Delegate Evan Hansen recounts his trip to the COP28 climate conference in Dubai

MORGANTOWN – Delegate Evan Hansen is back from his trip to the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP28 in Dubai and talked with The Dominion Post about his time there.

“On the one hand, it was inspiring to see so many people trying to find ways to work together to solve the climate crisis,” said Hansen, D-Monongalia. “On the other hand, it also was a pretty stark reminder of how far we are from reducing emissions enough to keep climate change in check.”

Hansen left for the conference – held at Expo City Dubai – on Dec. 4 and participated in panel discussions on Dec. 6 and 8.

His hotel was situated on one of the islands off Dubai’s shore and he could see Iran across the Persian Gulf. “It was definitely far from home.”

Occupied with conference business most of his time, he said, he had little time for tourism, but his group did get to ride to the top of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. He’s been participating for a couple of years in a series of meetings organized by the Jackson Hole Center for Global Affairs and attended COP28 with some of its leaders.

The venue at Expo City Dubai was divided into two zones: the Blue Zone where official negotiations occurred, and the Green Zone surrounding it, where everything else went on.

The negotiations, among nearly 200 parties, resulted in the “world’s first ‘global stocktake’ to ratchet up climate action before the end of the decade – with the overarching aim to keep the global temperature limit of 1.5°C within reach,” the official conference release said

The stocktake, the release said, “calls on parties to take actions toward achieving, at a global scale, a tripling of renewable energy capacity and doubling energy efficiency improvements by 2030. The list also includes accelerating efforts towards the phase-down of unabated coal power, phasing out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, and other measures that drive the transition away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner, with developed countries continuing to take the lead.”

The Green Zone, Hansen said, was a blend of displays, entertainment, trade shows, events and panel discussions organized by different parties. “It’s a little bit like climate change Disneyland.”

The trade shows featured companies working on renewable and nuclear energy, banks that would be funding the work and non-governmental organizations, among others.

Along with his two panels, Hansen said he sat in on several other discussions focused on China – to learn more about what’s going on there and its efforts for a just transition as it goes greener

His first panel was titled, “The Elephant in the Room: Just and Inclusive Transitions in Fossil Fuel Regions.”

Hansen said the U.S., China, other parts of the world face similar issues: how the transition will affect fossil fuel communities and how to take care of them.

“While it has everybody’s attention, there’s no cookie-cutter solutions. It’s a big challenge and especially for countries like the United States that are kind of the first movers,” he said.

Various countries have different dates for peaking their coal consumption and production, and peaking their carbon emissions to hit net zero, he said China is still mining but aims to peak coal production by 2025.

“I think that will help to address some of the concerns that other legislators have expressed: Why should we be suffering the impacts here if China’s just burning more and more coal.” China aims to reach peak carbon emissions by 2030 and reach net zero by 2060.

China and the U.S., he said, are both exploring ways to use coal as a manufacturing input for products, to keep the industry working while not burning it. “I think that’s something that shows some promise and I think there’s some potential additional sharing and information cooperation between the U.S. and China on that.

The second panel concerned the China-U.S. Track II Dialogue on Climate Finance, and followed on the heels of the mid-November announcement that the United States and China reached new agreements to work together on greenhouse gas emission reductions and the rollout of renewable sources of energy.

Hansen talked with The Dominion Post about ensuring domestic renewable energy projects and domestic manufacturing jobs come to the state. “To the extent that we can capture as many of those as possible in West Virginia and benefit communities that are hit the hardest by the decline of coal, that would be great.”

In Dubai, he said, that China is the world leader in solar and wind installations. While it gets a bad rap for its ongoing building of coal-fired plants, it has three times more wind and solar installations than the U.S. And that will help provide some jobs in other coal regions across the globe.

Here in West Virginia, WVU’s Water Research Institute has been leading the way in extracting rare earth minerals from coal mine runoff. Hansen commented, “I’m excited by some of the prospects of bringing some of the mining and processing of the rare earth elements to the United States. It’s also a national security issue. We don’t want to be dependent on other countries, especially countries that might be hostile to us.

“But we have to do it in a way that’s clean, so we’re not trading one environmental problem for another,” he said. “The reality though, is that there’s a lot of unknowns.”

The transition must be rapid, he said, to address climate change. But it will move in fits and starts, with successes and failures.

And there’s a race going on to see who will dominate the technological fields of the energy future. “And that’s another reason why we have such an incentive to move quickly, because the markets for these types of industries are gigantic – they’ve just begun.”

We asked if he brought any take-homes to share with his community and legislative colleagues.

One, he said, “It makes me more convinced than ever that we need to be attracting green manufacturing jobs to West Virginia, and state leaders have done a good job at that over the last couple of years.” It’s important to continue that.

And two, there are ongoing concerns about a growing proportion of renewables disrupting grid stability. Other countries have far more renewables than our PJM grid, he said, and have remained stable. “I plan to bring that fact up when the debate comes up.”

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