COP21 – Final thoughts and the road ahead

Thanks to our blog contributors over the last 10 days, and to you all for engaging with us. Below are some final thoughts on the conference and its outcomes:

Simon Price:

So now we know the outcome from COP 21. Twenty-three years on from the Earth Summit where it might be said to have all started, and 21 conferences later, the world nations have agreed a text of enormous implications; a turning point in the battle to save our planet

For the first time we have an agreement that contains a truly global approach to addressing man’s contribution to global warming. An agreement that sees 196 nations, not divided by state of development, but united in a common cause – against which they accept differentiated responsibilities and to which they bring their own respective capabilities. In short, the world playing as a team, which is quite extraordinary.

So, what does this turning point represent? Although from a different time and for a different situation, a quote from history perhaps captures what has been achieved in Paris: “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is perhaps, the end of the beginning.” – Winston Churchill.

Twenty-three years to reach the end of the beginning. Ratification could be the beginning of the end. Rigorous implementation and the courage and determination to push through difficult moments will be key to ultimate success. Can we be successful? We have to be but every one of us needs to be a part of the solution. Paris has given us a process and hope but to coin another famous quote: “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we have been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” – Barack Obama.

 

Matt Davies

The question now, after the weekend’s historic agreement, is how these aspirations can be met. Significant changes to the way we consume energy is key. Government policy and legislation has done much to decarbonize power generation and reduce energy consumption by industry. The focus on demand-side energy management in recent years has advanced the case for load management and smart metering, for example, but there remains plenty of scope for fresh thinking on how we design, build and manage how we live and work.  

Designing communities to maximise efficiencies in the use of construction materials, community heat and power, and in commuting is not new [in the rest of] Europe, but is not yet commonplace in the UK. The national government wants to see a million new homes by 2020 but so far development has been mostly on a small scale. This is an opportunity to scale up and apply different approaches to design and construction, not only to individual buildings but to whole communities, bringing energy and resource efficient design and construction, district heating and low impact commuting into the mainstream. The Nordics have been applying this thinking for decades with significant results that are workable in both the public and private sector. Let’s make a difference by sharing and using this learning over here.

 

Bram Miller:

Thinking about and preparing blog entries has certainly made those of us involved follow COP21 and its coverage more than we might have done. However, my feelings are that it is mostly those of us who are already interested who are doing this. Whilst climate change and COP21 have received a lot of coverage on LinkedIn, company websites and in the trade press, there doesn’t seem to be have been as much coverage in the mainstream media as with COPs gone by. This isn’t based on any science, but just my impression from reading, listening and watching the normal mainstream media sources that I normally do. Last week (10th December) I looked at the BBC website front page and the Guardian website front page. COP21 coverage was non-existent. I’m sure this wasn’t the case with, say, COP15 in Copenhagen. Whilst coverage of the final agreement was widespread, it has since dropped off quite quickly. It seems that climate change is moving down rather than up the agenda of the media and probably the everyday person who doesn’t work in this area. This may be because of the very pressing global matters at this time, including the recent tragic events in Paris and the ongoing crisis in Syria, which are quite rightly the focus of media attention. However, I am concerned that climate change just isn’t interesting to the media anymore. Maybe there is COP fatigue and the media and others just feel that the same lack of progress happens every year? Regardless of the reason, climate change isn’t going away.

 

Martin Broderick:

I still felt genuine uncertainty going into Saturday as to whether there would be a positive outcome to COP21, so to have finally reached an agreement after over twenty years of negotiation is a huge achievement, particularly considering the vast differences between nations. By all accounts, the French were instrumental in overcoming the challenges. But there now must be acceptance that the main challenge still lays ahead. Once the representatives have returned to their respective countries and initial optimism and enthusiasm has faded, there must be recognition that the hard work must begin. International agreements set the foundations, it now is up to countries to choose their own path to ensuring that COP21 was a key milestone to mankind living more harmoniously with their surroundings.

 

Mike Pantling:

Over the last few years it has seemed to me that the world is breaking apart. The news is filled with so much anger and suffering: the increasing strength of terrorist organisations, the mass movement of people across Europe and Africa fleeing conflict, and the Russian-Nato tensions that seem to be rearing their ugly head are just a few that spring to mind. Yet amongst this misery and anger that seems to dominate our world, we have COP. Almost 200 nations sitting around the table together, shaking hands and agreeing. For me the real progress made at COP21 was the sense of unity; the coming together of past and present adversaries to put aside differences that pale into insignificance in comparison to climate change, to agree action and a way forward. Time will tell if the agreement is strong enough and enforceable, but if we are united, I believe we can do what is necessary.

 

Stuart Divall:

Whilst it’s encouraging to hear that an agreement has been reached following a frantic overrun of events in Paris, one can’t help feel dubious when pictures of delegates, negotiators and leaders with heads in hands emerge. There are indeed positives to take from what many are saying is an historic conclusion, however, we mustn’t forget that any agreement made in the past two weeks comes into force in 2020. This past week our news has been dominated by the floods in the north of England, however these ‘unprecedented’ events have been occurring across the world. On the day of the COP21 agreement, headlines of flooding appeared in India, Japan, Brazil and the US as well as the UK. Coincidence? It seems there may be justice for the small island nations with the consensus that the average global temperature rise should not exceed 1.5C, as opposed to 2C. However, we currently sit at 1C and the effects are all around us. I sincerely hope this won’t be a case of too little, too late. A controversial question: is democracy the biggest threat to fighting climate change? However, crucially, a personal question: what am I going to do about it?

 

Emma Green:

“By comparison to what it could have been, it’s a miracle. By comparison to what it should have been, it’s a disaster.” – George Monbiot.

For me this statement summarises the majority of the media coverage following two frantic weeks of negotiation and diplomatic effort in Paris.

The consensus among nearly 200 countries to keep global temperature rise below 2C and aim to limit it even lower at 1.5C, is an achievement itself. It can be seen as a victory for developing countries, small island states and the most vulnerable countries who arrived in Paris for action. However, as progressive as the agreement is in comparison to those that have come before, there is still a long way to go in shifting to a lower carbon world.

Critics note that the aspirational target of limiting warming to 1.5C could have been achieved had it been agreed 20 years ago at COP1 in Berlin and the main failure of the Paris climate pact is that only certain elements are legally binding. Only time will tell if COP21 has truly been a miracle or if it has in fact been another disaster.

Following the progress of the climate talks over the past two weeks has really illustrated the numerous challenges that face the world we live in. We need to understand and be able to communicate and engage with multiple disciplines and policy areas whilst maintaining the diversity of national and regional contexts.

Is it enough? No. Is it a good step in the right direction? Yes.

 

Luke Strickland:

It’s got to be perfect?

So a deal has been reached, but time will tell whether this really is a turning point or whether it’s another false dawn. So far the signs look promising, but with so many parties involved the document is far from perfect. It has already been pointed out by commentators that much of the deal is voluntary, leading to speculation that it may be empty promises.

But does the deal have to be perfect to be effective? Arguably not. The fact that so many countries submitted climate action plans, turned up and played ball can only be a good sign. The presence of so many more business and city leaders compared to previous talks is also a good indicator that practical change may result.

Time will tell, but we don’t need to wait to take action in the projects, decisions and environments we work in.

 

Negotiating the climate change science maze

As COP21 has progressed it is clear that one of the most contentious issues to be resolved is associated with setting an agreed global temperature limit to which all nations must limit emissions to remain below. The current target for policy makers is to focus efforts on keeping global temperatures below 2°C of warming, although some nations argue that to avoid the worst extremes of climate change a 1.5°C limit is required. But is measuring temperature the most appropriate means of assessing anthropogenic climate change? The history of the 2°C limit stretches back to the 1970s and could be considered an arbitrary figure. It was first introduced by an economist, William Nordhaus, who warned that such a rise would “take the climate outside of the range of observations which have been made over the last several hundred thousand years”. Further work in the 1990s by the Swedish Environment Institute (SEI) suggested that “temperature increases beyond 1.0°C may elicit rapid, unpredictable and non-linear responses that could lead to extensive ecosystem damage”.

But the SEI also suggested a number of other indicators to measure climate change including sea level rise and the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere. Last week Dr James Hansen, a NASA climatologist, suggested that assessing the concentration of carbon dioxide in terms of parts per million (ppm) was a more appropriate means of measurement. NASA and the NOAA have both reported that global average CO2 concentrations are now above 400ppm (350ppm is thought to be the safe limit). This represents a 24% increase since records began in 1958 and the highest concentrations of carbon in the atmosphere for more than a million years, a time when sea levels were significantly higher and modern humans hadn’t even evolved. Yet research by the University of East Anglia recently reported that global carbon emissions are projected to stall for the second year in a row. The fact of the matter is that regardless of whether emissions have stalled, the most we can hope for is a stabilisation of CO2 concentrations; a reduction would take far longer and would rely on a reduction of global emissions.

If this leaves you slightly confused then you’re not alone. Like others, I have struggled to get to grips with the vast amounts of data, the arguments and counter-arguments, what is evidence-based and what is opinion-based. I think the ‘general public’ can be forgiven for being blinded by science. We only have to look at the mixed messages from food-related research: food which was once bad for us is now considered good, or vice versa; and herein lies the problem. Scientists have an inherent responsibility to ensure that any published work is credible and avoids sensationalism. Recently, Berkeley Earth produced a study stating that spending a day outdoors in Beijing was equivalent to smoking 40 cigarettes a day, but in fact the peer-reviewed study made no mention of this. Whilst air pollution in the city far exceeds World Health Organisation (WHO) limits, the only reference to this statistic was in a press release, which they later admitted was based on rough estimations completed on the flight to Beijing; in fact 40 cigarettes a day would be far worse for your health. The problem is that sensationalist and at times alarmist findings will receive far more media attention than solid research that may not quite have the same wow factor.

So perhaps a pinch of salt is required when making up our own minds on research findings. It is inevitable that nations, organisations and lobby groups will utilise the scientific data that best serves their agenda and supports their own arguments. But ultimately we can have great confidence that the estimates of observed global and regional warming in the IPCC 4AR produced using a wide range of scientific research show that observed warming far outstrips any uncertainties in datasets. There is no doubt that an evidence-based system is necessary to ensure each nation’s success in reducing emissions can be measured, but perhaps ministers need to focus less on negotiating what that limit should be and concentrate more on what needs to be done to reduce our carbon emissions. Regardless of whether it is a 1.5°C or 2.0°C limit to warming, the reality is it is the mechanisms to achieve a reduction that should receive the greater focus and priority; prevarication and argument will only serve to increase the challenge at hand.

Authored by Martin Broderick and Luke Strickland

The Herd of Elephants in the Room

The progress being made in the development of innovative new technologies, such as electric cars, renewable energy and building efficiency is impressive. In many cases these technologies are receiving increasing investment as the potential profits become clearer to see. These technologies are clearly an important component of combating both the causes and impacts of climate change. However, we (the authors) believe that potential solutions to climate change achieved through innovations in how society is organised, and its collective mindsets, is the elephant in the room. There are some maybe radical, but also perhaps necessary, changes to society that are too often put in the “too difficult to discuss” box.

A few of the potential options are introduced below. Some of these would be extremely difficult and controversial to implement. In some cases they also would cause many other knock on challenges of their own, but perhaps we are reaching the stage where radical new ideas, however inconvenient, need to at least be discussed!

  • Population Growth: This is a complex issue, including many moral and ethical aspects, but shouldn’t there be more debate about the rate of population growth and its implications for climate change?
  • Ration carbon on an individual basis: Materialism around the world leads to ever greater demands on resource extraction and manufacturing. Resources should be preserved for the things that matter like housing the poor and feeding the hungry. Resources used to build and run private jets and £100k cars aren’t helping anyone.
  • Abandon unsustainable cities: Cities have been built in hostile environments that were never intended to support large volumes of people; difficult decisions about their long term viability need to be made. This would be even more successful if the world worried less about national borders, and more what is best for everyone.
  • Geo/Climate-engineering: If we can’t curb emissions then more extreme engineering solutions may be worth considering. Ideas range from carefully positioned satellites to reflect back the sun’s rays, to seeding the oceans to form algae blooms to absorb the CO2 we emit.

COP21 certainly won’t be the place where any of these ideas will feature in the agreed text, and there won’t be a lot of discussion on innovation in society, rather than innovation in technology. However, there is a growing body of people out there who want to see them discussed.

Can we rely upon governments and heads of state to actually discuss this great herd of elephants in the room?

Can we rely on individuals to make the changes needed to reduce emissions or do we need to be forced to change our behaviour?

Do we need to persuade decision makers to consider that now could be the time for drastic action by demonstrating the financial rewards that innovation in society could bring or are the impacts of climate change convincing enough by themselves?

 

Mike Pantling & Bram Miller

Finally the Transport sector brings a coherent voice to COP

Having just returned from COP21 it is staggering to reflect that this is the first COP at which Transport has found its collective voice. At Bali in 2007 transport was little discussed and at Copenhagen in 2009 no coherent transport sector voice was heard.

How could this be you might well ask when we know that an increasingly dominant source of carbon emissions around the world is transport being 1st or 2nd in most countries emission inventories and the fastest rising. Globally transport is responsible for around 23% of carbon emissions.

Well I think two things have happened which help to explain this shift. Firstly the transport sector has woken up to realise that there is much more potential for the development of the sector in being a part of a proactive climate change solution and secondly a growing recognition that transport needs to be considered as a system within which there are multiple players – it is not simply about the regulation of vehicle emissions.

In consequence, exciting progressive collaborations are forming between city authorities, transport planners, smart technology providers, infrastructure providers and operators, vehicle manufacturer’s – be they road vehicle, planes, trains etc, and of course users.  For COP21 one grouping of collaborators have come forward with 14 initiatives addressing road , rail and aviation as well as private and public transport, see www.ppmc-cop21.org These initiatives carry the commitment of 100 cities and 100 countries as well as multi national companies in a major push towards low carbon transport. If successfully implemented at the planned scale, these initiatives could reduce the carbon footprint of over half the worldwide passenger and freight trips made by 2025. I’m delighted to say that Ramboll are now engaged in this collaboration.

There is also a wider recognition that good transport or more specifically mobility is a service  or good which we need to require much more intelligently. Within cities and led by C40, it is now increasingly recognised that we need to plan out the need for travel beyond a short walk for every day accessibility. The concept of the 5 minute city as exemplified in Nordhaven Denmark et al has arrived, behaviour change is happening as the younger generation eschew car ownership in cities in favour of the flexibility of foot/pedal power and public transport. These are not worldwide trends yet but they are gathering pace.

From being a hesitant actor could the transport sector become a star performer? Well in my opinion the possibilities have never been so good!

Time to mix it up: The global energy crisis

We only need to look at our daily lives to realise how reliant we have become on energy.  Developed countries very rarely suffer from intermittent supply of electricity but on the rare occasions we do experience a power cut, it doesn’t take long for us to appreciate how dependent we have become.  Look at the events of this weekend in the North of England – 55,000 homes without electricity due to the worst flooding on record.  Supply issues are much more commonplace in the developing world, but many developing nations are trying to tackle these issues, aiming to lift their populations out of poverty.  Combine these efforts with an increasing global population and energy demand is only going to increase.

So, how do we meet these growing energy needs without further contributing to global carbon emissions?  At COP21 there have been extensive discussions of the contribution that solar energy can offer.  The Global Solar Alliance and the Breakthrough Energy Coalition both provide reasons for optimism in terms of potential solutions to gaining a more diverse, low carbon energy mix.  As the solar market strengthens the criticisms associated with its affordability relative to fossil fuels are disappearing.  The concentrated solar power plant in Ouarzazate, Morocco has even begun to overcome the supply issues associated with solars primary criticism, darkness, via thermal storage systems that can still provide the necessary heat to generate electricity overnight.

The majority of initiatives proposed at COP21 seem to be focussing on major technological advancements to solve our energy dilemma, and how these may be financed.  However, perhaps the concept of marginal gains could be utilised, at relatively low cost?  This approach received notoriety in the UK via the British Cycling Team, with the logic being that if the team could make a 1% improvement in a range of different areas, cumulatively the level of improvement would be hugely significant, seeing opportunities in the system rather than weaknesses.   So could such an approach be adopted in the energy sector?   This is certainly happening in many countries, with some changes made in the UK’s Building Regulations.  Reduction in domestic energy consumption through improvements in the fabric is being achieved, however, Developers still successfully challenge the need to then to provide renewables.   And this is often because the consumer objects to being made to adopt and maintain such technologies or contribute to, for example, a centralised district heating network.

So, despite the high level discussions which are underway at COP21, does there remain a need to come back to grass roots and consider the behaviours of the customer – us!  Are we willing to play, or pay our part?  It’s interesting to see Tesco report the use of plastic bags is down 80% since introducing the 5p levy.  It seems we are content to change our behaviour when there is a penalty to pay, even one so small.  Reducing our own energy use could easily outweigh any additional cost for renewables.  We have become accustomed to warmer houses, certainly since my childhood when the average temperature indoors was 12o compared to today’s average of 17.5o.  Our thermostats are generally set at around 21o; is there capacity or willingness to turn them down?

Are our current levels of energy consumption sustainable in the long term?  Discussions throughout COP21 have focussed on what is necessary to ensure low carbon energy provision but it’s clear that we must make some changes in our own lives.  So often the greatest challenges are associated with behavioural change, but maybe we are reaching the stage where we must face up to the facts.   Perhaps we have reached the point where alongside nutritional information provided for food, we should also expand this to consider the quantities of carbon required to produce products, offering the public the choice to switch to a low carbon lifestyle. What do you think?

 

Taking the long perspective

We’re all familiar with the “fight or flight” response that we humans exhibit when faced with a threat. It’s been key to the survival of our species but could arguably be getting in the way of making effective decisions about the long term future of our planet. Our ability to face immediate problems isn’t the same when facing delayed or longer term issues, such as climate change, since it’s not such an obvious threat as encountering a predator in the wild.

As a result, climate change doesn’t capture the headlines or our attention in the way that more conventional and immediate news stories do. Its long term nature provides fuel for discussion and scepticism despite a large body of scientific evidence reporting alarming trends. That’s not to say that extreme events associated with climate change aren’t reported, such as the on-going drought in California or Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, just that the links to climate change aren’t always emphasised.

President Obama identified that we need to switch our focus from the short term to the long term in his speech at the opening of the conference earlier this week. He said:

For 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 many countries, including the UK, the cycle of party politics and elections mean that decision making beyond the five years of a specific government is often less important than immediate action to preserve approval ratings and opinion polls. Perhaps this means that it’s up to other organisations and businesses to buck the trend and seek sustainable long term solutions over short term profit. One tree-planting charity in Scotland is thinking over a 250 year horizon – a challenge to all of us to change our paradigm and move away from the short-termism that blights our organisational structures.

The longer term economic benefits associated with improved environmental performance are increasingly recognised by business, and it’s likely that private investment will take on a greater role in the progression of climate solutions. However the argument is not completely won, and short term “wins” and adaptations to existing processes such as carbon offsetting, or the replacement of harmful pollutants and pesticides with slightly less harmful ones are still the norm.

It’s time for a radical shift to new techniques and processes rather than endlessly patching up old ones – but the question is whether international decision makers are brave enough to rise above party politics, approval ratings and media demands and make binding long term commitments to ensure a more sustainable future for us all.

What are your radical ideas to bring about long term change? Let us know in the comments below!

Authored by Luke Strickland and Martin Broderick

Transport and Climate Change – All about the transport providers or is it up to us to make a difference?

Transport is a key contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, with the sector contributing approximately a quarter of UK emissions. Like many people I try to do what I can to reduce my own emissions and use a car less often than I might. However, this isn’t always easy.

I live in Romsey, Hampshire and regularly travel to London for business. Its only about 85 miles from my house to the centre of London. Romsey has a train station (one of the reasons I chose to live there) and theoretically there are good connections from Romsey train station to London Waterloo involving just one connection. This should make the journey about as fast as driving 30 minutes to nearby Winchester and picking up a direct train from there (about 2 hours door to door). However, almost every time I catch the train from Romsey there is a delay and I miss the connection, adding at least 40 minutes (and often more than an hour) onto the journey time. I am a fairly committed environmentalist but have almost given up on getting the train all the way to and from London due to the frustration of not being able to rely on the train. Inevitably the delays are even worse when there is any form of extreme weather such as heavy rain or snow.

This illustrates the current difficulties we have with a transport system which just doesn’t seem very integrated and which suffers from reliability even with good weather conditions. This reliability could get worse with climate change. Perhaps the most obvious climate risk in the UK is from flooding, but other climate factors such as increasing peak temperatures will also require changing design standards now and in the future. The range of potential hazards is broad; from increased temperatures leading to track buckling in rail systems, wear and tear damage to roads caused by flooding events and extreme storms resulting in the destruction of infrastructure, such as the recent collapse of the rail line along the Dawlish coastline.

In the UK our transport providers are making good progress in understanding and managing the risks posed by climate change, with individual network operators undertaking risk assessments and putting adaptation measures in place, although my feeling is that more progress is needed to knit all of this work together (which is perhaps the case with the transport system more generally). There is also effort on reducing emissions, although there is a lot of reliance on ultra-low emission vehicles and electrification of the rail network. One has to wonder how realistic targeted emission reductions will be, particularly if someone like me who actually cares about climate change is driven to using the car.

Whilst I applaud the efforts being made, I do worry about how a transport system that already seems to suffer from a lack of integration, is going to be able meet the twin challenges of significant reductions in emissions, combined with adapting to a changing climate. Transport providers are working hard on these issues, but is this enough without more joined up thinking? What do you think? Am I being pessimistic or expecting too much? Should we all just stop whingeing, deal with the dodgy connections and leave our cars at home?

Climate change is part of sustainability – not the other way around

How can we up our game with respect to climate and sustainability? My strong view is that we need to re learn that climate change is fundamentally an issue of sustainability- it’s not the other way around. It is in the adoption of more sustainable behaviours and expectations that success lies, albeit technology can be a massive enabler.

I have posted this blog just before departing my London office to travel to Paris to join in the discussions at COP21 and attend the PPMC’s Clean Mobility function. And just last month I had the pleasure of presenting in Seoul at the World Road Congress. As I think about these gatherings it begs the question of what progress has been made and with COP21 upon us, what in particular can we say about the position of transport in the realm of climate change considerations?

Fossil fuelled transport systems

As I attended many sessions and the exhibition in Seoul, my overwhelming impression was that the words climate and carbon reduction have certainly arrived as a constituent part of every technology brand and theme. Climate and carbon are almost an obligatory part of every technical conversation from solar panelled surface roads to lorries drawing energy through pantographs reminiscent of the trolley bus era. But, the discussion of sustainable behaviours and mobility expectations is much more muted and  sustainability itself – well it has become a word that many hesitate to use, many feel it devalued by inappropriate use.

So, for our climate are we nearer to the scale of emission reduction we need? Well not really, or at least, not universally. The strong reliance and growth in fossil fuelled transport systems, coupled with exaggerated expectations of rights to mobility remain key barriers to the reduction of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.

Is there hope?

As I led my technical committees reporting session in Seoul, strong papers sharing experience from across the world were presented, from Germany to Nepal, and the diversity of circumstance was impressive. It showed how with imagination and courage the twin challenges of climate adaptation and mitigation can be met through a reconnection with well implemented sustainable approaches, supported by society.

But not enough scale and pace

But for all the great experience and solutions, there is simply not enough scale and not enough pace in the implementation. The urgency of resolving the climate change question brings a positive energy, we must use this to reset our efforts to resolve the wider sustainability questions.

Can we do this and through sustainability learn to manage and live with climate change in a way which is equitable for all the world’s citizens?

Climate Justice – Resilience for All

Sadly, those least responsible for climate change often suffer the consequences of it and equally, measures to be resilient to the impacts of climate change normally only occur after a disaster, if it all, as is the case for many poor or developing nations. Another dilemma is that sometimes a move to become resilient in some form in one location, adversely impacts the resilience of another location. I am curious to see how far COP21 goes in achieving climate resilience and justice for all!

 Resilience

The Oxford dictionary defines ‘Resilience’ as “recoiling, springing back and resuming its original shape after bending”. The latin origin of the word is resilire which has, naturally, a similar definition although one that stands out: “withdraw from a course of action”. In the context of climate change resilience is: “capacity to absorb change, achieved by adapting and preparing for the future impacts of climate change”. So, similar, however, one cannot help thinking it’s a fairly negative and reactive viewpoint. Then again, when we see the evidence of climate change and the catastrophic effect it is having around the world, perhaps adaptation is now more important to many than mitigation.

Too late to turn?

It is curious that resilience could be seen as withdrawing from a course of action, something that perhaps many countries have been unable to do as the shouts for economic progress and increase in quality of life often drown out those, for example, appealing for decarbonisation. Is it possible, or even reasonable to withdraw from a programme of coal extraction to provide socially deprived communities power, and subsequently prosperity, without impacting our fragile climate? Taking this a step further, is it indeed possible following exploitation of natural resources to “resume the original shape”, or to return to pre-industrial levels of CO2? Doubtful.   The alternative, therefore, is to become resilient in the sense of recoiling from the shock and prepare for the inevitable.

Adaptation

A good example of adaptation in order to provide resilience to flooding in cities is the case of Copenhagen, following significant flooding in 2011. The approach taken by the Municipality, assisted by Ramboll, was to mimic the hydrological cycle, allowing water to pass through the city without damaging property and life. This has not only made the city resilient against future events, but has increased value in numerous ways: reduced risk means higher property prices and low insurance premiums; increased amenity has resulted in increased liveability, health benefits and biodiversity. A great example of adaptation and resilience, but it was in response to a disaster. Must we wait for a disaster before we act?

Justice

Of course, underlying this issue is; what is fair? Reducing emissions and increasing spending on resilience is all well and good for so called rich countries. But what about developing countries?

Central to climate justice is recognising and addressing the fact that those least responsible for climate change generally are victims to its greatest impacts. Communities with no power, water or sanitation often inhabit areas where famine, disease and floods occur in the extreme, events exacerbated by climate change whilst so called rich nations continue to exploit natural resources thus increasing the effects. And here’s another dilemma. To remove people from poverty, the solution is to provide power and water and…..yes, increase carbon emissions. How do you balance the argument where 300 million Indian households are without access to power but where there are enormous reserves of coal, with that of Kirbati, a small island nation that has called for a global ban on new coal mines to avoid having to evacuate its entire population of 100,000 people as a result of rising sea levels? Whose ‘climate justice’ takes priority? Can there ever be a win-win situation?

Is carbon neutral sustainable development for developing and industrialising nations the solution? President Modi of India on Monday launched the solar alliance, saying that renewable energy must be brought into the reach of all. Yet India, and other countries are still investing in coal, seen as essential in the short term to combat poverty and provide electricity to those that don’t have it. Decision makers need to consider the implications that investing in coal has on the resilience of other nations.

A lot is happening to advance use of clean technologies, but perhaps we should be looking more to clean technology solutions on a smaller decentralised scale. I believe there is a key opportunity for sustainable, liveable, clean energy communities in developing countries to help to truly catalyse the green energy market and drive investment into renewable technology.

So, will world leaders in COP21 deliver a framework that will see resilience and climate justice for all? Your views? As my colleague Luke said in an earlier blog, national and international frameworks are necessary vehicles to drive change but we cannot sit back and wait for the UN or our Governments to reach agreement, we can all take action.

 

Stuart Divall and Michael Pantling

Challenging wasteful thinking?

How do we feed the world’s growing population, and how do we do this whilst minimising environmental impacts such as deforestation? Today’s main topics at COP 21 are Forestry and Agriculture and delegates will no doubt be trying to find the right answer to both questions above, along with a myriad of other related issues.

Ecosystems and food production – a web of interconnections

Recognising and valuing our ecosystems, such as the forests around the globe and the ecosystems surrounding global food production, is of critical importance in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SDG 2 in particular aspires to “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture”.

As ever, the answer isn’t a simple solution of just increasing food production, but instead a nuanced web of interconnections and grey areas. A technique Ramboll is adept at applying for our clients in the agricultural sector is ecosystem services – applying a scientific approach in a holistic way to enable appropriate and sustainable decision making to this critical sector.

SDG 12 seeks to “ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns”, which is accompanied by the target to “by 2030 halve per capita food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses”.

If food waste was a country, it would be the 3rd largest CO2 emitter

If food waste was a country, then it would apparently be the third largest CO2 emitter in the world, which is a sobering thought. And as the planet’s population continues to increase, this places more pressures on global food supply. Reducing food waste is one element, along with traditional solutions for utilising it as a resource in itself – for instance in anaerobic digesters. Add to this the issue of sustainable pesticide use and the picture becomes even more complex.

The ultimate aim has to be to help supply chains become more circular and less linear and cut out the wasteful areas in the first place.The majority of food waste in terms of quantity is at the agricultural production stage, whereas the carbon footprint impact is largest at the consumption stage. Clearly we need to promote behavioural changes from both consumer and producer in order to meet the SDGs mentioned above.

The importance of urban trees

Valuing our ecosystems includes recognising the benefit that urban trees provide. Many of our cities in the UK are enhanced by the presence of Plane trees, planted by Victorian town planners in graceful avenues. It’s well known that trees in urban environments are beneficial in terms of urban cooling, let alone pollution, rainfall interception and habitat. With urban areas already hosting a significant majority of the world’s population, urban trees are an important element of meeting SDG 11, which aims to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”.

COP 21 is a huge opportunity for firm international decision making and commitment to a more sustainable future. Let’s hope today’s talks aren’t wasted.

Where would you start in terms of meeting the SDGs?
We’d love to hear your ideas and solutions in the comments section below.

Authored by Luke Strickland and Emma Green.