During COP24: Key content takeaways
At the opening speech on the first day of the conference, a spokesperson from World Bank declared that they were doubling their investment in climate action — half of which will be dedicated to adaptation and resilience. This COP reflected an increase in awareness on the importance of adaptation finance, and how the mobilisation of public finance is crucial to achieving this. While my initial interest at this COP was on how developed countries can promote the export of water technology to developing nations to promote water security, many of the talks I attended that were related to water were focused on adaptation and climate finance instead.
As the effects of climate change are already visible in developing nations, there is a greater focus on adaptation and resilience efforts. At the Greater Britain and Northern Island country pavilion, I attended a talk on climate finance from DCs to LDCS, which focused on their public flows from 2013-2017. They revealed that “adaptation rose by 65%, [and] mitigation accounted for over two-thirds of total finance”, reflecting this rising recognition of the importance of adaptation and resilience. Another key message they promoted was that “developed countries public climate finance increased from USD 37.9 billion in 2013 to USD 54.5 billion in 2017.”
I will be discussing a few interesting side events I attended throughout the conference: firstly, “Climate Friendly Technologies— Improving Adaptive Capacity of Women and Building Resilience”, where the panelists discussed the different water technologies in developing areas. Some examples include water pumping systems, or bio-sand water filters to ensure greater access to drinking water. The discussion made me reflect on what exactly “technology” means— conventional concepts of technology are skewed towards the “flashy” notions of technology. The speaker clarified, however, that technology can be simple and context-specific, and therefore need not be a costly affair. The speaker spoke of a technology-justice framework, which emphasises the importance of access and innovation, and not the technologies with the most profit. In developed nations, technology is often driven by market forces, whereas in developing nations, technological development should be driven by social needs. As such, we should try to move away from the software of technology, and focus on creating a system that encourages change. For example, in Bangladesh, 5.5 million homes have a solar rooftop, which is used to the household’s kids to study — here, technology went beyond just providing light— it helped promote a systemic change by encouraging better education as well.
Another side event that was particularly insightful was “Equity as a Gateway to change.”
This side event highlighted a number of issues today with climate finance in developing nations: Firstly, that financing is mostly through concessional loans: despite low interest rates, it’s still debt. There is no agreed definition of climate finance, resulting in loans— and loans shouldn’t be considered as climate finance, they argue, as developing nations still end up in debt. Due to the need to pay back developed nations, projects get implemented based on their ability to generate revenue, as opposed to the needs of the community. The inclination towards revenue-generating projects has led to a skewed proportion of mitigation projects as opposed to adaptation projects. Mitigation projects are often more linked to the vested interests of developed nations. It is easier, for instance, to invest in solar energy projects, which could lead to the growth of certain SMEs of the developed nation, opposed to a ‘rural community resilience’ project. Adaptation projects only have national benefits, which is more difficult to rationalise to the vested interests of the developed nation.
Furthermore, there are also issues in the pledging process, with murky agreements in the form of “We’ll give you $XXX, on the condition that Congress approves it annually” (as an example provided in the discussion). To gain access to the money in the Green Climate Fund, for example, projects must meet an extensive list of criteria, which limits access to the communities who are in need. A lot of money in the Green Climate Fund is being lost due to political incongruity, through the many different kinds of pledging— through grant money, loans, promising loans— that ultimately aim to discourage the giving of funds to developing nations. Ultimately, then, the money isn’t there (although it is appears to be)— instead of getting developed nations to provide more help, the burden is being shifted to developing nations.
Another key event I attended was “Water & Climate: How to increase the engagement of the private sector.” There were 3 panelists— from France, Sweden, and Japan. The event started out rather slow, with the panelists providing examples of what their own country’s private sector is doing, instead of ways to increase this participation. The French panelist raised a few interesting examples of French SMEs that have exported their technology abroad— the Suisse-Aguas-Convinez Group, for instance, has 3 wastewater treatment plants in Chile as of 2017. As we eventually entered the discussion on the incentives to expand the practices of the private sector, a few strategies were raised. As there is big market for water technologies, with lots of competition between different companies, one strategy would be to increase the connection between these different companies, and get them to exchange their knowledge and solutions with each other. While insightful, I felt that the strategies and discussions ended up being too broad, and that it was really up to the audience to think of ways to make the information useful in their own context.
In sum, my key “content” based takeaways on the conference are an intersection of climate finance, water technologies, and adaptation— adaptation projects are becoming increasingly important, but require financing, which is often difficult to access due to the challenges described above. However, despite this hurdle, we shouldn’t stay discouraged as relying on technology to help communities need not be a costly affair—local, context-specific can be affordable and just as effective.
Post-COP24: General takeaways on the conference itself
At the plenary on the opening day of the conference, the Polish minister discussed why the conference was held in Katowice— a location which many felt to be inappropriate given its high coal consumption. He stated that currently, Katowice is the ‘greenest in Poland… [which] is symbolic..’ Currently, Poland has been following a sustainable development pathway, and has lowered its greenhouse gases by 80% since 1988. They have done this through the efficient use of coal technologies — therefore, he claims, “coal is not a contradiction to climate change…” In that moment, it was easy to get swept up by his passion, for he did sound convincing: and that’s exactly how they twist the framing of an issue. It was discouraging for such statements to be announced proudly at a global conference trying to operationalise the Paris agreements.
After his speech, he concluded with a declaration of Poland’s will to fight climate change, especially in light of abundant climate technologies making it increasingly easier to do so. Following after, the Secretary General of U.N entered yet another passionate speech, discussing the slow and insufficient action of many countries. Of his 4 main points, his final point was in direct contradiction to the previous speech— he says that the technology already exists and is affordable now, but what is lacking is political will and far sighted vision. What’s crucial is the political will for compromise — not just the political will to fight climate change. This was particularly interesting to me. The problem is not whether countries recognise the importance of the need to fight climate change, because they clearly do — evident by the hundreds of delegates from all around the world present at the conference. The main challenge is to get leaders comfortable with the idea of sacrifice and compromise, many of which are reluctant to do currently.
The plenary meeting was a great way to start the conference initially, but then with speaker after speaker, I got desensitised and began to realise that nothing particularly new was being said. I came into COP24 with lots of excitement — I knew, of course, not to set my expectations too high, but I was excited nonetheless to attend all the side events and to hear from industry experts from all around the world. Without wanting to sound too critical, I’ll give the conference this: it was quite incredible to see thousands of people from all around the world and of different backgrounds — students, ministers, professors, businessmen — all in one place together fighting for the same cause.
My time at the conference mainly involved attending side events, dropping in on informal negotiation meetings, and talking to other students interested in my topic. The quality of the side events, however, weren’t really consistent— a number of events I had attended had panelists that did not come very prepared, or did not seem very interested in speaking. I remember one particular meeting, two out of 4 panelists had openly joked about how they had come in with a presentation prepared at the last minute. While I understand that they are incredibly busy during the conference, it wasn’t exactly what I had expected at a conference like COP. Apart from the side events, the informal negotiations were also incredibly slow — but perhaps that was because it was still in the first week of the conference where there was less urgency. Another factor that I hadn’t expected would influence the experience so much was the issue of language and communication. Naturally, given that many of the speakers aren’t native English speakers, poor communication could often be distracting and detract from the point they were trying to make. I think the side events often landed on two extremes of a spectrum, of either being too specific to the speaker’s country and its unique circumstances, or being too broad to actually be useful. The onus then, was on the attendees to ask questions afterwards, which I felt to be the most useful part of the event to get to personally engage with the speakers.
Ultimately, I saw the COP24 conference as a massive networking event. I most enjoyed speaking to students from other universities with similar interests, and hearing of their experience both at the COP and of what they do in their home country/institution. Even within the same broad topic of water and adaptation, there was a huge diversity of perspectives and backgrounds that I got to hear from simply from speaking to others. It was also really refreshing to speak to people with a more grounded perspective, especially after listening to professionals and industry experts speak the whole day.