Thus far, we, in our blog posts, have spoken mostly about two of the principal ‘zones’ of the official Le Bourget COP21 site, the Blue Zone and the Climate Generations area (also known as the Green Zone). But there is a third: La Galerie des Solutions. Through the doors of the Air and Space museum, a 5-minute shuttle ride from the Blue Zone, is the COP21 business forum.
At times the Climate Generations area reminded me of a gluttonous Thanksgiving dinner. La Galerie, then, amounts to a medieval coronation feast. Sleek glossy booths with nine-foot walls and raised floors (the existing one isn’t good enough). Lavish banners and large high-resolution screens and computers. Cars. More than one. For being a ‘Solutions’ gallery, there was an awful lot of consumption on display.
At times the Climate Generations area reminded me of a gluttonous Thanksgiving dinner.
Biochar, maize and wood chips (notably claiming carbon negativity). On-board Carbon Capture and Sequestration for cars burning gasoline (the CO2 of course to be used for enhanced oil recovery), natural gas, and “clean coal.”
If these are the solutions, they may be right. And that’s a terrifying thought. I accept that it is highly unlikely that we will come to a full stop and end combustion of fossil fuels in the near future. I expect combustion of biomass at some scale to continue indefinitely. But these are not global-scale solutions. Not even close.
And why not? This is what I found most disturbing of all. Nowhere in the Solutions Gallery did I see anything that considered the impact that these ‘solutions’ (including combustion) have on local communities. Nowhere in the Solutions Gallery did I see anything that had anything to do with adaptation. Maybe I missed something. But as I wound my way through, two fundamental issues were notably absent.
Nowhere was the placement of these coal and biochar energy plants considered; nowhere were local health impacts considered. Whether building anew or maintaining production, if your model involves smokestacks open to the sky ‘over here’ on the premise that emissions will be taken up by plants ‘over there,’ you are missing a key factor: between ‘here’ and ‘there’ are people who will pay the price.
According to the NAACP, 39% of the 6 million people living within three miles of a U.S. coal-fired power plant are people of color. The average per capita income in those three-mile buffers is $18,400. People of color and low-income communities are disproportionately impacted both directly and indirectly by climate change and the mechanisms that drive it.
According to the WHO, air pollution is “the world’s single largest environmental health risk.” The business world is not unaware: Forbes published disturbing statistics on lives lost per kilowatt hour of energy produced, ranking coal as the most deadly, followed by oil, biofuel, natural gas, hydropower, solar and wind. Non-fatal health costs of energy bring tallies still higher. When the first four ranked are based on combustion (even when looking at U.S. numbers for coal, which are much lower due to the Clean Air Act), I believe it is irresponsible to promote combustion as the way of the future.
If you are proposing “solutions” to climate change, adaptation must be part and parcel. Adaptation is a matter of justice. The absence of adaptation solutions in La Galerie des Solutionssends a strong message about what ‘counts’ as a solution and where priorities lie. Perhaps it is because the best adaptation plans are built in direct consultation with communities and therefore may not be scalable that they have been excluded; perhaps it is because those solutions may not be as technophilic as many proposed mitigation solutions at La Galerie. But the omission of adaptation in one of the three—just three—official Le Bourget sites leaves a gaping hole.
If you are proposing solutions, local impacts on marginalized communities must be part of the development of those solutions. If their needs are not met, it is not a solution. People around the world are feeling the impacts of climate change now, not tomorrow. Ignoring adaptation in a ‘Solutions’ space effectively means ignoring that reality. These issues were not even included in the discussion. For lack of a better word, as far as I could tell, adaptation and local impacts were forgotten.
Adaptation, it seems, does not sell. Neither does considering local impacts. This is not news to the people who have been working on these issues for decades, including those we had the privilege of speaking with throughout the course, on-site and on campus. These people included Jihan Gearon, of the Black Mesa Water Coalition; Walden Bello of the University of the Philippines, a Right Livelihood Laureate; and Harjeet Singh, of Action Aid India; among others. But seeing at La Galerie des Solutions was a slap in the face.
If this is the face of business engaged with climate, I do not believe that solutions will come from business. If business is to engage seriously with climate issues, it has significant work to do.