Building for a zero carbon future

Would you like to live or work in a warm, draft free, healthy space that is easy and cost effective to heat?

Transforming our leaky buildings to make them clean, green, healthy and affordable to heat is a big project, but we have all the knowledge and tools we need to do it – and it offers us many additional benefits. Here is a selection of good ideas on how we can transform our existing buildings and build new ones in much more energy efficient ways, so we have better places to live and work, and support the shift to a zero carbon future. Continue reading “Building for a zero carbon future”

Creating a zero carbon transport system

Would you like to be able to walk and cycle more easily and safely? To breathe clean air and enjoy a reliable, affordable public transport system?

Transforming our transport system from one that is highly polluting and heavily reliant on fossil fuels into one that is clean, green, reliable and affordable is a challenge, but it can be done. Here is a selection of ideas on how we can create a better transport system that’s not only healthier for us all, but is compatible with a zero carbon future.
Continue reading “Creating a zero carbon transport system”

Zero Carbon Britain: Making it Happen

It’s now almost ten years since CAT’s first Zero Carbon Britain report was published. Today zero carbon is becoming a much more commonly accepted goal – but we urgently need to make it happen! Paul Allen introduces a new report, due out in spring, that looks at the barriers to getting to zero and how these can be overcome.

On 5 October 2016, the threshold number of signatories to the Paris Agreement was achieved, enabling it to enter into force on 4 November 2016. This historic agreement is underpinned by a global consensus of science that clearly recognises the need to reach zero carbon. Fortunately, a wide range of detailed scenarios and real-life practical projects clearly demonstrate that we already have the tools and technologies needed to get us there.  Continue reading “Zero Carbon Britain: Making it Happen”

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.”

Team COP22 – an important role for everyone!

Paul Allen at the UN climate conference in Marrakech.

COP22 is rapidly filling up with a very powerful team. To play my part, I offered another Zero Carbon Britain presentation, this time at the Climate Change Studio, alongside visions from Australia and Denmark.

climate-studio-3As the second week opens, the full ‘Team COP22’ is rapidly assembling, and finding a collective voice. The ‘World Climate Summit’ set the scene over the weekend, with an inspirational presentation from Bertrand Piccard telling us how his pioneering trans-global solar-powered flight demonstrated that something that so many people believed to be totally impossible could actually be achieved. A wide range of global business leaders then followed his lead, with a clear message that ‘we can do this’.

Yesterday over 80 heads of state and ministers arrived in Marrakech to hopefully show high-level climate leadership. Today the ‘COP22 Low Carbon Solutions Conference’ is bringing together national leaders, CEOs, technical experts and policy makers – their message so far has been a clear and collective ‘yes we can’.

Many forward thinking academics and researchers are also playing a crucial role in Team COP22. For example, the Tyndall Centre’s event showed the numbers behind the currently planned levels of growth in aviation and shipping, allowing us to see the massive proportion of our carbon budget they will consume if we proceed with investments, such airport expansions, that lock us into growth in these areas.

Many larger NGOs have set up innovative new programmes to assist countries in increasing ambition in the National Determined Contributions (NDCs) they offer to the COP process. New initiatives such as the ‘NDC Partnership’ or the ‘Emissions Portal’ will play an important part in supporting countries to close the emissions gap. There are also hundreds of grassroots organisations from across the globe with real-life projects, such as bringing energy to rural areas or developing new agricultural practices. Organisations such as the Global Eco-Village Network then work to cross-fertilise and scale-up these powerful practices.

climate-studio-5COP22 has also assembled a great many spiritual and religious groups that show ways to find life satisfaction beyond consumer culture, whilst bringing to bear their considerable collective influence to encourage increased ambition across many cultures. The ArtCOP is another active part of the team, presenting a range of provocations, but so far I have not found anything that brings to life the zero carbon world that so many people at COP want to create.

In the negotiating halls, the amazing Climate Action Network produces the daily ‘Eco’ newsletter, which offers updates and analysis on the negotiations. They also run the ‘Fossil of the Day’ award, for the countries that have been least helpful in the day’s negotiations.

However, every bit as important as any of the negotiators, delegates or NGOs are the citizens from across the globe, such as yourselves, who follow events at COP22. By consciously witnessing and sharing this process, you help build social licence and can ensure your national delegates play their part. Do feel free to write to your elected MPs and let them know that you want to see higher ambition. Many thanks everyone!

Presenting Zero Carbon Britain at COP22

Sharing a platform with inspiring people and organisations from across the world, Paul Allen has been presenting CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain research to new audiences at the UN climate talks in Marrakech.

zcb-presentaion-at-turkey-pavilionMy first ZCB presentation was on Friday at the official Turkey Pavilion, following the invitation I had received on my cross-fertilisation tour the previous day. This event was organised by Tanay Sidki Uyar, from EUROSOLAR Turkey, the Turkish Section of the European Association for Renewable Energy. Tanay is an inspirational driving force behind Turkey’s annual International 100% Renewable Energy Conference (IRENEC 2017). Tanay opened the event with a 100% renewable vision for Turkey. IRENEC is an interesting organisation; it provides an international platform for the sharing of knowledge and ideas around the technical, economic and political aspects of the transition to 100% renewable energy. It works hard to build the networks required to realise this vision through industry, architecture, transportation, local communities and training. http://www.irenec.org/eng/

Also sharing the platform with me was Zhu Songli, researcher from China’s Energy Research Institute, who presented a dramatic overview of the extraordinary transformation taking place in China, and her perspectives on the ambition for what should come next. Then Frank Wolke, Head of Section at Federal Environment Agency in Germany, delivered another powerful story. Frank offered an overview of the German Energiewende programme that has transformed both attitudes to and delivery of energy across Germany. http://energytransition.de/

zcb-official-side-event-cop22

My second ZCB presentation of the day was a more formal, official COP22 side-event run by the International Network for Sustainable Energy (INFORSE). The aim of side-events is to present evidence and information from industry, NGOs and civil society that will be useful to the delegates and their research teams in developing the COP agreements. Titled “Improving NDCs: Ecovillage development, energy access, & zero carbon societies in Africa, Asia & EU”, the aim of the event was to present evidence showing how local solutions in both the Global South and North can lead to more ambitious plans from each country (called Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs). The side event selected examples which, as well as rapidly moving away from fossil fuel emissions, could demonstrate wider access to energy in the Global South whilst also improving livelihoods for both North and South. http://www.inforse.dk/

This side-event opened with a range of presentations from the Global South, beginning with Kosha Joubert, Executive Director of the inspiring Global Ecovillage Network, then followed by a range of amazing examples from Zimbabwe Permaculture Institute, Bhutan, South Asia, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. http://gen.ecovillage.org/

Then to demonstrate increased ambition from long industrialised countries I presented the most recent ZCB research, including some initial findings from the new Zero Carbon Britain: Making it Happen report (due to be published next month). This was followed by Preben Maegaard and Leira Gorrona from the Nordic Folkecenter for Renewable Energy, who explored their transition to 100% renewable energy and zero carbon economies with a strong focus on local solutions.
http://www.folkecenter.net/gb/

I have several more side-event presentations planned for later in the week. I’ll keep you posted…

New perspectives on adaptation and resilience

Donald Trump’s election as US president has opened pressing new conversations around the resilience of the climate movement and its need to adapt to this new circumstance – but the core response is to remain united on the Paris Agreement, reports Paul Allen.

Even though Hillary Clinton received the most votes nationally, Trump tapped into the anxiety of many US citizens around shrinking economic opportunities, immigration, falling incomes and globalisation. So over the past couple of days, delegates and observers at COP22 have been exploring the implications of a Trump administration on the Paris Agreement.

Many from the US remain confident that the rapidly expanding deployment of clean energy solutions by businesses, cities and states across the US has created enough new employment and gained sufficient momentum to continue the drive to decarbonise the US energy economy, and will therefore influence the policies of the new President. The Trump campaign has promised to create millions of new jobs for American workers – and it may well turn out that the renewable energy revolution is actually one of the most effective ways to deliver this in the realities of the 21st Century. After all, there has been clear cross-party support for investments in clean energy as well as in climate resilience. Trump’s commitment to infrastructure investment initiatives could actually provide a vehicle to deliver both of these.

It is important not to underestimate the impact of interfaith groups in the US. Over recent years, a coalition of development, faith, environmental and business groups have been actively engaging both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, educating them on how investment in renewable energy is not charity or a hand-out, but rather a smart investment with economic, environmental and security benefits for all Americans.

US interfaith press briefing at COP22
US interfaith press briefing at COP22

With this in mind, I attended a US interfaith press briefing to see what perspectives they offer. Jenny Phillips, pastor of the United Methodist Church USA and member of the Green Faith group was quietly confident. She said “We are still absorbing the implications of the election, and we can’t know everything yet, but we do know some things won’t change – faith groups know climate change is real. Our churches’ strong clear voice will keep on rising, affirming a strong new politics and delivering action on the ground. Global momentum is still building and is unstoppable.”

I asked the panel if President Trump had ever expressed any faith or belief, or is he the first non-Christian President? They suggested Trump had expressed a relationship with the Presbyterian Church, and the US interfaith community were currently in the process of preparing to reach out to him.

Increasing numbers of governments across the globe understand that rapid climate action can reduce the dangerous impacts on their people whilst offering public health and economic co-benefits. Undoubtedly these governments will continue to move ahead on their Paris Agreement commitments and if President Trump decides not to honour America’s commitments, he will quickly learn that this will impact on his ability to gain support from global leaders on other issues important to him.

Climate is now a high-level geopolitical issue, and any country perceived as not doing its fair share will quickly lose standing in the world.  The US elections do nothing to change this fundamental truth.