Surbhi Bharadwaj

Students and faculty from various Yale professional schools flocked to San Francisco for the first Global Climate Action Summit last week, organized by California Governor Jerry Brown.

The conference, which Brown organized in response to the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, took place from Sept. 12 to 14. Among the thousands of attendees were numerous Yale affiliates, including the team behind the Yale Carbon Charge, a groundbreaking project under which the University’s administrative units must pay $40 for each metric ton of carbon they emit. According to the summit’s press release, the purpose of the event was both to highlight real action that institutions and governments are taking to combat climate change, and to encourage others to take similar steps.

“This summit is really about action, not talk. Whether you’re a university, an NGO or a government, really come to the conference and share what actions you are taking,” said Courtney Durham FES ’19. “If we keep doing this, we can galvanize support and keep up the momentum for climate action in the United States and abroad.”

The Yale Carbon Charge has collaborated with other universities in the past to discuss carbon pricing models, said Casey Pickett FES ’11 SOM ’11, director of the Yale Carbon Charge. The team realized that the summit would be an ideal opportunity to share that work with others, Pickett said. At the summit, Yale and a few other institutions working on similar projects hosted affiliate events. The presentation was introduced by former Secretary of State John Kerry ’66, who in his remarks stressed the importance of carbon pricing in addressing climate change.

“There are many of us at Yale who feel that planetary health issues, like climate damage, desertification and extreme weather events are the premier problem of our time,” said Ann Kurth, dean of the School of Nursing. “And this is a gathering of people to address that.”

From Pickett’s perspective, the summit was likely the most important meeting in the run-up to the U.N. climate conference, which will take place in Poland this December. The purpose of the gathering was to allow various players working to combat climate change to make commitments and set clear goals, he added. Even if the United States federal government opts not to pursue anti-climate change policies, he continued, subnational governments and private institutions can still take strong action. Speakers, including Kerry and former Vice President Al Gore, encouraged attendees to address climate change on the local level, Durham said.

“This conference has done a really nice job of motivating companies and institutions and cities and countries to make new climate commitments and announce them from the stage,” Pickett said. According to Durham, most of the speakers got on stage to announce new initiatives, solidifying the summit’s goal of generating momentum for the climate movement.

According to Kurth, the topic of divestment came up several times during the conference. Many companies spoke about the issue of divesting from fossil fuels, while also investing in greener technologies.

“There has been tremendous growth in that shift to clean energy investment, on the order of trillions of dollars,” Kurth said. “This very rapid shift was, probably in many regards, started by students pushing for this on campuses, to think about where our money is invested. It’s taken on a life of its own even in the market.”

Yale Blue Green, Yale’s network of alumni working on environmental issues, held a networking event during the summit’s three-day span.

Overall, the summit stressed that the Trump administration’s position is not reflective of all American attitudes towards climate change, Kurth said. Others Yalies agreed.

“Regardless of what the White House might be saying, there are actions and policies on the ground that are counteracting that rhetoric,” Durham said.

Maya Chandra | maya.chandra@yale.edu