Malibu environmental advocate and entrepreneur makes presentations at COP28 in Dubai

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Malibu environmental advocate Trevor Neilson speaks at the Fortune Magazine Global Forum last year. Neilson attended multiple climate change conferences at the end of 2023. Contributed Photo

Trevor Neilson encourages City Council to immediately develop a climate change adaptation plan

By Barbara Burke

Special to The Malibu Times

As waves crash mercilessly against Malibu’s coastline due to atmospheric rivers and El Nino’s effects, Malibu local environmental advocate and entrepreneur Trevor Neilson has returned after participating in COP28 presentations with a renewed sense of urgency and resolve to help our community prepare more comprehensively for, and respond to, climate change’s effects on Malibu.

COP 28 was the United Nations Climate Change Conference, which took place in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, from Nov. 30 to Dec. 12, 2023.

“Malibu is on the front lines of climate change and the city needs to do much more to prepare for it and adjust to it, as well as to follow the powerful words of the city’s Mission Statement, which are profound.”

Neilson said. “The Mission Statement says that Malibu is committed to ensure the physical and biological integrity of its environment through the development of land use programs and decisions to protect the public and private health, safety and general welfare.” 

He emphasized that the city’s Mission Statement also specifically addresses preserving Malibu’s natural and cultural resources, which include the ocean, marine life, tide pools, beaches, creeks, canyons, hills, mountains and ridges, views, wildlife and plant life, as well as open spaces.

It is through that prism that Neilson returned from COP28 to live, work in, and advocate for Malibu’s preservation and protection.

On a macro scale, Neilson noted that Malibuites should be mindful of the large ships offshore that are visible from Malibu. Those ships transport goods from Asia to Southern California ports. Neilson, who is CEO, chairman and co-founder of WasteFuel, spoke at the Fortune Magazine Global Forum preceding COP28. He addressed waste and the climate crisis and how WasteFuel transforms trash into renewable fuel that will clean up shipping. 

Turning waste into sustainable fuels is not a distant prospect, Neilson notes, adding that WasteFuel uses innovative, proven solutions to convert waste into bio-methanol for shipping, a fuel that dramatically reduces emissions by up to 90 percent compared to fossil energy. Neilson emphasized that the International Maritime Organization estimates that shipping accounts for about 3 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. 

Decarbonizing shipping is imperative, Neilson submits. He stated that for the first time, shipping CEOs united and called to end fossil-fuel-only new builds at COP28, a collaborative effort that marks a significant step toward achieving green shipping.

Neilson also attended and spoke during a roundtable at the Business and Philanthropy Climate Forum, @BPCForum, hosted by the Sustainable Markets Initiative. There, he worked alongside heads of state and governments, CEOs of business and finance and leading philanthropists. He noted that was the first time the global private sector was an integral part of an official COP28 program. 

“Addressing the climate emergency requires cross-sector collaboration, and the private sector has a critical role to play,” said Neilson, who is also the co-founder and ex-CEO of i(x) Net Zero, a leading sustainable investing platform that is publicly traded on the London Stock Exchange (IX.), and the co-founder and former chairman of the Malibu Foundation.

“Infinite waste on a finite planet does not work out very well,” WasteFuel recently posted. “Utilizing and minimizing waste to create a circular economy will radically impact how we view, value and treat waste and how we harness its extraordinary power to mobilize into the 21st century.”

Neilson noted that scientists are developing new analytical tools to assess the impact of methane emissions. COP28 included latest generation technologies to address the battle against methane emissions, including a groundbreaking initiative spearheaded by the Global Methane Hub with support from Google, which shows methane emissions at landfills around the world leveraging satellite technology to combat the adverse effects of methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas.

Neilson explained that methane is a potent green gas that is more than 28 times more effective at trapping heat in our atmosphere than carbon dioxide, with potentially disastrous environmental consequences because methane emissions contribute to air pollution, harm ecosystems, and are linked to health issues. 

“WasteFuel uses waste that would otherwise decompose and release harmful emissions, including methane, to produce cleaner fuels.” He said. Trash in landfills is warming the planet, he added, noting that WasteFuel is taking action by putting a stop to methane release by converting landfill waste into green methanol, thereby fighting climate change, one landfill at a time.

“We started WasteFuel with the thesis that our waste could be our fuel and that the waste crisis can be an opportunity.” Neilson said.

Addressing climate change challenges locally

On a micro scale — in Malibu, which Neilson calls home, he asserts that there are many urgent things we need to accomplish to ameliorate climate change — and to respond to it. 

“The city needs to have a comprehensive climate change adaptation plan immediately — the two greatest climate risks in Malibu are sea erosion and wildfire, which is why I asked the City Council to declare a climate emergency after the Woolsey Fire because its effects are apocalyptic as it destroyed approximately 1,000 structures in and near Malibu,” Neilson told The Malibu Times as he discussed how the deliberations at and conclusions developed at COP28 have similarities to Malibu’s aspirational mission statement.

“Just as with Malibu’s Mission Statement, which seeks to retain our rural character and let climate-related risks inform our decisions, so it is globally,” Nielson said. “COP28’s final statements are aspirational but it is imperative we meet them.”

“Addressing the climate-change-related urgent concerns are existential for both Malibu and the world because climate issues directly impact both our health and safety,” Neilson said. 

“Malibu is so special and we need to preserve it — we were a leader in prohibiting plastic straws and in prohibiting toxic pesticides — it’s absolutely urgent that we lead in many other ways, something that requires the City Council and the citizens to care about the environment.”

Specific measures Neilson advocates for the city to take include having the city provide subsidies to residential and commercial residents to enable them to go off the grid and developing strategies to respond to the forthcoming climate changes.

On a state level, Neilson advocates amending the California Building Code to improve its provisions so that they evolve with nature and science, which he says “are very clearly telling us that the climate’s challenges are bad and about to get worse and we need to be prepared.

“Malibu is clearly not at all prepared for a climate disaster such as Woolsey or a severe ocean-related, climate-caused disaster.”

COP28 came to an end that left Neilson with mixed feelings. He was hoping for more commitments that would lead to meaningful impact. Similarly, he implores residents — and our city leaders — to take climate threats seriously and take actions to address it. There is, he submits, absolutely no time to waste.

Trevor in Gaza