Marineland Mayor Angela TenBroeck is on her way to Dubai, where she’s been invited to address the United Nations’ climate change summit starting Thursday. The summit includes representatives from nearly 200 countries and thousands of businesses, non-governmental organizations and advocates for a cleaner, cooler planet.
TenBroeck will be on on a series of panels addressing clean water, workforce, economic development, hunger alleviation and justice for indigenous people.
“We have techniques that have worked, that are working all over the world, both on the ground and in the greenhouses, in aquaculture and in workforce development,” TenBroeck said, referring to her work through the non-profit Center for Sustainable Agricultural Excellence and Conservation, which she heads. Her aquaponics farm on 30 acres in East Palatka explains it. The farm saves 1.5 billion gallons of water a year by re-circulating an aquaculture system that raises fish and plants without chemicals. “We have put these farms all over the world,” she said, placing her work at the intersection of agriculture and climate change.
A Rotarian and Florida’s 2021 Agriculture Woman of the Year, TenBroeck was chosen by fellow Rotarians to represent the organization at the climate summit, where she will speak to both state negotiators (a group called the “Blue Zone” at the summit) and others in the “Green Zone.”
The UN summit is the most consequential international initiative attempting to bring man-made climate change under control, though those efforts since the first Earth Summit in 1972 and the 1992 Conference on Environment and Development in Rio have consistently fallen short of agreed-upon emission-reduction targets.
This year’s conference, called COP28 (for 28th Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) is looking for a course correction and another global agreement on a lower-carbon future. The course correction is needed because the world is getting away from the 2015 Paris Agreement, an international treaty that was “to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.” The world is currently at 1.2°C above those levels, and rising.
To get there, greenhouse gas emissions must peak before 2025 at the latest, the UN states, and decline 43 percent by 2030. The target is nowhere near within reach. (Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the agreement after becoming president. Joe Biden returned the U.S. to the agreement.)
The 13-day conference is hosted by the United Arab Emirates, a leading producer of fossil fuels, and presided over by Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, a UAE minister and head of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company. The irony is not lost on TenBroeck.
“I see it as an opportunity for people who live within the region to grow,” TenBroeck said. “So I think that we must embrace everyone. And the idea, while it is ironic and rather different, we must also embrace people because is at that the relationship level where we will make changes for our future.”
The conferences also showcase the cutting edge of green technologies, theories and applications. A disciple of Norman Borlaug, the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize winner who revolutionized agriculture and is credited with saving billions from famine, TenBroeck refers to Borlaug when she says her “life goal is to put farms everywhere, decentralizing farming so that people can eat everywhere.” By which she means localizing and making farms self-sustaining.
“The Walton Family Foundation has funded my work in the Mississippi Delta, both in Arkansas and Mississippi, in the poorest counties in those states, which is the epicenter of poverty in America,” TenBroeck said said this morning, just as she was walking into a meeting on resiliency at the St. Johns County Emergency Operations Center. Through sustainable agriculture techniques, she said, “we’ve been successfully pushing in economic development through education and workforce development. So with all of that work together, the Rotary felt like I was best suited to be a member of their delegation going into the COP28 because agriculture is a big topic and we as agriculturists around the world consume the majority of water. We are the caretakers of the land. And so, we have techniques that have worked, that are working all over the world, both on the ground and in the greenhouses, in aquaculture and in workforce development.”
It’s curious that while TenBroeck has been tooting the horn of sustainability and innovations in the face of climate change, she tends to get a better reception outside of Flagler County than within it, except in Marineland, which is incorporating a response to climate change in its comprehensive plan. “Marineland is actually working towards being, in Flagler County, one of your first [municipalities] to offer out a climate resilient plan for our community,” TenBroeck said. Her message may resonate more in Dubai than it would in Palm Coast or Bunnell. “What is the saying, we are welcomed in foreign lands, but within our home, we are not always appreciated?” she asked rhetorically.