#COP21 -Now We Know the Rules, Let’s Play the Game

Over the past two weeks or so we’ve seen some good coverage of the talks in Paris that have set the objectives for carbon reduction across 97% of the world’s population (and 94% of all emissions). In fact, the UK have covered the talks extensively in mainstream media.

What’s been agreed is usefully summarised in this excellent infographic by The Conversation. To use a sporting analogy, it’s as if, over the past two weeks, a FIFA delegation has sat down to agree the new rules and objectives for football and the next World Cup. The overall objective hasn’t shifted and everyone knows what’s needed to win – it’s the subtleties of the rules which have changed. Imagine this:

  • We don’t have time for 90 minutes, you’re going to have to play faster, harder but over 60 instead.
  • If you’re an established World Cup qualifier from the ‘developed world’ you’re going to have to do even better just to qualify because you’ve had it good for far, far too long. Show some leadership on this Germany, UK, France.
  • Developing nations – we know we make it tough for you to qualify, so we’re going to relax things a little for you, but if you fail, we all fail. So don’t get complacent. You still need to improve, score goals and up your game.

The good news is – to win you still need to play well and score goals. There are many ways in which you might achieve this but we’ll be asking to see your tactics every five years and we’ll decide whether we think they’re good enough. But, unless everyone plays well and scores lots of goals the World Cup will fail. Success is dependent on everyone winning – not just a few of you.

Even then, there are many who have questioned whether the talks have created a contract strong enough to avoid dangerous climate change beyond the 2 degree increase. That’s where my analogy ends. But other commentators have been superb in unpicking the nuances of the agreement.

Several, unsurprisingly, recognise that deal doesn’t go far enough. They are not applauding the efforts of the bureaucrats and diplomats who fought their corner and, to be fair in many cases, championed the commitment of their nations. They are identifying that the deal wont avoid that 2 degree increase. It wont avoid devastating climate change that will follow it. They are pointing out that there is a very real risk that these wont be achieved and that it’s all very well having clear rules and objectives – what we need now is compliance and for those nations to play the game as it is intended.

Katja Frieler, the Deputy Chair, Climate Impacts and Vulnerabilities, at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research  says:

At the Paris climate summit, delegates have struck an agreement that calls for the world to “hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2℃ above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5℃”.

But the climate action pledges made by 185 countries ahead of the summit don’t add up to 1.5℃ or warming or even 2℃. Taken together, they add up to a 2.7℃ world.

As the negotiations go on, 2015 is about to set a new global temperature record, and is likely to have reached 1℃ warming already. (Read the full article here).

Myles Allen writes in The Conversation:

I wonder how many of the delegates in Paris realise that they have just created the mother of all “take-back schemes”. As a consumer, you may have already come across this sort of deal: if you don’t want to dispose of the packaging of your new sofa, you can take it back to IKEA and it’s their problem. In many places, you can even take back the sofa itself when your kids have wrecked it. For the Paris climate deal to succeed something similar will have to happen, where companies that rely on fossil fuels will be obliged to “take back” their emissions.

I remain optimistic. For the first time since Kyoto it feels like the World’s Leaders get it … but leaving behind their own short term political time horizons and their nation’s own self-interest means there is a very real danger the objectives wont materialise. It’s likely that it will be those in the poorest of nations who will suffer the consequences of failure first, deepest and longest. They may never recover from a failure to deliver these targets.

The involvement of businesses in these talks has been scrutinised. This is complex, but there are companies out there – micro to global – with the solutions to these challenges. Their involvement has been to illustrate how a low carbon revolution is good for society, good for the planet and can deliver sustainable economics. It’s this argument that stands between Paris being a success or being considered a two week jamboree of hot air. A solid, unwavering commitment to low carbon policies that encourage investment in new technologies that harness the energy of the sun, the wind, the waves, the tides is central to this. A commitment to leaving as much coal, gas and oil in the ground as is possible is necessary.

Holding politicians to account is important. They’ve signed up to this because, in the UK at least, it’s something voters believe is important. The UK government has been warned that a major U-turn in energy policy is required if it is to avoid charges of blatant hypocrisy following the commitments it made in the Paris climate deal this weekend. Critics say that the first test for Amber Rudd, the energy and climate change secretary, will come later this week, when she announces whether or not she plans to go ahead with a proposed 90% cut in solar subsidies.

Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, the UK’s main employers’ organisation, demanded on Sunday that ministers take action at home as well as making their voice heard abroad. “The government must provide a stable environment that enables investment in cleaner, more affordable and more secure energy generation, including renewable technologies and new gas plants,” she said.

The negotiators have done their bit. The deal is drafted and there is a contract of commitment in place. The politicians have signed it off and now need to deliver. Fortunately, business sees the opportunity this challenge presents. It’s a huge, trillion $ opportunity. But we cannot rely on politicians and business alone. If we do, we’ll likely end up 20 years on without having made the necessary cuts in emissions we need.

We all need to contribute – that means taking individual action too. This brilliant piece about home comforts and energy consumption by Katherine Ellsworth-Krebs says it eloquently.

What characteristics would your ideal home have? A sauna? Lots of natural light? An open-plan kitchen? Whatever your answer, you probably didn’t consider how the things you wanted would affect the energy you use. The link between comfort and energy is not something that troubles most people, but actually it’s very important. In the UK, our houses consume up to 27% of the energy we produce.

What a pity then, that the UK Government scrapped the introduction of the Zero Carbon Homes policy for 2016. It’s scrapped the Green Deal and has withdrawn millions of £ of funding to improve the existing stock’s energy efficiency. As Jeremy Leggett, the founder of world leading renewable energy company Solarcentury, spelled out: the challenge for Rudd and George Osborne, the latter being seen as the real axeman of green policies. “The government has a huge credibility problem, having signed a treaty of historic importance, and yet [having] been pursuing a path of [energy policy] travel that is 180 degrees opposed to what is needed,” he said.

 

“Fundamentally, I want energy policy to be boring”. Oh.

I’ve just read Amber Rudd’s speech on a new direction for UK energy policy (Source: Amber Rudd’s speech on a new direction for UK energy policy – Speeches – GOV.UK). I have to say, nothing in it surprised me. She wants it to be boring. I’d like it to be a little more enthusiastic, exciting and innovative. It chimes with the Conservative approach to energy policy we’ve seen before. It even celebrates the sell-off of the UK’s energy assets.

So, read the speech and make up your own mind, but there were some [amusingly?] redacted ‘political content’ that didn’t make it and then it was a case of ‘Tory Bingo’ with some common phrases – these all made it in:

  1. This Government is focused on securing a better future for Britain.
  2. We’re encouraging investment in our shale gas exploration so we can add new sources of home-grown supply to our real diversity of imports.
  3. We know competition works. It keeps costs low and can deliver a clean and reliable energy system.
  4. It’s about the long term security of our energy supply. And my view is that is best served through open, competitive markets.
  5. And I can say to Europe that Britain stands ready to help make this vision a reality.
  6. Opponents of nuclear misread the science. It is safe and reliable.
  7. So our approach will be different – we will not support offshore wind at any cost.

The bits I expected to see were all there:

It’s pro-nuclear, pro-fracking. With regard to heat: “We will set out our approach next year, as part of our strategy to meet our carbon budgets.” Disappointing given the good work done by DECC on its Heat Strategy not so long ago – and still a long way down the contents of her speech unfortunately. Pleasingly: To set an example to the rest of the world, the UK also has to focus on where we can get the biggest carbon cuts, swiftly and cheaply … and Innovative, new suppliers, which range from start-ups to local authorities, are demonstrating how competition is working for people.

Deep, deep in the statement a final mention for energy efficiency: More than 1.2 million households are seeing lower bills due to energy efficiency improvements over the last 5 years. We are committed to ensuring a million more get the same benefits by the end of this Parliament. But no mention of the Green Deal, the commercial opportunities in energy efficiency nor the links with housing policy.

Boring? Is that the same as ‘unsurprising’?