The Road to Paris

May 7th, 2015 Posted by Blogs No Comment yet

This event was held as part of the Edinburgh International Science Festival at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. The aim of the event was to establish what a success for the climate might look like, and how this might be achieved at the 21st United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of Parties (COP) in Paris – due to be held between the 30th November and 11th December 2015.

The host and facilitator of the panel debate for the evening was Environmental Journalist Fred Pearce. He introduced the first speaker, Pierre-Alain Coffinier, the French Consul General in Scotland. Pierre-Alain explained how crucial it was that the COP involves local authorities, businesses, communities, NGO’s – not just Governments and states. This is the first time this has been such a focus of the UN Climate Change conferences. Climate change is about everyone’s lives and everyone can do something to help. The COP in Paris will also have a civil society village – open to everyone to include communities and encourage all to take action against climate change.

Pierre-Alain also outlined the challenges that France, as the host country has to face. Around 40,000 people (delegates and observers) will attend the COP in Paris. The location, Le Bourget, was selected due to its proximity to transport links and an abundance of accommodation options for all the visitors.

He explained that a great deal of effort has gone into making the COP exemplary in terms of its environmental impact. Water, waste, energy and associated greenhouse gas emissions are all to be minimised – but this doesn’t take away from the impact of 40,000+ people travelling to Paris and how this impact on climate change causing greenhouse gas emissions!?!

Aiming to reduce environmental impact is commendable however – as the last UN Conference of Parties in Lima had a bigger carbon footprint than any previous COP; one and half times the norm. This is because a temporary venue the size of eleven football pitches was constructed to hold the COP in Lima. Concrete was used, and components were flown in from as far as France. Electricity was provided by diesel generators and only around 40 people cycled to the talks each day.

The Peruvian organisers said that the impact of the COP would be offset through protection of forest reserves – though the area designated would need to remain undisturbed for 50 years to completely offset the carbon footprint. More should have been done to reduce the environmental impact in the first place – by promoting sustainable travel options, reusing a venue already in existence and considering renewable energy sources.

Following the success of sustainability initiatives at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the Ryder Cup during 2014, Zero Waste Scotland has published a new guide to help event organisers to plan and deliver environmentally sustainable event. It would be fantastic to see the French organisers deliver a sustainable COP to match these standards.

Prof Corinne Le Quéré, Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research was the next speaker and she explained the science behind the COP – why we must reach an agreement in Paris which will limit global warming to 2°C.

First the problems we face: warm spells and heatwaves, plus heavy precipitation – both are already likely in Europe, and are very likely to increase in the future. Another problem – the big emitters in 2030 are not the big emitters now. This is a problem as the developing economies, such as China, India and Brazil are not the largest emitting countries now, but they will be by 2030 – but why should they sign up to limit emissions, when developed countries were allowed to emit in the past? Why should they sign up when we caused this mess?

There are two sides to this – either you agree and they should be allowed to emit to the same levels that the UK, Europe and USA did in the past. Alternatively, they should learn from our mistakes, and understand that they could take advantage of low carbon industries to boost their economies. The UK’s CO­2 emissions peaked in 1971 and have been falling since – when should other countries be allowed to peak – and what should those peaks be?

Conversely will the developed world be prepared to pay for the impact climate change will have on developing nations?

Corinne’s final thoughts were a three stage action plan which she felt should be part of a long term vision for beyond Paris:

  1. Be wise (through regulation) about how we use energy – and about how we can be more efficient.
  2. Use different (clean, low carbon, renewable) forms of energy
  3. Clean our existing power plants for short to medium term use, through carbon capture and storage.

The Scottish Government’s Minister for Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform Dr Aileen McLeod MSP agrees that 2015 is a crucial year for international action on climate change. The science is indisputable, she says, so we should all be moving to do something about it.

The Scottish Government has already taken steps to demonstrate their commitment to delivering against Scotland’s world leading targets, including through the creation of the Cabinet Sub-Committee on Climate Change and £1billion funding over two years (2014/15 to 2015/16) for climate action. During her talk, the Minister emphasised that taking action to combat climate change was for all of us – individuals, businesses, NGOs and government alike. To help individuals visualise some of the steps required, the Scottish Government has launched Scotland2030, a new online resource which shows people how they could live in 2030 – and includes tips for energy and water saving, as well as for active travel, waste reduction and food to help us all to create this future.

Tim Nuthall, Director of International Communications at the European Climate Foundation was the final speaker. His presentation focused on the way that climate change is communicated in the media. Media coverage of climate change peaked in 2009 – full of positivity about how the COP in Copenhagen was going to create change. However, Tim feels this positivity was short lived (perhaps due to the lack of success in Copenhagen, or due to this (hyped) story on climate science) – and positive media coverage on climate change now is lacking.

Once the floor was opened up to the audience, a key question was about keeping fossil fuels in the ground. It was stated that two thirds of commercially available oil and gas cannot be exploited whilst keeping global temperature rises below 2°C. In Scotland, with our off-shore oil reserves, we generated 44% of our electricity need (no mention of heat), from renewables last year – but if we allow the North Sea to be exploited and sold to other countries – how can Scotland be seen as credible by the international community?

Others wanted to reflect on why Scotland missed annual greenhouse gas reduction targets. However, the panel said we should be positive – despite a missed annual target (due in part to Greenhouse Gas (GHG) inventory changes and re-baselining- perhaps a reference to the CCC report would be good here), we remain on track to meet our 42% reduction target by 2020.

So, how do we measure success? What would success look like in Paris?

The panel agreed that success would be an agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to a level that will keep global warming below 2°C. All countries are to be measured by the same rules / standards in terms of their greenhouse gas emissions – it might help resolve tensions between countries, if they are all seen to be measured the same – comparisons and agreements that are fair can be made.

Host Fred Pearce concluded the evening by asking the audience – ‘do you feel positive about the future, in terms of climate change, action and mitigation?’ The answer – positively, overwhelmingly, was, “Yes!”

Post written by Katy Hunter, 2050 Climate Group

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