Reflections from COP21, Wednesday 9th December
Ajay Gambhir, Grantham Institute, Imperial College London
I have been working on energy and climate change for over nine years now, but this is my very first COP experience. I am about halfway through my second day at Le Bourget conference centre. It is massive and in truth I am still overwhelmed. Fortunately I am part of an organisation (Imperial College London) that has a stand, along with a couple of chairs and a makeshift desk. It’s been interesting taking a seat and seeing similarly bewildered people walk past. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at just how many people are stopping by our stand with no effort from me to reel them in. Visitors are interested in studying at Imperial College, the research we are doing and how they can get involved.
I have also been asked a huge variety of questions, many of which I’m not best placed to answer, but I’ve been giving it all a good go: Why do the INDCs lead to 2.7°C?; How do you think about lifecycle assessment with regard to cities?; How are so many UK universities accredited by the UNFCCC when so few French ones are?; Where’s Room 10?
I’ve had several questions of my own: Where did you get the free bar of chocolate? How do I get a free COP21 water bottle? Where can I watch the negotiations happening? What does this latest draft of the negotiating text mean? Many of these I have yet to receive a satisfactory answer to.
I presented at my first side-event this morning, which seemed to go down well. We kept our presentation fairly tight and to the point, having seen other events where speakers breathlessly rushed through huge slide packs full of detailed text. I have another event tomorrow. I must say I do enjoy being given a platform to espouse my views about technology, innovation and various other issues that have been on my mind for the past few years.
I am very proud to be a tiny part of such a big collective effort to bring the dangerous impacts of unchecked climate change into the international consciousness, as well as being part of such a prestigious university which so many people are interested in studying at and working with.
Two years ago, just before the UN climate talks in Warsaw, Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines, killing more than 6,000 people and displacing millions more. To observers in Warsaw, the storm's exceptional strength was a symptom of a changing climate.
The Philippines was particularly vulnerable: Much of the country's mangrove forests, which would have helped buffer communities from the storm surge, had been cleared to create fish ponds to provide food. These areas were hit especially hard.
Today at the climate talks in Paris, Conservation International and the French Global Environment Fund partnered with the Philippines government to help the country adapt to more and stronger storms. By employing a mix of natural defences such as mangroves and man-made structures like seawalls and levees, the Philippines could both protect both nature and itself in a changing climate.
This two-pronged approach is crucial, as 70 per cent of Filipinos depend on agriculture and the oceans, said Philippines Environmental Secretary Nereus Acosta: "The only social security they have is nature," he said.
Typhoon Haiyan's devastation highlights the need to act now, according to Conservation International Chairman Peter Seligmann.
"We are in a moment when nations across the globe are feeling the impact of great storms, droughts, increased tides," he said. "This is a moment when vulnerable nations need the help now. It is not a matter of the future, it is immediate."
"Pledges like these are among the many encouraging signs here in Paris that we beginning to listen to nature. Our great spiritual leaders, most recently Pope Francis, have urged that we cherish the Earth so it can sustain us. It is time to make this the guiding principle for all of us."
Rich Pancost, Cabot Institute, Bristol University
One of the dominant themes of COP21 has been the crucial role of cities, from the Blue Zone to Paris City Hall to the Sustainable Innovation Forum (SIF) at Le Stade de France. In fact, on Tuesday at the SIF, Aron Cramer of BSR declared that “Cities have been the heroes of COP.”
The Compact of Mayors has grown larger and stronger. The C40 group continues to set a more aggressive agenda than their respective nations. And in the Green Zone, the Cities & Regions Pavilion, co-hosted by Bristol and Paris and facilitated by ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, has buzzed with activity. Repeatedly, city leaders have repeated the message to national leaders – “no matter what you commit to, we will deliver it; and in all likelihood, we will push further and faster.”
In the Pavilion, there has been a non-stop buzz of workshops, presentations and debates. From a Bristol perspective, this has been stimulated by an inspiring and demanding year as the European Green Capital.
Bristol committed to finding 1 billion Euros of investment to retrofit a third of its houses. It also committed to the Bristol Brain, a city emulator that will empower citizens and leaders to make bolder but more informed planning decisions. Not to be outdone, Copenhagen committed to carbon neutral energy provision by 2025.
Today was East Asia’s turn and they produced some of the boldest proposals, appropriate given the fact that the Mayor of Seoul, Won Soon Park, is also the President of ICLEI. A recurring theme was the integration of food, water and energy sustainability and the coexistence with nature. Kaohsiung City, for example, aimed to achieve, among other goals: ‘…Prosperity with Mountain and Ocean and a Liveable Homeland.’ Taichung proposed a Transformative Actions Program (TAP) project for the ‘City Food Forest’ and highlighted the importance of integrating the next generation of farmers into their future city thinking. Throughout the past week and a half, a recurring theme has been the need for breaking free of silo-ed thinking in order to achieve system change; these Asian cities are doing that.
Comparing these plans to those of European nations illustrates the particular challenge of political boundaries. Bristol is an urban area of >1 million people, but its Mayor and City Council only govern a ‘city’ of 500,000. It must find a way to develop integrated sustainability policies that support and include those 1 million people but also the wider hinterland – the surrounding countryside that supports nature, agriculture and wind turbines.
This is why the TAP can be so useful. Many of the 120 publicly available projects on the website are commitments but many are also mechanisms for policy change. They allow us to compare and contrast, and therefore to learn and reflect. They are invitations to provide constructive criticism but also opportunities to share knowledge.