Monthly Archives: December 2018

Climate Conference Blog 4 – Towards a New Climate

I spent my final day in Katowice at the Towards a New Climate Conference, in a former coal mine shaft, now art gallery on the edge of town. 

The day kicked off with Bas Eichout, a green MEP arguing for action now, not a reliance on carbon capture technologies saying, “the more we wait, the more insecure we will be, betting on unknown t‎echnologies.” He predicted the COP would end in drama, on how ambitious technical changes and finance to support developing countries would be, with the big hole left by Trump’s pulling out. But he said that the hope we can take away is that we need a zero carbon economy, and that this can be achieved. 

The session I chaired focused on where the million jobs to transition to zero carbon in the UK would be, launching a report titled, ‘Unlocking the Job Potential  of Zero Carbon‘.

Peter Sims of Greenhouse Think Tank ‎explained how creating the jobs needed to deal with climate change would localise the economy and rebalance it across the UK, away from London. Transitioning our lives in terms of energy, a shift from a ‘single-use society’ to a circular economy, localising food and farming and transforming transport. Tommy Simpson of Green Foundation Ireland talked of the need to engage workers and trade unions with these real numbers, and ensure these jobs had decent pay and conditions. He said we needed a plan from the bottom up, like that created by the Lucas Aerospace workers back in 1976 (see short film about this
here). And he said that focusing on economic growth was not creating jobs – so we should focus on work and climate change together, which he called a Just Transition. Finally, Anja Siegesmund, Minister for the Environment in Thuringia, Germany spoke of how even where we have ditched coal already, there was still a long way to go. And that the politics of transformation must energise and lead to wide acceptance of the need for social change, which needs a planned approach to respond to the climate emergency.

And it is just that. The carbon clock shows we have just 9 years if we don’t drastically cut emissions before feedback loops make climate change dangerous and the consequences disastrous for the human race. 

The final session discussed the false hope presented by nuclear power, and how this is incompatible with dealing with climate change as it is risky, has only limited efficiency gains and investment in it would divert finance from renewables which are now cheaper so better value. After a presentation on the shocking impact of Uranium mining on the Navajo nation the US a French research group called Negawatt presented on how France could go zero carbon by cutting demand, improving efficiency and scaling up renewables alone. ‎
The close of the event reflected on the overall climate conference. Evelyne Huytebroeck contrasted how these annual conferences have changed since 2004: more civil society voices and much more positive atalthough still not enough) progress. and the nlack of a progressive voice nowf rom the EU, let alone the UK? Maybe that is because Europe and the UK are divided on the future we want, so focusing on telling the story of how can deal with environmental, climate and social justice issues together is not the number one thing on our minds. But that is the story we must tell. It must be our story. The story of our time.

Natalie Bennett then closed the event, talking of the role of lawyers in taking things forward. “Making laws is how we arrive at political consensus”, she said. And while the COP24 continues to strengthen the rules for our future this will never be enough – the role of cities, local actions, bottom-up networks must not just lead, but do so in ways that draw-up and energise, that inspire hope. And we must carry that hope, as that is what will take us to a better world.

Climate Conference Blog 3 – Is this really the way we will change the world?

‎This is surely the largest conference I have ever been too. The food court took over the ground floor of a sports arena. Registration requires a warehouse. And alongside the main events (which seemed to be a lot of statements by different government ministers from around the world)

there was a bewildering array of ‘important meetings’ in public, business-led programme, country sponsored events and charities and other non-governmental-organisations. And that is before counting all the “closed” meetings where I presume the real negotiations were actually taking place.

Yes it was interesting. How all the different countries choose to portray themselves. Including the British one which looked like a trade mission. And the one organised by lots of American organisations in place of the event being boycotted by the USA.

But does this represent enough real leadership – let alone action – to deal with climate change and inequality together?

I went to a session on climate finance which seemed to focus on words like ambition, monitoring, targets and frameworks. I questioned why two panel members, the EIB and EBRD, still choose to spend more on increasing the use of fossil fuels than on renewable energy. The answers talked about energy security, were positive but made no commitments. But its not good enough to just stop coal extraction (which is still a challenge) – we need to reduce our consumption of fossil fuels by 10% a year and leave most in the ground. Claiming to do this whilst still investing in it was described by an earlier panel speaker as ‘trying to save the planet with one hand tied behind your back’. I would say if you in a hole, then stop digging. ‎

Then I heard a British scientist, Kevin Anderson speak about whether this series of annual climate conferences ‎is working – 28 years after negotiations started and global emissions have gone up a further two thirds.

I am not saying it is not useful to focus the mind, and have a good bit of networking. But, for example, why do British, French and German leaders not come here (yet? – or am I over hopeful?). It feels like this is still a side show, that might tweak our economic and lifestyle choices, but isn’t really tackling the scale of the problem. I guess you could argue that the British politicians, including Theresa May, have something on their minds. But you can’t use a referendum vote to blot out making series efforts on issues like climate change for 2 years… Either the climate changes everything – or it does not.

Last session of the day. ‎I attended a roundtable on shipping and climate change. This was supposed to an open discussion out of ‘silos’. The shipping companies and industry bodies started by predicting how much shipping would grow, and why LPG (liquified petroleum gas) and a 50% cut of carbon emissions by 2050 was really ambitious. And then the more radical EU (!) and a Transport and Environment NGO talked of how we should not waste time on gas, but focus straight away on electric – battery powered ships. No-one sought to mention that drastic carbon reductions in all other ways of living might lead to a reduced demand for global shipping… So the session still felt a bit like shipping discussing it’s future in its own silo, affecting and changing nothing beyond it.

10 hours. Time for a Piwo – that is a beer, and a plate of cabbage stew (which seemed very like a large bowl of stewed cabbage). And to reflect – maybe it was not the scale of the event but the dominance of self-interests – national interests, banker‎s investments, businesses and so on that irked me rather than lifted the spirit. And that the real debates were either hidden from view – or not obvious to the first-time visitor. Without transparency and accountability, can we deal with climate change? Or indeed ensure whatever deal we make is also fair for all?

Climate Conference Blog 2: From Poland’s coal history to oil producers blocking a better future

Today was a day-off in the climate conference, before the politicians join in the negotiations tomorrow.

We started the day seeing the message ‘combating climate change – Taiwan can help’ plastered on the side of a tram.

a tram took us to the Silesian Museum, on the site of a former coal mine shaft next to the main conference venue. In the entrance we were encouraged to ‘talk about garbage’ – a reminder of how relatively recently our ‘single use’ society has taken hold – with the first beer can made in 1935 and the first disposable nappies piled off the production line in 1961. This then showed how plastic bottles filled with water are being turned into lights in ‎shanty towns in the Philippines, and now around the world.

But the museum’s most impressive bit tells the story of how the history of Silesia (this area of Poland) is intertwined with the history of coal. ‎One aristocrat turned industrialist earned 25 million over a century ago (deutsch) marks – almost a million times his workers’ annual salary – and by 1910 was mining 36 million tonnes ‎of coal a year. ‎The exhibit ended by asking whether, after two centuries of industrialism we are entering a new era?

After eating Pierogi (Polish filled dumplings) we happened upon a climate service at Katowice’s cathedral, the largest in Poland. The Archbishop of Katowice ended his sermon with the words, “Let the face of the earth, the mother of us all, begin to change today in us and through us.”

But I don’t think the US and Russia, Saudi Arabian and Kuwaiti delegates were listening. Late last (Saturday) night they agreed to block a deepening of the climate commitment to limit warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels (the ambitious target which was presented at Paris climate conference 3 years ago). This follows the publishing a report, agreed with global censensus that this is what is required to limit dangerous climate change, and requires a radical shift in levels of action starting right now. That needs all countries to put aside their self-interests on what can make them ‘great again’ and instead do enough for the sake of all of us, together.

Climate Conference Blog 1. Redhill-Katowice

We arrived this morning in Katowice where the 24th ‘conference of the parties’ (annual international climate talks) is taking place. We are currently halfway through the fortnight of talks – the first week with officials in discussion between different countries before the politicians arrive for the second week.

The journey here took 22 hours from Redhill – a real reminder of just how big Europe is and how easy it is to take for granted the damage we do to the climate when travelling huge distances by plane. We arrived at 3am and then a half hour walk to check into our hostel after a nightbus from Vienna through the Czech Republic, after leaving Redhill just before 5am on Friday morning to take the Eurostar to Brussels and then two trains across Belgium, Germany and Austria.

After a few hour sleep I joined a group from Cafod (the Catholic relief agency) on the climate march in Katowice up until the venue where the climate talks are taking place.
There were lots of police ‎surrounding the march, dressed in riot gear with machine guns and CS gas. In walking back from the march I counted 20 police vans in rows, and was shocked to see a dual carriageway passing under the climate venue. It feels like transport’s impact, and perhaps oil companies that sit behind our ‘normal ‘ way of life is one of the biggest challenges that need international agreement – right down to personal actions across the world.
Ended the day drinking a local beer in a cafe in the evening. The local beer, Hajer even has a coal mine as part of its logo (see picture). This is a challenging place to hold an international conference where we need to agree to stop burning coal, let alone ending our global addiction to oil and gas too.