First week at COP23

As the first week of COP 23 in Bonn comes to a close, its timely to review what has happened in the traditionally slow ‘first week’ of a COP.

The weather and encroaching winter left you in no doubt that we are in a pretty gloomy Bonn; wet and cold. I hoped it was not a portent of what to expect over the coming two weeks. But inside the COP Pavilions, all that was left behind.

Heated – perhaps over-heated – temporary, massive tent cities immediately reminded everyone that Fiji is the host of this year’s COP. Bula, the Fijian term for hello and welcome, features everywhere and the friendliness of that idyllic Pacific nation is infectious.

For me, this is the first time I have attended the first week of a COP, normally arriving in time for the rush of events and crowds of the all-important second week.

An irresistible invitation to attend and speak at two side-events in the always vibrant, busy and impressive China Pavilion during the first week, caused me to break my pattern and arrive early. And what a good decision that turned out to be.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) has featured from the start of this COP. On Monday, Day 1 and the CCS side events kicked off in the EU Pavilion. Organised by CO2Geonet, Bellona, CCSA, EERA, the Institute and IEAGHG,  an impressive line-up of speakers addressed the increasingly important topic of ‘CO2 infrastructure for public good’.

Outstanding cases were made for establishing hubs and clusters, with governments taking a prominent role in establishing at least the basis for common user infrastructure in transport and storage, enabling captured CO2 to have a route to storage.

On Tuesday, it was my turn to face the media with an interview at the COP 23 Climate Change Studio. This is a valuable service from the UNFCCC for selected groups and people to address the big challenges in climate change.  This year, the focus is on the work going on in Bonn to create the rule book to enable the implementation of the Paris Agreement. The interview will be available soon on the Climate Change Studio YouTube channel. Keep an eye on the Institute’s social media channels.

Later that day, the University of Texas, CCSA and Bellona hosted a side-event with a focus on the role of CCS in achieving 1.5°C and the impact on Small Island States. While relatively technical in its focus, there was good interaction from the audience with a range of questions about the viability of CCS and perceived issues around storage as well as the outlook for cost reduction.

Wednesday was my day for events in the China Pavilion. I was honoured to be invited to speak firstly in a session organised by the Chinese State Council on the theme of the paradigm of ecological civilisation as the next evolution of economic development following the Industrial Age. It was especially interesting to hear from senior Chinese officials and their plans and expectations for China to enter a new low-carbon age where renewables, CCUS and energy efficiency figure prominently.

This side-event was followed by a discussion titled ‘CCUS: Practice and Perspectives’. The event was presented by the NDRC, ADB, Ministry of Science and Technology, China National Centre for Climate Change, ACCA21 and the Institute.

The China Pavilion was full for this event. Again, I was honoured to be a speaker along with key Chinese government energy and environment agencies, the IEA, the UK Government, Statoil and the BHP/SaskPower sponsored International CCS Knowledge Centre based in Regina.

It was a vibrant and engaging session that went long after its scheduled finish time due to the extent of the engagement of the audience. Following the event, I was interviewed by the China News Agency Xinhua. You can read the published news report here.

Thursday and Friday were spent attending briefings, meetings and observing the various developments in the slow-paced negotiation of the rule book for the Paris Agreement.

In terms of bigger picture issues, there is undoubtedly a continued and intensive campaign by green groups to cease the use of coal in particular and increasingly all fossil fuels.  Perhaps more disturbingly though is the concerted campaign by many NGOs – including some beyond the green groups - to prevent business representative bodies from being involved in any form in the UNFCCC processes on the basis that business has a conflict of interest in the climate debate and works actively to slow down or prevent progress.

This is being firmly resisted by the peak business representative groups and is counter to the underlying principles of inclusion of the UN. With the support of some noted renegade nations, this push is getting attention but so far has not adversely impacted business activities, including ours, at COP23.

What has been different this year is the completely separate campuses for the negotiations and the general side-events and observer activities. Requiring at least 30 minutes to travel between the two campuses, the UNFCCC has effectively ensured that negotiators are distanced from those with expertise and knowledge beyond government policy interest in the various observer groups of all persuasions. This may make for a less crowded negotiation campus but it also precludes timely advice being given to the negotiation process by those who are directly impacted by the decisions taken.

There are murmurings that this is the model the UNFCCC Secretariat hopes to deploy at future COP meetings. There are undoubtedly advantages for everyone to have separate facilities. What isn’t advantageous is to make them so far apart that walking PLUS a bus or train is required to get between the two.

Next week is the big one when everyone comes to town and the negotiations intensify as COP23 heads to the all important close on Friday that will set the stage for the 2018 COP24 in the Polish city of Katowice.

It is also the week when the Institute’s activities peak with two side-events and an official UNFCCC media conference when we launch the new Global Status of CCS Report. We will also hold invitation-only dinners for key media representatives and another hosted by Lord Stern attended by influential figures in the climate change negotiation process.

You can find more information about the Institute's presence at COP23 and our side-events here.