Real, visible and tangible – those words sum up not only the high-tech climate solutions on display at the Paris climate summit but also the sea-change in sentiment, that has resulted in 195 nations signing the world’s first comprehensive climate agreement.
December 12th 2015 saw the adoption of the first global pact to fight climate change, at the United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP21) – a hugely significant achievement given the competing interests at stake, especially between the industrialized and developing nations. This shared willingness to commit to the ambitious target of keeping average global warming below 2 degrees Celsius (while striving for 1.5 degrees) shows how far we have come in recent years.
My experience with COP dates back to 2009, being inside the COP15 negotiations at Copenhagen in my former role as executive director of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme. This time around at COP21, I attended events outside the negotiations to meet, share information, and potentially collaborate with others working on climate solutions, like PICS.
In the six years between these events, there has been a shift toward seeing the planet as a whole, as opposed to only developed countries needing to act on climate. While COP15 had a top-down approach that failed to secure a treaty, COP21 has clearly delivered on the back of a global, often grassroots, movement. COP21 brought an unprecedented level of engagement from civil society, cities, government and especially the businesses community, not just on recognizing climate change but acting on it. Not only did hundreds of exhibitors and speakers showcase their work but surprisingly, they were also willing to share information—some no doubt of commercial value—in order to make progress on this collective problem.
Seeing first-hand the breadth of creative new technology emerging shows that humanity is on the brink of an energy revolution, fuelled in part by innovations such as evolving electric and hydrogen vehicle designs, efficient irrigation systems, and low-velocity wind “trees” for home electrification. Adaptation was also an important part of the equation, with researchers sharing information on regional plant survival in a changing climate, for example. This COP was also the first to bring oceans into the mix in a major way.
Cities were among the biggest sharers of information; nearly 1000 mayors from five continents signed an agreement at Paris toward major GHG reductions, and Vancouver was honoured for its Greenest City Action Plan. Laying out the groundwork for reaching such targets was the subject of a forum on the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project (DDPP) including work by scientist Jim Williams from the US-Canadian firm, E3.
Decarbonisation and transitioning to a prosperous lowcarbon society cuts to the heart of what we do at PICS. Within our research agenda are several major projects that take the “big picture” approach to reducing emissions and improving energy efficiency within BC’s transportation, buildings, forestry, and inter-provincial electrical grid sectors. Our research teams are looking at integrated planning options, because one climate solution does not stand in isolation. For instance, moving to electric transport will place more demands on the grid, so what combination of actions will best meet that demand, and at what cost? Consideration also needs to be made to what neighbouring provinces and states are doing, so infrastructure rollout doesn’t end at the border.
Canada, as signatory to the new climate agreement, has emerged from COP21 with a restored reputation and new commitments to support a clean tech future here and in developing nations. PICS will continue to support government and business leadership toward a low-carbon future and deliver integrated solutions to help society to adapt to the climate changes before us.
Commentary by Sybil Seitzinger, executive director of PICS
Energy economist Mark Jaccard helped design BC’s carbon tax, and he still supports it. But he questions just how politically viable a stringent tax—at the level needed to meet climate targets—can really be. So he also continues to explore how other policies that the public find more acceptable could work.