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?