Day 2 from COP25 in Madrid: Climate Change Innovation

Michele Gehring & Jeff Muffat cover multiple technical sessions and the release of two new major climate change studies on the second day of COP25 in Madrid.

I can't believe it's only the second day of COP25!  There are so many different topics, so many different sessions, and so many different things happening here in Madrid, that it can be overwhelming and make each day seem like it's 50 hours long!  Today, there were not many high-level public sessions. So, our time today focused more on technical presentations in the various side events and the release of two new major climate change studies. 

Sessions we covered included:
Fundación Basura:  Waste Does Not Exist
Reported by:  Michele Gehring, 2019 A&WMA President

Sadly, this Action Hub centered program was presented 100 percent in Spanish and my translation abilities are a bit limited.  However, the program did offer some ideas that we can work into our climate change programming that cover the waste side of our member basis.  The program focused on zero waste initiatives and how those initiatives can help reduce climate change impacts.  According to information presented in the session, researchers estimate that the production, consumption, and treatment of all goods in the world is responsible for 62 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.  This fact was used as the measure by which a zero waste policy could make a significant impact on climate effects. 

The talk focused on the overall problem that the typical consumption model provides – produce, consume, dispose.  One of the focuses in that model was the use of plastics in society.  The speakers argued that plastic, in general, is designed to provide a single-use disposable container and, while recycling initiatives were helpful in bending that model, they, in the end, are doing little to move the needle. 

One of their focuses, therefore, in the idea of zero waste, was to move away from plastic containers all together (a move that is echoed in the glass water bottles handed out to all attendees at the COP meeting).  The argument is clearly sound, but ignores some of the other advantages and practicalities that plastic provides.  I, for one, can speak to the difficulties of hauling a glass water bottle along on a 30-minute metro ride every morning, carrying it with you, trying to prevent breaking it all day, and hauling it back home at the end of the day. 

Perhaps there are better solutions than glass to meet their zero-waste with plastics initiative.  But the concept of at least minimizing plastic container usage and finding reusable and sturdy alternatives certainly does have merit.  What else can we talk about on the zero waste and climate change links at A&WMA?  What role does waste management play in our climate change discussions?
Transforming Tourism for Climate Action
Reported by:  Michele Gehring, 2019 A&WMA President

This fairly high-level “side-event” focused on the roll-out of a new report from the United Nations World Tourism Office (WTO) on the impacts of the tourism industry on transport-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions:  Transport-Related CO2 Emissions of the Tourism Sector – Modeling Results.  The talk was headlined by the UN Deputy Executive Secretary, Mr. Ovais Sarmad, and Mr. Manual Butler, the Executive Director of the UNWTO.  The intent behind the report was to provide data to feed ambition in the tourism sector. 

As a sector that currently represents 10 percent of the World's Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the tourism sector has significant influence in the world market.  Unfortunately, the report shows that the sector also has significant contribution to the world's greenhouse gas emissions, representing 8 percent of reported emissions.  The report compared impacts on CO2 emissions from the tourism sector between 2016 and those predicted with modeling for 2030, with no changes to the CO2 management methods for the sector. 

Below are a few highlights:
  Trips per year International Trips Domestic/
Same-Day Trips
CO2 Emissions
2016 Reported 20 Billion 1.2 Billion 18.8 Billion 1,597 MM Tons
2030 Modeled 37 Billion 1.8 Billion 35.6 Billion 1,998 MM Tons
With the summary data, various countries offered their input on how to raise ambition and lead to measured results in GHG-reduction from the tourism sector. 

France reported that the tourism industry in their country has tripled in the last 30 years, with nearly 100 million tourists per year visiting the country, compared to the 67 million residents in France.  One of their focuses was on empowering environmentally conscious tourists to measure and adjust their own impact through the use of tracking and prediction apps.  France is also working with elements of the tourism sector, including restaurants and campgrounds, to provide climate-ratings for their operations, something they see as a draw to attract tourists to one establishment over another.  This concept is somewhat similar to the EnergyStar program – providing climate-friendly ratings to these tourist-based establishments. 

In addition, they are working with tourist companies such as ClubMed and Better Fly Tourism to help implement food waste reduction measures and study the environmental impact of furnishing selections (reference was made to a study into bed linens conducted with BFT that found a linen that, when cleaned, has a significantly lower environmental impact than other types of linens).  France is also looking toward the cruise ship industries to help drive a low-carbon transition.

The island nation of Seychelles reported on the tourism and climate initiatives they are making in their small island nation.  Much like France, the residents of Seychelles are significantly outnumbered by the tourists in their country – the island nation has approximately 95,000 residents, but welcomes 300,000 tourists to the island a year.  They are working with their resident airline – Air Seychelles – to switch to the new, efficient Airbus, which provides a 20 percent savings on fuel, and to implement increased electric usage in ground operations instead of diesel generators. 

Seychelles has also established a new regulation for hotels with more than 50 rooms to meet water and waste resource management goals.  For smaller hotels, which far outnumber the larger ones, the island nation is relying on tax incentives and other financial programs to help.  They are also considering implementation of an environmental levy on all tourism services to help fund additional climate programs in the industry.  A recent survey they conducted showed a modest “tax” on tourism services could provide significant funding back to the industry for climate mitigation and adaptation programs.

Finally, Argentina provided a more numbers-based approach to the conversation.  The tourism sector in Argentina represents approximately 5.4 percent of Argentina's total employment.  However, in some areas of the country, this number exceeds 60 to 70 percent.  Tourism represents 8 percent of the national exportation, with Argentina serving as the main Latin-American tourism destination.  Impacts to key tourism locations within Argentina include:  potential water crises, glacial and river retreat, water stresses, increased frequency of extreme rainfall and floods, and sea level rise.  In 2016, Argentina revised their NDC with a target year of 2030.  Included in that, within industry objectives, is the tourism sector.  They are headed towards these objectives via enaction of climate change law, and development of national mitigation and adaptation plans.

As Mr. Butler closed the session, he indicated that this new report should provide ambition for implementation of mitigation and adaptation strategies in the tourism sector. 
Bridging the Fossil Fuel Production Gap:  A Key Opportunity for Enhanced Ambition
Reported by:  Michele Gehring, 2019 A&WMA President

This session was very well attended, with yours truly occupying floor space for a while, as the topic was centered around the November 20, 2019 release of a report jointly authored by SEI, IISD, ODI, Climate Analytics, CICERO, and UNEP, entitled The Production Gap: The discrepancy between countries' planned fossil fuel production and global production levels consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C or 2°C (access the report here:  The first of its kind report assesses the discrepancy between government plans for fossil fuel production and global production levels necessary to achieve the 1.5/2°C pathways. 

The first speaker in the session gave a summary of the report and, in his words, the dismal findings from it.  The intent of the report was to identify the magnitude of action that is necessary to meet the climate control goals.   A total of 10 different fossil fuel producing countries, which combined represent 70 percent of the fossil fuel production in the world, were evaluated in the study and found that many have enacted policies that have actually expanded fossil fuel production.  The “production gap”, as it is labeled, is defined as the gap between the projected fossil fuel production levels and that needed to meet the 1.5 and/or 2°C targets (as shown below). 

In addition to categorizing the gap in terms of total fossil fuel production, the report breaks down this gap by individual fuel (i.e., coal, oil, and gas).
Fuel Production Gap Per Pathway
Relative to 2°C Relative to 1.5°C
Coal 5 billion tonnes 6 billion tonnes
Oil 5 billion barrels 15 billion barrels
Gas 590 billion m3 2,000 billion m3
After reviewing the findings of the report, the session focused on mechanisms countries could and are employing to help reduce this gap.  Three examples were provided:
  • Spain is taking measures to close all of their coal mines
  • Costa Rica has issued a moratorium on oil exploration
  • New Zealand has:
    • Banned off-shore oil and gas exploration
    • Set a goal to be at 100 percent renewable energy supply by 2035
    • Invested 27 million dollars into an energy development center that is intended to advance energy science and provide a center of excellence into alternative energy sources
The biggest challenge in many of these cases has been changing the accepted narrative, mobilizing funding sources to drive the transition, and demobilizing funding sources that drive production of fossil fuels.
How Businesses Can Maximize Impact on Mitigating Climate Change
Reported by:  Michele Gehring, 2019 A&WMA President

This session, which was centered in the Action Hub, was a bit disappointing, presenting the views of one business owner who provided a proposal to the UN on how to drive business investment in climate change.  Rather than a discussion in a panel, the speaker basically presented the elements of his proposal.  That said, the overall idea does have merit, albeit far from implementation at this point. 

The speaker suggested that the UN (or another certifying body) provide a mechanism for businesses to be “climate-certified,” much like companies are “organic” certified today.  He explained that organic certification is provided by a handful of certifiers.  Authorized individuals review applications provided by companies and, if a company qualifies, issue an organic certification in the form of a label stamp.  The process costs those companies that wish to participate only a small amount of money – this gentleman's wine label spends $1,000 per year to be certified organic.   He argued that the cost is well worth the money, as studies have shown that something as simple as an organic label on a product can drive consumers to purchase the product over a comparable non-organic product.

He reasoned that the same philosophy would apply to those businesses that choose to have “climate-certified” products and services.  The certification would be based on the company's commitment to environmental stewardship and funding back toward environmental education and climate projects.  In order to become “climate-certified,” a company would have to contribute a certain fraction of their revenue to funding climate projects.  Much like organic labeling, his proposal provided an example of climate labeling that would indicate a certain producer and/or that their products were climate certified.  
Generating Trust in Carbon Markets: Insights from Academic Research
Reported by: Jeff Muffat, A&WMA Treasurer and Past-President
I arrived 5 minutes early to attend this presentation, but was turned away by security at the door because the room was overflowing its capacity.  The interest in this session was tremendous because this has been one of the major questions in carbon markets, including Clean Development Mechanisms: how do we gain trust in the reductions being real and maintain that trust throughout the duration of the project?
This event was supposed to present research on the principles that guide international markets. Based on experiences with the Kyoto mechanisms and regional ETS, the event was to explore approaches to generate trust and guard the integrity of the market mechanism under the Paris Agreement.
I will try to obtain electronic copies of the presentation for those people interested in this session.
Driving Innovation for Low Carbon Industrialization Via Digital Technologies and Partnerships
Reported by: Jeff Muffat, A&WMA Treasurer and Past-President
The theme of the session was to show how “innovation is at the crux of decarbonizing industries and boosting climate ambition. Maneuvering the innovation race via digital technologies, partnerships and new business models is key to transition to a low-emission climate-resilient world.”
WIPO GREEN (The Marketplace of Sustainable Technology) completed a “2019 World Intellectual Property Report – Diversification and Concentration” that showed the evolution of patenting share by top economies.  It showed that the ten largest hotspots of international collaboration account for 26 percent of international co-inventions, including San Francisco-San Jose, New York, Frankfurt, Tokyo, Boston, Shanghai, London, Beijing, Bengaluru and Paris. 
The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO's) mandate is inclusive and sustainable industrial development and consists of the following principles: shared prosperity, economic competitiveness and safeguarding the environment. The Institute of Advanced Sustainability presented a study on exploring the nexus of mini-grids and digital technologies. It addressed the potentials, challenges and options for sustainable energy access in Sub-Saharan Africa, highlighted the proven advantages of digital technologies for mini-grids, and discussed the essential infrastructure for economic development and human well-being while keeping within the core elements of SDG9.  It presented:
  • Options for policy makers to provide incentives and subsidies for high-cost/risk projects, provide development standards and quality criteria while fostering research and innovation
  • Options for donor organizations to incentivize data sharing on open platforms, support technology transfer and cooperation and foster collaboration between communities
  • Options for technology developers to share data and use open-source software, create knowledge networks with other companies and offer capacity building measures to empower local communities
Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has a budget of 4.7 million dollars to strengthen the capacity for the operation and maintenance for Olkaria Geothermal Power Station in Kenya through an established data center, remote monitoring and operating and maintenance advice in real time.
Dr. King Lee, Director of the Harmony Programme, presented on several nuclear energy innovations for clean growth.  He said that nuclear energy can deliver reliable, affordable and clean electricity and is expected to provide 25 percent of the energy worldwide by 2050!
Mr. Camille Bourgeon of the International Maritime Organization presented innovative drivers for low emission industrialization via developing technologies, partnerships and new business models.  With many of the maritime vessels being in service 30-40 its important to make sure that new technologies and designs are implemented into vessels being built today!
Contributions of Higher Education to Climate Action and Implementation of the Paris Agreement
Reported by: Jeff Muffat, A&WMA Treasurer and Past-President
The theme of this presentation was that universities have an important role in enhancing sub-national and national action on climate change, through applied and scalable research, modeling and supporting best practices within communities and educating the next generation.
The presenters at this session were from colleges and universities across the world, including Australia, USA (Vanderbilt & Hawaii) and Singapore.  Their message was three-fold:
  1. How to create curriculums to educate students
  2. Aggressive programs on their campuses that provided significant carbon reductions
  3. How to educate and convince their legislatures to pass progressive GHG reduction goals
Curriculums are changing to include more climate classes in their environmental studies and states are beginning to adopt 100 percent renewable energy goals/visions, with Hawaii and California being the first.  Colleges and universities are providing the facts to help legislatures move into the low carbon goals. 
Hawaii was the first state to adopt the Paris Accords.  One of the presenters showed studies providing evidence that costs to implement projects and collaborate with communities are proving to be significantly less that originally projected.  Australia has adopted legislation that any new buildings will be built with net carbon neutral technologies and the University of Hawaii has installed the largest renewable energy project in Australia – on campus!


By: Flint Webb
On: 12/05/2019 14:41:45
Waste Does Not Exist: • Was there discussion about the tradeoff between incineration of the plastic (generating GhGs) vs. landfilling them? • Was there discussion about plastic-eating microbes? Ultimately that will be the end state of plastic in the environment. • I also note that there is an issue with the disposal of glass. Locally it is being recycled as aggregate which is hardly true recycling. Transforming Tourism for Climate Action: • There is a bit of a dilemma: Offsetting airline GhGs will inevitably increase the cost of international travel, but to save species we will need the tourism $s. Perhaps there is a technology that could allow people get the experience of international travel without having to travel: Remotely operated drones? Nuclear cruise ships?

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