Doing what’s required at COP22

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On his way back to CAT from the UN climate talks in Marrakech, Paul Allen sums up a conference filled with hope and ambition.

Having now completed my final COP22 presentation request, I am heading back to Wales – where I hear we have just had tornadoes!

This final request came from the Brahma Kumaris Initiative, a large international organisation that pioneers renewable energy projects amongst its 6000 meditation centres across India and another 1000 across the rest of the globe. They focus on mindful practice and live a fully vegetarian lifestyle. Together with a sister organisation, the World Renewal Spiritual Trust, they operate a test-bed research station for renewable energy. I discovered that one of their 770-dish solar cookers produces 35,000 meals each day!

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Brahma Kumaris asked me to present CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain scenario, plus some initial findings from our forthcoming Making it Happen report, as they are keen to explore how new values and a new mindset can help accelerate the transformation process.

Acceleration is indeed vital. Attending COP22 has been a fantastic opportunity not only to share our solutions-focused work, but also to gain a big picture overview of where humanity actually is with its climate challenge. The Paris Agreement committed us to keeping below a 2C global temperature rise, and aiming to keep below 1.5C, which will protect many vulnerable countries such as small island nations. Less than a year later, following that agreement’s unexpectedly lightning-fast entry into force, the world has been gathering in Marrakech to begin the next challenge: charting a course to bring the Paris vision to life.

brahma-kumaris2In order to understand how much we need to accelerate actions to achieve this, I spent time visiting expert talks at COP22, to find estimates for how much of the carbon in the planet’s remaining fossil fuels we can safely burn.

An event run by Berlin’s Mercator Research Institute estimates that the safe budget for keeping below 2C is around 800Gtons, and the budget for staying below 1.5C is 200Gtons. So, if we continue at current global emission levels (around 40Gtons/year) we will have used up the 2C budget in 20 years and the safe 1.5C budget in only five years! Everyone on Earth needs to see these numbers.

The longer the world waits before making radical carbon reductions, the more we must rely on highly speculative and expensive technologies such as ‘Biomass with Carbon Capture and Storage’ (BECCS), which may be able to help us re-capture some of the carbon. More than two thirds of the official IPCC scenarios rely on BECCS, but the technology is by no means proven.

The world, therefore, needs to get to zero carbon as rapidly as is humanly possible.

Fortunately the trend is our friend. Renewables are becoming cheaper faster than anyone ever imagined, and are rapidly approaching the breakthrough prices that will offer trillion dollar investment opportunities. This year, all-time records were broken in investment in and installed capacity of clean energy.

One hundred and nine countries representing 75% of humanity’s emissions have now signed up to this target, rooted in a framework that ratchets up ambition every five years.

I was moved by Senator John Kerry’s powerful address to COP22, where he stated:

The marketplace now gives me confidence…. The question now is not will we do this, but will we do this in time?”

Fortunately the accelerating speed and momentum of the clean energy movement may well be able to trump other factors. There has been a powerful shift from fear to confidence. For the first time I didn’t see a single ‘worried looking polar bear’ costume or poster – and there were far more industry, finance and solutions-focused conferences, events and grassroots practical projects. A wide range of companies in The Climate Group, such as IKEA and Mars, are deeply committed to demonstrating that renewable energy can help you work, rest and play.

The Paris Commitments are the foundation, not the ceiling. Pressure from all sectors of global society must rapidly ramp up commitment as we move towards the next crucial moment.

In 2018, a ‘facilitative dialogue’ process will take stock and serve as a springboard for more ambitious national climate commitments by 2020. COP22 has brought together around 25,000 active players from across the globe, and each and every COP from here onwards must become headline news. Many companies, cities and regions are showing great leadership, but there may not be time to convert everyone to an altruistic mindset – so an effective carbon price must be a priority to transform business as usual.

It has been amazing to see the global take up of renewable energy technologies pioneered by the crazy idealists at CAT over 40 years ago. I am really proud to have been asked to present CAT’s positive solutions at the biggest test in human history.

In the coming years we must all keep up the pressure, and much of this work will take place outside of the COP negotiations. Action by cities, businesses, religious leaders, artists, farmers, scientists, engineers and many other civil society groups will also be essential in strengthening the Paris Agreement to deliver a zero-emissions and climate resilient future.

I am reminded of a quotation from Winston Churchill:

It is not enough that we do our best; sometimes we must do what is required.”