Day 10 from COP 24 in Katowice: High-Level Sessions Day

COP 24—A&WMA President-Elect, Michele Gehring, attends several high-level sessions with high-level speakers, including Former Vice President Al Gore: The Climate Crisis and Its Solutions; Informal Consultation on Linkages of Finance and Technology; and Talanoa Dialogue Closing Meeting
Day 10 - Wednesday, December 12, 2018
Today's theme was sirens! Well, not really, but with all of the dignitaries in town today, that's all you heard for hours upon hours. The UN Secretary General is here, Al Gore is here, and various ministers from different countries have been in and out all day. Although lacking a specific theme on the agenda, I think an appropriate label could be “Call to Action” day, as that was the theme of every high-level presentation I sat through. In addition to the two high-level sessions, I also, rather unintentionally sat through a parliamentary session on finance and technology integration. (Read the agenda better Gehring!) Below you will find a summary of the following sessions:
  • Informal Consultation on Linkages of Finance and Technology
  • The Climate Crisis and Its Solutions
  • Talanoa Dialogue Closing Meeting
Informal Consultation on Linkages of Finance and Technology
Admittedly, I failed to properly read the agenda on this one! The topic, which in quick perusing, seemed like it would provide an interesting discussion on how finance and technology are linked, was actually a parliamentary session on adaption of an agreement to facilitate cooperation between the Climate Technology Centre and Network and the Green Climate Fund. The hour-long meeting was focused on further rewording of the 11-paragraph, two-page agreement. (They have been negotiating said agreement for the past two days). In short, the agreement provides direction on how the technology arm can work with the financial arm to promote and enact new projects.
The Climate Crisis and Its Solutions – Former Vice President Al Gore
Clearly this was the main event for most conference attendees because there was a two-by-two line as long as the plenary side of the hall waiting for them to open the doors to the session. And when they did, people took off with great speed to the front of the room. It was open seating, and observers and the like were able to occupy seats normally taken by the Parties. So, to the Seychelles I went! Former Vice President Gore apparently needed no introduction, as he took an empty stage, graciously waited for the applause to stop, and then started into his monologue. I will say, regardless of what you think about Mr. Gore's politics and whether you agree with his facts or not, he is an incredible story teller. He is clearly impassioned about the topic, speaks with enthusiasm and vigor, and even manages to work a laugh or two into his presentation. He referred to our choice of action or inaction on climate change as the most single important moral choice in the history of humanity.
Below are some of the points he raised, facts he shared, and recommendations he provided. Surprisingly, he limited the political interjection and stuck mainly to impacts and actions on climate change. (Note I have not performed any fact-checking on the information below. I am merely providing it as Mr. Gore presented it).
  • He provided a discussion on the sources of greenhouse gases (I won't list them, we all know them) and talked about ways to mitigate them.
  • He stated: “The most effective technology for taking CO2 out of the atmosphere is called a tree, and when the technology is scaled up, it's called a forest.”
  • 17 of the 18 hottest years on record have happened since 2001, and when we turn the clock to 2019, that will change to 18 of the hottest 19.
  • This past year, 213 locations around the world broke all-time records for high temperatures, with some maxing out near 130°F. Quriyat, Oman, documented the hottest overnight record so far, at 108.7°F. Some of these temperatures are approaching the limits of human inhabitation.
  • A NOAA report released this week documents that the Artic Ocean has lost 95 percent of its oldest ice.
  • He provided a shout-out to Rutgers University for their work on modeling of climate systems and used several of their animations in his presentation.
  • At the time it occurred, Superstorm Sandy was qualified as a 1 in 500-year storm. Currently, it would meet the classification of a 1 in 25-year storm.
  • Bringing the story close to my home, he showed video of recent devastating flooding in Ellicott City, Maryland (outside of Baltimore). The flash flooding in Ellicott City was sudden and of monumental impacts. The video he showed presented water rushing through and out of buildings . He commented “When you see water coming out of the buildings instead of in, that's not a good sign.”
  • He talked about many of the recent wildfires across the world, including the recent Camp Fire in California, providing pictures and talking about human and infrastructure causalities. (Note: If you're interested in this topic, be sure to check out the conference we have coming up in February on wildfires)
  • Looking at progress moving forward, he predicted that batteries will become a trillion-dollar industry as we shift toward alternative forms of energy and indicated that half of the world's buses will be electric by 2025.
He closed by saying that the rising generation, who will deal with the consequences we create, is demanding a better world. We have the resolve and know-how, but we need the policies and he reminded the audience that political will itself is a renewable resource.
Talanoa Dialogue Closing
The Talanoa Dialogue was introduced at COP 23 in Fiji as a way to encourage and facilitate non-party participation in the political negotiations and discussions on Climate Change. “Talanoa” is a traditional word used in Fiji and across the Pacific to reflect a process of inclusive, participatory and transparent dialogue. The purpose of Talanoa is to share stories, build empathy and to make wise decisions for the collective good. Participants in the dialogue were asked to address three main questions relative to climate change response:
  • Where are we?
  • Where do we want to go?
  • How do we get there?
This week's forum focused more on the responses to the final of these questions, with the first two being largely addressed through prior conversations. This session was intended to summarize the stories that the leaders heard and provide a call to action from it.
The President of COP 24 opened the session by welcoming participants, thanking them for their input and, indicating that the stories they heard have instilled greater confidence and courage and have provided ambition for moving forward. His welcome was followed by a rather direct commentary from the UN Secretary General. Mr. Guterres offered the following points:
  • This is the most important COP since adoption of the Paris agreement
  • Despite progress that is documented in the texts of the negotiations, the Parties are not where they need to be and much remains to be done.
  • He acknowledged the complexity of this work but indicated that we are running out of time and re&‘iterated his belief in the urgency of the situation multiple times.
  • The IPCC report is a stark acknowledgement of what a global temperature rise of greater than 1.5°C means to our future. The report is not good news, but we cannot ignore it.
  • He praised Germany for their commitment to the Green Climate Fund and their announcement this week to double their contribution to it.
  • Talking about the Rulebook for the Paris Agreement, which was one of the major agenda items for this COP, he commented that we need a strong, transparent framework for mitigation, adaptation, and provision of support.
  • On climate action, he stated that we clearly have the means, what we need is the political action to move forward.
He closed his remarks by calling for action, saying that it is time for sacrifices from a few to benefit all of us collectively and adding that it's about more than just the future of a few countries.
President Kurtyka thanked the Secretary General for his participation and commented that in between his multiple addresses at COP 24, Mr. Guterres has travelled from Katowice to Marakesh and back, is heading to Stockholm, and will then come back to Katowice to close out the conference. (I thought my travel schedule was crazy). He commented that this personal commitment and dedication to the UNFCCC is extremely appreciated.
Following the introductory remarks, leaders of the Talanoa roundtable provided a summary of the comments they received. 21 different roundtables were organized and moderated by various ministers and ambassadors. I did not capture all of the comments but have provided some of the highlights below. A full copy of the Talanoa texts will be available on the UNFCCC website.
  • Climate change objectives can only be accomplished by global cooperation and international support.
  • Bold leadership is necessary for fast action; it is time to move from talk to action.
  • Challenges are faced in this transition.
  • Integration of climate and financial policy is critical.
  • Everyone has something to contribute and their participation is critical to success.
  • Many examples were provided on positive return on investment from renewable energy projects.
  • The difference between 1.5°C and 2°C is more than a number – for some it is a matter of survival.
  • There is a need to increase technical and financial cooperation and participation.
  • Subsidies and incentive programs can/should be used to transition the technologies that are already delivering success stories.
Following this summary, comments were provided by the various constituencies. I have summarized some of them below.
  • Business and industry NGOs
  1. Despite a genuine desire and good science there are road blocks to success. The greatest of these is leadership from policy-makers.
  2. If we intend to meet the goals of the Paris agreement, we need action right now.
  3. The UNFCCC must deliver the Rulebook for the Paris Agreement by the timeline they have established.
  4. Enhancing collaboration with the NGOs is critical in setting Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).
  • Climate Action Network (as part of Environmental NGOs)
  1. It is critical to scale up climate action in the pre-2020 period.
  2. In making policy decisions and establishing a path forward, do not forget the people/humanity that we all represent.
  3. Where is the ambition and where are the outcomes?
  • Indigenous Peoples
  1. As those likely most affected by climate change impacts, they urge limiting the increase to no more than 1.5°C rather than 2°C.
  • Research and Independent NGOs
  1. NDCs must be enhanced as quickly as possible.
  2. It is important to prioritize business and policies on strong science.
  • Trade Union NGOs
  1. Compromise is very important to achieving goals.
  • Women and Gender NGOs
  1. While actions are important, we need to ask how we transition the behaviors that got us here.
  2. The time for action has long past.
  • Youth NGOs
  1. They thanked the UNFCCC for providing them a space for comment, but they do not feel they have been given enough time and enough resources to express their voice.
  2. Success is contingent upon an unambiguous call from leadership.
  3. The Talanoa Dialogue needs to continue rather than end here in Katowice.
  4. The UNFCCC needs to strive to provide youth representation in every room and at every table.
The President then provided a call for action, indicating that pre-2020 action is vital as is halving of global emissions by 2030 per the IPCC recommendations. The window for action is closing fast recognizing that we may have already surpassed warming of 1°C. For success, we must unlock the full potential of technology.
His comments were followed by a closing from the President of COP23 from Fiji, who stated that Fiji is prepared to commit to a target of 1.5°C. In his opinion, we need to increase current NDCs by 5 times to achieve 1.5°C and some data suggests that with the current NDCs we are target for at least 3°C by the end of the century and this will clearly have devastating, life changing impacts, and result in portions of our world that are uninhabitable.
The Dialogue concluded with a written call to action that was read by two children (I'm guessing about 10-12 years old). Much of what was stated above was echoed in the comments and that was not surprising. What was surprising was the clarity, voice, and confidence provided by these two children as they read the remarks in front of a massive audience. Their parents should be very proud as I am certain they both have bright futures in whatever path they choose.

Michele's Monologue – Wednesday, December 12, 2018

I cannot believe it is already Wednesday. Tomorrow will be my last day at COP 24! I've adjusted to the organized chaos, figured out my morning and evening commutes, and found some familiar faces among the 32,000 people that are here. What a whirlwind!
I'm adjusting well to my European environment, having now been on this side of the pond for 12 days. I've even started getting creative with my own cappuccinos. Perhaps I have a career as a barista ahead of me if this whole environmental thing falls through? Tomorrow, I'm making an attempt at the A&WMA logo!
As I settle into this routine and find time to breathe and create cappuccino emojis, I find myself thinking quite a bit about relaying my COP 24 experience back to things we do at the Association. Yes, ACE is on a much smaller scale, but what types of items from COP 24 can we incorporate into the ACE program? How can we revise the climate discussion we are having at A&WMA to make it more effective and have a broader appeal? What contacts have I made here that can help us improve what we are doing back in Pittsburgh and throughout our Sections and Chapters? Always working, I know….just sit back and enjoy your cappuccino Michele!
Before I got lost in espresso, I was sharing my day at CO P24 with you. I've decided there are literally as many different ways to travel between my hotel and the International Congress facility as there are members at COP 24. Every morning and every night, the uber and taxi drivers take a different route. This morning's ride was particularly picturesque, through farmlands and small villages rather that coal&‘tinted snowy streets. Did you know that the vast majority of homes in Poland are actually heated with coal? It's such a massive amount that Poland has decided it a quicker climate solution to help home owners increase home heating efficiency than to drive them to change their heating source. Just by improving home heating efficiencies by 50 percent, they expect that they can reduce CO2 emissions by 18 to 20 million tons per year!

Arriving shortly after the building opened at 0800, I checked my coat, settled in, and awaited my 0900 meetup with one of my A&WMA Canadian friends. I first met Ahmed Idriss several years ago when I tagged along with Tony van der Vooren, another Canadian friend and A&WMA Past-President, to the annual Canada meetup at an A&WMA conference, where I may or may not have been masquerading as someone from Ottawa to get in the door (totally believable of course). Yesterday, when wandering through the halls, I caught Ahmed out of the corner of my eye. A few text messages later, we had a 0900 meetup this morning here in Katowice. It's amazing how A&WMA connections follow you all over the world. We caught up (it's been a few years), had some powerful talks about women in the environmental industry, and discussed the excitement around ACE 2019 in Quebec City.   
After parting ways with Ahmed, I took some time to take care of the day job before heading into my first UNFCCC parliamentary-style meeting, unbeknownst to me. The meeting was around Item 8b in the COP 24 agenda, the Linkages between the Technology Mechanism and the Financial Mechanism of the Convention. It sounded interesting enough on the agenda – I admittedly only read part of the title. What was the meeting actually about? Refining language on a proposed agreement between the Climate Technology Centre and Network and the Green Climate Fund. A document that is 11 paragraphs long and has taken the Parties nearly two days to find their way to acceptable language. Note to self, read descriptions of the agenda items better!
After escaping the parliamentary nightmare that made me thankful for the cooperation we find among our small set of board members, it was celebrity time! That's right, the celebrity of all climate celebrities, former Vice President Al Gore was addressing the conference. And it was clear from the lines on the outside of the hall that he has had a tremendous impact within the climate community. I may or may not have scored a prime seat in the plenary hall, masquerading as a delegate from a small nation, and got some great pictures to go along with it. I'll leave the details of his talk to the technical session summary but will say this – regardless of whether you agree with the story he is telling, Mr. Gore is a very good, very passionate story teller, and actually seems to have a pretty great sense of humor (or at least his speech writer does).

After that energetic talk, I grabbed another veggie sandwich and managed to find my way into a lunchtime conversation with members of the Canadian parliament. We talked about my mastery (or lack thereof of the French language), ACE, skiing, and the mystery dressing on the salads. It was really a pleasure to have such an informal, casual conversation with high&‘level government leaders. This place is amazing in that way – it fosters conversations with people from many different places, many different professions, and many different levels of their career in the environmental world.
Such is the nature of the Talanoa Dialogue, which has been the primary conversation going on behind the specially-ticketed doors the past two days. Today's after-lunch meeting was a closing to that dialogue, providing a summary of the stories that were heard, the messages that were received, and the direction the UNFCCC intends to head with the information they have gained thus far. And let me tell you, the President of COP24, Michal Kurtyka, smiled his way through the entire conversation. President Kurtyka literally never stops smiling and he has one of the biggest whitest smiles I've ever seen. I need to get the name of his dentist! There I go getting distracted again! Let's hope a squirrel doesn't go running through the conference tomorrow. Anyways….his smiling closing and a very inspiring speech from two young children from Fiji and Poland, and my day at COP 24 was a wrap.
I had the pleasure of finishing early enough to grab dinner in downtown Katowice with my conference buddy before heading back to the airport hotel in the middle of nowhere, and it was such a great pleasure. You can tell I've been overseas for a while, because I settled for the ever-so-Polish cheeseburger, fries, and beer for dinner – it was a Polish beer – and it was the best meal I've had in days. We had a great conversation about A&WMA, enjoyed the atmosphere, and were happy to not be eating at the hotel again tonight. I even got a brief look at the Christmas market and some of the sights and sounds of Katowice. I'm truly jealous of those that booked their hotel a year prior and were able to secure one of the treasured rooms in downtown Katowice.

Catching my uber and heading back to the snowier, more northern side of the town where the airport is located was a 30-minute, quiet drive – I think everyone at this conference is exhausted and me and my new friend Jenna are no exception. Although gaging by my step count all I did was sit around today: 2.6 miles, 6,300 steps, and only 4 floors climbed! I am very much looking forward to tomorrow and a little saddened to see my experience here in Katowice coming to an end!       

About the Author: Michele Gehring, P.E., is President-Elect of the Air & Waste Management Association (A&WMA). She has been a member of A&WMA since 2001. Before being elected President, Michele served on the Association's Board of Directors for three years, was Vice President of the Association for two consecutive years and served as Vice-Chair of the Sections and Chapters Council. She has also served on her local Chapter and section boards since 2007. Michele is a licensed professional engineer and principal of Coterie Environmental LLC, an environmental and engineering consulting firm specializing in hazardous waste management systems and serving clients from throughout the Continental United States. She has spent her entire career working in the waste management and air compliance industry, performing engineering studies, developing compliance programs, and overseeing emissions testing initiatives.