Monday, December 07, 2015

COP21 - The Talking Begins

An audio version of this episode was published on 4th December and is available at and on iTunes.

Yes, COP21, the Paris climate change conference, is finally here. No results expected before the end of next week so I'm going to take the opportunity to review what this conference means for us, for our businesses, for families and for our future. Also in this episode, the minister takes control of fracking, business views of the climate conference and plans for a ministry of the future.

Welcome to the Sustainable Futures Report, the new, improved and upgraded Sustainable Futures Show brought to you without advertising, sponsorship or subsidy. So I can say what I like.  And a special welcome to friends and listeners on their way to Paris to take part in the official or unofficial events surrounding COP21. It's Friday 4th December 2015 and this is Anthony Day with news, views and ideas, and by the way your news, views and ideas are very welcome and important. Please get in touch and share them. I’m at 

First this week, what’s this COP21 conference all about then, and why is it important? It's the UN conference on Climate Change, it involves 195 countries and 145 of them sent their prime ministers or heads of state to the opening ceremony where they each reiterated their country's commitment to cutting green house gas emissions. It’s important to you because if these leaders take truly effective action it’s likely to drive up energy costs in the short term. They will have to put a price on carbon, which means taxing or surcharging anything which emits greenhouse gases. Petrol will be more expensive at the pump. It will cost more to heat your home. Those extra costs will be added to existing production and distribution costs. Almost anything you buy will cost more - from food to fashion, from pharmaceuticals to furniture. The alternative, according to the scientists, is catastrophic climate change: drought, famine, floods and failure of food supplies. At first this will be worst in the developing nations, but our supply chains are global. We’ll be affected by what happens in far-off countries of which we know little. To start with we’ll see higher prices. As the situation worsens we’ll see shortages. As distant nations become uninhabitable will see massive movements of refugees across the world; far, far more than the numbers causing so much argument at the moment. 

The solution is twofold - mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation to stop climate change getting worse: adaptation to cope with and control the effects that are already here. Adaptation involves financial support to the developing nations which are suffering the worst effects of climate change even though they have done little to cause it. An agreement on financial support to these nations by the developed nations will be an important outcome of COP21.

Mitigation, to stop climate change getting worse, depends on a radical change in the way we produce and use energy. Everyone can protect themselves against rising energy prices. Driving more slowly saves fuel. Turning down the thermostat and wearing an extra jumper saves gas. Insulation keeps your home warm for less. It’s more difficult with industrial processes. Bread won’t bake and chemical reactions won’t react except at specified temperatures. Perhaps the answer here is greater efficiency through economies of scale. Beyond that we have to look at new forms of supply which don’t involve burning fossil fuels. Despite scepticism, renewables are becoming more and more viable, producing 25% of the UK’s electricity for the third quarter of this year. I spoke last week about the solar power station in Morocco which stores heat in molten salt and can generate electricity 20 hours per day. Battery storage is becoming more efficient. Domestic stores are already available from Tesla in the US, Sonnen in Germany and Powervault in the UK. If you have solar panels you can save some of your energy for use at night. Energy can also be stored as heat as with the Moroccan power station, as potential energy as in the Dinorwic pump storage scheme in North Wales or stored in massive flywheels. Apart from wind turbines and solar panels, a 320MW tidal power station is planned for Swansea Bay and there is potential for geothermal energy all over the world, including parts of the UK. It’s time to invest in these new technologies. Actually, these generation technologies are not that new. It’s time to invest in developing, refining and perfecting them. It’s time to invest in storage science, like the lithium-air battery under development at Cambridge University.

The fact that the vast majority of the world's leaders took time out to travel to Paris shows they think climate change is important. On Sunday 29th November 50,000 people marched in London to show that they thought it was important too. But people marched not just in London, but all over the world. In more than 2,000 cities - a million of them. It's probably the biggest international march ever. Not in Paris, though. In view of the security situation marches were banned. Instead, people left shoes, thousands of pairs of shoes, in la Place de la République, to symbolise the march they would have made. The Pope sent a pair of shoes. So did UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. What do all these people want, and what's in it for you? They all want nations to work together to stop global warming by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and thereby avoiding dangerous climate change. How are they going to do that? Good question. 

Of course the politicians have to balance short-term politics with the need to save the planet. At the opening ceremony of COP21 President Obama said

I’ve come here personally, as the leader of the world’s largest economy and the second-largest emitter, to say that the United States of America not only recognises our role in creating this problem, we embrace our responsibility to do something about it.”

“Let’s show businesses and investors that the global economy is on a firm path towards a low-carbon future.  If we put the right rules and incentives in place, we’ll unleash the creative power of our best scientists and engineers and entrepreneurs to deploy clean energy technologies and the new jobs and new opportunities that they create all around the world.  There are hundreds of billions of dollars ready to deploy to countries around the world if they get the signal that we mean business this time.  Let’s send that signal.”

He went on to say,

“I believe, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., that there is such a thing as being too late.  And when it comes to climate change, that hour is almost upon us.  But if we act here, if we act now, if we place our own short-term interests behind the air that our young people will breathe, and the food that they will eat, and the water that they will drink, and the hopes and dreams that sustain their lives, then we won't be too late for them.”

In his speech, David Cameron asked what we would say to our grandchildren if the conference failed to reach an effective agreement.

“But they would ask us why is it difficult to reach a legally binding agreement when in 2015 there are already 75 countries …. that already have legally binding climate change legislation? …countries that are thriving with that legislation.”

“Why, they’d ask us, is it difficult to have a review after 5 years?

“Would we really be able to argue that it was too difficult?
Too difficult to transfer technology from rich countries to poorer countries?
Our grandchildren would rightly ask us: what was so difficult?
You had this technology, you knew it worked, you knew that if you gave it to poor and vulnerable countries they could protect themselves against climate change – why on earth didn’t you do it?

“What I’m saying,” said Mr Cameron, “is that instead of making excuses tomorrow to our children and grandchildren, we should be taking action against climate change today.”

Can’t argue with that.

But his grandchildren weren’t there to ask why his government has effectively banned new on-shore wind turbines, why it will only support new offshore turbines if they dramatically cut their costs, why it has cut the subsidy for clean solar energy at short notice, why it has terminated the low-carbon homes initiative, why it has modified the renewables obligation to work against renewable energy, why it has removed business start-up tax breaks from community energy projects and why it has withdrawn its financial support from carbon capture and storage, the only way of cleaning up coal and gas power stations. They weren’t there to ask why his government supports fracking, a technique for extracting carbon-emitting natural gas, either.

I expect somebody will ask those questions. Hopefully before it’s too late.

What can we expect from COP21? The majority of nations have submitted an INDC, an Intended Nationally Determined Contribution. A contribution to reducing global GHG emissions. These documents take various forms - different starting points, different end points, different percentage reductions. They have been analysed and the overall effect, if they are all achieved, will be to limit global warming to a 2.7℃ temperature increase over pre-industrial levels. That’s more than the 2℃ which is widely considered the danger level, but much better than the current trend which is rising towards 4℃ or 5℃. An overall draft agreement has been submitted to the conference. As I mentioned in a previous episode, this is really just a template. Every word, every phrase, almost every comma is presented with an alternative. This will be negotiated over the coming days and will determine how the nations will fulfil their INDCs, although not the specific measures that each nation must take. For an insight into the negotiation process listen to “Can we trust the IPCC?”, an episode of the Sustainable Futures Report from November 2014. Search on IPCC at . In this episode Professor Piers Forster, one of the lead authors of AR5, explains the pressures and compromises involved in agreeing the final text of that document.

David Cameron calls for a binding agreement and we must support him on that. Unfortunately, the word is that the Americans will not accept it. This is because they believe that climate sceptic Republicans would block such a measure.

COP21 rolls on until Friday next week. Since I record these episodes at least a day in advance I won't be able to report on the final outcome in the next scheduled episode. I may possibly issue a special supplementary report early in the following week, or I may defer the next episode altogether until then.

In the meantime I suggest you have a look at “The most terrifying video you'll ever see.” It isn’t really terrifying. It’s a clear and logical examination of whether we should take action on climate change and what would happen if we didn’t. It just looks at our options: climate change is either real or not real and we have the choice to take action or take no action. It’s been up on YouTube for several years and been viewed by over 6 million people. It’s just as relevant as it was when it was first posted. Here's the link: 

Still to come: business views on climate change and a clear view of the future. First, fracking.

The Rt Hon Greg Clark MP, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, has announced that he will make the decision on whether Cuadrilla can frack for shale gas in Lancashire. You will remember that Lancashire County Council refused permission back in the summer. The minister says he is now calling the case in and will make the decision himself in the national interest. Not unexpected. Greenpeace are raising a petition in protest but that’s unlikely to change anything.

There was nothing in the Autumn Statement about the proposals to slash feed-in tariffs, so I suppose that we must assume that they will go ahead.
Last Friday Greenpeace sent an open letter to David Cameron in support of renewable energy and asked the government to “commit and put forward policies to support the growth of the UK renewables sector through the 2020’s, consistent with the critical role of the power sector in addressing carbon budgets under the Climate Change Act.” This letter was jointly signed by Unilever, Vodaphone, Nestle, Thames Water, BT, IKEA, M&S, Kingfisher, Tesco and Panasonic.

Other business voices were raised as COP21 started. CBI, the Confederation of British Industry, has published a report on what it would like to see from the conference. 

Rhian Kelly, CBI Director of Business Environment policy, said:

“We all know there is no easy answer to climate change. But, business and industry are part of the solution - developing innovative new products and services, and leading the way in cutting emissions, to propel us towards a low carbon future.
“Firms need confidence to invest in this future though, so the Climate Change Conference is a golden opportunity to create the long-term frameworks that businesses crave. This means a clear sense of direction, support for carbon pricing that can drive investment and getting finance and technology flowing.
“So much effort has been put into agreeing frameworks ready for Paris, we simply cannot afford to fall at the last hurdle, and delay a lasting, global plan for climate action. All businesses, especially energy-intensive industries, will be looking for an international deal which helps create a level playing field, and that keeps the UK competitive.”

“Clear sense of direction.” Let’s hope that the government one day comes to understand that short-notice changes of policy discourage investment. Maybe we should have a Ministry of the Future to concentrate on the long term. Sounds a silly idea? Ian Birrell, writing in the i newspaper, describes the Ministry of the Future which has been set up by the Swedish government to look 50 years ahead. Its head, Kristina Persson, says, “There is a need to see any dangers in time and create a narrative that holds together.” There are policies where the long view is essential. Climate change is one. Benefits, energy, pensions, health and social care all demand a long-term view.  Looking beyond the short term might have made us think twice about the interminable debt burden that is PFI. We now have a National Infrastructure Commission. That could be a step in the right direction, but we need a body with a wide perspective as well as a long view, and we need politicians who will listen. 

Meanwhile, are you taking the long view of your business prospects? Climate change, energy shortages, supply chain pressures - have you factored them into your business plan? Yes the future is always uncertain, but there’s nothing more uncertain than a future unexplored. 
Why not give me a call and we can talk through the type of things which could put your organisation at risk and decide how best to be prepared. Maybe we could talk about putting the issues into focus through scenario planning. The number is 07803 616877  or drop me an email at Give me a call and a cup of coffee and I’ll tell you what I think. If you call me now we can get something in the diary before Christmas. Oh, and I’ll expect a mince pie as well. Black Friday? Cyber Monday? This is the bargain of the week. Here’s to Sustainable 2016.

Yes, that’s it, another episode of the Sustainable Futures Report in the can. I’m off to the North West sustainable Business Quarterly meeting in Manchester shortly, kindly hosted by Anthesis at the Bruntwood Tower. I usually meet interesting people there. I’ll tell you about it. 

But for now, this is Anthony Day and that was the Sustainable Futures Report.