Sharing zero carbon solutions worldwide

CAT’s Paul Allen joined the International Network For Sustainable Energy (INFORSE) in Denmark to share the latest Zero Carbon Britain research on a global platform. The 25th anniversary meeting brings together organisations from across the world to explore the transition to sustainable energy, community power and the development of new initiatives and projects.

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Carbon lock-in – 10 ways to break the cycle

Imagine a world where we have broken our ties with fossil fuels… Our towns and cities are awash with innovative practical projects that are rebuilding our relationship with food, energy, transport and buildings, openly supported by the wider economic and political systems. Such innovation has unleashed all kinds of co-benefits, from cleaner air to better diets, more jobs and income arising across the local area.

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10 ways we can reclaim our energy supply

Would you like to live in a zero carbon future, where a whole new approach to energy has delivered benefits not just for the planet, but also for people and communities?

Rethinking how we access the energy we need is a key challenge as we work to build a zero carbon future. Changing our approach to the production and ownership of energy — who generates it, and who profits — could have many wider benefits, including for people and communities that could benefit financially from local renewable energy projects. Continue reading “10 ways we can reclaim our energy supply”

Waves, weirs and waterwheels – unleashing the power of water

How can we use and manage water in a more sustainable way? CAT volunteer and MSc student Ed Macdonald has been exploring the issues and delving into the detail of hydro power.

Born in the year of the water dragon, perhaps my interest in watercourses is to be expected. As a kid in a nearby natural sandpit I was enchanted by flow of the stream, able to bypass attempts to dam it with clay. Fast forward 20 years, I found a refreshing challenge in designing water treatment facilities for schools in the Kenyan highlands with an NGO, which led me to CAT’s Graduate School of the Environment for further training.  Continue reading “Waves, weirs and waterwheels – unleashing the power of water”

Doing what’s required at COP22

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.”

“Facilitative dialogues” – Paul Allen at the UN climate talks

Marrakech is turning out to be a different kind of meeting from Paris, but that does not make it less important, in fact quite the opposite.  If Paris was about creating the framework, Marrakech is about deciding the rules so that goals are achieved.

paulearthThe most common phrase of the day in almost every session I have attended is “increasing ambition”. This can be done by turning up the guilt or it can be done by increasing inspiration – showing both that zero is achievable and that there are additional benefits in doing it. Of course, the key advantage of the latter approach is that it is less divisive and works better to unite communities across the globe.

So many people want to accelerate the transition to the zero carbon economy. People around the world are taking action to install solar and wind solutions, block coal and oil infrastructure and protect forests. People want a different future and are creating it. This determination has grown stronger and louder since Paris.

Marrakech must ensure that this increase in ambition results in plans that match the global goals. So this is why so many need to talk about increasing ambition, as the 1.5C goal really can’t wait. However, just like Paris, Marrakech is driven by incredibly complex negotiating processes. And, thankfully, just like Paris, it has attracted an amazingly bright and highly motivated collaborative global tribe inside and outside of the official process. Working amongst them constantly inspires me, as they get to grips with it all and work out how best to influence the process, flagging up the key issues and phrases.

Perhaps the most important phrase to get to grips with at this point is “Facilitative dialogue”. Due to begin in 2018, this cop22-monday-7thdescribes the official COP process of ratcheting up ambition. It is a chance for countries to take stock of how close they are to achieving the key long-term goals of peaking emissions and achieving net zero emissions early in the second half of the century.

“Facilitative dialogues” are designed to inform the next round of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) – the pledges that each country makes to show their contribution to tackling climate change. Once countries have a clearer idea of the direction of travel, they will have the motivation to either update or communicate their new NDC by 2020.

It is an incredible feeling to join these astounding people in this process, everyone I have spoken to about our Zero Carbon Britain work sees a clear role for more positive scenarios in increasing ambition for NDCs. This will be the core topic of the first session run by the American Pavilion facilitated by the World Resources Institute – I will be there to see how it goes, and to offer America a hug!

Once again climate has become the focus of global diplomacy

Up-beat delegates and observers from across the globe are now arriving in a surprisingly wet Marrakech for the 2016 UN Conference of the Parties (COP22) – Paul Allen reports.

cop22-monday-7thIn many ways, COP22 will be under a lot less pressure than its Parisian forerunner. It will not be a high-profile event, which allows space for higher quality, more detailed conversations. Coming into global force last Friday, the Paris Agreement established both the commitment and the framework for dealing with climate, but although many here are happy with the “well below 2C” goal, the means to actually deliver it require a lot more complex research and negotiations. So COP22 is really aiming at fleshing out the detail. Some key questions being explored include:

How should we track progress?

How can countries increase ambition?

How can poor nations be supported?

How does all this link to adaptation?

And not least…

Who will be the next US president – and how will that affect progress?

So perhaps the most important over-arching task for everyone participating at Marrakech is sorting out the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) from COP21.  These form the basis of the Paris Agreement; they are the pledges that each country laid out at last year’s negotiations, showing their contribution to tackling climate.

The first and foremost challenge is that, cumulatively, the current pledges fall well short of achieving COP21’s “well below 2C” temperature goal, and many are waiting to see if this will be an open public discourse or an elephant in the room.  But, in addition, the NDCs are very diverse in format, as countries have been working to very different baselines – which makes it hard to quantify their cumulative impact. So at COP22, delegates will begin demystifying this process by creating a more uniform framework for future NDCs.

The ‘global stocktake’ is one of the key elements of the COP process, designed to deal with the recognition that current NDCs will not meet the “well below 2C” temperature goals. Stocktakes regularly assess collective progress towards meeting the goals, and are part of the ratchet mechanism that is designed to raise nations’ ambitions.  Worryingly, the first one does not take place until 2023 although there will be a test run, called the “facilitative dialogue”, in 2018 – we need to make sure this sets a good pace.

I feel confident we will see progress during COP22. Zero Carbon Britain has been invited to the COP to present robust scenarios showing that we can get to zero carbon, to support those working to raise ambition. Despite the rain, the atmosphere feels very positive this afternoon as I sit observing the first meeting of the technology framework negotiations. If the speed with which the Paris Agreement was ratified is anything to go by, there is commitment. This early ratification means that once-distant deadlines have been brought forward to drive forward action during these coming 10 days.