COP23–the UNFCCC gets it all wrong

Climate Action Now!  That’s the title of a report issued by the United Nations in advance of COP23 in Bonn.

That sounds like a serious call to arms, and after a year (and we’re not finished yet) when hurricanes, typhoons, heatwaves, floods and forest fires have shattered records all around the globe, a call to arms and to action is totally what is needed.

Does the UN report deliver?  Does it get us jumping up off the couch and into our desert boots ready for action?

You’re kidding, right?  We’re talking about the UN – not Tesla

The report would be something you would normally scan quickly and then file away under ‘Miscellaneous’, if it weren’t for the fact that this brief document of 11 pages is being marketed as a Summary for policymakers 2017.  And this is just before the COP23 meeting in Bonn.  So this ‘summary for policymakers’ is going to get read by some senior people who may actually think that there is some sensible and useful advice here. It’s intended to be read and acted upon.  Could be useful and serious stuff.

Except that it’s not.

There are three key messages in the report for policymakers: the first one is about coordination and coherence “in a word—integration”; the second one is about opportunities for doing this; and the third is a reminder that we need more data and information.  That’s it.  Those are the three key messages to policymakers.

Ok, what’s missing here?  How about:

Heatwaves, floods, drought, forest fires, hurricanes, cyclones, sea level rise, bleaching corals, acidification, urban air pollution and the 6th extinction?

In November 2016 at the Marrakech climate conference, 47 of the world’s developing nations pledged to generate all their future energy needs from renewables. Termed the Marrakech Vision, the plan states that the 47 members of the Climate Vulnerable Forum will strive to meet 100% of their energy production from renewable energy as soon as possible.

That sounds like a definite policy.

And no mention of integrating anything, and apparently no need for additional data either.  This may be because data from every country on the planet already show categorically that transitioning to renewable sources of energy substantially reduces emissions of carbon dioxide—the principal greenhouse gas.

Does renewable energy show up at all in the UN report that’s intended to guide policy makers?  Do a quick search.  The words ‘solar’, ‘wind’, ‘photovoltaic’ are nowhere to be found in the report. There are no matches.  Apparently policymakers don’t need to know anything about these forms of renewable energy.

So we’ve got one major policy initiative locked down.  How about just one more—we’ll keep things simple.

About two-thirds of all carbon dioxide emissions come from just two sources: electrical power production and the transport sector—meaning all the gasoline and diesel fuel used in cars, buses and trucks.

If we can transition to renewable energy AND find a way to reduce CO2 emission from the transport sector, we will have taken a huge step in reducing global CO2 emissions.

Can we do this?

Not if we listen to the climate change people at the UNFCCC.

It’s going to take time–but the transition to electric vehicles is well underway—in Europe, in China, and yes even in America.  Can developing countries get on board?  Not only can they get on board, they can leapfrog their way to the front.

You start with public transport.  All the urban bus routes go electric. Imported electric cars are tax and duty free.  As electricity prices come down as renewables are phased in, electric vehicles become the best option.  And the Green Climate Fund and the Adaptation Fund are going to help pay for this transition.  Because this transition is not just about reducing CO2 emissions, it’s about reducing vulnerability and building resilience. It is quintessentially adaptation.

So why doesn’t the UN report ‘Climate Action Now’ even mention any of these opportunities?

It’s an agency that has settled so far inside its own box, it doesn’t bother to even try to look outside.  The energy world is changing at a furious pace.  The UNFCCC is stuck in a 20th Century time warp. And frankly their knowledge of what’s out there is pathetic.

Here’s an example from the report.  They show a Venn diagram (like we’re 12 years old), that’s shows the intersection of 1) Climate change adaptation, 2) sustainable development, and 3) disaster risk reduction.  Where these  three programmes intersect in the center we get : wait for it…. “Reducing vulnerability and enhancing resilience”.

I’ll tell you what you get: climate change adaptation is under the ministry of the environment; sustainable development is under the ministry responsible for development, and disaster risk management is under the ministry of the interior. These ministries always say they are working together to combat climate change.  But it’s not true : they compete for money, prestige, and a place at the donors’ table.

So what’s in the middle of this Venn diagram is not “reducing vulnerability and enhancing resilience”, it’s a huge vacant space—where absolutely nothing happens.

Welcome to the real world—the one the UNFCCC doesn’t live in.


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