Rebecca Boyd, an environmental and energy attorney in Bethesda, at the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties in Poland in 2018, also known as COP24. She is attending the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties in Glasgow, Scotland, which runs Oct. 31 to Nov. 12. Credit: Photo from Rebecca Boyd

Rebecca Boyd, a Bethesda environmental and energy attorney, is optimistic as she attends the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties, which started Sunday in Glasgow, Scotland.

Boyd and other environmental advocates in Montgomery County are hoping for meaningful change on measures to help slow or counteract climate change, particularly a break from reliance on fossil fuels.

It will be the third time Boyd has attended the conference. She previously attended United Nations Climate Change conferences in 2017 in Bonn, Germany, and in 2018 in Katowice, Poland.

She’s been interested in climate issues for several years, and has been a member of the Maryland Sierra Club since she moved to Maryland, roughly a year ago.

She’s hopeful that world leaders, including President Joe Biden and others in the United States, act with urgency in meeting its climate goals. Reports from The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and other organizations say that for the world to prevent the most drastic impacts of climate change, countries collectively need to reach zero net emissions by 2050.

Boyd said it’s a “highly ambitious” standard, but necessary to prevent an increase in global temperatures, future large flooding incidents, and other climate-related problems. 

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The UN Climate Change Conference, which will be in Glasgow from Oct. 31 to Nov. 12, consists of two different “zones,” Boyd said.

First, world leaders are gathering throughout the conference and negotiating on benchmarks that each country must meet, such as on greenhouse gas emissions or changing to solar, wind, geothermal or other renewable energy sources.

The other zone consists of “civil society,” Boyd said. That includes nonprofits, business leaders, faith-based organizations and other interested parties who discuss the issues and try to stay aware of what is going on behind the scenes with world leaders.

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“The purpose of the civil society is not only information and network exchanging, but to also hold the negotiations accountable and increase transparency,” Boyd said.

One area that leaders need to focus on for this summit is financing for countries experiencing strong effects of climate change, many of which don’t have money or other resources to make changes.

“The less developed countries … simply don’t have the ability to finance what needs to happen, and it’s the wealthier companies that need to provide that financing and sharing of technology. … It’s really a matter of will — of human will, leadership will and governmental will and individuals,” Boyd said.

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She said that at the conference in Poland, world leaders declared that much of the action to combat climate change needs to occur at the state and local levels. 

Adriana Hochberg, the county’s climate change officer and acting director of the Department of Environmental Protection, said she is interested to see how Biden and other world leaders say they will take action, not just talk about it.

She called the 2020s a “critical decade for climate.”

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“There are so many different issues to track. I think that one important one is … around the electricity grid,” Hochberg said in an interview. “How do we really accelerate the transformation we need to create a clean grid?”

She agreed with Boyd that developed countries like the United States need to assist developing countries.

Montgomery County has multiple initiatives that it is either considering legislatively, potentially drafting as policies or legislation, or have recently passed. They include:

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  • Legislation on building energy performance standards, which aims to reduce greenhouse emissions from various buildings countywide, and make them more efficient. That bill is in the legislative process.
  • The county is considering drafting a bill that would ban gas-powered leaf blowers countywide.
  • The County Council recently passed two initiatives: the 2018 International Green Construction Code, and amendments to a tax credit program for energy efficient buildings. The construction code is a “holistic building code” for making sure construction of new buildings is environmentally friendly. The tax credit is meant as an incentive to help developers and their partners make that happen.
  • Broadly, the county introduced its Climate Action Plan earlier this year. That plan aims to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions in the county by 2035, and cut them 80% by 2027.

Jim Driscoll, a North Bethesda resident and co-founder of Extinction Rebellion–MOCO, a local organization focused on climate issues, said much more needs to be done if world leaders want to take climate change seriously.

“Sadly, it’s more of picture-taking and speech-making as we let the planet kind of sink into oblivion,” Driscoll said. 

“It would be great if they stepped up and said, look, we’re going to reduce greenhouse gas emissions dramatically,” he added. “We have to stop using fossil fuels, we have to cut that back dramatically, we have to increase the use of renewable sources of energy dramatically.”

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Driscoll wrote in an email that a climate action appeal circulating online captures his thoughts about what should be addressed in Glasgow.

The message, distributed by climate action advocates in four countries, says it is an emergency to:
• Limit global warming to 1.5 degrees over pre-industrial levels through “drastic” emissions reductions
• End fossil-fuel investments, subsidies and new projects
• End “creative carbon accounting” by publishing emissions from all sources
• Deliver on a $100 billion promise to help vulnerable countries
• “Enact climate policies that protect workers and the most vulnerable”

More than 760,000 people had signed on in support of the appeal as of Sunday afternoon.

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Boyd is hopeful that the summit in Scotland could be a turning point.

Residents can take actions every day that show they are committed to taking care of the planet, she said. 

A concept she has told people to consider is: “No action is too small, and no action is big enough.”

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Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com