Day 11 from COP 24 in Katowice: Education Day -- Final Day of Sessions

COP 24—A&WMA President-Elect, Michele Gehring, attends the final day of sessions in Katowice, including Momentum for Change – Financing for Climate Action; Climate Education Starts at School; and the Closing Plenary Meetings.
by Michele Gehring

Thursday, December 13, 2018: Technical Session Wrap Up

Today's theme was Education Day and sadly, my last day at COP 24. I tried to mix my time between some of the education events and pavilion events prior to finishing up with the closing plenaries. Below you will find a summary of the following sessions:
  • Momentum for Change – Financing for Climate Action
  • German Pavilion Event – Finding the Right Chemistry for GHG Neutrality
  • European Unit Event – Climate Security, Big Data, and the Responsibility to Prepare
  • Climate Education Starts at School (student competition and awards)
  • Closing Plenary Meetings
Momentum for Change – Financing for Climate Action
This event highlighted three projects that received awards from the Momentum for Change organization for their commitment to financing climate action initiatives. The three awarded projects were:
  • Catalytic Finance Initiative
  • Mais Program
  • Rwanda Green Fund
The Catalytic Finance Initiative (CFI) is a joint project between Merrill Lynch and Bank of America, as well as other smaller investment groups. The CFI has successfully mobilized US$11.5 billion to fund 20 different climate related projects, including climate action, clean energy, and collaboration projects. Most of these projects target primary sustainable development goals. In driving these projects, the CFI is able to de&‘risk these projects for other investors. The representative from Bank of America explained that investors focus on three main areas when considering investments: risk, return, and liquidity (i.e., exit strategy). They are able to put in place a structure that defines these for each projects and therefore helps to de-risk the project for the investor. This could be via providing bond sources that come with high credit ratings or scaling risk for the investors (using them only as the bottom padding and ambition for the project).

The Mais Program was developed by the ADAPTA Group to finance agricultural efficiency projects in Brazil. They specialize in regenerative agriculture – providing a combination of agricultural systems that essentially feed one another. The project and technology have been in development for 10 years and target collaborative public-private relationships for funding sources, as the farming community itself is not well organized. Examples of projects included in the Mais program is the use of cactus instead of corn for cattle feed. The cactus utilizes significantly less water than corn and provides a nutritional diet to the cattle. ADAPTA estimates if they were to implement this technology on the 14 largest dairy farms in Brazil, which represent 30 percent of the farms, they would provide 100 million tons per year of CO2 emissions reductions.
The Rwanda Green Fund is an environment and climate change investment fund that targets conservation and sustainabile natural resource management projects. They have been able to commit US$40 million to 35 different projects. Under the fund, private sector companies can apply for up to US$300,000 of funding and must then provide a 25 percent match to any funding received. In addition, they provide financing at 11.5 percent below market rates. Two example projects that they described were:
  • A US$1.5 million e-waste facility, where they partnered with an international firm. That same firm is now leasing the facility back from the fund, basically paying back into the fund from which the money that built it came from.
  • Cooperation on the new US$850 million international airport in Rwanda. Originally, the airport was not being designed with green buildings or with any real consideration of energy efficiency. With money from the fund, they were able to turn the airport into a green building, reducing the overall cost of the project, and increasing the energy efficiency.
Each of the investment initiatives said that investor interest in these types of projects is growing and the more they can de-risk the investments and demonstrate a history of return on the investment, they more they expect this interest to grow.
German Pavilion Event – Finding the Right Chemistry for GHG Neutrality
The German pavilion hosted a session on chemistry and chemical engineering innovations that are driving climate change solutions. With the amount of time I've spent working in Germany lately and the number of German chemical companies I work with, I thought this was a good option for a pavilion session.
Two different companies presented their technologies: Sustainable Carbon Cycle Industries (SCC) and Superatec.
SCC is in the business of making green charcoal. They had originally intended to market the charcoal to Europeans for their home use but then realized that in Africa and other third-world nations, charcoal is serving as the primary fuel source for all home heating and cooking. The charcoal used in these locations is produced via traditional methods and is responsible for a significant amount of deforestation. The charcoal they developed is actually made from different forms of biomass instead of trees, eliminating the deforestation in charcoal production. The green charcoal provides a carbon conversion of close to 90 percent and results not only in a large reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, but also reduces health effects caused by the inhalation of traditional charcoal.
Superatec is a chemical company specializing in the recycling of multilayer materials. The presenter used a plastic soda bottle wrapper as an example, explaining that it is made out of three primary layers of material – low&‘density polyethylene, aluminum, and polyesters. They have devised separation fluids that allow the delamination of each of these layers, using diffusion as the primary driver. Traditional techniques utilize a different fluid for each type of chemical they are trying to separate. However, Superatec has developed separation fluids that tackle many different chemicals at the same time. All of their work to date has been in pilot and test scale applications. They are currently working on their first industrial plant.
European Union Pavilion Event – Climate Security: Big Data and the Responsibility to Prepare
There was a lot of talk this week about the predictive ability of climate events and this tied that prediction to another world that I spend a lot of time in – the defense sector. There were several speakers during this session in the EU pavilion, including persons from the World Resources Institute (WRI), the Center for Climate Security (CCS), the Netherlands Department of Defense (NDoD), the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), and Africa's climate change advisory council.
On the security front, multiple incidents of climate-related security events were reviewed. These included the Syrian crisis and the recent mass migration from Central America upwards to the United States. Both of these events have been politicized, but if one looks back at the data, you can see that before the exodus from the area began, there were various climate-related issues that either drove down food production substantially or that drove water or other resource shortages that resulted in conflict in the area and drove people away both to safety and available resources. All of the speakers talked about these situations, the lessons they learned from them, and the tools they are using to help predict future events.

 The WRI has developed an early warning software tool that they believe can predict the risk of conflict based on environmental conditions. For locations throughout the world, they input data on past conflicts, precipitation, resources, population, and infant mortality. They then use this data to generate a risk factor for each area. The tool has shown an 85 to 90 percent accuracy in predicting actual conflict. (They have used past climate and conflict data to validate the model.)
The presenter from CCS indicated that countries are just starting to embrace that climate effects can lead to security crises. She offered an outline of steps that countries can apply to develop their climate security program and highlighted key components for success.
The speaker from the NDoD commented that in the security sector, there are three types of risks: direct, such as sea-rise leading to floods, indirect, such as lack of precipitation leading to water and food shortages, and second order risks.
In Africa, the presenter commented, that the spirit of togetherness of the African people has prevented a large-scale conflict as a result of the very real climate impacts they are seeing. However, he commented that there have been isolated incidents of conflict arising from lack of or control of water and food resources.
At the UNSC, there have been discussions of climate-related security risks in discrete examples and, while their program is still in its infancy, they have recently developed concrete language that recognizes this as a viable security threat. They are approaching the concern via two angles: trying to develop internal expertise and analysis, and organizing an external expert working group.
In general, the audience opinion was mixed on the issues discussed. While most believed or strongly believed that climate change can generate security risks, many doubted that we had accurate and ample data and models to predict these threats. In short, the audience did not think we had enough data relating climate effects to security risks to allow informed decisions on the topic. While the WRI model seems to work in this regard, the speaker emphasized it is only in early stage development and, while validated, still has a limited data set.
As a completely unrelated side-note to this topic, the moderators of this session employed an application called “mentimeter.” The application works a lot like survey monkey but displays results in real-time, allowing for a completely interactive survey experience during the session. This allowed for a lot of attendee interaction and permitted the speakers to gauge audience knowledge and thoughts on individual topics. I'd like to look at this tool a bit closer and see if we can employ it at Association events as well.

Climate Education Starts at School (Student Awards)
Organizers of COP 24 teamed with various companies, including ING and IKEA, to create a climate change contest for local high schools. Many schools participated, and those five schools with the top awarded projects were asked to present their proposals and ideas at COP 24. The goal of the contest (and the educational program) is to make sure that climate discussions start early, making climate behavior a learned behavior as a child is growing up rather than trying to alter lifestyles later in life. Emphasizing the importance of these programs to the UNFCC, the UN Secretary, the Polish Minister of the Environment, and other dignitaries were present at the event to support and congratulate the students.
Unfortunately, other sessions drew me away from hearing all of the students' presentations. However, I did listen to the first one. This school created a project to replace plastic shopping bags with canvas bags and, when the bags were worn out, to use them to generate compost for a school garden. The students were assigned the responsibility of gathering scraps of canvas and their mothers sewed the pieces together into canvas bags. They distributed these bags to students and others in the community. The garden has been planted, but, given the time needed for the compositing operation to work, that part of the project had not yet been completed. The goal of the project was waste reduction and beneficial reuse.
On a side note, I found that this was one of the most crowded events that I attended in the Action Hub at COP 24. Clearly there is both an interest and an overwhelming support for educational programs. At ACE, we offer a series of educational programs aimed mainly at college students and culminating in the Environmental Challenge. However, I am not certain we are exercising the full potential of business engagement and sponsorship of these activities. (STEM-type events are generally very easy for corporations to support and I think we are missing out on opportunity here.) In addition, I'd like us to think about how we engage high school students in the mix.

Closing Plenaries
The closing plenaries are intended for each of the various groups within the Convention to report back to the President progress they have made on the agenda items for the COP. I mentioned yesterday how President Kurtyka had the biggest, brightest smile that never seemed to leave his face. Well, it left today. He opened the plenary by expressing appreciation for the work of all of the groups and commenting that they had, at this point, exhausted the technical means available to find compromises. He commented that many of them had worked through the night to attempt to reach an agreement. That said, you could see the frustration and utter disappointment on his face grow as each individual group reported back. No single group had reported resolution of all of the agenda items assigned to them. Below is a summary of the reports. By the time you read this, it is expected that the negotiations will still be extending through the weekend and, hopefully, some resolution will be found. The initial draft document that was delivered following the plenary seemed to be taking a divide and conquer approach, demonstrating an acceptance that they would not reach agreement on all of the Paris-related issues, but hoping they could close the door on some.
  • Finance – They had prepared a proposal on the adaptation fund and post-2020 target. However, “brackets” – the term for unresolved issues – remained. The primary sticking points were related to adaptation and transparency.
  • Transparency – Their meetings were constructive, and they were able to prepare a draft proposal; however, several bracketed items remained. They commented that as of their report they were still working to try to find a middle ground where differences existed.
  • Mitigation – The mitigation group reported they had one major sticking point that they were unable to resolve. Unfortunately, the speaker was very hard to hear, and I was unable to discern what said sticking point was. Please review the plenary texts for clarity.
  • Adaptation – They had prepared a draft text but still had significant brackets in three areas: methodologies, recognition, and mitigation.
  • Global stocktake – After reaching a bit of a brick wall the night prior, they reported good talks this morning. There were four main open issues, two of which they considered “critical”: loss and damage. While they thought they were working towards some landing zones, they requested the President's recommendations on how to proceed.
  • IPCC Language and Talanoas – While they had started to draft some language, it appeared as if this group was facing the greatest challenges. (Having heard the conversations this week, this was not overly surprising.) They were struggling with how to capture and refer to the Talanoa Dialogue in the context of a decision and how to recognize the IPCC report. They reported very strong opinions and positions on both sides of the table. However, they commented that, despite this, there was a strong will to find a compromise.
  • Article 6 – This group actually did not even show up to give their report. The rumors in the room seemed to suggest they were still stuck in negotiations.
After hearing the reports and gaining more color in his face, the President thanked the groups for their hard work and commented “you all did the best you can do for now.” He said that in all of the reports he hears a strong will to reach a consensus. But urged that “It is time to move forward. The remaining issues do not benefit from time. We need to move forward and we need to move forward now.” He indicated he would work to find common ground in the proposals and would issue a draft text later this evening.
After he left the room, there was an overall sense of “what now?”. Groups meandered through the plenary hall, talked about their disappointment and pessimism with a good result being reached. Many, including me, hung around the COP facility for several hours hoping to see the draft text released, but as of the time my eyes hit the pillow, it had not come out.

Michele's Monologue – Thursday, December 13, 2018

It's absolutely amazing how quickly the enormity and craziness of this conference seems to become normal and reasonable. Today's my last day at COP 24 and, while I'm certain there is more to learn, more information to collect, and plenty of things I missed, I also feel like I was able to collect and absorb a tremendous amount of material in the short time I was here. I'm a bit saddened to see it all come to an end, but I'm also anxious to get home, settle in for the Christmas holiday, enjoy my couch a bit, and get ready for our Intercouncil meetings in January.
Today, I've decided to make my mission all about exploring the country pavilions, as I have not spent much time in that area. Each pavilion has their own agenda of side events running every day. Some are somewhat advertised and others it seems you just figure out in conversation with others. I put together a compilation of pictures from the pavilion area that hopefully you will enjoy. I managed to pick up some Austrian wafers for my girls and a few other trinkets here and there. I also am taking home a variety of modern home decorating techniques – the furniture in some of these exhibits is insane. So, which pavilions are winning the popularity contest?
  • Indonesia because it's the first one you run into;
  • Germany because there is an overwhelming number of Germans here and, apparently, we flock to our homeland at these sorts of things;
  • Fiji and the Pacific Islands for a reason I've yet to figure out
The Pandahub, home to the World Wildlife Foundation, and secret hiding place of the U.S. Climate Action activities, equipped with a big sign in the meeting room that says “We're Still Here.”
After working my way through the pavilions and somehow missing the magical food fairies, I wandered into one of the other food courts. This one actually offered hot food in addition to the veggie sandwiches I've had most other days. I went for something other than a veggie sandwich. Don't judge me – I'm walking enough to have a massive brownie for lunch.

The theme of the day is Education Day, and the conference has a series of events dedicated to mostly high school education rather than colleges. (That's different than our Student-day events at ACE and I'm wondering if we need to expand or challenge our thought process a little bit). One observation that I did make was the overwhelming amount of corporate support behind the education-themed activities. Major companies like Ikea and ING are coming in to support the student challenge presentations.
The afternoon was consumed by the closing plenaries from the conference. There is a lot of anticipation about what we will hear this afternoon, with a lot of people coming in with a bit of a disappointed theme to their expectations. The entire conference has been consumed by the “we must act now” message, and from the sounds of it, there is still a lot of disagreement among the Parties on what that action should look like and when it should happen. We could achieve so much in this world absent the political system! (Sorry, that's my one soap box moment for the day.) The plenaries themselves, as you can read in my technical session review, are about as exciting as any business or board meeting – lots of parliamentary procedure and formal reporting from various groups and factions.

With promise of a draft text by the end of the day, everyone seemed to hang around after the plenary was over, including yours truly, on the off chance that the text came out closer to the dinner part of the day than the true end of the day. Looking around, there are people crashed everywhere – you can tell that everyone is exhausted and from the sounds of it, many of the delegates worked through the night trying to come to a compromise on issues. While I wasn't at the conference facilities all night, I'm pretty worn out myself. The daily commute, constant action, and culmination of 2-1/2 weeks in constant motion on this overseas adventure has taken its toll.


After waiting around for a bit and taking a call or two, I decided to give my backside a rest, lift myself from the concrete floor seating area I had occupied, and find my way back to my hotel. My phone tells me I have reason to be tired today – I logged another 4 miles, 9,600 steps, and climbed 7 floors. That brings the total for the week to 15.1 miles, 36,731 steps, and 26 floors! Sitting around on a plane all day on Saturday doesn't sound like such a bad idea now. I'm off to pull my collection of Christmas market gifts and other souvenirs together, figure out how to fit them all within much less space than is available, and reassemble my things for the journey back to Krakow tomorrow. It's time to go home.

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.


By: Tracy Fedkoe
On: 11/11/2019 16:47:57
This blog is great. I can't wait to see what Michele writes for her blog on COP25 in Madrid, Spain. If you want to ask her a question, please add to the comments here.

Leave a comment

Commenting is restricted to members only. Please login now to submit a comment.