Julian Spector is a former editorial fellow at CityLab, where he covers climate change, energy, and clean tech.
With the goals finally agreed on, this year’s COP22 climate conference will turn to finding solutions.
The climate negotiations in Paris last year produced a treaty. Now the signatories are figuring out how to make its abstract goals a concrete reality.
In November, the followup meeting in Marrakesh, Morocco, won’t be just for diplomats and political leaders, officials announced Thursday at the Climate Action conference in Washington, D.C. Morocco will host a simultaneous meeting for engineers, researchers, scientists, and policymakers to devise actionable pathways for meeting the goals of the treaty, which call for keeping global temperature rise well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
That goal, and the national goals that each member of the treaty produced, will mean nothing without a practical approach to cutting carbon out of all sectors of society. And yet, the U.N. climate negotiations (known as COPs) have never hosted a true brainstorming session toward that goal said Jeffrey Sachs, the director of the U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network and a sponsor of the new event, speaking at Thursday’s conference. The 2016 COP22 Low Emissions Solutions Conference will focus on ways to decarbonize transportation, energy production and distribution, and the urban built environment.
Each signatory nation will be asked to send technical experts from their low-carbon planning efforts. These representatives will mingle with academics who specialize in climate-change issues, city officials, and private-sector leaders from energy, transportation, construction, and agriculture. They’ll sequester themselves for three days, then report back to the main COP conference on what they come up with.
“What we really need now are very practical pathways,” Sachs said. “There will be no negotiated documents, there are no agreements to be reached. This is brainstorming, and I can’t wait to see so many engineers packed into the room.”
The goal is for the experts from each country to share the latest information they have on all of the technologies that could play a crucial role in a low-carbon way of life: clean energy, nuclear energy, carbon capture and sequestration, electric vehicles, hydrogen fuels cells, and more. Many of these crucial technologies are in early stages of development or not commercially viable. Sachs hopes that everyone walks out of the summit with a clear sense of where the technologies are now and where countries need to invest in research and development to make them viable.
The agenda will look at two objectives laid out in the Paris treaty: Each nation committed to a “Nationally Determined Contribution,” which is a carbon-reduction target for 2030. They also have to create “Low-Emission Development Strategies” to guide them to mid-century. The former have gotten more attention, but, Sachs said, you can’t plan for 2030 without knowing where you need to be in 2050.
“If you just plan to 2030 and say, ‘I’ll think about it again after that,’ you’re almost guaranteed to be on the wrong path, because you would do certain things in the short term that make no sense if you understand where you really need to go by 2050,” he said.
Good policy rests on a nuanced understanding of the tools at hand. When it comes to fighting climate change, many of those tools are still being developed. The more the people deciding how to build low-carbon communities know about the ever-changing arsenal of approaches, the better their chances are of success.