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4Front Climate Expert Says Policy Needs Diversity

For human-environment geographer Dr. Lauren Gifford, climate change policy is a tale of two peoples: those contributing the most to the problem and those most impacted by it. A featured speaker at next year’s 4Front Conference (taking place June 15–16, 2021), Gifford is a Visting Researcher at the Environmental Justice/Climate Justice Research Hub at University of California, Santa Barbara, and she teaches at Metropolitian State University of Denver. Her research focuses on the complex interplay of climate science, technology and social issues—and how these forces shape environmental policy.

In a recent 4Front podcast, Gifford said that environmental policies often overlook marginalized low-income groups and people of color. On top of that, “the people who contribute least to climate change are impacted the most,” she said. Evidence of this reality can be found in the recent research examining the rise in greenhouse gasses—such as carbon dioxide (CO2)—that are produced from burning fossil fuels and are linked to the worldwide increase in temperatures. A study released last fall by the United Nations Environment Programme found that China, the United States and the European Union were the top producers of greenhouse gasses, followed by India, Russia and Japan. All are developed or emerging nations; absent from the list are what the UN defines as least-developed nations such as Afghanistan and Angola, where poverty rates are high.

The disparities become more apparent when you consider the greenhouse gasses produced per capita across a wider range of countries. A 2018 report on world fossil CO2 emissions issued by the European Commission put the United States at the top of the list, churning out 15.74 megatons per year of CO2 per capita; by comparison, the annual per-capita output for Angola was 1.04 megatons, Afghanistan and Haiti both emitted 0.32 megatons, and Burundi produced just 0.03 megatons.

People in these less developed countries rely more heavily on agriculture, fishing and forest use for their livelihoods, and as greenhouse gasses drive climate change, they face greater loss of income and impacts from crop failures and food shortages. It’s a big challenge. But Gifford maintains that awareness of these issues is growing, and innovative technologies in the renewable energy sector are offering new tools to strengthen environmental policy. Check out the 4Front podcast to learn more about Gifford’s outlook on environmental regulation.

You can also connect with Dr. Gifford in person and explore the future of technology and climate change by reserving your spot at the 4Front Conference today.

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