#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.

 

Why we need a COP21 or: how scientists know climate change is happening

Paris remains prominent in the news, thankfully, this time it’s because the world’s leaders are in the city to discuss how we’ll avoid dangerous climate change.

It comes on the back of the recently agreed Sustainable Development Goals which I drafted a blog on a few weeks back. This is the first big test of those SDGs in my opinion. I mean, if the SDGs can’t be translated into meaningful commitments towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions what is the point of the SDGs at all?

Let’s hope those world leaders come away with something meaningful. Let’s hope the debacle of Copenhagen 2009 is avoided. Let’s hope that developing and developed nations can work collaboratively to achieve this objective. If not, we’re doomed.

How do we know? Well as Professor of Climatology at University College London, explains – we do know climate change is happening. In fact, I urge you to read this superbly succinct piece to remind yourself of exactly what is known about the causes and the effects.

Source: Explainer: how scientists know climate change is happening

How to ensure governments stick to their Paris climate commitments

There was a great piece written and published in The Conversation today –  How to ensure governments stick to their Paris climate commitments.

Earlier this year I wrote “… the UN Climate Talks present a challenge to draft and agree a meaningful commitment that supersedes the Kyoto Protocol. Two major hurdles remain as the Paris deadline nears: climate finance, and emissions cuts. Back in 2010, the world agreed on building up a Green Climate Fund to help developing nations to tackle the impacts of climate change. The developed nations promised to provide the fund with US$100 billion by 2020. That hasn’t been forthcoming.

More recently a considered group of esteemed universities, colleges and educational institutions lay a challenge to COP21 – “The collective voice of the world’s universities, colleges and students will be heard at COP21COP21. The United Nations Climate Change Conference takes place in Paris, France during the first week of December. In an open letter they remind us of “the critical role universities and colleges play in finding and implementing solutions towards climate change mitigation and adaptation and places it in the context of addressing wider issues of sustainability, including social and economic policies and practices.”

More than 146 countries covering 87% of global greenhouse gas emissions have now submitted their national pledges to tackle climate change in advance of the major climate summit in Paris. These are known as Intended Nationally-Determined Contributions. Note the language: these aren’t commitments and are only “intended”.

But will countries stick to these pledges? And what happens if they don’t? Read the full piece by Peter Newell of The University of Sussex.

People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace and Partnership – Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

At the end of September the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were agreed and published.  They will come into effect at the end of 2015, following the completion of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and cover the period 2016-2030. Unlike the MDGs, the idea is to involve the whole world in taking responsibility for development and place greater emphasis on three key issues that were missing previously: the role of women; the importance of education; and the focus on cities.

All of this is hard to argue with of course but it is worth remembering we are now fast approaching another critical conference in Paris where the UN Climate Talks present a challenge to draft and agree a meaningful commitment that supersedes the Kyoto Protocol.

Two major hurdles remain as the Paris deadline nears: climate finance, and emissions cuts. Back in 2010, the world agreed on building up a Green Climate Fund to help developing nations to tackle the impacts of climate change. The developed nations promised to provide the fund with US$100 billion by 2020. That hasn’t been forthcoming.
Not only that, it is clear the pace of negotiations is troubling. With just weeks remaining all Parties were almost unanimous in acknowledging that progress was insufficient. “It would be a catastrophe if the new treaty froze the existing reduction targets and pledges. We do need more regular adjustments that respect the latest climate science outcomes and the development of renewable energies” said Martin Kaiser, head of the Greenpeace climate policy unit.

The United Nations definition of sustainable development is “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. Previous dialogues on sustainability have more or less focused on climate change and environmental issues, but the new paradigm of sustainability includes all efforts towards an inclusive, sustainable and resilient future for people and the planet. There is a significant departure from the previous framework to now include a “harmonising” of three elements: economic growth, social inclusion and environmental protection.

Politically Led

The document is considered a political statement not a technical solution. Criticism that there are too many goals and targets is understandable but the SDGs cover a much broader range of issues than the MDGs. The millennium goals only covered “safe” themes such as poverty, primary education and child mortality. The SDGS weigh in on more meaty topics, such as governance, institutions, human rights, inequality, ageing, peace and climate change. The inclusive, detailed international negotiations have involved middle income and low income countries and as a result they are universal , holistic and ambitious –  the product of the 7m people who have given their views.

That said, not everyone agrees with the goals. Medical journal The Lancet, for example, describes them as “fairy tales, dressed in the bureaucrats of intergovernmental narcissism, adorned with the robes of multilateral paralysis, and poisoned by the acid of nation-state failure”.

This is the people’s agenda, a plan of action for ending poverty in all its dimensions, irreversibly, everywhere, and leaving no one behind,” said Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general. Putting people first is undoubtedly a strategic signal that global population, health and sanitation will top the list of priorities, but for the first time there is an explicit commitment towards education, something welcomed by a wide group of expert practitioners including The Global Alliance of Tertiary Education Sustainability Networks who wrote an open letter to present to the Chair of COP21 in Paris this December.

Whilst the ‘western’ approach to education for sustainable development has largely been focused on environmentalism, Iain Patton, CEO of the Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges who are a key player in the Global Alliance, believes there ‘will [be] benefit from this wider and more inclusive perspective … it’s no longer just about a nice green lifestyle but about international hunger, injustice and poverty’.

The new Global Goals say to us in the north: you may have much higher GDP per capita, but that doesn’t mean your societies are immune to problems that affect everyone in our interconnected globe’, says Patton. ‘It’s a reminder that the pursuit of prosperity isn’t just something for people far away to worry about’.

A New Prominence for Cities

It is arguably the eleventh goal, SDG 11, and its promotion of safer, more inclusive and resilient cities that makes them genuinely revolutionary. After all, two thirds of humanity will reside in urban settings by 2030 and by 2050, roughly 6.4 billion people – almost the equivalent of the planet’s current population – will live in a city. SDG 11 calls for greater investment in infrastructure, governance and safety in all urban spaces and human settlements, including slums, shanty-towns, ghettos and favelas of the world’s most fragile cities. The focus on informal settlements is crucial since the proportion of people living in slums is massive, and growing. There are already around 1 billion people living in slums today, as compared to 650 million in 1990. This population will grow to almost 2 billion over the next three decades.

Steve Turner, a city policy maker in Manchester believes overall the ‘goals are valuable in generating a ‘shared’ vision, providing some form of collective view of where we want to be going’. But he, like many, recognises that whilst the SDGs and the Climate Treaty are drafted, agreed and published by UN Members they will not be delivered by the UN or even national governments, but rather at the city/metro level where the Commission are not the delivery agents.

Critically, Turner recognises that without an effective mechanism for enforcement they can be ‘ineffectual’, ‘if we are serious about this then there needs to be an injection of rigour around their delivery.’

The UN recognises this and the targets will be reviewed systematically using a set of global, largely quantitative, indicators. These will be developed by a specially convened Inter-Agency Expert Group on SDG Indicators and agreed subsequently by the UN Statistical Commission as well as the Economic and Social Council and the General Assembly. Each nation and region will then go on to develop its own indicators.

Whilst the stats, numbers and measures might all sound rather clunky and dull, the SDGs give us an unparalleled opportunity to shape the international and national development agenda.

Women and Education – Fundamental to the SDGs

For example, much greater emphasis has been placed on the role of women and their access to education around the world. Whilst the rhetoric of the Sustainable Development Goals is laudable they are criticised for not garnering the financial commitment to achieve it. “In order for the SDGs to be met, implementation and financing plans must address inequalities and human rights, especially for women and girls. The financing plan being advocated by the US and other northern countries will merely uphold the world we have and not get us to the world we want,” said Serra Sippel, President of the Center for Health and Gender Equity.

Like re-taking your marriage vows, the Sustainable Development Goals re-state the importance of those Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of 2000 and, with the benefit of hindsight, experience and in the light of a rapidly changing world, reaffirm those commitments. So, are the Sustainable Development Goals the world’s biggest promise…. or the world’s biggest lie? Will the SDGs really re-shape the plans and behaviours of nations, multilateral institutions, companies, development organisations and people, to make the world a fairer and more sustainable place?

Many believe the goals have helped to direct public policies and budgets towards the poorest and are recognised as important drivers of international policy which ensure that national governments maintain a commitment to these global challenges.

Eddie Murphy, a respected sustainability expert at Mott MacDonald believes that ‘the MDGs have had some impact on driving governments to put in place legislative interventions to implement positive impacts, and this has helped the green agenda’.

In addition to the evidence about indicators, the MDGs created a real ‘hook’ that kept global poverty on national and international agendas.  Annual multilateral reviews of achievement; the MDGs + 5 and MDGs + 10, UN General Assembly meetings; and numerous regional and national meetings meant that poverty reduction received much greater attention around the world than it had in the past. At the same time, there are perfectly plausible arguments that most of the numerical progress made wasn’t a direct consequence of the MDGs, and that critical promises were broken.

It’s [Not] All About the Economy [But]

Amongst the financial recessions that have hit globally perhaps the MDGs have maintained at least some profile for the environmental agenda. Teresa Hitchock, a Partner in DLA Piper UK LLP and Head Safety, Health and Environment believes the Millennium Development Goals fell short of achieving their objectives in the face of other world crises such as terrorism , ebola and the Syrian conflict.  She believes ‘sustainability is still seen as the second cousin to immediate pressures’ and hopes the SDGs will redress that.

Many believe that whilst governments and policy makers have been active they have been unable, or unwilling, to lock-in business benefits to achieving the goals set out. Whilst there is a strong human rights agenda emerging there is a growing belief the SDGs must concentrate on making sustainability good business sense. This is a view shared by Paul Caulfield, Director of the MBA in CSR at the International Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility at The University of Nottingham Business School. He sees ‘the main objective of SDGs as being to provide a common language and currency for business strategies’ so that what makes good business sense is doing the right thing. Are you listening Volkswagen?

Ahead of the climate negotiations in Paris it’s reassuring that SDG 13 states the need to ‘Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts’ including the commitment to strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate related hazards and natural disasters in all countries ; integrate climate change measures into national policies, strategies, and planning; improve education, awareness raising and human and institutional capacity on climate change mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction, and early warning; a implement the commitment undertaken by developed country Parties to the UNFCCC to a goal of mobilizing jointly USD100 billion annually by 2020 from all sources to address the needs of developing countries in the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation and fully operationalize the Green Climate Fund through its capitalization as soon as possible; and to promote mechanisms for raising capacities for effective climate change related planning and management, in LDCs, including focusing on women, youth, local and marginalized communities.

That sounds like a pretty sound framework – making it absolutely crystal clear that the delivery of Goal 13 is, in no doubt, dependent on some concerted effort and commitment at those talks.

The new SDGs bring together people, organisations and governments committing to reducing poverty and inequality, moving towards environmental sustainability and promoting social justice.  What’s not to like? The ambition is great, so let’s not do them down for that. If even half of the SDGs were achieved then by 2030 we should be living in a better world.

We need a new name for cities

In the past week I have travelled through the cities of Dubai, Bangkok, Hong Kong and the lesser known Ningbo, in China. On my travels I flew over cities I didn’t know that we’re bigger than any I had seen in the UK or Europe. These cities extend for tens of miles east-west and north-south filling bays, rivers, deltas, hillsides, islands and deserts. They are home to tens of millions of people and they stretch high into the sky with buildings touching and penetrating the clouds that hang above them. They are places where engineering and science have allowed human populations to tolerate otherwise difficult, or even inhospitable, environments. They have been built where, ordinarily it would be considered uncomfortably or dangerously hot and humid. They have been built on flood plains where rivers swell in monsoon rains or on hillsides where those waters rush through from mountainous uplands. They are served by a network of roads, railways, canals and rivers that enable otherwise isolated parts of their country to be connected. Their airports are the size of large towns and have asset values that outstrip the cities of Western Europe. They sprawl, yes, but they also have very high population density, sacrificing personal living space for the desire to be urbanised and supported by the infrastructure those cities bring. To a European or North American they would, I guess, feel claustrophobic. 

They are, simply, mega. Mega cities that dwarf what we, in the UK at least, have come to refer to as cities. In comparison, whilst London might hold its own (just), the cities of the UK are smaller, less relevant to the global economy and its networks. Collectively, if you bundled all the top 10 cities in the UK together, it might get to approximately half the size of Shanghai. 

When cities have grown up, literally, building taller and taller towers in a show of architectural bravado, they are also growing underground. You can’t help but be impressed by Hong Kong’s subway system. Not only does it connect communities across Hong Kong’s islands it connects communities through the labyrinth of supporting infrastructure like tunnels, escalators and lifts – and they air condition it too so making it more comfortable than surface level transport. All of these things support denser urban form. So, there are 3 levels in Hong Kong – underground, surface and Sky. 

 
The view from the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Hong Kong at the Ozone Bar, the highest and in earth.

  The extensive subway network connects Hong Kong’s Islands and communities beneath the surface.

Hong Kong has been a significant city for some time. It now boasts some of the greatest wealth, best universities and global business trades there daily. But the cities forming across China are doing it at such a pace it’s hard to map it. Huge swathes of their countries are mined, quarried and felled to support the quest for growth. As described in a previous blog and talk from TedTalks here the buildings are going up faster than the governance and infra infrastructure can keep up with. One without the other is destabilising and can lead to systems failure, unrest and inequity. Even in more established cities the growth is financed by the labours of the many for the benefit of the few. 

If these are mega cities where does that leave cities of the UK? Individually they are no bigger, on a global scale, than a village is to a city like London. Collectively they might just be significant. For that to happen in the UK will mean all the Core Cities, plus London, Belfast, Southampton, Aberdeen, Amsterdam, Paris, Brussels and Frankfurt to collaborate. To support this will require transport links between cities, over water, through mountains and in the air. And to do it without ripping up the natural capital we need to support our cities. The British Government doesn’t get this at all. It still sees itself as aglobal player when in reality it isn’t. The ‘Northern Powerhouse’ is a response to inward looking economic agendas instead of sing the opportunity for the UK to compete as a whole in the mega city economy. Extracting the UK from Europe would only hasten that inward looking agenda.

ISCN Day 3 – Global Student Engagement In Paris, In Hong Kong, Globally

The global challenge of climate change needs a global response and their is a special opportunity and role for universities to respond. With fast approaching 200 million students in global HE they are a key community of the global population that is, currently, unable to effectively engaged in a process of climate negotiation. 

IARU found a way to engage students in the COP15 process with statements of commitment taking place across the globe. In advance if Rio+20 students were invited to participate and promote their commitments, inc universities in Australia, China, Uganda. Melissa Goodall, from Yale, explained how there was a notable difference  between both developing nation universities taking an outward, community, focus whilst developed countries focused on organisational scale, inward looking initiatives. 

The IARU Global University Climate Forum is a vehicle for student engagement at Paris COP21 in 2015. Proposals to be submitted in Autumn 2015. IARU looking to support students attending the event. 

It was great to hear some very personal case studies from students: 

Katrina Kam, a student born in Hong Kong and currently studying at HKU with a year of exchange in the USA studying sports science, gave a short presentation on her own commitments to engagement in local community initiatives, environmental programmes, etc. Whilst in the USA the mentor family were alumni of HKU – a useful and effective way of supporting students living and studying in a foreign country.

  

Jen Lee, an international student at HKU, gave a perspective of why she chose HKU and the opportunities she was afforded in social sustainability and human rights, community engagement, supporting local people in access to legal services. Jen was involved in the Green Connections programme and informal activities such as Green Drinks in HK including outdoor classrooms. Hong Kong was an attractive place to study because if its complexity and challenges, environmentally, socially and its cultural diversity. 

 
 I would urge anyone interested in student activity and engagement in this field to investigate Enactus.org and establish whether there is an active Enactus group in their city. Noted that Hong Kong University has an Enactus programme in the city. 

The benefits of exchange programmes can give a global perspective to students which they might not otherwise gain from simply following a traditional path of study.