CCS at COP23 in Bonn: An Ecumenical Intervention

There was a fairly unanimous feeling going in to this year’s 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP23) in Bonn that it was not going to produce any startling revelations as far as climate change goes.

So when “God” entered the room, it was a great and pertinent surprise.

COP23 had been billed as the low-key COP, a sort of “holding pattern” COP where the focus would be on fine-tuning the Paris Agreement rule-book before the big global CO2 stock-take takes place at COP24 in Poland next year.

Adding to the chicanery was the knowledge that the Trump administration was still publicly avowing its intent to pull out of the Paris Agreement and, as such, its delegation was small and stealth-like. This left the door open for former California Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger to take centre-stage and urge activists to change their approach and focus more on the health issues that pollution was causing rather than the pure semantics of below 2-degrees targets (a message we are also promoting, incidentally).

Leonardo DiCaprio zoomed in announce a new charitable trust that would provide renewable energy to off-grid Fijian communities. 

Hosted by Fiji but located in Bonn, Germany (because Fiji understandably did not have the infrastructure to support the more than 20,000 delegates attending), this COP, unlike the last one in Marrakech, was held in grey, wintery conditions where attendees were buffeted by rain and sleet on the way in, and then exposed to hot, humid temperatures in the high 20s on the inside. On a per-hectare basis, this climate summit seemed the size of Fiji – with tropical island weather thrown in. Sulus (the traditional Fijian wrap-around) were everywhere to be seen, and there was the sound of softly-strummed ukuleles wafting across the air-conditioned breeze. It was testament to the control the Fijians exerted.

As the Global CCS Institute, we launch our flagship publication: The Global Status of CCS, at every COP with a major media conference, and series of rotating side events.

This year, our publication took a more deliberately impactful approach and spoke in a language of simplicity and urgency (“Paris targets are unachievable without CCS”), inviting climate luminaries from across the environmental, economic, academic, energy and political spectrums to share their knowledge and thoughts.  

Normally, media conferences are the domain of just the media constabulary but the COP cognoscenti allow other officially accredited attendees to sit in if they are interested. It allows a colourful array of outside stakeholders to infiltrate the press room.

With a hard-stop, half-hour time frame and following short addresses by our CEO, Brad Page (“CCS is the only technology able to decarbonise industry”), Grantham Institute Chair, Lord Nicholas Stern (“renewables cannot do it all”), and Australian Ambassador for the Environment, Patrick Suckling (“CCS is a proven commercial technology with enormous re-use applications”), it was time for Q&As.

This is where God came in.

One of the first questions was from mild-mannered Greek/Cypriot Orthodox Archbishop, His Eminence, Seraphim Kykotis, of Zimbabwe and Angola.

“The future generation has very little hope in the lives we live today. They have no chance to live in a `green atmosphere’. You have the answers, you know the solution, but can you go beyond academic responsibility?”

It was a good question and Lord Stern embraced the challenge of answering it:

“It’s clear this is a moral issue and we have a moral duty to find a different way of doing things that is attractive. We need growth that is inclusive and reduces world poverty. The notion of sustainability is to give those who come after us the same kind of options we had.

“I am an economist, not a moral philosopher, but what we see now is that we have to do things very differently. This is the greatest story of the century. There is a space where ethics and economics come together and we should not be reticent in using both arguments.”

Lord Stern cited the work that the Pope was doing in drawing attention to the climate change debate.

“If we destroy creation, creation will destroy us. We have to use both arguments and we must express things in a very different way. It’s our duty to do that because CCS is part of a much bigger picture.”

Expressing things in a different way is very much a dogma of the Global CCS Institute as it spreads its message to a bigger and wider constituency.

Whether you are religious or not, it is clear that as far as climate change is concerned, an agnostic “let’s do everything” approach is needed. It is not about taking sides. To beat climate change, we have to throw everything at it.

It was refreshing to have a highly revered member of a religious order stand up and be counted - speaking to the ethics of this issue. It was unexpected but struck a chord.

The next night we hosted an “on the record” private dinner for senior media commentators from around the world. Hosted by Global CCS Institute CEO, Brad Page, Carbon Wrangler CEO, Dr Julio Friedmann, and Shell Climate Change Advisor (and Global CCS board member), David Hone, this dialogue was conducted in the Fijian spirit of “Talonoa” where conversations are open and transparent. The big media hitters were out in force, an intelligent group of individualists asking insightful and unabashed questions which we were happy to answer.

One journalist who had attended the media conference confided that he was refreshed by what he had seen and heard.

“I am genuinely impressed by where this is going here,” he said. “CCS has changed direction.”

By week's end, the cover of the Economist ran a front-page story captioned: “What they don’t tell you about climate change.”

CCS loomed large.

I would never dare make assumptions about spiritual connections but something happened in our quest to raise awareness about this pivotal technology.

It was something good.