COP24: More action, less participation?

This COP was definitely going to be different – and it shows in all the events – it is all about less talk, more action. So something positive already to take away. It is about local, regional actions and at the same time policy (and financial) support from the global level. The technology efficiency growth shows another very positive story – mostly solar panels, lighting. Before heading ahead, what are the negatives – USA really looks absent in the whole discussions, except for researchers and it is definitely a problem. The existing mandates and intense dedications to it from the NGOs and the universities might be a way to go, anyways. India has just a fancy show-off stand with no real event – well, same like its current environmental policies. Also, maybe it is just Katowice (a small coal city atmosphere), but I think the participation as compared to the last previous COPs from exhibitions is still less. Any bad news from industries? – The lock-in systems of industries (the investments for last decades in infrastructure) still remain a problem – e.g. the heating systems, coal power plants. But there are solutions – Carbon capture utilization – it needs more money though!

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So let’s start with some exemplary event to understand how the day of side events looked like in COP24. There were two major events on bringing science to policy implementation. One of the discussed ways in a conference by IPCC, and green climate fund was to understand the tradeoffs versus synergies between the SDGs. But this comes with a warning – The latest IPCC report has already shown the need to already be alarmed at the 1.5 degrees rise of the global temperature – and thus the demands are already to protect every 0.5-degree rise. The gap from 1.5 to 2 degrees already means saving around 2-3 times of the biodiversity loss. The Green climate fund has already and has been investing in around 1.6 billion dollars in developing countries for working on these urgent solutions. Another event by CGIAR project and the Cornell University emphasized the lack of political will to actually bring these researches to implementation.

The other set of events which focused on the energy transition (by IEA, Canada, the European Commission, and Costa Rica) showcased the need of working on the power, building, and the transport industry. The reason for the first two industries of not performing lies in their lock-in investments which are the cause of the current 90% emissions. The transport industry has a problem of the demand growth with the projection of 900 million vehicles on road in a decade. There are implementable solutions, majorly from Pan-Canadian frameworks, and the Climate Action of the European Commission.

The most interesting event for the day was one on public involvement and climate change – how to communicate the real change to real people? This session was held with the communication folks from Monash and Cardiff University, Tyndall Center and many more. The main takeaways were how to keep these messages real and local and crisp, targeting the community ambassadors.

So, summing up – yes I am happy with where we are heading with the discussions and stress on the action, but still worried about the limited participation of the countries and especially the industries.


Notes:

  1. The great tool by IEA for comparing different technologies tracking the clean energy progress – https://www.iea.org/tcep

  2. Pan Canadian framework for greening government strategy: https://www.canada.ca/en/treasury-board-secretariat/services/innovation/greening-government/strategy.html

  3. Climate impact by the area over years: https://www.electricitymap.org

  4. CGIAR project: https://ccafs.cgiar.org/

  5. Climate ledger initiative: https://www.climateledger.org/en/News.3.html?nid=24

Carbon Pricing at COP24: Agenda vs acceptance

Many terms are thrown when it comes to carbon pricing – carbon taxes, internal carbon pricing, discounts – but where they all fail is in actually being accepted by the industries. So COP24 was adamant on asking the reasons for this.

Canada and China started the discussion in the Brussels room of the EU pavilion discussing the carbon pricing approaches. The political will and the structure of government clearly show the difference in the pricing approaches. China with its changing agendas have moved from development/reform authority for carbon pricing to ecology/environment authority and thus shows much more primitive approach than Canada – but still more orientation towards action with focuses on focused industries i.e. cement, power, and Aluminum industry.

Canada has developed a very good framework for making carbon pricing implementable at a larger and more sustained pace. As seen here, the approach is not just setting carbon caps and benchmark, but a method of “backstop” which ensures accountability on emissions for coming years and towards the province. The discussions with non-state organizations like Ecofys, i4ce, World Bank, climate focus – focused on the acceptability of these carbon pricing measures – largely focusing on good communication of the data.

The discussions on internal carbon pricing show that emerging countries are still hesitant, and it still needs a lot of communication and coordination/ administration complexity with the different contractors/ specialists (in a supply chain). But at the same time, there are great advantages for a company to adopt this with the integration of carbon pricing in investment decisions. Cost-benefit analysis and different approaches from EBRD economics, Rijkswaterstaat, The generation foundations – show the scale and adaptation of these strategies worldwide. Almost all the communication projects highlight one thing – “use of revenue” – focus on the growth and innovations (as an investment) over the heavy-pockets.


Notes

  1. Check out the details for Canada frameworks here: https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/news/2016/10/canadian-approach-pricing-carbon-pollution.html

  2. What is Backstop? http://www.chamber.ca/advocacy/briefing/18_Briefing_federal_backstop.pdf

  3. Some of the communication (again) projects are well done visually by the climate outreach program – https://climateoutreach.org/resources/public-engagement-1-5c-ipcc-sr15/

  4. Some details here on the data on carbon taxing and pricing: https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/29687/9781464812927.pdf?sequence=5&isAllowed=y.

Financing long-term strategies: Some insights from COP24

Are we actually heading towards the right targets when it comes to resilience in the future policies?  There are more realistic opinions to this which shows the pressing challenges, but all of these are optimist opinions towards better cities. Optimism is due to the right technologies we HAVE, and most importantly the policy and immense financial support we NEED:  for example, there is need of more than 2.8% GDP of EU for it to realize its goals by 2030. The panel discussion from the participation of EU, France, Costa Rica, Japan, Argentina, and the UK highlighted quite a diverse set of approaches, but similar industry focuses and very similar concerns. EU shares the concern of the inclusivity in the decision making prolonging the results and acceptance, with the stress of doubling the emissions reductions (target for 2018-2030 is 23% reduction while it was 22% for 1990-2017). Thus, EU proposes more transformative processes with graduality and focusing on renewables and renovation for zero-energy agenda.

France recently published its carbon neutral strategies with major focus on the 4 pillars for 2050 goals (1) Sustainable management of the sinks – forestlands, agricultural lands, increase food product, (2) Reduce non-energetic production – waste, residual, etc. (3) Decarbonize the whole energy consumption and production, and (4) Decrease the energy consumption – by a factor of 2! The short-term emissions target are available for every 3-5 years still and focus heavily on the retrofitting of the building stocks. The interesting part from France is the involvement of the carbon sinks i.e. the forests, agricultural lands, etc. in the carbon budgeting and sustainable management plan. Also, their priorities remain to work with continuous public and people authorities.

Costa Rica enlisted how it is aligning with the policy instruments mostly with the data gathering, analysis, and scenario projects. The UK ensured its focus on the risk assessment and the consumption side for handling the long-term strategies, while Argentina focused on the forestry and transportation strategies. Japan’s focus remained on the long-term laws for reducing 80% of GHGs by 2050. The concluding remarks from UNFCCC emphasized the need for multiple pillars e.g. Resilience, Energy transition, local actions, nature-based solutions, finance. Additionally, there were quite broader, but very important comments on the need of (1) constant renewal of the strategies, (2) cooperative political support from all the countries – beyond Environmental industries, (3) creating global perception and a societal debate – to promote the investments from business to households, and (4) raising of the ambitions and thus the intentions and the strategies, meaning meeting the NDCs need exponential trend, not linear growth.

The other side of the financing solutions goes towards African development solutions – with increasing demands and developing economies: with focus on environmental, social and economic development. The panel discussion by the Munich Climate insurance initiative with the African development bank and the Multilateral Development Bank mentioned that there is still a huge need of more targeted finances and more data-intensive approaches for understanding the hotspots of the overall development (as employed by ADB as well). Having said that, there is a need of developed countries involvement for increasing affordability of the solutions. Similarly, there is a need for being aware that the coal burden compensation is not shifted only to African development (and other developing and developed countries take enough responsibilities with carbon taxing/ quitting complete support for coal-based projects).


Decarbonization of the cities – from COP24

Let’s start from East this time. Japan had 75% of people admitted to hospitals for heat attacks due to the heat INSIDE the building. At the same time, the building energy needs are ever increasing with the increasing affordability of people.  This means that the building demands are not decreasing, and so are not the associated impacts. And, this raises a need for very quick actions on the demand side (energy-efficiency and renewables) and supply side (grid balancing, the flexibility of the grid, and better storage) for net-zero energy buildings. The distributed energy systems were a major discussion topic with notable mentions to the grid optimization, intelligent technology solutions from smart meters, better diagnostics, IT solutions like AI/IOT/blockchain based energy distribution solutions, and nuclear power integration with other renewables.

Additional to the technologies, we need indicators for understanding the progress of decarbonization of the cities. Going to the west, ACEEE discussed some of their solutions e.g. 2017 city energy efficiency scorecard and these are derived from parameters like community initiatives, utilities, transportation, and building process efficiency. Multiple policies have been helpful for this, especially in the USA – Energy conversation audit, building energy savings act, etc. Multiple ratings, labels, disclosures are released by ACEEE and the most important solution has been the “benchmarking”, which allows building owners to compare their buildings with other and indicate their performance.

Another project which is more global – C40 cities discussed various solutions at technical and policy level, engaging public and private entities for installation of the solutions. The transport was highlighted as one of the important solutions here with a focus on access to technology-enabled transportation data for passenger mobility. This should not be limited to public transport, but also ride-sharing companies which would help in understanding the gaps in the transportation planning. The report released by C40 with Mckinsey also indicates that energy for heat, electricity, and transport are the biggest issues for the decorbanisation of the cities. As local governments cannot do this alone, major schemes for support are needed as incentives for industries and cities. Taking the example for Paris where C40 worked on, public schools were targeted for the emissions control – leading to an estimated 30% savings. Similarly, Seoul with a loan scheme is facilitating retrofitting of 90000 buildings for becoming zero-energy.

The US green energy building council indicated that with the increased floor area demand, and the target for reducing building emissions by 80-90% by 2050: the buildings need to reduce their consumption emissions immensely to meet the targets. The LEED zero programs, green build program, and grid optimal initiatives are some examples of how this can be made possible. Similarly, with all the decentralized solutions coming up, grid optimization/ flexibility with its extension becomes the biggest need. As this is still an expensive solution, it is important to consider the efficiency versus the reliability of the project before choosing decentralization over other options. Integration of the decentralization solutions with the IT solutions can be quite impactful here: for not just predicting the heat waves and the heat islands, but also helping the district grids’ optimizations with the dynamic data analysis.


Youth at COP24 – scared, but optimist.

When you walk into COP, especially as a beginner in the climate field, the words thrown at you can be quite intimidating: NDCs, V20, MRV, MDB, and so on. But as a youth, you are new and you have many new questions/ curiosities and though we are very much represented by the YOUNGO and many youth organizations, it always feels difficult to get across many relevant questions to the experts in the field.  Fortunately, I have been able to be a part of one of such organizations – YES-DC as the observer delegate at COP24 and one of their events actually discussed this gap. They showed that how they were able to advise the government as a youth climate initiative or Kek (Klimatat-enEnergie Koepel) by appointing representatives to the government in different industries.

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Starting from the field of agriculture, the major suggestions by the youth involved focusing on the diet of the people which is still meat and dairy intensive.  The electricity sector needs a lot of reforms which were suggested by the youth and they were quite ambitious like making PV mandatory on every rooftop, retrofitting existing gas network for hydrogen. But also there were some more suggestions which can be attained more gradually e.g. decentralization of the grid, intraday batteries/ heat buffers solutions for storage. Some suggestions which are quite important in the field, especially for engagement of the youths were related to more stable contracts and paid internships which would help to keep the youth more engaged in the climate sector industry.

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As the Euro/ton CO2 paid by the Netherlands is still very low as compared to the neighboring countries, a range of price was suggested by the youth initiatives for different industries, and a stress was given on the local carbon markets. The mobility industry is still crucial for carbon cuts even if the Netherlands has quite sustainable mobility modes like bicycles, as most of the people in the country still prefer aviation for many travels. But this also demands an action at the global level. The policies suggested by the youth here were on the price by usage for the mobility, and inclusion of green fiscal policy by having a gradual increase in the price for the gas.

The interesting part of the youth discussions is that they have immense pressure on interaction – you like it or not. So though the start of discussion was with the music we loved as teenagers, it became quite serious as everyone agreed that we are definitely not meeting the 1.5-degree challenge – with major frustrations due to rise in populism and lack of political will around the globe. The policies which the youth gave for their own countries from Italy, China, India, Spain, and Brussels included more incentives for bikes e.g. promoting bike lanes, increase in the EV public transport, CCS technologies (with some discussions on why it is still risky for some countries), and a flexible energy management planning.

The sessions on intergenerational inquiry emphasized the actions from all generations, especially as actions (and not just hope) from the youth, and the communication for solidarity between the generations. “We need to keep demanding as the youth to be a part of the conferences, parties – because it is not enough for us to make good consumer choices, but industries do not change.”

Though there are immense challenges which the youth see in achieving our individual NDCs, let alone the 1.5-degree challenge, there is still optimism to give our best. That quite sums up the youth day at COP24. We might be the lovers of social media and seem to be too dreamy, but we are the most aware and active generation to work on climate change – every single day.

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Rural development with climate risk mitigation & adaptation – India at COP24

India always had a supporting stand for helping the climate mitigation and adaptation strategies, by making commitments to cut down 2.5-3 billion tonnes of CO2 by 2030. But all these goals need to sync with the rural development and the economic /employment growth of India – as there are many who still lives in rural areas with minimal or no wages. The implementation of the MGNREGA scheme, while understanding the climate mitigation and adaptation i.e. involving the climate risk assessment is one of the primary policies discussed for this.

The involvement with the ICRG, IPE global has helped develop some case studies for the climate risk assessment for developing infrastructures which are feasible and easily communicable with the local authorities. All these approaches are tapping into data focused methods and using GIS tools. The case study in Fatehpur (Gaya) in the Northern part of India has been able to implement compatible planning of MNERGA assets, climate proofing/ resilient engineering design especially in the horticulture, forestry, fisheries sector. Identifying different indicators for climate vulnerability assessment have helped in achieving this, which finally helped in choosing the infrastructures e.g. contour bunds, earthen burding, etc. Climate apps and communication tools like games in the communities have helped further adapt these new infrastructures.

One more interesting takeaway was from the approach of urban participation in the rural development e.g. some projects in Satara which helped rejuvenation of the wells by inclusive development (details). There are multiple approaches for achieving a climate and economy inclusive approach as researched by IIED and IISc. They focus on steps to absorb, adapt, and transform i.e. providing wages (which are climate shock adaptation), infrastructures (which are risk assessed investments), focus on institutional strengthening and help skill development to the households. Public grants, loans, equity, risk finance are major investment channels for this. One interesting research by IISc helped in allocating area data to the MGNREGA employment data helping develop the average area per work and estimate the Carbon sequestration possible. This has helped recommendations to MGNREGA like complementing forest cover and tree cover activities with the crop plantations.

Concluding, I think this data intensive approach to support employment development activities with climate risk assessed infrastructure would be a good way to go for India.

Game of Parties – COP24, what lies ahead.

COP, or conference of parties is the high-level agenda meeting for 2 weeks where countries discuss how do we actually stick to the 2-degree challenge (preferably, 1.5). I attended as an observer and though engaged in a lot of questions and discussions, I felt so much more could be done. Though I should accept a lot more has been achieved from the last years, especially on the front of the bottom-up approaches and the involvement of the public. There were also some great discussions on carbon finance and carbon pricing – how developed countries are lagging behind in attaining the NDCs (Nationally determined contributions) to prevent the climate change, and how developing still needs finance.

But what put me off most was the lack of discussion on the life cycle approach and the associated environmental impacts. EU and most of the developed countries also focussed on the emissions, and that too the carbon emissions – but forgot the holistic environmental footprint impact. Also, the aerospace industry was there, but there were quite little discussions on the actual strategies and most of the countries were giving up because the Paris agreement says nothing about the aviation. Another sad part was the reduced participation from the countries: especially many underrepresented parts of Africa and much-reduced involvement of USA. Coming from Zurich, I looked for Switzerland – but found them missing – they claim to do their part with quite an eco-friendly lifestyle of the consumers, highly clean electricity mix and a large support of funds for Africa Development banks for climate mitigation and adaptation. What they forget is their supply chains – and apparently, there was no one to discuss this with.

There were some really new agendas being pushed – mostly by China and Poland on the nuclear energy and the social sustainability issues were blindsided even in Q&A rounds. This is a bit terrifying, but they say it is still “clean”. The other thing which scared me was the division of dialogues between different countries – e.g. EU focused on the energy, while the Pacific islands pushed on the food production and biodiversity. There was no bridge or discussion between the two, ironically that these pavilions were right behind each other. 

So who wins this – or rather, how do we stop thinking of this as a cooperation and not a competition? I am not sure, as I have no clue how political agendas work. Personally, I am a tech-savy-tech-pro-tech-nourisher. And I believe science is the way to go, but I have serious implementation fears with misaligned agendas of the countries. I hope the frameworks like those by Canada for carbon pricing, the recommendations as in the tracked clean energy progress by the IEA, and other tools and methods actually get some more attention. I hope.

But what I take away for the next year? I take away the need to have a more positive discussion, with countries talking about not what I did good and what you didn’t – but honesty. I hope countries are open to accepting what they could not do good and what they can do better.  I know this needs much more fundamental changes in our political and industrial systems, but I hope we change – for the good of humanity. For the good of the one planet we have

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