COP21 WORLD ENVIRONMENT CONFERENCE PARIS 2015
Cr Fraser – First, I should like to thank my co-councillors Wood, Pittock, Bowden, Celi, Colomb and Rodgers for the marvellous opportunity and privilege of representing the Shire, together with the Mayor Cr Graham Pittock and our team leader Renewable Resources Jess Wingad, at the United Nations Conference of the Parties 21 – the Paris World Environment conference between 30 November and 12 December 2015. I should also like to thank our CEO Carl Cowie and his management for their enthusiastic support for this project.
Councillor Rodgers attended the Bali Conference of the Parties in 2007 and the Copenhagen Conference of the Parties in 2009. He is the Shire’s foremost advocate on the effects of Climate Change and the use of renewable energy in preference to the use of fossil fuels. He led the way in the construction of the eco house at the Briars, which more than favourable compares with similar overseas facilities, and he moved the resolution passed by this council last year committing the Shire to carbon neutrality.
COP 21 is the twenty first round of an annual conference of the nation states of the world – a dialogue which commenced not long after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. The first of these conferences commended in Rio de Janerio in 1992 and I shall say more about that later.
As an undergraduate and later post graduate student in international law, international relations and international political organizations – which we can all learn from the books and now the computers – but human experience tells us there is no learning substitute for real practical experience in seeing, participating and communicating in the international and subnational system at work in the practical way that it did in Paris – with the brilliant result that 190 nations states of the world responsible for 98% of the greenhouse gasses of the world reached an agreement on the world environment after 21 years.
This is truly an historic moment for the modern world – just as 1914 marked the early years of the twentieth century with war and destruction of humanity and its fabric on scale unimaginable. In contradistinction a century later in 2015, the twenty first century will be marked with world accord and agreement on the environment, reduction of greenhouse gasses, with renewable energy preferred over the burning of fossil fuels. This will be the driver of the twenty first century and I am enormously proud that the Mornington Peninsula was there and that it committed to carbon neutrality now over twelve months ago and that this will also be a driver of policy for this Shire going forward.
At the outset President Obama approached the issue of climate change this way. He said that the enemy we have to fight is cynicism – the presumption that we cannot do anything about climate change. Perhaps the issue is, with apologies to John F. Kennedy, “Ask not what the environment can do for you; ask what you can do for the environment?” And with a different and metaphysical slant, Ghandi once said “We should care for the world we cannot see”: a comment reflected by French President Holland when he said “C’est pour la jeunesse qu se tient la COP21.” These approaches and the process established by The Paris Agreement, I suggest, ought to be our touchstone for the twenty first century. The Paris COP 21 Agreement provides for the following matters.
A 2 degrees above pre industrial levels limit on global warming: Each of the last 10 years has been the hottest on record and 2014 most of all. The US National Oceans and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently reported November as the hottest month in 136 years. Two degrees is generally regards as the ceiling to prevent climate change escalating out of control.
The door has been left open by the Agreement that this could be pushed further down to 1.5 degrees – a matter which is especially important to the small island states of the world most affected by sea level rises, storm surges and greater frequency of storm event. I attended a session with Marshall Islanders. There repeated storm surges have not only taken the islanders’ homes but by salt water hinterland invasion, their crops and with it, their livelihood and food security.
By way of another example, Fiji recently relocated three coastal villages at a cost of $1.3m
Plans by each nation state to address climate change: Prior to the conference all nations had come forward with their plans to reduce their greenhouse emissions: the US by 26% against a 2005 baseline; EU by 40% against 1990 baseline; China carbon output to peak by 2030; Australia by 26-28% against a 2005 baseline by 2030.
This was described by our Environment Minister Hunt as equal to the largest per capita drop amongst the G20 nations. However, this is starting from a low base as Australia ranks with the United States as the highest per capita emissions of greenhouse gases.
The British government have already legislated to cut emissions by 80% by 2050 and phase out coal burning plants by 2025. The USA and China would not agree to legally binding targets. But all states recognised that all these measures would not contain global warming to 2 degrees.
Regular five yearly reviews commencing 2020 of promised cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, with a stocktake of the same in 2017.
A common set of reporting standards and measurement of greenhouse gasses – a robust system of checking on national promises – the Americans were particularly keen on this as “You can’t control what you can’t measure”.
Providing for $US1bn per annum to poorer countries to finance adaptation and mitigation and switching from fossil fuels.
Leveraging private investment in non-carbon renewable energy such as solar and wind power.
Specifically the United States doubled its commitment of $US430m to $US860m to assist poorer countries deal with hurricanes and storms the climate change science tells us is likely to intensify as global temperatures rise. This what the United States representatives conveniently referred to the as the need to adapt to climate change – mitigation and in particular the need to mitigate the effects of global warming by switching from burning fossil fuels to renewable energy such as solar and wind and sea energy – was barely mentioned.
Further, Britain, Germany and Norway have pledged $US5bn for forestry conservation in poor countries through 2020 to end forest loss and allowing regrowth – recognizing that forests are home to a rich diversity of plant and animal life. For example Brazil, has reduced its deforestation by 80% over the last 10 years.
It is worth pausing here and considering the physical position of the United States at the Le Bourget conference site. The conference site sprawled over some 18 hectares of converted aircraft hangers and vast marquees, containing two large plenary rooms where, as observers, we were able to attend, meeting and discussion rooms on a vast scale, media expanses, office pavilions for each nation state and display pavilions for each nation state with substantial lecture and conference facilities – all to accommodate some 40,000 attendees in a space that was nearly two kilometres long and 3/4 of a kilometre wide.
It was divided in to a blue and green zone which ran concurrent programs and seminars – the blue diplomatic zone being the zone in which the plenary sessions took place and of course the negotiations. Each zone was isolated with elaborate security and surrounded by sub machines armed police, police dogs and horses.
One evening we heading off to an evening function hosted by the foreign minister Julie Bishop and, becoming quite lost in this vast complex, we spotted the Foreign Minister ahead and fell in step behind her official party only to find ourselves swept into meeting a room for an official (and private) meeting with a delegation from the Government of Tonga!
The American Pavilion held pride of place as you entered one gigantic aircraft hangar – on the right hand side. There were other pavilions from France, China, India and Saudi Arabia – the latter two were most exotic with shimmering curtains, water displays more like a tourist theme and devoid of any seminars, presentations and visitors – to be expected as the two nations least desirous of agreement – each country being a substantial buyer and seller of carbon products with little interest in a shift to renewable energy.
The United States pavilion displayed a gigantic moving globe of the world displaying global water and wind movements and, in particular, the sources, intensity and distribution of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases. The Americans with their advanced technology, satellites and capacity of observe and measure practically anything was hugely impressive. One National Oceans and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientist presented a paper as to how he could, with a particular new mass spectrometer fitted to a satellite could achieve even more sophisticated greenhouse gas observations – all compiled and modelled on this gigantic globe of the world where we could see the swirl of major emissions from China and South Eastern Australia from Sydney to Melbourne of our intense coal burning activity and CO2.
Impressive displays of diminishing Artic and Antarctic sheet ice were presented all with declining graphs and rising temperature graphs but all in the context of an acceptance of climate change and the need to adapt but no mention of a carbon cause or mitigation and the use of alternatives to carbon energy. One had the impression of a carefully managed presentation by the United States with compliant commentators handpicked for their commitment to adaptation – one senior commentator remarked in all seriousness in the presence of the United States Environment Secretary of State that “We have to let Mother Nature do her work”.
The other side to that penny is the equally discredited comment that that the world, its oceans and environment have an infinite capacity to absorb the deleterious impact of our extraction and use of carbon in the environment. We now know that not to be the case with global warming to date of one degree over pre industrialization temperatures and absorption of that additional heat and CO2 in, and expanding, the oceans.
Diplomacy admits no cynicism and certainly, in this realpolitik world of vast aircraft hangers and secret meeting rooms, left no room for exploring the double standards of the participating states. However, two examples are worth mentioning.
In the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana lies the rich source of 40% of all coal burnt in the United States. It owned by the government and leased. There has been no competitive lease tender since 1990 actually depressing the price of coal and representing a $3bn US pa taxpayer subsidy to the coal industry depressing energy prices and making it difficult for more expensive renewable energy to complete.
You might think that equally consistent with this is the major, and what appears to be asustained, fall in oil prices. Meeting in Vienna in November, OPEC failed to fix a ceiling on production. Oil priced at $US 65 a barrel in June is now just $US38. The Standard and Poor Energy index has fallen by 38% since June 2014. Perhaps this is good for the short term economy -which may be why the US Reserve has just lifted interest rates – but this is not good for the environment and renewable energy markets.
On the other hand in India, 300 million people are without electricity. It is placing orders for tens of millions of LED lights creating manufacturing economies of scale which will reduce the cost of LED lighting worldwide. It will reduce the burden on the Indian electricity grid making electricity available to more Indian families. Again, there are 15 million solar electricity homes in Bangladesh.
While the USA commit to a 26% reduction in green house emission on a 2005 baseline by 2025 and the European Union commits to a 40% emission reduction on a 1990 baseline by 2030, China leaves the world in no doubt by its commitment for its carbons emissions to peak in 2030 while it busily goes about constructing 92 coal fired electricity plans in developing countries. One such power station is in Haiphong in Vietnam where each day the nearby kindergarten is swept of black coal dust and the children present with persistent coughs.
In Beijing on 7 December, the Chinese Government called the first ever smog Red Alert shutting factories, children to stay indoors. Beijing’s air at the end of November reached 40 times the World Health Organization limit for dust and soot that can penetrate the lungs. My goddaughter was there last month and she knows – she experienced it. Nor in Australia can we be smug as our reported CO2 emission per capita is the same as the United States. We have our own experience of what was recently experienced by the Beijing residents when in February 2014 multiple bushfires converged on the Hazelwood open cut coal mine which burnt unchecked for 45 days with a spike in deaths in the surrounding communities following the fire.
Then there is the tension between the developed and developing countries: as The Times editorial of 28 November put it “Should the poor countries stunt growth by using costly green technology when the developed world industrialized with dirty coal which still provided 41% of the world’s energy.” A perceptive comment from the Murdock press not known for its amenability to Climate Change.
Amongst all this tension, the cynicism and double standards – the Paris Agreement of all 190 nation state participants is a remarkable achievement.
Perhaps what drove the final agreement was American national pride in not achieving agreement in Copenhagen and the prospect of new markets and financial products for developing countries neatly bundled up as green bonds and other green investment instruments; for the Chinese, it was perhaps the embarrassment of the smog Red Alert in Beijing which occurred during the conference and reminiscent of the deadly London smogs of 1952 which precipitated their Clean Air Act of 1956; for the Europeans, particularly the Germans – who predictably ran one of the smartest pavilions “No more than 2 degrees” and the most interesting seminars of the conference – it was the excitement of innovation and development of new carbon neutral and renewable energy technology and products which can be exported to the world.
Ultimately money and investment will drive renewable energy alternatives forward to the gradual transformation of the global economy. US Secretary of State Kerry said in closed session “The old partnership between energy costs, productivity, and prosperity is cast aside in favour of a single matrix of carbon intensity”. He went on to say “It is the most extraordinary market opportunity “. The real success of the agreement may be whether it convinces companies and investors that it would be more profitable to invest in renewable sources of energy and less profitable to invest in traditional fossil fuels.
Drawing the golden thread through all this over the last 200 years, may I suggest this?
The first half of the nineteenth century was marked by the rapid industrialization of Europe and North America. There the great manufacturing machines with their fabulous new manufactured products and wealth – all derived from carbon – were gloriously displayed at the Great Exhibitions commencing in London 1851, New York, Melbourne 1880, Philadelphia, Paris in 1889 (for which the Eifel tower was constructed) until 1914 when these grand machines and technology ground into the grotesque machines of war and destruction of the 20th century, until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the end of the Cold War and end of the Soviet Union on New Year’s Day 1991.
The very next year the first United Nations sponsored Conference of the Parties COP1 was held in Rio de Janerio – a dialogue which continued to Paris with the agreement of 190 nation states and a process for a way forward to deal with climate change and substitute deleterious carbon with renewable energy.
I have discussed what occurred in the national system. This is a “top down” agreement.
There remains the sub national system comprising of local government but also state and now regional government with a 2 Degrees MOU between the State of Californian and State of Baden Wurttemberg in Germany open to all other regions and states to sign up. Section V of the Agreement recognizes the importance of integration of actions across cities and business.
Local government are more flexible and can move faster that national governments: as the Mayor of Oakland on San Francisco Bay said “Governments waffle, cities lead.” There are encouraging signs that cities and regions, business and investors are already running ahead of their governments to bring emissions down faster than officially planned. Stated national targets will not do so. This is the “bottom up” approach and it is achieving real practical results in making and using renewable energy, in transport, buildings, energy efficiency and achieving carbon neutrality. 165 cities, home to 234 million people, plan to cut emissions by more than government targets.
For example, Paris, experiencing crippling summer heat waves has invested in district cooling systems by running pipes under the Seine. Likewise, Copenhagen is running pipes under its harbour. Boris Johnson, who attended one session at the Hotel De Ville, was piqued that London had not moved in the same direction. He added that the sub national arrangements and conversations between cities and regions were all about stealing their ideas or, as others remarked, the sharing of ideas and information.
Vancouver expects to be 100% renewable by 2050. Copenhagen and Vancouver were effusive in their invitations to visit to view their innovative climate change projects. The City of London has a whole section devoted to the issue and administration of the green bonds it issues to finance its innovative climate change projects. Indeed, World-wide investments in electricity from clean renewable resources such as these and solar and wind for years has outstripped spending on fossil fuels. By 2030 the ratio is expected to be 7 to 1. Long may it continue to do so.