This week, COP23, the 23rd Session of the Conference of Parties, was held in Bonn. COP23 is part of the UN Convention on Climate Change, and this year was seen as part of the steps to develop a ‘rulebook’ for the Paris Agreement. Delegates from almost 200 countries attended the annual climate change conference.
A key part of COP23 was the launch of the ‘Powering Past Coal Alliance’, which is being spearheaded by the United Kingdom and Canada. This alliance aims to rapidly phase out the use of coal power in favour of cleaner energy sources. It already has 20 countries involved and hopes to reach 50 by COP24, which will be held in Poland in 2018. In February, the UK announced that it plans to have phased coal out entirely by 2025.
Despite popular support for the coal phase-out, the United States delegates only official appearance was to advocate the continual use of fossil fuels, claiming they were vital to reduce poverty and that a move away from fossil fuels would cost American jobs. Since Syria decided to sign the Paris Agreement earlier this month, the United States is now the only UN country no longer part of the agreement, with President Trump pulling the United States out of the agreement earlier this year.
However, despite claims that a move to renewable energy will have an economic backlash, a report published by the Environmental Defence Fund’s Climate Corps program shows that renewable energy jobs are growing 12 times faster than the rest of jobs in the energy sector.
In addition, University of Manchester Professor Mike Barnes has said that when it comes to wind energy, the “the offshore wind industry could be a huge bonanza for the UK”, who already gets 5 per cent of its energy from the wind sector. By 2020, that will increase to an estimated 10 per cent. An offshore wind farm is estimated to be worth up to £2 billion per year by 2025, a potentially massive asset to the UK energy economy.
The University of Manchester is working to promote the development of more offshore wind farms by working with other universities and firms to develop a new type of circuit breaker. This new circuit breaker is hoped to use direct current (DC) over the usual alternating current (AC), as it is a more effective way to connect the wind farms and the main power grid.
The US pulling out of the agreement did not go without backlash. The talks that took place within the conference were disrupted by anti-Trump protests. Protestors stopped a presentation on how fossil fuels can help solve climate change by singing an anti-coal song to the tune of ‘God Bless the U.S.A.’. In addition, an alternate delegation from the We Are Still In group were present in Bonn, representing many Americans who still wish to adhere to the Paris Agreement. The group contains many high-profile members, including the former mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, whose anti-coal campaign is expanding to Europe, with an additional $50 million dollars donated by Mr Bloomberg.
Alongside the discussion of coal, conference delegates highlighted concerns over pre-2020 climate change commitment. Several countries including China and India expressed annoyance at how developed countries had still not delivered on the $100 billion climate finance agreed in Copenhagen in 2009. The discussion on pre-2020 actions was not on the official agenda of the COP23, however it was ultimately added to the final COP23 decision document.
The COP23 talks ended this year with many speeches, but 12-year-old Timoci Naulusala summarised a key message of the conference: “It’s not about how, or who, but it’s about what you can do as an individual.”