The Effects of the Emergence of Renewable Energies on Business Models in today’s Power Industry: A Primer

by Romy Abou Farhat and Alexander Pfeiffer

The rapid growth of decentralised renewable energy (RE) technologies, such as wind and solar has already influenced change in the traditional centralised power supply business models around the world. It has complemented fossil fuel generation to meet the increasing electricity demand in some regions, and disrupted traditional energy markets and business models in other regions where electricity demand is stagnant.

Renewable energy and centralised generation

The world’s centralised electricity systems are under pressure to stimulate change in the way they operate by balancing the growing challenges that form today’s Energy Trilemma. They are required to decarbonise their energy systems as countries have agreed to do so under the 2015 Climate Change agreement in Paris. At the same time, however, they are committed to provide a constant and reliable supply to meet the growing global energy demand and to increase energy access by addressing affordability.

This growing pressure on traditional utilities has given rise to a wave of profound changes. Many utilities are currently undergoing a phase of transition by splitting up, consolidating, or restructuring their entire business models to keep up with the market and regulatory challenges and and adapt to these ongoing changes in the power sector. One transition pathway many utilities choose is to gradually move their operations to new markets by increasingly acquiring renewable energy assets, whilst at the same time reducing their fossil fuel portfolio. A striking example for such a complete change of business model emerging from the deeply altered energy markets is the split and spin-off of the German energy giant E.ON’s operations into a clean energy and a fossil fuel operations division in January 2016. What triggered this separation is the former company’s fossil fuel assets being deeply affected by the country’s government’s energy transformation strategy (“Energiewende”), which gives renewables priority access to the grid at fixed prices (feed-in tariffs).

The increased share of renewable generation in the mix, however, has been creating challenges both in their grid-integration, as well as in building more-flexible systems that are able to balance variable sources of energy whilst reducing costs. A couple of countries such as Denmark and Portugal have addressed these challenges and successfully achieved the large-scale integration of renewable energy to their grid, thereby increasing penetration of renewables to up to 43% of wind power in Denmark and 24% in Portugal in early 2016.

They are not alone: other countries have also responded to these challenges and incorporated a set of new strategies and technologies into their policy agenda, including:

  • Development of smart grids

  • Construction of new transmission and interconnection grids

  • Increase in flexible electricity consumption and generation

  • Improvement of energy efficiency of current transmission and distribution

  • advanced forecasting of supply and demand

  • Implementation of cogeneration systems

  • Integration of heating and cooling systems

  • Innovation in energy market structures and financial flows

  • Implementation of policy drivers and regulatory incentives

  • Integration of the power industry with the transport industry

1280px-BANGUI_WINDMILL,ILOCOS_NORTE_2Bangui Windmill, Ilocos Norte, Philippines. Photo credit: Obra19

Renewable energy and decentralised generation

Typically, with the growing liberalisation and diversification of electricity generation sources, traditional centralised power systems are being transformed into more complex and interconnected systems. The most recognised example of decentralised generation is microgeneration, small-scaled distributed generation of electricity through renewable energy technologies (i.e. solar photovoltaic, or PV) with capacity of usually less than 50 kW. This type of electricity generation directly empowers consumers to choose and control the way they consume electricity. Key drivers behind these innovative business models include advances in clean technology, declining costs, policy and regulation incentives, and even changes in social behaviour and perception. Together, these factors are driving energy entrepreneurship and filling some of the gaps and defects of traditional systems through models that ensure security and affordability of energy supply and a decarbonisation of energy systems.

Microgeneration has started to take off in markets around the globe, especially in countries that traditionally lack access to electricity for a large share of their population, such as Bangladesh, which is currently the world’s largest market for residential solar PV. Several other developing countries (such as Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania in Africa; China, India and Nepal in Asia; Brazil and Guyana in Latin America; small islands in Australia, Malaysia) are also experiencing strong growth in the deployment of distributed technologies, as such technologies can offer consumers affordable and efficient low-carbon electricity and increase energy security where the electricity from the grid is unreliable or inaccessible.

Developing and least developed regions are not alone in experiencing a large increase in the uptake of residential microgeneration: developed regions in Australia, Europe, Japan and North America are seeing similar trends. In these regions, such trends are driven by the emergence of new retail pricing policy frameworks and business models that turn microgrids into profitable energy service providers and not only technology solutions.

Solar valley
Credit: Marygrikas


Industrial investment in renewable energy

The industry sector in all regions of the world has long been generating large portions of power onsite with an increasing use of renewable energy technologies for heating, cooling and electricity generation, using mostly bio-energy sources such as waste from agriculture, forestry and livestock. To encourage the further uptake of such renewable energy technologies and increase the competitiveness of industrial businesses, in 2015 the European Commission initiated “IndustRE”, a project with the aim of identifying innovative business models and regulatory needs for the market uptake of renewable electricity to increase flexibility in energy intensive industrial electricity use.

Beyond the EU, large corporations across the globe are strengthening their commitments to renewable energy. Today, an estimated 2,000 companies have publicly pledged to reduce their carbon emissions using renewable energy and energy efficiency. More than 50 of the world’s largest companies, such as Google, Facebook, and Apple, are part of the global business initiative RE100, where the participating companies commit to purchasing all their power from 100% renewable energy sources.

In the United States especially, large companies have been moving beyond social responsibility and have been viewing renewables as business opportunity. Interestingly, corporate buyers are driving the market for renewable energy today by acquiring growing shares of renewable energy power or contracting their own large-scale renewable energy projects. For instance, in 2015 Apple constructed two solar farms of 40 MW combined in southern China. The output from these installations exceeds the electricity used by Apple’s offices and retail stores in China, making its operations carbon-neutral. Other large renewable energy purchasers around the world include municipalities, the US military, and mining companies.

Accelerating a transition towards a sustainable energy future

Renewables are already seen today as mainstream sources of energy. They have been experiencing a rapid growth that has created new markets for both centralised and distributed renewable energy across the globe. This has been driven mainly by reductions in costs of renewable technologies, improved policy initiatives and access to financing, and a growing demand for energy. Growing numbers of companies, investors, cities and citizens that have set renewable energy targets are driving change in the market.

These are all signs that a global energy transition is underway. Renewable electricity provided an estimated 23.7% of global final energy consumption in the beginning of 2016, a growth in capacity and generation that is still ongoing and expected to increase in the future.

Flexibility is a key component of a power system that incorporates large shares of intermittent renewables – particularly wind and solar – since it ensures that these energy sources can be leveraged whilst keeping the lights on. Another core aspect for accelerating and widening the horizon of the low carbon transition are future policies and regulation. Policies should be designed to discourage investment in fossil fuels and reduce risks from investments in renewable energy. Policy support is also key for driving cost reductions and supporting flexibility and innovation. It is therefore crucial for scaling up renewables, which can help to close the energy access and security gap.

Romy is an Imperial College London M.Sc. student in Sustainable Energy Futures.

Alex is the head of Young European Leadership’s delegation to the COP and a doctorate student at the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET) at the Oxford Martin School.

Read more analysis from Young European Leadership’s COP22 delegation here

Youth at the COP22 – Change Needed: COP 22 Daily Blog – Day 12 (Week 2)

by Casey Catherine Miller and Alexander Pfeiffer

Coming to my first COP I am pleasantly surprised by the amount of passionate youth dedicated to making an impact in their world that I have met at the conference. It’s difficult to go to a side event without making contact at least once with a young person who has developed a project in their local community or created a youth climate advocacy organization. The passion and dedication of my generation is alive and well at COP22.

Yet is this passion being utilized as it should? I for one don’t believe it is. From what I’ve seen this week at COP22, youth involvement here seems to come in two forms. First, there’s the meetings where youth discuss youth issues with other youth. These are important tools for organization and development of a strong common message, yet discussion in a closed circuit of youth will not influence much outside of these meetings unless combined with action.

Second, there’s the token involvement of youth from high level officials, an issue brought up by Siamak Loni, Global Coordinator of SDSN Youth. Ministers and representatives from various countries will come to an event, give an impassioned speech on the importance of involving youth and then leave when their speech is over. They do not listen to the presentations and speeches of the youth. This form of involvement may make the high level official look good, but what real impact does it have?

At a side event on intergenerational equity and youth empowerment hosted by the Italian Climate Network and the Taiwan Youth Climate Network, Ronny Jumeau, the climate change ambassador of the Seychelles, called for national delegations to include the active participation of youth. This inclusion shouldn’t come through token speeches with little weight behind them, but through actually giving youth the coveted pink badges and including them as official members of the national delegation.

By relegating youth to youth-focused side events and discussions we are allowing youth to be seen as the “other.” When youth are allowed to participate directly in the negotiations through national delegations the idea that youth are a vital and necessary part of all climate change talks is solidified. Until more countries follow the example led by the Seychelles, the Philippines, and other countries with involved youth delegates we can’t state that the passion and dedication brought by youth is being utilized as it should.

As COP22 winds down talk is turning towards COP23. Let’s hope in Bonn we see more youth actively included in national delegations in a way that allows for their active involvement in these vital negotiations.

Casey is the media delegate for Young European Leadership at COP22 and is finishing her joint masters studies at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences as part of the ELLS EnvEuro program

Alex is the head of Young European Leadership’s delegation to the COP and a doctorate student at the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET) at the Oxford Martin School

See also our daily video blog from the COP: Young European Leadership at COP22 day 12. Follow the delegation’s analysis here

COP22 Daily Video Blog

Catch up with the delegation and highlights of the negotiations from November 7-14 2016. Get the background on COP22 here. Follow all the YEL delegation activities and analysis at COP22 here.

COP22 in review: highlights from the conference

Monday 7: Youth, Capacity Building

Tuesday 8: Forests, Land Degradation, Water

Wednesday 9: Resilience

Thursday 10: Energy

Friday 11: Oceans, Transport, Energy

Saturday 12 – Sunday 13: Half Way

Monday 14: Gender and Education

Tuesday 15: Low Emissions Solution Conference

Wednesday 16: Innovation 

Thursday 17: Low Emissions Solutions Conference (ii)

Friday 18: Wrap up of the COP22


Can Marrakech COP22 solve the unfinished tasks of Paris COP21?

By Yanzhu Zhang and Alexander Pfeiffer 

In December 2015, the 21st conference of the parties (COP21) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) had made a decisive turning point in the world’s endeavor to avert dangerous changes in our climate. 195 nations pledged to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. The COP21 in Paris was a historic moment for reaching an international agreement of limiting climate change. It sets a 1.5 degree target, which requires the widest possible cooperation by all countries and their participation in an effective and appropriate international response.

What are the achievements of COP21?

The Paris climate conference adopted the “ratchet mechanism” and called for countries’ continual ambitions in its pledges. The concept of “intended nationally determined contributions”, or INDCs, was used for the first time in the history of UNFCCC COPs. The Paris agreement was different in many ways. It included a human rights approach in its preamble, a strong ambition mechanism, and a collective stocktake of emissions reduction actions coupled with a ratchet-up mechanism to ensure the INDCs of each country will be scaled up. Moreover, the agreement emphasized capacity building in developing countries, which in many ways will also benefit the most vulnerable population groups. As Barbara Hendricks, German Minister for the Environment, put it: “For the first time all the countries in the world came together on the path to save the planet (…) we fought for a long time and today we’ve reached a solid agreement. It is a historic turning point.”

The year 2015 also evidenced the adoption of United Nations General Assembly resolution A/RES/70/1, “Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.” The new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have clearly set the outlook for a paradigm shift towards a more sustainable future. The Paris agreement is not the end of story but the beginning of rigorous enforcing and implementation efforts. The COP22 happening now in Marrakech is a new battlefield of climate negotiation and at the same time a new window to translate commitments into actions.

What is unfinished in the Paris Agreement?

While the Paris Agreement has been declared a success by many policy makers, criticism of the outcome of COP21 has been expressed by many as well. Taking the INDCs as an example, the current level of commitments will not bring us anywhere near the desired 2°C warming goal (not to mention the even more ambitious 1.5°C goal). At their current ambition level the INDCs will leave us with approximately 2.7 to 3.0 degree Celsius global warming by the end of the century, well beyond what experts such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) consider ‘safe’ levels of climate change. Bernie Sanders, a US Senator, summarized this critique saying “While this is a step forward, it goes nowhere near far enough. The planet is in crisis. We need bold action in the very near future and this does not provide that.” Critics have also argued that only some parts of the agreement are legally binding while others, such as the national pledges by the countries to reduce emissions, are not and hence not enforceable.

While developed countries agree on a legal obligation to provide climate finance to developing countries, the $100bn a year financing goal is most likely not ambitious enough and also not sufficient to provide poor countries with enough support to manage the transition towards a low-carbon economy. In addition, while the $100bn already existed as promises for several years prior to Paris, recent reviews of the activity of the fund shows, that in the past only a small percentage of the pledged money has actually been employed. This is partially due to the fact that damages caused by climate change related events are not eligible to benefit from the fund. Moreover, the agreement explicitly excludes liability and compensation payments for loss and damage (L&D). L&D is the UNFCCC’s nomenclature for damage from existing and future climate change such as rising sea levels and extreme weather events and was one of the most controversial debate topics during the conference.

Can Marrakech COP22 solve these problems?

The COP22 in Marrakech is said to be the COP of action. “It is all about implementation, implementation and implementation”. President of COP22, Salaheddine Mezouar, described COP22 as “opportunity to make the voices of the most vulnerable countries to climate change heard, in particular African countries and island states. It is urgent to act on these issues linked to stability and security.” These opening remarks indicate that COP22 will take the L&D debate to a new level and give significant priority to the lives at highest risk or strongest suffering from climate change. Yet, in order to achieve the priorities of The Paris Agreement, this COP also needs to address a few important technical issues during the remainder of these two weeks.

  1. 1.5 degree target requires further ambition in the ratchet mechanism
    It is unlikely that, during this year’s conference, countries will modify their INDCs substantially from what has been announced at COP21. Yet, there is also no reason why a country cannot update their INDCs. The ratchet mechanism takes into account sustained contribution from non-state actors by outlining how INDCs can be updated to include contributions from grassroots as well as niche mitigation innovations such as China’s futuristic “straddling bus.” Policy instruments are needed to realize further ambitions.

  1. Ratification of the Paris Agreement
    These two weeks around COP22 are the peak time for countries around the world to ratify the Paris Agreement. As of November 7, the beginning of the conference, 103 parties out of 193 signatories ratified the Paris agreement. We have seen major powers such as the US and China ratifying the Paris Agreement during the G20 Summit in Hangzhou and also Ministers from EU countries approving the agreement. Yet, Russia, Australia, countries in the Middle East and many African states had not yet ratified the agreement by the time their delegations flew to Marrakech. It is hoped that the negotiations in Marrakech will augment the momentum of ratification and nudge some of these countries to take their share of responsibility.

  1. Translating international agreement into domestic legislations
    There have been questions around the “legally binding” aspect of the Paris Agreement. While it is not legally binding on an international level, it will be legally binding at domestic level once countries implement domestic regulations to enforce their INDCs. The Paris Agreement had to be carefully worded considering the diversity of national interests and different political situations in the participating parties. It didn’t come as a surprise that some of the language in the final agreement had to be somewhat softened and that only parts of the agreement could be legally binding. The language and ambition level in the agreement reflects the upper limits of what was possible to achieve in Paris under existing individual national political conditions. The task of translating the Paris Agreement into national legislations will not be an easy one as it needs to balance efficiency and equality in government regulations.

  1. Public sectors cannot do it alone
    How to finance the actions needed to achieve the 1.5 or 2 degree goal was not clear by the end of COP21 and policy makers are aware that public money is not sufficient to support all transition activities. The private sector is the key partner in international development, particularly when activities need scaling up or replication. The World Bank’s International Finance Corporation has provided about $15.3bn. in long-term financing for renewable power, energy efficiency, sustainable agriculture, green buildings and private sector adaptation to climate change. The COP22 will feature a platform to further leverage private sector money and promote bottom-up innovations driven by private sector business motivations.

  1. Different interests in the Loss & Damage debate
    When it comes to L&D, it is important to explain the different points of view of developing and developed countries. The major difference is whether L&D should be addressed within the framework of climate change adaptation. This will ultimately influence the responsibility and magnitude of financing. Developing countries in general request to separate the L&D from the adaptation debate and call for new mechanisms and financing resources to address L&D as a matter of compensation. In their view, the developed countries have a liability to compensate developing countries for the unavoidable impacts that have already materialized as a consequence of historical and ongoing greenhouse gas emissions largely from developed countries. Nevertheless, the developed countries are reluctant to accept this appeal and argue the L&D should be addressed within the scope of adaptation. In previous COPs, we have seen money flowing mainly into mitigation technologies and activities while adaptation remains severely under-financed. This might remain a problematic issue unless the countries agree upon how to collectively address L&D.

How well is the COP22 negotiation going so far?

After the first week of the negotiations and well into the second week there is some good and some less encouraging news. However, while it is probably too early to call it already a success, things are looking promising.

During the first week another 7 countries signed ratified the Paris agreement raising the total number to 110 countries that ratified the agreement out of 193 signatories. Amongst the latest countries that ratified the agreement where e.g. Australia (November 9) and Finland (November 14).

On further ambitions in the ratchet mechanism China stated that it would continue with its ambitious climate policy and try to accelerate decarbonization despite a potentially unwilling US Presidency. Formed during the Paris COP, the High Ambition Coalition, a group of 35 states including Pacific islands, African and Caribbean governments, EU member states, the US, Mexico, Canada and Brazil gave a similar statement, alas without the US. In the second week, however, the pace will have to pick up as current technical discussions around NDCs, baselines and methodologies have been progressing haltingly and many countries have criticized the COP Presidency for this.

The progress on the facilitative dialogue (FD) 2016 has been quite limited so far. The FD describes a process in which parties will reconvene regularly to take stock of their collective efforts. The FD will review progress made towards the long term Paris Agreement goal to peak emissions and achieve net-zero emissions and based on the respective outcomes parties will either submit new NDCs or update their existing ones. During the first week of the COP22 in Marrakech many parties seemed to be quite unprepared for this debate (FD 2016), especially in technical discussions. For the Paris agreement the most important FD will be the one in 2018 as it depicts the key moment to raise ambition levels. However, the rules and guidelines on how this FD 2018 will be conducted will be a direct result of COP22 and COP23 next year and hence preparations will have to improve.

On the adaptation and L&D debate unfortunately not much has happened. Since Paris adaptation is a central part of the UNFCCC regime and it is part of the FD 2018 draft. However, there are concerns who will step up to finance adaptation should the USA under Trump decide to cut their funding. On L&D the discussions are expected to get far more political in the second week. As good news can be seen that a new roadmap was introduced shortly before COP22, and early in the conference it was agreed to deploy the $100 bn per year pledged by the developed nations.

As Ministers and heads of states arrive for week 2 of the negotiations, some major pain points will need to be addressed in the coming days. Some remaining countries still have to ratify the Doha Amendment, NDC partnerships will be announced and CMA1, the first conference of the Paris Agreement signatories, will take place. While the COP officially ends on Friday, other side conferences, such as SBSTA (Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice), SBI (Subsidiary Body for Implementation) and APA (Ad-hoc working group on the Paris Agreement), close later so prolonged negotiations are expected well into the night on Saturday and Sunday.

Last but not least it is unclear how the parties will react to the “Marrakech Call.” This call is a declaration that has been prepared by the Moroccan COP Presidency without consultation with the parties. It doesn’t contain any references to gender equity, Just Transition, or human rights. It is currently unclear how the other parties will react to this declaration and whether they will accept this lack of inclusiveness.

Week two looks set to be exciting!

Yanzhu is a recent MPP graduate from Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford and alumnus from EU Climate-KIC program and EU Erasmus Mundus program

Alex is the head of Young European Leadership’s delegation to the COP and a doctorate student at the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET) at the Oxford Martin School

See also all our COP22 daily video blog entries and get more analysis from the team here.

Why should climate change be top of mind for young people – and especially in Europe?

by Selina Leem

A dear friend of mine expressed her anger about how not only our country, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, but also the rest of the world is only responding to climate change now. She was skeptical about our country’s attempt of banning Styrofoam and about those who do not know what climate change is and therefore cannot explain the disasters that are happening. But there was one thing she said that really hit me: “It is already too late, there is nothing we can do about it anymore.”

I am telling you, however, that when our country joined the global movement to fight against climate change, this was not an act of desperation or a sign of vulnerability. It was the move of a fighter. This significant effort means that there is hope still brimming amid these wave-raddled islanders. Corruption, greed, and poor governance have brought us where we are today. Now we, the youth, as leaders of today and of tomorrow, have a duty to take a stand in this fight against climate change.

My country, even with all its efforts to address climate change, will only have a small effect on the reduction of carbon emission in the atmosphere for we contribute so little of it. However, Europe and the rest of the world contribute a huge amount to the carbon emissions into the air. As youth of your country, your continent, you have a duty to push your leaders to prioritize this issue.

We are already facing climate change and we are at a critical point now. In 2050, my islands are predicted to be submerged by water. But it will not just be us, it will also be our neighboring sister nations and other nations around the globe. Many other parts of the world are already affected by climate change and especially minority groups, the groups without a loud voice, such as children, women, and indigenous people are suffering immensely.

We want global justice and we ask that you join us in ensuring we get what rightfully should be ours.

There is little time left and we urge you to act!

Selina Leem is a small island girl with big dreams from the island of Majuro in the Marshall Islands: “Sometimes when you want to make a change, then it is necessary to turn the world upside down because it is just not for the better, but it is simply for the best.”

See also: Selina’s closing remarks to the UN at COP21

Selina Leem. Photo credit: Hasan E. Muhammad

Selina Leem. Photo credit: Hasan E. Muhammad

Implementers and Initiators: COP22 Blog – Day 8 (Week 2)

The Need for an Inclusive, Two-Way Exchange of Environmental Education

by Casey Catherine Miller and Alexander Pfeiffer

After a Sunday to collect our thoughts on week 1 and explore the maze-like streets of Marrakech, week 2 kicked off with a day focused on education and its relation to climate change. Countless people stood up to advocate for the benefits of environmental education, discussing the need to educate the global population on the impacts of climate change and why they should care. Yet the most valuable contributions came from those who outlined the need for a two way exchange of information.

Discussions regarding environmental education typically surround the educating of our future generations in hopes that they’ll adopt more climate-friendly practices as they become the next generation of leaders and policy makers. This does not cover the whole picture of what is needed however. While introducing the recently launched UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report, Manos Antoninis of UNESCO mentioned the need to start viewing indigenous communities as partners in environmental education.

This open exchange of information is not only needed to encourage participative communication methods. Indigenous knowledge should be viewed as a vital resource for climate change adaptation. Jaime Webbe of UNEP gave the example of the indigenous Sami people in Northern Scandinavia. While talking to Sami reindeer herders they were told about the ways the Sami people know it is time to breed the reindeer by checking the softness of the reindeer’s stomach fur. Information like this must be protected and respected.

As often seems to be the case, few people acknowledged the barriers to utilizing indigenous knowledge in environmental education. Acknowledging the value of indigenous knowledge and its benefit to climate change adaptation is not enough: we need to elevate it to a standard where it is respected by non-indigenous scientists and policy makers. Webbe stated for the “need to change our appetite” in terms of environmental knowledge, calling for a validation mechanism similar to the peer-reviewed standard of academic journals that is relevant to indigenous knowledge. This indigenous knowledge must also be used in partnerships with the communities it comes from, avoiding the extraction of knowledge from an indigenous community without an open dialogue on the results of the study and how this information is being used.

As the day came to a close, it was clear that environmental education is no different from any other climate change topic. Inclusive partnerships, where stakeholders from various backgrounds are treated as equally important and given a chance to participate actively, are crucial.

Casey is the media delegate for Young European Leadership at COP22 and is finishing her joint masters studies at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences as part of the ELLS EnvEuro program

Alex is the head of Young European Leadership’s delegation to the COP and a doctorate student at the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET) at the Oxford Martin School

See also our daily video blog from the COP: Young European Leadership at COP22 day 8

For a longer piece about an indigenous perspective on climate change see our guest commentary by Selina Leem here: Why should climate change be on top of the agenda of young people all over the world and in Europe in particular?

The Low Emission Solution Conference: COP 22 Daily Blog – Day 9 (Week 2)

by Alexander Clark and Alexander Pfeiffer

Good afternoon from Marrakech! It’s Tuesday of Week 2 at COP22, and the week is already half over.

The Low Emissions Solutions Conference, the first of its kind to be held at any of the UN climate conferences, took up the first half of the week. The conference brought together over a hundred speakers discussing everything from low-carbon cement to hydrogen vehicles and the role of IT in facilitating the implementation of the Paris Agreement agreed at COP21 last December. The conference was hosted by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and World Business Council on Sustainable Development (WBCSD), in collaboration with the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI).

Multiple acronyms notwithstanding, the conference showcased an extraordinary range of cutting-edge solutions being put forward to accelerate our collective ability to bring down emissions. Tensions were evident on more than one occasion as sharp disagreements over the future of sustainable energy arose between panellists.

Rachel Kyte, CEO of Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL), opened the session on advanced biotechnology with a plea to the audience and climate advocacy community to keep an open mind on the source of carbon emission reductions. She underlined the importance of developing substitutes for oil in the transport industry, in which electric vehicles are struggling to get off the ground. With the existing state of battery technology, she said, clean biofuels are the short-term solution to quickly improving the efficiency of large vehicles – trucks, buses and planes – and improving the air quality of the world’s dirtiest cities.

Sean Simpson of Lanzatec took the audience through his firm’s research on using industrial waste gas, solid human and animal waste, and plant waste as a feedstock for biofuels, rather than the traditional (and problematic) sources of corn and sugar crops. Simpson highlighted the potential for the technology to address emissions in heavy industry, but made a clear call for regulatory change to allow products currently seen as waste to be reused in as a source of fuel. Zaid Burns from RSB announced that South African airlines is beginning to use high-tech biofuels to power its fleet – an enormously important development given the sizeable contribution of air travel to carbon emissions globally.

Looking back on the conference, it was more than exciting to be a part of this event, which was the first of its kind, and hear all these pioneers in their respective fields speak. Some of the solutions presented during these few days showcased new and promising possible pathways to decarbonize certain sectors and we’ll most likely see more if these solutions and conferences in the future.

Alex Clark is the Henry Fellow at Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, having graduated from Oxford University with an MSc in 2015. He is currently working on energy policy, climate change and global health and is also project leader for operations with SDSN Youth.

Alex Pfeiffer is the head of Young European Leadership’s delegation to the COP and a doctorate student at the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET) at the Oxford Martin School

See also our daily video blog from the COP: Young European Leadership at COP22 day 9. Follow all the YEL delegation activities and analysis at COP22 here.

Replacing COP with People: COP 22 Daily Blog – Days 6 and 7 (Week 1)

by Shrina Kurani and Alexander Pfeiffer 

COP is two weeks long, meaning one thing: a weekend to replace stiff deliberations with warm-blooded people. There was still work to do on Saturday, but both days also served a selection of external events outside of the COP village.

The Development and Climate Days were a breath of fresh air from the Blue Zone. Hosted outside of the COP village and open to the public, the DC Days were packed with a spread of seminars from using local foods to tell compelling stories with Data Cuisine to pitching corporate resilience commitments in the Dragon’s Den.

How can food stuffs convey data? Using the spicy sambal mixed with yogurt to show how temperatures have been heating up around the world. Illustrate graphs with olive tapenade to give the Great Acceleration a kick that makes people take a second look. Or put the proportional amount of beef, chicken, and grains in buckets of water to show how much water is used to produce our beloved animal proteins.

The Dragon’s Den brought together researchers and business people alike to not only generate solutions but pitch them for “investment”. Highlighting that resilience means greater returns, that supporting livelihoods means more workforce stability, that building infrastructure means optimized logistics. Just as the ecosystem was ‘marketized’ with the concepts of natural capital and ecosystem services, sustainable (human) development is chugging along the same path.

DC Days tackled real problems with a relevant audience in mind: the rest of the world, that frankly, just doesn’t care about climate change and sustainable development. Whether you agree with working within the neoliberal paradigm or not, the perspective is compelling and effective for what we’re in dire need of: action now.

Sunday brought on the Transportation Day hosted by SLoCaT, at another beautiful Palace. As a representative of civil society, the day had a strong educational component highlighting different organizations and projects around the world. It was also marked by the announcement of a huge energy win: Germany’s commitment to decarbonize its transportation sector by 2050.

The energy for the weekend sparked Saturday night at the legendary Climate Action Network (CAN) NGO party, where delegates old and young alike connected in mass, excited to not only push the climate agenda forward, but also enjoy the exchange with like-minded people from around the world. The momentum gathered and solidified into a both physically and emotionally moving climate march on Sunday afternoon, and the COP of Action and COP for Africa fused into one. Moroccan children and international NGOs marched side by side, stopping traffic as the city stopped to look and learn about what their fellow citizens cared so much about.

Shrina is a delegate of the Young European Leadership’s delegation to COP22 and a budding entrepreneur in Silicon Valley and Berlin, with a focus on the food-water-energy nexus

Alex is the head of Young European Leadership’s delegation to the COP and a doctorate student at the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET) at the Oxford Martin School

See also our daily video blog from the COP: Young European Leadership at COP22 day 6-7 and get more analysis on COP22 from the team here.

Energy Day: COP22 Daily Blog – Day 5 (Week 1)

by Romy Abou Farhat and Alexander Pfeiffer

Day 5 at the COP was focused around energy, in particular issues of energy access, energy storage, and renewable energy. Almost every country or region present at the COP held an event around these topics, to demonstrate where they are in terms of technological capacities, innovation, and accessibility. It was very interesting to witness the energy and technology gap between different regions first hand. Energy services are crucial to human wellbeing and to a country’s or region’s economic development in our modern world. Yet, globally over 1.3 billion people are without access to electricity and around 2.6 billion people live without clean cooking facilities.

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), an intergovernmental organization that supports countries in their transition to a more sustainable energy future, and Sustainable Energy for All, a global platform that empowers companies to achieve access to clean energy, held a global energy action showcase event. For this they gathered a diverse panel of leaders in this field, including businesses, governmental organizations, institutions, and NGOs. These high level panelists gave thoughts on how to increase energy productivity and leverage the transformative role of renewable energy. In the afternoon, experts discussed ways to close the energy access gap cleanly and affordably. In particular they discussed how to reach the furthest first, what the impact of energy access on women’s lives and livelihoods can be, and the prospect of lifting millions out of poverty with renewable energy options.

A couple of private influential corporations were showcasing their energy efficiency strategies and sustainability commitments. In fact, the private sector accounts for around half of the world’s electricity consumption. Switching this demand to renewables could accelerate the transformation of the global energy market and aids the transition to a low carbon economy. Among the corporations present at the event, Facebook had the most impressive low-carbon model. They have invested millions of dollars in operational efficiency and shared their learning and expertise with other companies for free. They engineered the most efficient data centers on earth, build only sustainable workspaces, add large amounts of renewable energy to the grids, and support their operations by making it more accessible to all.

Another inspiring talk of today was held by Bertrand Piccard, the initiator, chairman, and pilot of Solar Impulse, the plane that travelled around the world with no fuel, using only clean technologies and solar energy. He announced the creation of a new global alliance for clean technology – a second phase in the realization of his vision that clean technologies can accomplish impossible goals and offer tangible solutions to solve many of the challenges facing global society today as well as reach the objectives of the Climate Action Agenda. It aims to gather up to 1,000 companies, start-ups, institutions, and organizations by next year, to produce, implement, support and accelerate the use of clean technologies.

Ventures and visionaries like these are, what makes look optimistic into the future, despite the challenges ahead.

Romy is an Imperial College London M.Sc. student in Sustainable Energy Futures

Alex is the head of Young European Leadership’s delegation to the COP and a doctorate student at the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET) at the Oxford Martin School

See also our daily video blog from the COP: Young European Leadership at COP22 day 5.

Catch up on the whole of YEL’s COP22 daily video blog and analysis.

The Dwindling ‘Spirit of Paris’: COP 22 Daily Blog – Day 6 (Week 1)

By Elizabeth Dirth and Alexander Pfeiffer

The weekends at COP seem to be a combination of three things: a continuation of the COP itself, other side events and activities taking place, and this time, the palpable sense of lack of achievement.

Main plenaries on Saturday featured a stock taking of the progress so far at the COP and a series of thorough presentations from the EU countries on their progress on implementing action. A session like this gives the opportunity for other countries both to learn from and also to question EU countries on their progress towards their 2020 targets. It is an important part of transparency of implementation and action as the EU countries can be held accountable (or learned from) in this forum by the global community. The session saw high representation from a number of countries, and it seemed to be mostly their technical staff that attended to learn from other countries. It was hence closely related to the ‘capability building’ of developing and least-developed countries that is an important part of this year’s COP agenda.

This session in many cases showed that many EU economies have successfully decoupled growth and emissions reduction. However, this claim is undermined by the fact that emissions are only partially reflected in the calculations. It would likely be a very different conversation if countries were evaluated based on their actual carbon consumption, i.e. the carbon emissions implicitly included in the products they consume which lead to carbon emissions in other, mostly less developed, countries. These emissions, however, are currently considered externalities and not in the scope of the INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) of national economies. This shortcoming might only be one of many equity issues in the whole governance framework.

In general, the feeling at the venue on Saturday was generally lacklustre and I can’t help but notice the difference between the middle Saturday here and the middle Saturday at Paris. There doesn’t seem to be a clear objective and the momentum feels to be dwindling. The delegations have moved beyond the shock of the US election news. Unfortunately this has re-framed or refreshed some of the political tensions at the COP and certainly colors the way that the US conducts themselves (as the dominant voice in every discussion) in a new, somewhat less legitimate, way.

Aside from this stark reality, Saturday at the COP was certainly quieter than the other days, likely because there were many other social events happening during the day on Saturday such as development days event, transportation days and the climate march. And then there was obviously the famous CAN party (Climate Action Network) on Saturday evening….

Elizabeth is a delegate in Young European Leadership’s delegation to the COP and the current chair of the 2050 Climate Group

Alex is the head of Young European Leadership’s delegation to the COP and a doctorate student at the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET) at the Oxford Martin School

See also our daily video blog from the COP: Young European Leadership at COP22 day 6-7

For a longer piece about what to expect from week 2 at the COP see here: Can Marrakech COP22 solve the unfinished tasks of Paris COP21?