The agreement struck in Poland shows some hope but highlights a clear need for more urgency on climate change, claim Imperial experts.
The 24th Conference of the Parties (COP24) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) concluded on Saturday after two weeks of fraught negotiations and a vast number of events and demonstrations in the bustling conference pavilions, with different interested parties setting out their key positions.
A delegation from Imperial College London consisting of 12 academics, students and communication professionals made up some of the official ‘observers’ of the conference, where they presented at several events supported and led by Imperial; and met with negotiators, other academics, business representatives and environmental activists from around the world to share knowledge and briefings.
Following the conference, members of the delegation are now considering how their efforts have influenced the outcome of the negotiations, and what steps urgently need to be taken to ensure global warming is kept in check whilst improving people's quality of life and economic prosperity.
Progressing the Paris Agreement
We took some small steps forward but we have also brought to the surface the shortsightedness of governments and clear lack of ambition Dr Joeri Rogelj Grantham Institute
After a busy two-weeks the nearly 14,000 delegates from 195 countries managed to agree the rule book for achieving their Paris Agreement promises. This positive outcome brought us closer to achieving a sustainable, zero-carbon society but the cumulative impact of current national emission reduction commitments will not keep the globe within the 1.5°C temperature rise bracket.
“Under the Polish presidency, we took some small steps forward but we have also brought to the surface the shortsightedness of governments and clear lack of ambition to urgently reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said Dr Joeri Rogelj, a lecturer with the Grantham Institute - Climate Change and the Environment, and a lead author of the IPCC’s Report. “The fact that this is happening only two months after the scientific community provided an undisputed call for urgency, only makes the contrast clearer.”
Small steps in the right direction
Some cities, regions and nations around the world have heeded the warnings of the science community and are already making promising steps in the right direction. However, to tackle climate change there needs to be sustained action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. While negotiations took place, delegates attended events at the bustling conference pavilions to discuss how to sustain action and the roles for every part of society from business to politics to everyday citizens.
It was incredibly heartening to be part of this discussion with New Zealand, particularly because of the cross-party support they demonstrated. Alyssa Gilbert The Grantham Institute
Alyssa Gilbert, Director of Policy at the Grantham Institute, spoke about the UK’s Climate Change Act, on a panel discussion alongside politicians and activists from New Zealand, where similar legislation is being considered.
Ms Gilbert commented: “It was incredibly heartening to be part of this discussion with New Zealand, particularly because of the cross-party support they demonstrated. Their politicians - incumbent and opposition - insisted on appearing on this panel together, despite their political differences, to show that they will secure consistent action on the long-term issue of climate change regardless of any changes that come from political cycles.
“The wide support amongst UK Members of Parliament of all flavours for our Climate Change Act has been one of its most successful characteristics and it is great to see it elsewhere.”
Community engagement is vital
COP24 was hosted in a region of Poland that is heavily dependant on the coal industry for employment and energy. This highlighted the important need to ensure a ‘just transition’ to a low-carbon economy, i.e. making changes to cleaner environmental living whilst minimising the potential negative impacts for communities like this, which are dependent on fossil fuel industries.
Professor Jan Cilliers, Chair in Mineral Processing at Imperial, joined a half-day workshop on just transitions. Together with the Mayor of a coal-dependent town in Poland, Professor Cilliers worked to identify the priorities for making a transition away from coal mining to an economically strong future.
Professor Cilliers commented: “This kind of direct engagement with a community that is vulnerable to the low-carbon transition was very important to me. This COP has agreed a rulebook for delivering on national emissions reductions goals, agreed in Paris in 2015, but the real challenge will be protecting the diverse communities around the world, this workshop was part of that journey.”
“This COP has agreed a rulebook for delivering on national emissions reductions goals, agreed in Paris in 2015, but the real challenge will be protecting the diverse communities around the world”
Sharing academic expertise
The Grantham Institute supported academics to share their expertise and the important work that is being done at Imperial to broaden and strengthen the knowledge base in key climate change related areas.
The Grantham Institute organised two UK Pavilion events and an official side-event in the first week of COP24.
The first event discussed global progress on revolutionising the energy system and presented the Energy Revolution Global Outlook report, conducted by Dr Iain Staffell with E4Tech and published by energy company Drax.
In a guest blog in climate news website Carbon Brief and on the World Economic Forum, Dr Staffell presents league tables of the efforts that 25 countries are making to clean up electricity generation, switch from oil to electric vehicles, deploy carbon capture and storage, eliminate fossil fuel subsidies and tackle energy efficiency.
Imperial’s official COP side-event focused on opportunities for growth in renewable energy and the role that energy storage could play in supporting the growth of renewables. Speakers at the event highlighted the important role that renewables need to play if we are to avoid a 1.5°C rise in global temperatures and reflected on the challenges that growth in the renewables sector bring such as addressing the inherent variability of electricity supply.
Dr Robert Gross, Director of the Centre for Energy Policy and Technology and event Chair, commented: “We already have technologies available that can aid the significant growth in renewables and energy storage will have an important role to play as we move towards a cleaner energy system, but the scale-up requires the right policy frameworks and levers.”
“Following COP24 we will be continuing to work with the UK government to build a more sustainable, low-carbon energy system, and to maintain high climate ambition.”
Negotiators will meet several times in the lead up to the next COP, which will be in Chile in December 2019, and will build upon the COP24 outcome. However, all eyes will be on COP26 in 2020, which the UK hopes to host, where countries will report on their current emissions targets and set new targets for 2030 and beyond that go further towards meeting scientific advice. COP26 will act as a vital measure of whether countries are serious about tackling climate change.
You can watch a video of the official side-event, led by the Grantham Institute, here: Renewables and energy storage: An ideal marriage for a low carbon world?
Read more about the Grantham Institutes work on decarbonisation pathways and the transition to a low-carbon future here.
To find out more about just transitions, watch read the Grantham Briefing Paper: Towards a just and equitable low-carbon energy transition or watch the Grantham videos: How can taking action on climate change make all our lives better? And Towards a just and equitable energy transition.
Article text (excluding photos or graphics) © Imperial College London.
Photos and graphics subject to third party copyright used with permission or © Imperial College London.
Ms Abbie Stone
Centre for Environmental Policy
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