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/

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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.

Cross-pollination day at COP22

Paul Allen reports from day four at the Marrakech climate change talks.

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One of the amazing interactives from the India@COP22 Pavillion, with falling micro-droplets of water spelling out key messages as a backdrop.

Today I don’t have any formal commitments to give presentations or to meet people, which means it is the ideal day for cross-pollinating our Zero Carbon Britain (ZCB) work around the various national pavilions and stalls. My aim is to offer the ZCB scenario to as many countries as possible, as a model that might allow their team to make comparisons with their own scenarios or, if they don’t yet have a zero carbon national scenario, to inspire them to consider developing one. Here are some of the responses so far…

Japan were very enthusiastic, immediately introducing me to Dr Shuzo Nishioka, who keenly swapped my ZCB flyer for their report on ‘How to achieve long-term transitions to full decarbonisation’. You can read more about this here.

Malaysia, for example, did not yet have a whole country scenario, but offered visions for an individual green, smart, low carbon forest city.

The USA seemed intrigued by my request and gave me contact details to officially request information on Zero Carbon Scenarios – I will keep you posted.

low-carbon-asia-research-centre
Experts from the Low-Carbon Asia Research Centre were keen to make comparisons between ZCB and their work.

The team in the highly impressive Indian Pavilion were also very helpful, taking me into a tranquil meeting space to talk to their technical experts. Basically they see the need for it, and are working on something along those lines, but don’t have it quite yet. The most recent relevant work they could offer was Planning Commission Government of India’s ‘Final Report of the Expert Group on Low Carbon Strategies for Inclusive Growth‘.

The Turkish Pavilion was very positive, explaining this was an issue they felt to be very important. As we talked over a cup of Turkish tea, they explained that to help kick-start their research they were holding an event titled ‘Solutions in Energy: Energy End Use Efficiency and Transition to 100 % Renewable Energy’ at their Pavilion tomorrow at 1pm. They politely asked if I could present the ZCB scenario for them in a 15 min slot, alongside visions from other nations. I keenly accepted and look forward to sharing with their wider group. Another positive response came from the Low-Carbon Asia Research Centre – they were very keen to make comparisons between ZCB and their work, and became most excited at my suggestion of taking their scenarios to writers who could then tell stories of the daily lives of people who inhabit the future world they describe.

The COP process is ideally set up for such cross-fertilisations. There are literally thousands of experts from almost every country across the globe, and much information is exchanged. Oceans, biodiversity, buildings, transport, adaptation, mitigation, resilience or finance – this amazing pool of knowledge and passion forms a sphere of ambition, which encourages and supports the negotiators. But more than that, as each and every participant returns home they take a little of the COP process back with them to share with their communities, helping build ambition and social licence for the Paris Agreement across the globe.

Now off to do some more….

Mood remains positive at COP22

The ‘emissions gap’ is now formally recognised by the UN, and innovative projects are emerging to deal with it. Paul Allen reports from Marrakech.

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Johannes Friedrich introduces a new alliance that aims to help countries ramp up ambition

The USA Pavilion was very quiet indeed this morning, as US delegates were drawn into an internal press briefing on last night’s election. But our time together at COP22 is limited, and the task is large, so everyone is pressing on, many even harder than before. Shortly after 11am, the USA Pavilion opened with a powerful up-beat presentation from Johannes Friedrich of the World Resources Institute introducing a new alliance that is coming together to enable countries to increase ambition and close the emissions gap.

Perhaps the most powerful official recognition of the need to increase ambition is this year’s United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Emissions Gap Report. This offers an independent scientific assessment of how pledges by countries compare to emissions trajectories required by the Paris Agreement goal of staying well below 2°C and pursuing 1.5°C. This difference has become known as the ‘emissions gap’, and it must be closed. Article 4 of the Paris Agreement specifies that each country’s next offer should represent progress beyond their current Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) pledge and must reflect the highest possible ambition. The Emissions Gap Report not only estimates the gap, it focus on how action to close it can be scaled up, helping inform the political process.

But how do countries, many of which may be struggling to provide the basics for their citizens, access the support and resources needed to develop and implement even more ambitions plans? Such a monumental task requires a new approach – to share information, access finance and technical resources, and coordinate action.

Johannes’ presentation at the USA Pavilion introduced a new ‘NDC Partnership’ from a broad range of governments, international institutions and non-state actors. They have come together to provide the tools, best practices and support that countries need to transform economic systems and development priorities: how energy is produced, distributed and used; how cities are designed; how land is farmed; how forests are protected; how businesses operate and much more.

It takes a three-pronged approach:

– Creating and sharing knowledge

– Facilitating technical assistance and capacity building

– Making funding responsive to each country’s needs

The Partnership recognises that countries are in charge when it comes to identifying their needs, but aims to make sure the support for developing countries is responsive, inclusive and effective – and ultimately enables greater ambition.

I have just received an invitation to Minister Hakima El Haite of Morocco’s official opening of this NDC Partnership. I am aiming to encourage them to extend the project to help countries share research in wider topics such as sociology, psychology, law, arts and culture, so they can better overcome barriers and so gain social licence for their NDCs.

I will keep you posted….

“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!