By Mahvish Ilyas, Intern
Climate change has become one of the biggest challenges of this era. Satellite imagery shows how drastically glaciers have receded in the northern areas of my home country Pakistan. Globally climate-related calamities and disasters have become more frequent, the most recent example is the devastating Southern California fires – a wake-up call that no one can hide from the impacts of the changing climate. In an effort to combat climate change, nations from across the globe came together at the 21st annual Conference of Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and ratified the Paris Agreement. The Paris Agreement is a pioneering accord to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to keep the global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial levels and to mobilize efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius. This year’s Conference of Parties (COP23) was held at Bonn, Germany from 6-17th November. Having a keen interest in climate science for years, I took the opportunity to participate in the COP23 Sustainable Innovation Forum (SIF) which was one of the events hosted alongside the Conference of Parties. The opportunity to join the SIF as a volunteer and member of the organizing team was provided to me by Climate Action.
The atmosphere of the event was electrifying. In fact, the whole city of Bonn buzzed with enthusiasm as people from around the world trickled into the Climate Campus. The Conference Zones were connected by a network of electric shuttles that ran on 100% renewable energy. The COP23 event was managed to ensure carbon neutrality and everything from catering to waste collection was done sustainably. SIF brought together government officials, climate action leaders, and professionals from across the globe to share ideas on how to use innovation and policy frameworks to drive change. Even though the issue being addressed at the event was dire, I was amazed by the positive energy of the participants and the spirit of collaboration between representatives from different nations.
Since energy occupied a center stage at SIF, the event was very relevant to the work I am currently doing at Philadelphia Energy Authority (PEA). Some of the key themes covered at SIF included energy storage, renewable energy grid integration, sustainable transportation, climate financing, and climate-smart agriculture. A key highlight of SIF was an inspiring presentation by David Hochschild, Commissioner, California Energy Commission. Hochschild was accompanied by his two daughters who came on the stage to speak before him pledging their commitment towards the environment. Their presence was symbolic of Hochschild’s and the State’s commitment towards safeguarding the environmental rights of the future generations. Hochschild gave insights into how California is transitioning towards clean energy to become a global renewable energy leader.
The group that brought me to the COP – Climate Action – hosted the US pavilion at the talks, including the “We Are Still In” exhibit. We Are Still In is a declaration that was initiated in June 2017, by businesses, boardrooms, universities, and more than 2500 leaders from America’s city halls including Philadelphia to uphold the Paris Agreement. The exhibit and the presence of US representatives at SIF created a significant impact on signaling commitment towards climate action.
COP23 also marked the launch of America’s Pledge Phase 1 Report which is a roadmap on how the people, businesses, cities, and States can progress towards Paris Agreement goals even in the absence of federal support.
SIF focused on the importance of local governments to drive global change which is very relevant to Mayor Kenny’s commitment to upholding the Paris agreement and the City’s goal to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2030 (for City’s built environment). The event left me feeling very excited to continue working for Solarize Philly – Philadelphia’s iconic solarize campaign which was launched by PEA this year in July. Solarize Philly supported 186 households to sign contracts for solar, an investment worth $3 million!
Solarize Philly is a perfect example of how local governments, solar installers, utility providers, and communities can work together to combat climate change while advancing local economic development. The time to break free from fossil fuel economies is now and each one of us has the power to impact change!
About the Author: Mahvish is an international graduate student of Masters in Environmental Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Her concentration is environmental policy, management, and business. She is a currently working as an intern at Philadelphia Energy Authority. Mahvish is originally from Lahore, Pakistan. She loves to travel and explore new cultures and cuisines.