What Michiganders need to know about climate change and COP26

by Nina Ignaczak

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What is COP26?

The United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP26, started on Oct. 31 and runs through Nov. 12, 2021. World leaders are in Glasgow, Scotland to review their nations’ commitments to cutting greenhouse gas emissions under the 2015 Paris Agreement. The agreement aims to limit global warming to 1.5-2°C (2.7-3.6°F).

You can stream COP26 here and follow the happenings on Twitter. Washington Post and New York Times have live updates. Here’s the full schedule.

U.S. Presidential Climate Envoy John Kerry said COP26 is the world’s “last best hope for the world to get its act together.”

That’s because the effects of climate change are materializing more quickly than anticipated. If the nations aim to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5C, global carbon emissions must fall by 45% from 2010 levels by the end of this decade, according to climate scientists.

What does a warming climate mean for Michigan?

Scientists project most substantial warming will happen in the Midwest and upper New England. Depending on how quickly emissions are cut, warming across the U.S. could range from 1-5°C (1.8-9°F) relative to 1991-2020 by the year 2100.

Here’s what that looks like in Detroit:

Source: https://www.climatecentral.org/

Michigan is already seeing the impacts of climate change, according to University of Michigan researcher Patricia Koman.

“That's documented in temperature increases, changes in precipitation, and other physical effects that then have important implications for health,” she told Michigan Climate News.

According to Koman, who holds appointments in the School of Public Health and College of Engineering, those health risks include increased waterborne disease, increased food insecurity, heat stress vulnerability, worsening cardiovascular and pulmonary disease resulting from worsening air pollution, and a higher risk of vector-borne diseases from ticks and mosquitoes, such as Lyme disease.


“It’s important to note that climate change is especially creating adverse effects on vulnerable populations such as children, the elderly, people who work outdoors in occupational settings, people with chronic diseases, people who don't have resources, who may be experiencing poverty, or are otherwise marginalized and experiencing discrimination,” Koman said. She and colleagues produced this map identifying the areas within Michigan most vulnerable to heat stress.

Source: https://michiganview.org/MI_Environment_Tool.html

How much does Michigan contribute to climate change?

Greenhouse gas emissions data compiled by the World Resources Institute show that Michigan is the tenth-largest state in its overall greenhouse gas emissions. Most of those emissions come from electricity generation and transportation.

Source: https://www.wri.org/insights/8-charts-understand-us-state-greenhouse-gas-emissions

But on a per-capita basis, Michigan ranks much lower.

Source: https://www.statista.com/chart/20848/per-capita-co2-emissions-by-us-state/

Michigan is among the states that have lowered its emissions over the past decade, down 0.17% between 2005 and 2018.

Source: https://www.wri.org/insights/8-charts-understand-us-state-greenhouse-gas-emissions

What does COP26 mean for Michigan?

In the absence of a strong national policy around clean energy, it’s harder for individuals and states to make progress in mitigating climate change.

“There are a lot of things that people can do in their everyday life to improve climate change, but we need very large system effects — national policies that make climate mitigation easy,” Koman said. “People don't want to think about heroic action. They want to just turn on their lights, which they want to have electricity, and they don't want to harm somebody with that action. And so we need our electric grid and our utilities to use renewable energy and quickly make that transition.”


But state and local governments are in a solid position to effect change even in the absence of federal action, according to WRI, because they govern local transportation and land use decisions and decide how to allocate federal funding.

In September of 2020, Michigan’s Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced the MI Healthy Climate Plan Initiative, which aims to create a state-level framework for achieving her 2020 executive directive calling for Michigan to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

The directive calls for the state to “Implement policies that advance the goals of the Paris Agreement, aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emission by at least 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.”

As part of that effort, the state convened a council of experts to draft recommendations for the plan around a series of five topics — Transportation and Mobility, Energy Production, Transmission, Distribution, and Storage, Building and Housing, Natural Working Lands and Forest Products, and Energy Intensive Industries. The recommendations are coming out now through the end of the year, with a draft plan expected to be available for public comment in January.

You can view the Michigan Council on Climate Solutions workgroup recommendations here and submit comments to EGLE-ClimateSolutions@Michigan.gov.

How can I get involved with climate change advocacy in Michigan?

Koman recommends Michiganders interested in taking action on climate change start by educating themselves. She recommends reading the Fourth National Climate Assessment, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Sixth Assessment Report, and the Lancet Countdown report.

She also recommends having conversations with their local elected and public health officials and joining local groups advocating for climate change action and environmental justice.

“Climate change may feel far away and too big and too scary. But it's not,” Koman said. “We have successfully reduced other air pollution emissions in the past. And climate change is a little trickier. But we can do this one. It's possible. We know what we need to do. We just need to take action now.”


What questions do you have about the environment and climate change in Michigan? Please let us know by reaching out to me at nina@planetdetroit.org. NOTE: Please don't reply to this email, it will go into a digital netherworld, never to be seen again. We hope that changes soon!


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