Hansen at COP28

The future of energy and the Mountain State

The 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, came to a close this past Tuesday. World leaders in government, business, finance and energy (renewable and, yes, fossil fuels) came together for nearly two weeks of learning, discussing and negotiating. At the end, representatives from nearly 200 countries produced a “global stocktake” and acknowledged that global emissions must be cut nearly in half by 2030 to maintain a worldwide warming of no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Among the presenters was West Virginia’s own Evan Hansen — House of Delegates District 79 representative and    Downstream Strategies president.

Hansen sat on a panel addressing China’s energy production — both coal and renewables — and another that discussed “just and inclusive” transitions for fossil fuel regions.

Although many in America are quick to justify our own fossil fuel use by pointing the finger at China, China is the world leader in solar and wind. Yes, it is still producing coal (which it says will peak in 2025), but it also has three times as many wind and solar installations as the U.S. If China can launch renewables on such a large scale, America should be able to, as well.

Which leads to Hansen’s other topic: Moving away from fossil fuels.

Researchers at WVU, as we’ve mentioned before, are working on extracting rare earth elements from acid mine drainage. REEs are essential components in technology and are primarily imported from China. In the future, West Virginia and other (former) coal states could provide a domestic supply of REEs.

We’ve made note previously that there isn’t an apples-to-apples transition for people who work in fossil fuels, particularly the coal industry. But that doesn’t mean we can’t start preparing the next generation to do something other than mine coal. To us, the key to a “just and inclusive” transition is to bring in industries that would require roughly the same amount of education/training — if not the same skillset — and that offer comparable pay and benefits.

Just because the transition won’t be perfectly smooth and easy doesn’t mean that we can’t or shouldn’t make it. If we’re not careful, the world will move on without us.

Hansen will be the first to say West Virginia’s leaders have made strides toward embracing renewable energy, but we’ve seen a lot of foot-dragging in the halls of the Capitol as lawmakers desperately cling to coal. We think Hansen, among others, could truly help move the Mountain State forward, but his contributions have been artificially limited because he’s a member of the minority party.

The fact that Hansen was asked to present for an international audience at one of the world’s largest environmental events speaks to his knowledge and expertise. We hope his fellow legislators take note and listen not just to the lessons he took with him to Dubai, but to the lessons he brought back that could help secure West Virginia a place in this new era.

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