A Comprehensive and Hard Hitting Report from COP24 - Ian Lumley

15th December 2018
Press Release

The scheduled Friday 14th December end of the second week of COP24 Katowice saw the negotiations on the Paris Agreement Rulebook extended over the weekend. This continued the frustration of the first week which was marked by the US, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait refusing to even welcome the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change IPCC 1.5 Degrees World report.

During the second week a dismaying feature of the negotiations was the seeking of the downgrading of the Human Rights provisions of the Paris Agreement, in the year of the 70th anniversary of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Over a century ago Roger Casement led international exposure of the abuses in rubber plantations in the Amazon and the slave conditions of the King Leopold controlled Belgian Congo. Trade still trumps over human rights and consideration of the impact on native peoples and workers supplying the raw materials for the global economy.

In September this year the "harrowing" conditions in the Colombian coal mines which supply Ireland’s ESB power plant at Moneypoint were revealed.

Among the events attended over the last two weeks were those focused on Brazil and the uncertainty created by the new Government due to take office in January for the rights of native peoples, the treatment of The Amazonian Forest, and future participation in the Paris Agreement. It was moving to hear the unfamiliar language of natives from the Amazon and to meet people living in conflict zone countries like the Congo over the last week. It was alarming to learn about the situation in many countries where independent civil society groups do not exist or are being suppressed. Indeed, this was evident at some of the COP24 open access "side event" presentations where raising of constructive questions or invitations for dialogue were emphatically not welcomed.

Achieving global greenhouse gas mitigation will require major new mining for the materials for batteries and solar panels, and the shift to production of plant-based foods including milks to supersede animal. This must not be advanced in ways that conflict with the well-being, indigenous food sources and environment of the people and countries affected. The 2015 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide the framework for global equity for resolving future conflicts with positive and unifying principles applicable at all levels.

On Monday this week publication of the annual Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI) put Ireland in the bottom red list at No 48 in an evaluation of 57 countries globally, and the worst in the EU[1]. The CCPI is a well-established index for rating countries climate performance. I t is based on a range of considerations including per capita emissions and policy. Also in the red list were three of the lead climate action obstructive countries at COP24; Russia, US and Saudi Arabia. It was disappointing that the Taoiseach's reaction in the Dail on Tuesday should have been to attack the messenger, rather than address the urgency of the response needed from Ireland to get into the green and not the red list.

Russia had no visible profile at the COP side events, but behind the scenes supports lobbyists for gas pipeline development and the creation of fossil gas dependency who were a pervasive presence at COP24. The US promoted a coal event on Monday which was taken over by an audience chanting the "Keep it in the ground" slogan which reverberated to the other conference rooms.

Parallel to this, and with the chanting from the US event audible, was an open access event hosted by Aramco the Saudi State owned oil company with two speakers, and others from Kuwait and Bahrain. The first Saudi presentation focused on the reduction of gas flaring to achieve the capture of methane from oil extraction. However, the motive for this appeared primarily for the exploitation of the commercial value of methane for energy, so that the climate emission impact still occurred at end combustion point.

The other Saudi speaker made a presentation on an extensive range of technologies mainly for carbon capture which are either at small scale prototype stage or still a theoretical model. The viability of these technologies either individually or in combination to achieve a less than 2 degrees warming world was not demonstrated.

The Kuwaiti speaker focused on technologies to reduce pollution and increase efficiency in ship engines. However, no matter how energy efficient oil and gas tanker engines can be made, this will not mitigate continuing with current levels of transnational oil and gas extraction, production, transport and burning.

The Bahrain presentation was on “Petroleum sector efforts to meet the climate change issue". What was most revealing about the event was the audience attendance and the responses in questions and discussion after. African oil and gas industry representatives were prominent in welcoming the presentations. There was opportunity to raise the memorable warning posed by the Saudi Oil Minister from the 1960s to the 1980s Sheikh Yamani who said “The Stone Age did not end because the world ran out of stones” in considering the future of fossil fuels, with Arabia, the Gulf and Middle East particularly vulnerable to the health, food production and other impacts of rising temperatures.

At a time when there is a mounting global imperative to end oil and gas exploration, a number of African countries in particular are, or have become, new oil and gas producers. Irish companies are involved in different ways. Tullow Oil is developing oil wells in Uganda and Ghana as well as being involved in drilling in Kenya, Namibia and across the Atlantic in Guyana. Irish companies whether the State owned ESB International or other consultancies are providing engineering or contracting services for fossil projects with Irish Government support via Geoscience Ireland which operates through the Geological Survey of Ireland and Enterprise Ireland.

The involvement of Irish State company ESB International, which comes under the control of the Irish Ministry of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, in providing the engineering technical and project management for a new 1,200MW coal burning power station in the Philippines was internationally highlighted at COP24 this week. It undermines Ireland's recent taking up of membership of the international Powering Past Coal Alliance and was raised at events in COP on Thursday by the representative of a group of Climate and Social Justice Organizations from the Philippines. This group is seeking the abandonment of the project, and for ESB International to work on a renewable energy plan for the affected region in co-operation with the local community.

Ireland has taken an international lead in removing fossil fuels from its sovereign investment fund which has received major international publicity. However, the positive action in banning land based hydraulic fracturing or fracking for gas, is undermined by the State support for the building of an LNG terminal in the Shannon Estuary which would allow fracked gas to be imported from the US. Rejecting fracking at home while being indifferent to its impact on sourcing from other countries is hypocrisy.

At COP there were presentations from New Zealand and Costa Rica who are curtailing further off shore oil and gas exploration licenses, while Ireland continues to actively promote and license oil and gas exploration in the marine area.

Meeting the Paris Agreement targets confront fossil fuel producing and exporting countries globally, and not just Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, with the immediate challenge of a rapid transition. In Europe Germany and Poland stand out as laggards in the extent of continuing coal mining for power generation. The global “ Carbon Budget” of emissions that can be safely released into the atmosphere over the next few decades requires that most existing known fossil fuel deposits will need to be left in the ground, a concept called "unburnable carbon". Investors should face up to the reality of fossil fuel deposits and infrastructure becoming “stranded assets”. However, the promotion across the world by so many industry sources including the European gas lobby of still uncertain “Carbon Capture Technologies”, or so called “Green Gas” production that cannot be viably or sustainably ratcheted up to the scale needed, is undermining the level of action on the urgent immediate, deep and consistent emission cuts needed now, as well as genuine renewable technologies.

The US, Brazil, Argentina, New Zealand and the main EU Cattle farming countries including Ireland, face the same challenge as fossil fuel producers because of the contribution of ruminant animal agriculture to greenhouse gas emissions, as well as inefficient land and nutrient resources use. It has been estimated that beef consumption globally needs to be reduced by a level of 90%. if Agriculture is to play its part in ensuring a less than 2 degrees world.

The week featured a series of agriculture events in the Pacific Pavilion co-ordinated by New Zealand in co-operation with France, Australia, Netherlands and Ireland. Irish Agriculture Minister Michael Creed visited on Wednesday. On Tuesday Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board made detailed presentations on “Market Research Trends and Insights” and on the “Origin Green” advertising brand . The first revealed extensive market research contracted to Price Waterhouse Cooper in a study in 12 Bord Bia target markets. This covered six EU countries: UK, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden and Poland, and six further afield; US, Canada, China, Japan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia. Interestingly all of the latter are among the 13 red zone countries with Ireland in the Climate Change Performance Index. The basis of the study was consumer “perceptions” of sustainable food. An informative result of the study was the limited extent to which climate impact of food sourcing, and in particular beef and dairy, featured as a consumer concern. There was extensive consideration given to the response to consumer concerns on plastic and packaging. This was shown to have simply led to a switch by the food industry to bio material-based materials which are purportedly "biodegradable". However, this does not resolve the issue of continuing to produce throw away single use food and beverage containers, many of which will still end up as litter or go into the sea. Biodegradable composting only works in contained controlled conditions and little of this biodegradable plastic reaches those plants.

The Bord Bia research presented was as notable for what it did not address as much as what it did. While the presentation opened with a statement on the “need for a 50% increase" in global food production to meet a global population of 9 million, there was no consideration of the current global 10% population suffering food calorie deficit. Uncritical assumptions on the role and future viability of industrial scale animal agriculture were embedded in the research terms. Absent also was consideration of the contrasting rise of obesity levels in the developed world and food calorie poverty in other parts. Instead the market target identified was for premium products in developed countries like the promotion of Irish beef exports to Japan. Lacking was any concern for global food equity or the rising impact of climate change on some of the most vulnerable people and food production areas globally. It would have been informative to have a breakdown on the composition of Ireland’s growing food exports, in particular the use of milk powder in countries exported to. How much is feeding the most needy? How much is going into healthy food? How much into the promotion of the Western cheese burger , factory pizza and flavoured milk shake diet across the parts of the world where obesity is rising? Also not addressed, and raising ethical issues, is Ireland's growing role in the production and marketing of milk powder based infant formula, when World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines and the SDGs promote breast feeding.

The Origin Green presentation was largely on beef and dairy focusing on traceability, animal welfare and a programme of on farm Greenhouse gas monitoring and mitigation showing performance results. Bord Bia was at pains to point out that 90% of cattle feed sourcing from outdoor grazing and winter silage, was sufficient to market Irish beef and dairy as grass fed, a matter which is the subject of a legal action on the advertising of Irish dairy produce in California. Absent were the key facts and figures allowing the sustainability of Irish agriculture to be assessed namely; the continuing greenhouse gas increase of 2.7% in 2017, rise in ammonia levels, continued decline of high-status waters, continued derogation under EU Nitrates Directive, continued biodiversity loss including key bird species and bees. Questioning on the impact of the 2018 drought was brushed off as a one-off event, even though it led to a fodder crisis and shortage of straw, causing an increased market for use of unsustainably extracted peat for animal bedding. The agricultural themed events also prominently featured New Zealand with which Ireland is often compared. However New Zealand greenhouse gas emissions which are nearly 50% of national overall total have been level since 2005, partly due to reduction in sheep population. At other events were presentations on climate impact on key crops in some of the most vulnerable countries, and research on adaptation measures.

On Friday the last event day at COP was the opportunity to be a speaker, as opposed to being in the audience, at a side event on the theme of implementing the SDGs at local level. This was hosted by International National Trust Organisation (INTO) which has over 70 members across all continents, and to which An Taisce is affiliated. It was encouraging to learn of the work of INTO in education and promoting community action on climate mitigation and adaptation. INTO has a particular focus on the impact of climate change on cultural heritage, which is already affecting exposed Caribbean and Pacific island communities.

On top of the climate crisis is the convergence of rising global biodiversity loss, ocean acidification, fresh water depletion and the impact on other planetary boundaries. The rising voice from the young NGOs at COP24 for a system change is unanswerable. The negotiation process in progress in COP is not going to see the action required as long as selfish national interests and the current global economic growth model prevails. The global market economy is amoral and the extensive presentations and deliberations at COP on "green" finance are doomed as long as the basis of our way of consuming and relating to each other is the altar of economic gain, which disregards effect on nature, climate and all of our futures.

What is needed is a re connection with the natural world which we are part of and co-dependent on. Actions taken by politicians, the public service on behalf of governments and corporate interests must be informed by impact on the future of a living planet.

It was disappointing that Ireland failed to take the opportunity to join the coalition of EU countries seeking greater ambition. It must be asked bluntly if Ireland’s position on climate action is morally compromised by its trade policy of promoting beef and dairy exports, as well as its continuing national promotion of off shore oil and gas exploration, and international entanglement in fossil fuel exploitation such as the ESB International proposed Philippine power plant. In this respect is Ireland any different from those other red list Climate Change Performance Index oil and gas exporting counties obstructing the International Climate negotiating process?

It is up to all of us to advance a new global ethics where decision makers whether political or public service and those involved in industry, business and finance, including lobbyists, lawyers and professional consultants address and are accountable for the impact of their actions on our common home.

ENDS

For further information, contact:
Ian Lumley, Advocacy Officer, An Taisce: +353 1 454 1786
Charles Stanley-Smith, Communications, An Taisce. Tel: +353 87 241 1995
email: publicaffairs@antaisce.org
An Taisce The National Trust for Ireland

Notes

  1. Image of Ireland's position in Climate Change Performance Index - http://pic.twitter.com/whAGTZcqEC

Reports from COP24:

  1. Polish Coal for Soap and Cosmetics Exhibition - Ian Lumley's report from COP24 http://www.antaisce.org/articles/polish-coal-for-soap-and-cosmetics-exhibition-ian-lumleys-report-from-cop24
  2. Some Positive News from COP24 - Ian Lumley's 2nd Report http://www.antaisce.org/articles/some-positive-news-from-cop24-ian-lumleys-2nd-report
  3. Professor Sweeney's 1st report from Katowice http://www.antaisce.org/articles/professor-sweeneys-1st-report-fro-katowice
  4. Professor Sweeney's 2nd Report from Katowice http://www.antaisce.org/articles/professor-sweeneys-2nd-report-from-katowice
  5. A Comprehensive and Hard Hitting Report from COP24 by Ian Lumley http://www.antaisce.org/articles/a-comprehensive-and-hard-hitting-report-from-cop24-ian-lumley
  6. Professor Sweeney's 3rd report from Katowice http://www.antaisce.org/articles/professor-sweeneys-3rd-report-from-katowice

About An Taisce

An Taisce is a charity that works to preserve and protect Ireland's natural and built heritage. We are an independent charitable voice for the environment and for heritage issues. We are not a government body, semi-state or agency. Founded in 1948, we are one of Ireland’s oldest and largest environmental organisations.