infrastructure exposed to both increasing hazards due to climate change and increasing consequences due to expansion of development in coastal and flood-prone areas.
“COP27 covers mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change. Civil engineers need to take a leading role in both these thrusts,” he said. “In addition to a rapid buildout of clean, renewable power supplies, climate change mitigation requires construction of energy storage on a massive scale. For medium-term energy storage (on the order of days to a week), pumped hydro energy storage is a tried and true technology that is both affordable and clean in its modern form as closed-loop or off-stream systems.
“However, governments need to get involved to implement it due to its high upfront cost, long payback period and frequent opposition by NIMBYs, despite its lifecycle cost and environmental impact being lower than almost all other energy storage technologies.
“Civil engineers also need to take the lead in climate change adaptation. Riding out rising seas, intense floods and long droughts requires public infrastructure such as reservoirs to store flood waters and recharge aquifers, green and gray measures to store rainwaters before floods occur, and a combination of beach nourishment, coastal wetland and reef restoration, floodwalls and dikes, elevation of important areas, and strategic retreat from the coast. Civil engineers and urban planners need to work together to evaluate all such options in the context of the system of the built environment.”
Todd Allen is professor and chair of nuclear engineering and radiological sciences at the College of Engineering and founding director of Fastest Path to Zero, an interdisciplinary U-M initiative that helps communities meet ambitious climate goals. He has written about the role that nuclear energy can play, including this 2021 op-ed in The Hill: “Global climate efforts require nuclear energy—and the US is positioned to lead.”
“The importance and variety of ways in which nuclear energy can support a low-carbon future while ensuring energy security was a highlight of the COP27 discussions, including the announcement of the Ukraine Clean Fuels from Small Modular Reactor Pilot project, which aims to produce hydrogen to support energy security in Ukraine.”
Peter Adriaens is a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the College of Engineering and a lead researcher at the Center for Smart Infrastructure Finance. His research focuses on new and efficient funding mechanisms for public and private infrastructure systems.
“One of the biggest problems with investments in climate risk mitigation is greenwashing, by making unverifiable claims on climate impact,” he said. “The financial regulatory requirements from the Task Force for Climate-Related Disclosures, the EU’s Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation, and the Securities and Exchange Commission, which were promulgated after COP-26, require investors, banks and corporations to disclose their climate exposure risks and mitigation strategies.
“Solutions are being proposed to better enforce informational supply chains, from project to investors, for compliance and transparency purposes, through digital technologies such as blockchain and digital ESG securities.”
Volker Sick is a professor of mechanical engineering at the College of Engineering and director of the Global CO2 Initiative, a $4.5 million effort at U-M to accelerate the process of removing carbon dioxide from the air and turning it into useful products. Learn more about the effort and how it could lead to making Nike Airs out of air in this podcast.
“The announcement of ‘Global Shield’ and expanding talks about how wealthy nations can help vulnerable countries to address climate-change-related impacts is a very significant step forward,” he said. “While, of course, financial aid alone does not help, targeted approaches that include assistance with technology deployments must be developed rapidly.
“CO2 capture and downstream utilization have a more prominent place at this year’s COP. This is an opportunity to durably put away CO2 in products such as aggregates and concrete and to use CO2 as an alternative source of carbon for fossil-free access to essential carbon-based products. It can become a mainstream climate solution.”