A day at COP24

COP24 in Katowice, the coal heartland of Poland, had a distinctly different atmosphere from COP23, Bonn 2017, where there was a strong emphasis on renewables. First, it was held in a magnificent venue reminiscent of a massive coal mine, and there were displays of coal and coal products – including some rather charming coal jewellery. (Unlikely to become a major coal-derived product, but largely emission free).

There was a greater emphasis on CCUS, and some discussion about gas. I should stress that I was only there for a day, and of course the meeting ran for 2 weeks, so I can only give my impressions.

I was determined to attend the USA side event, opened by Wells Griffith of the National Security Council. It took some sharp elbows to get my place in the packed meeting room. Mr Griffith stressed that the realities of energy included security and the economy, and that ‘Alarmism should not triumph realism’ and the USA did not want to be part of an agreement that would damage their economy. He said the role of government was to encourage innovation, and that emissions in the USA had fallen as a result of innovation, rather than regulation. He quoted the IEA forecast that energy demand to increase by 25% by 2040, so in reality more fossil fuels and nuclear power would be used. At which point a large section of the audience stood up, laughed, and chanted ‘Keep it in the ground’, before a rousing finale of ‘Shame on you’. Constructive discussion this wasn’t, although in my opinion the speakers were more confrontational than the previous year, and were not just presenting science.

After the interruption, Steve Wimberg from the US DOE, Dept of Fossil Energy took to the floor. He talked about flexible high efficiency, low emissions (HELE) power plant, and the next generation of smaller, modular units (50-350 MW) and CCUS. The other panellists were Prof Patrick Suckling, the Ambassador for the Environment, Australia, Rich Powell from Clear Path, a Washington-based NGO, and Asfaha Tesfai, Sempra Energy. They emphasised that switching to gas as a result of the fracking revolution had helped to reduce GHG emissions in the USA and emphasised innovation as the way forward.

The question I wanted to ask was what efficiency did they expect could be obtained from a small modular unit, but the questions were dominated by the protestors, including: ‘Do you believe we have 12 years to save the planet?’ This was meant to be a session on technological innovations, not beliefs.

Of course some policies are needed to drive the work and innovations that will reduce emissions of GHG more rapidly, but I am not clear if they have to be at the global level. If countries perceive a value in pursuing a green economy then the huge 2 week show that is the COP, involving about 32,000 delegates, may become less important, and the technologies and methods needed to reduce emissions could be developed and shared, with less fuss, and less hot air.