On Saturday the group once again escaped the conference room and the city, heading out to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in Annapolis, Maryland. The Foundation is headquarted in the Philip Merrill Environmental Center, a building that is as much of an attraction as the organization it houses. The PSIGCC participants had the opportunity of exploring this remarkable building, which was the first in the world to earn the U.S. Green Building Council’s coveted LEED Platinum certification for its sustainability and energy efficiency. From unfinished, unpainted interiors to passive solar and geothermal heating, waterless toilets, recycled materials and low-energy lighting, the Philip Merrill center is a testament to the possibilities of green design. And as Rick, our tour guide pointed out on several occasions, energy efficient design does not necessarily need to be high-tech; in fact, some of the building’s best innovations are delightfully simple. As a case in point, he noted that overheating in one glass-encased conference room was solved not by $10,000 in computer-modelled airflow changes, but by a simple awning.
From the country-wide ramifications of a dam on the Mekong River to the viability of emissions trading, the second full day of PSIGCC 2009 frequently came back to economic considerations. Led by two Henry L. Stimson Center scholars – Dr. Richard Cronin and Mr. David Michel, the participants were asked throughout the day to place their local and regional solutions within the context of economic reality.
In the case of the Mekong, Dr. Cronin’s presentation revealed the fragility of the ecosystem and the vulnerability of a huge swathe of Vietnam’s population to the changes a new dam could effect. This case study is particularly germane to the wider field of climate change because it pits many interrelated forces against each other: local versus regional policies, development versus environmental degradation, upstream versus downstream countries. The at-risk fisheries and the Mekong Delta as a whole, the working groups decided, must benefit from multilateral cooperation between Vietnam’s government and local communities, Cambodia, China, developers and other interested parties. Similarly, Mr. Michel broke the participants into groups to wrangle over the relative merits of carbon caps or taxes. After a spirited discussion Michel concluded the session by suggesting that governments may arrive at workable solutions not by focusing on the burdens of emission controls but by looking for public goods generated by sound environmental policies.
What ties together CDM negotiations, Confucian approaches to environmental stewardship, hydroelectric projects in the Mekong River basin and societal strategies for reducing emissions? Not much, on the surface. But in the first two days of lectures and workshops of PSIGCC 2009, certain themes have emerged. Responsibility and equity are two such themes; they have wound throughout every debate of the Institute so far.
The 2009 PISA Summer Institute on Global Climate Change is off and running. Ushered in by the arrival of our participants from Vietnam, the Summer Institute has sailed along smoothly so far, helped by beautiful weather and delay-free travel. The newly renamed Partnerships for International Strategies in Asia by all appearances is bound for three weeks of productive learning, collaboration and exploration.
Before hitting the lecture hall, the Institute participants spent a day navigating GW and Foggy Bottom, making stops around campus to see the sights, get put into the university system and make introductions to the PISA staff and each other. The long day of logistics and paperwork was not without reward, however, as it ended with dinner at a DuPont Circle house and a return to the hotel, ready to begin the program in earnest.