Interviews And Articles by Nick Breeze
Lord Nicholas Stern, FBA FRS (Chair)
Professor John Loughhead OBE FREng FTSE - Chief Scientific Advisor at the Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC)
Matthew Bell - Chief Executive at the Committee on Climate Change
Professor Joanna Haigh CBE FRS - Co-Director of the Grantham Institute - Climate Change & the Environment
Jeremy Leggett - Founding Director, Solarcentury; Founder & Chairman, Solaraid; Chairman Carbon Tracker Initiative
Jon Williams - Partner, Sustainability & Climate Change, PwC
Notes from the panelists:
This being the 4th post COP21, “What next?” event I have attended in London, the themes that have accompanied all of the events still remains strong:
- Paris was a “diplomatic triumph” (Nick Stern)
- The Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC’s) proposed by each country to dramatically reduce emissions are a tangible output of the COP21 summit, however, in aggregate, combined with non-binding terms, they still only deliver a 2.7ºC - 3.5ºC limit to global warming. A long way from the “aspirational” 1.5ºC limit to mean average global temperature rise.
- Considering the shortfall from the NDC’s we need to amplify our ambition to rapidly decarbonise and be looking at all avenues to towards conquering the challenge of negative emissions (whatever it takes).
- “For the UK it is all positive… we’ve got the framework, we just need to make it happen.” Jon Loughhead - The UK can take retrospective credit for being a global leader in climate action with a plan to decarbonise.
- Matt Bell emphasised the need for a slow and steady transition to carbon neutrality with continual review that gives us room for “analysis as to whether we should go further.” Bell also stressed the need for more research on the pathways to a carbon neutral world. This led Nick Stern to point out that we need a big push in innovation and creativity that will lead us to radical change.
- One of the key themes I was looking at around the COP21 summit was the disconnect between the science and policy. Jo Haigh made the point strongly that at this crucial time when potential risk from climate impacts both affect and cost lives, we need more science, not less. We need to research much more, our adaptation strategy whilst ensuring resilience to impacts that are unavoidable.
- Jeremy Leggett was tagged by Stern as the “Inspirational” panelist and he lived up to this by inspiring applause on several occasions during the session. He began by stating his belief that COP21 will be seen in the future as the most important event in human history. This drew chuckles as opposed to cheers from the audience, however, it did remind me of the meeting a fortnight ago in the Houses of Parliament. In reply to question from the audience, Sir David King made the point that if this agreement happened twenty or thirty years ago then it would be a real triumph. The fact that it is happening only today is a catastrophe (but we still have to do everything we can to make it work).
Leggett also emphasised the need to increase the investments from billions to trillions if we are to do what is necessary to transition. This means that we cannot frack or embark on many of the old energy schemes the government is pushing.
- Jon Williams stated that 43% of CEO’s see climate change as a forward risk issue. He also explained that there is “no incompatibility between decarbonisation and growth.”
There is a united front between the cross disciplines of science, policy buffs, business leaders, clean tech engineers, insurers and other risk assessors that we need to act decisively and in concert to achieve a (more than) zero carbon civilisation by 2050.
This timeline becomes much more stringent if we are trying to achieve a 1.5ºC limit to warming. What is often underplayed is that 2ºC is a death sentence for hundreds of millions, possibly billions of people. Every day that we prevaricate or take no decisive action increases our exposure to the risk of climate impacts.
There is a lot of talk about a “market signal” that will trigger the financing of the low carbon economy. The sums required are huge (EG estimated $700 billion per year for China to transition to a zero carbon economy) but can we say that any price on a safe and better future for all is too high?
Predicting the future using climate models is an approximate business and the chances are that the extreme impacts we most fear could come earlier and more furiously than than is currently expected. One questioner in the audience, John Nissen from the Arctic Methane Emergency Group (http://ameg.me) raised the idea of intervention to stall climate change impacts and allow us more transition time.
Jo Haigh responded to this by citing proposals to inject particles into the stratosphere (called ‘solar radiation management’) as being very likely to be dangerous and something we should avoid. Haigh didn’t mention ‘marine cloud brightening’ (MCB) that is being proposed by Professor Stephen Salter and others. Salter’s proposal were explicitly touted by Sir David King in a previous session at the Grantham Institute a month ago (which Haigh Chaired).
Haigh’s biggest contention is with the unintended consequences that might well do us more harm than good. Also, geopolitically, altering climate could lead to conflicts if significant weather patterns that people rely on, such as monsoon seasons, were negatively affected.
We will be returning to this issue in coming weeks but it seems a big black hole in climate science is in determining regional climate change with any degree of accuracy. So comparing the risks of non-intervention with the risks posed by intervention is a very difficult task but certainly one we should be engaging with much more as our options are reduced by circumstance (there is currently no linkage between this and HMG policy that I know of but this does neatly lead us to the final comment).
Her Majesty’s Government (HMG)
I have stated elsewhere, COP21 really does show the us the limits to what politics can achieve. Going forward we need the additional interplay of civil society and investors. But government does play a vital role in setting the regulatory and transition pathway that business can use to plan.
When the session at the Royal Society ended and we applauded the plane individually, there was a notable hesitancy to applaud John Loughhead as a government representative. Nick Stern stepped in and gestured by leading the applause but also adding the caveat: “This is for you personally Jon. Not for HMG!” The applause then found a little pace.
We are currently stuck in a political vacuum in the UK where the ruling party has chosen to cannibalise itself over the non-issue of leaving the EU. Why has Cameron led us this way? Is it simply to fill his legacy void? We can recall that Tony Blair threw his heat and soul into the Northern Ireland peace process in order to try and bleach out the stains of the Middle East that still dog his reputation at home.
The trouble is that the leadership the UK were demonstrating in this all important issue no longer exists. HMG have not only squandered an opportunity to make this government truly great by accelerating along the path to a better future, they have also derailed the formation of EU policy as the continent sits frozen, awaiting the result of our damaging referendum.
Meanwhile, Chancellor George Osborne is setting about trying to destroy the successful renewable industry that has been built up in the UK, including putting jobs and businesses at risk with his reckless policies.
Panellist Jeremy Leggett really highlighted this on the panel, and again on his blog, when he says:
The Treasury and the Department of Energy and Climate Change talk of the strictures of austerity, and deploy a blizzard of obfuscatory detail in trying to defend their actions. But I am told by unimpeachable sources in Whitehall and Westminster what is really going on. Osborne and his acolytes are conducting a scorched earth assault on the green energy sector in order to clear space for investment in oil, gas and nuclear.
This destructive behaviour is totally unacceptable because it is lining British people up for potential economic collapse, not even to mention the environmental damage that will be inflicted on the world at large.
The economic trajectory of energy markets is now moving towards clean technology. It is happening because or a desire to live in a cleaner world with less pollution that will be better for all. The advances are driving down the cost and the potential for accreting decarbonisation exists.
The Treasury are committing us to very flawed pathway to the future. It is likely that exceeding the carbon budgets and falling energy prices and public will, is going to hasten the transition to a clean energy future. To commit British resources to sure-to-be stranded assets can only be based on a logic that the rest of us are not privy to. This all needs much more public and transparent debate, so that instead of quarrelling over Europe, we can focus building the world we wish to exist in.
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