COP20 is now underway in Lima and I have been on the newly created site for most of the week. Less than three months ago this was apparently an empty piece of land in a large Peruvian government complex, but now it is a bustling and well fitted out set of temporary buildings for housing negotiators and observers from some 190 countries; plus of course their entourage, a large security contingent, caterers, support staff and voluntary guides. The facilities are good and the meetings have started, but solid progress is hard to identify. There’s a lot resting on Lima as Carbon Visuals have clearly shown!!
An active side event schedule is well underway. Attendance at these events, often lacklustre in the first week, has been good, with an IPCC event that I spoke at on Wednesday afternoon playing to a nearly full house in quite a large room. This was an event about how people use and interpret the findings of the IPCC, rather than what the IPCC itself had to say in its 5th Assessment Report. But even here the differences in how people view the world show up. I spoke about the interpretation of the key role that CCS plays in scenarios that are targeting aggressive reductions (i.e. 430-480 ppm CO2e), referencing a particular table in the IPCC report that showed the sharp increase in costs if carbon capture and storage (CCS) is unavailable. An extract of that IPCC table is shown below.
The IPCC report notes that many scenarios are unable to resolve a 2°C outcome without CCS. Where a solution is realized without CCS, the cost to society is much higher than without it. This is because the model is forced to reduce economic activity and therefore fossil fuel use to find a solution, because other energy sources can’t fill the demand gap in a timely manner. Non-availability of bio energy also sees a significant increase in cost, perhaps for similar reasons in the transport sector.
My point was not just to highlight this table as that is not what the side event was about, but to use it to illustrate a problem the IPCC has in taking complex information and bringing it to the surface. The table was my case study. While it represents the actual findings of the IPCC, it seems to have little bearing on what people think (see below for my key slide from the presentation I gave) they said and I argued that the IPCC and UNFCCC are part of the problem in the way they summarise, shorten, tweet and disseminate the data. Deep down in the 5th Assessment Report it is very clear that a 2°C outcome is very (perhaps totally) dependent on the deployment of CCS, but this wasn’t even discussed in the high level summaries and press releases that were put out when these reports were released. As I mentioned back in September, when the UN Climate Summit took place in New York, CCS wasn’t even on the agenda but a whole session was devoted to renewable energy. While renewable energy (solar / wind) is important in the context of energy access and economic growth, the table clearly highlights that it isn’t really key to 2°C.
As if to underscore the point, the panelist from Climate Action Network took the stand and said that the IPCC work helped him realize that the world should and could be running on 100% renewable energy by 2050. It wasn’t at all clear to me where this realization that we could achieve 100% renewable energy in 35 years came from in the actual IPCC work, but you can probably guess who had the longest line of audience members wanting to be met with after the event – it wasn’t me.
Let’s hope for some greater enlightenment in the days to come in Lima and on the subsequent road to Paris.
Moderator’s note: CCNF is still in Phase I, and the Forum is only open to science columnists, journalists, and their guests at this time. As acting journalist, I invited Mr. David Hone – a subject matter columnist whom I expect we will hear a lot from in Phase II – to share his thoughts on the latest IPCC report and current UN negotiations in Peru. Consider this a precursor to the exchange of ideas CCNF hopes to facilitate starting in January. -MQ