Climate Now

Climate News Weekly: COP28 coverage, including global health, carbon capture, and "phase out vs phase down"

December 11, 2023 James Lawler Season 1 Episode 130
Climate Now
Climate News Weekly: COP28 coverage, including global health, carbon capture, and "phase out vs phase down"
Show Notes Transcript

Today in Climate News Weekly, we continue our coverage of COP28 with three people who each covered a different aspect of the conference. First, we speak with Julian Moore of Climatebase to discuss this COP's focus on how climate change impacts global health, while Julio Friedmann, regular contributor, sent us an updated on-the-ground recording of this experiences in Dubai. Finally, we invited Dina Cappiello to sit down with us after her return from the conference to give us her post-COP28 reflections and a look at what we should be tracking as the conference winds down.

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James Lawler: [00:00:00] Welcome to Climate News Weekly. I'm James Lawler. Today in climate news, we continue our coverage of COP 28 with three people who each covered a different aspect of the conference. First, Julian Moore from Climatebase. Julian, welcome to Climate Now. It's great to have you on. 

Julian Moore: Thank you so much for having me.

Looking forward to it.

James Lawler: So you wrote a piece that is titled the Progress Amidst the Noise at COP28. It seems that at every COP, there are kind of, you know, narratives happening at different levels. It's kind of like a narrative stack in terms of the stories coming out and they have sort of different meanings and there's sort of different levels of import and consequence to these different threads and then all the noise around the threads kind of stack up and so we're trying to make sense of that and you wrestled with that as well in this article.

So tell us kind of in your reporting, what did you find to be sort of the primary threads coming out of COP? 

Julian Moore: There's so many things happening at COP, right? The primary goal of COP is to get the- all the nations of the world to [00:01:00] comply with the Paris Climate Accords that were agreed to in 2015. That's the number one goal. But there's, there are a lot of other issues that, that are actually being negotiated on the political level.

I think a big part of the frustration among people who follow climate about the lack of progress that comes out of COP, I think comes from just a fundamental misunderstanding about what the conference is. COP is often presented in the media as the global climate conference. And it is simply not that.

It is not a climate conference. It is a diplomatic conference. This is a conference where diplomats negotiate the terms of an internationally agreed treaty. So this is a matter of international law. And so as a result, the negotiations that happen at COP and the results of the conferences come out of the realities of international politics and the way that diplomats do their work.

And, and diplomats, at the end of the day, they're the ones who are behind closed doors negotiating the terms of all these deals, negotiating the terms of the action that is supposed to come out of the conference. At the end of the day, diplomats are tasked with pursuing their national interests, the interests of their countries.

For this COP in particular, [00:02:00] it's kind of the same as, as every time. It's like, okay, well, you know, there's, there's article six, which is the international compliance carbon market, which was originally agreed to in Kyoto back in the late nineties. And it sort of was rebooted because it was not very effective.

So it was rebooted in 2015. So one of the main narratives, right? Is like, how close are we going to get to a really effective carbon market? And that's one of the more frustrating ones. Because every year that- there's a lot of back and forth about the rules there. Then there's also the main one, of course, is commitments to reducing emissions from countries and by extension, those countries or the corporations within those countries. Those two narratives, there's a lot of frustration around those because we are way behind on a lot of these commitments and we're still sort of caught up in, you know, inventing new terms, like phase down as opposed to phase out.

So there's that. But the other thing I thought was interesting is that this year is the first year that there's a focus on health at COP

James Lawler: Right. 

Julian Moore: This is really important because the health impacts of climate change are one of the many climate impacts that are happening right now. They're happening all over the world.

And what struck me is that [00:03:00] when we talk about climate change, generally speaking, or in the general discourse, we tend to focus on some of the most easily imaginable things like sea level rise or droughts or floods- that kind of stuff. But there are so many second-order effects from climate change, right?

And we need to really be discussing all of them and health is one of the ones that is going to impact people again all over the world in some really surprising ways that I thought was going to be very interesting to write about. 

James Lawler: And so you, you anchor this to a report by The Lancet that came out in November in your article that takes a look at the impacts of climate change on global health, the impacts it's had so far, and in particular points a spotlight on the economic consequences to sort of the health, health impacts.

And you mentioned in your article that this report was consequential in maybe spurring some of these conversations at this year's COP. And I wonder if you could talk a little bit about that. 

Julian Moore: The Lancet report is called the Lancet Countdown. It's an extraordinary report. I mean, this is the second [00:04:00] year that they've done it and it looks- just takes- tries to take stock of the health consequences of climate change. Now it takes a look at several different aspects. I chose three of the biggest, most important ones. 

The first one is just heat-related health impacts. So heat stroke, obviously extreme heat is, is hard on, on your health, especially if you're older or more vulnerable to heat impacts.

I think that's pretty intuitive. There's been a lot of reporting in the last year or so about the wet-bulb effect, mass events where basically you cannot cool down even in air conditioned environments, particularly in the most densely populated parts of the world, like India and Pakistan

And the second sort of bucket was the expansion of tropical diseases. And there's so much to it, right? Like this, this particular report just focused on the tropical diseases and the expansion of the range of tropical diseases. But you could probably do, I'm sure you could do a whole 'nother report about all the other pathogens that are going to be let loose by climate change.

And then finally, the last one, which was really surprising to me, and that I think this one should get a lot of attention, hopefully, is the impact on labor and the economic consequences of reduced labor [00:05:00] from exposure to extreme heat. The number that they found was that there was a loss of 490 billion labor hours just last year, right? So that's 490 billion hours of just productivity that we lost already are already losing, right? 

James Lawler: That's incredible. So coming back to COP, then, so basically there was this declaration on climate and health, right? What exactly was this declaration and what's the takeaway there?

Julian Moore: The health declaration at a high level recognizes the importance of health, recognizes the immediacy of the problem and that they have to deal with it, and also recognizes the fact that there needs to be more participation from developed nations and any organization, really, from developed nations that can help developing nations to deal with these impacts as well.

They're committing an initial tranche is the, is the word tranche being a French word for slice of $1 billion, uh, just this year that's going to help initiatives. In principle, there will be additional rounds of funding on a similar scale every year going forward. And that's backed by 124 countries, [00:06:00] which is quite significant among them, the United States, the United Kingdom, I mean, countries that have committed the kind of money that is necessary to address these kinds of things.

Well, Julian, thank you so much. Climate News Weekly regular contributor Julio Friedman sent us another on-the-ground update from the UAE. Here's Julio. 

Julio Friedmann: Hello, this is Julio Friedmann, the Chief Scientist of Carbon Direct, speaking to you again from COP 28 in Dubai. A few things I want to point out that are distinct here at this COP that are worthy of attention.

One of them, a lot of discussion about nuclear. Holy cow. In the prior COPs, nuclear has simply not been a feature, but it is here now. Fission, fusion, a lot of this happening in developing countries, also including here in the United Arab Emirates, there's been a big focus on hard-to-abate sectors. Aviation, and I may add a little shout out to my colleague here, Dina, and Rocky Mountain Institute for their launch of their sustainable aviation fuel registry, but [00:07:00] also on things like steel and cement and other hard to abate sectors.

These topics often got short shrift at prior COPS. I'm glad to see them well-represented here. If we want to get to net zero, we need to get to zero on those sectors as well, even if it's hard, or even if it's expensive, or even if it's challenging. 

As a carbon management guy, I was really excited to see the carbon management challenge. This is led by many nations, and in fact is a commitment of various kinds that's integral to keep pathways that limit warming to 1.5 degrees C in reach. In addition, they agree on the urgent need to scale carbon management, striving towards gigaton scale by 2030. There are many recommendations on the website. 

This was a big focus of Secretary Kerry's and many people in the U.S. administration. I was very, very pleased to see that reach fruition. Fingers crossed that there are yet more consequential and important announcements coming our way. Be [00:08:00] seeing you. 

James Lawler: Finally, I sat down with Dina Cappiello, who just returned from COP28, to discuss her impressions of the event and what stories to track now that we're approaching the end of the conference.

What is it actually like to be there? It just, it feels like from reading the articles about COP it seems to be just sort of this washing machine of stuff and there's just an overwhelming number of people there and events. What is it actually like to be on the ground there? 

Dina Cappiello: You know, I think there's one kind of commonality between all the COPs I've been to, and this is my third for RMI, which is, it's just chaotic.

There's just so much going on officially with the negotiations. There's event after event after event, and I, I can't impress upon you, like, they start at breakfast and they go until like 11 p. m. at night. So if you really wanted to do COP, you could be, like, morning to the very late evening and then, like, do it all again.

James Lawler: What is your takeaway? Like, what will happen toward the end [00:09:00] of this week? 

Dina Cappiello: So towards the end of this week, hopefully there will be a text that the countries agree to that will respond to the global stocktake, which basically said that we are way off track. And I want to be very clear with those listening, the global stocktake really only evaluates what countries have committed to, right?

So it doesn't include actions that markets are driving or the private sector is driving. And so they're looking at that stocktake and they're revising the language of the agreement. What they agree to based on that stocktake, which is basically we're way off track, right? And, you know, in the middle of COP, there was a new report that said, you know, emissions are rising.

So, like, to answer your question, it 100 percent depends on your perspective. And like, personally, not speaking for RMI here, but personally, like, I go back and forth, right? Where I am completely energized [00:10:00] by the energy on the ground and the amount of people on the ground, like 80,000 around, right? And I think that, you know, looking at that from a glass-half-full perspective, you can say, “wow, there is so many people coming to this devoted to this crisis and addressing this crisis”.

And then you look at some of the other coverage, which is like, how many consultants are there and how many fossil fuel lobbyists are there, right? And then sometimes you're there and you're like, you know, you're doing the math and you're just like, oh my goodness, like 80,000 people flew here and we know that aviation is like a major contributor to climate change, right?

And is it worth that cost, that cost to the planet? And ultimately, like, there's a reason that we have this, and I think that it does move the ball forward. Does it move the ball forward fast enough? That's TBD on this COP. But I think that we would all agree that historically it hasn't, otherwise we wouldn't [00:11:00] have a global stocktake that was a- really a wake up call and was like, you know, you need aggressive action.

And also I have to say, you know, the other trippy thing about this COP, for lack of a better word, is that like, you are basically in this city, Dubai, and I had never been there before, which is like a testament to, like, the money of the oil industry, right? 

James Lawler: Yeah now that you're back in the U.S., what do you see as kind of the main story that you're tracking?

Dina Cappiello: Here's the big one, really big one, okay? There is a lot of debate going on and it's absolutely critical between phase out/phase down of fossil fuels, right? That, I think is really the core to what's happening at COP right now because current language has phase down and there are a lot of people and and the chorus I felt was very strong- and I could be biased because of the [00:12:00] circles that I move in- that that language has to be much stronger and has to be phase out, right? And Saudi Arabia is very much against this.

Even the U.S. is using phase out of unabated fossil fuels. That means that we can just keep spewing this stuff and we're just going to put carbon capture or direct air capture on it, or whether it is about an orderly and just transition, knowing that some industries, particularly cement and steel, will be reliant on fossil fuels for many years to come, right? 

And so that is something that I think is absolutely critical. And that, to me, is like what everybody's tracking right now: is it going to be phase out? Which I think a lot of NGOs, environmentalists want, the Global South has issues with phase out because some are making natural gas deals and fossil fuel deals right now to get [00:13:00] electricity.

So this is not a simplistic debate, but I have to say this: I saw Johan Rockström speak, you know, one of the preeminent climate scientists out there, and he was unequivocal, and I think the science is very clear that it's phase out, even with carbon capture and direct air capture.

So that's what I think everybody's tracking: what's it going to be? 

James Lawler: Well, Dina, thanks, thanks for joining us. 

Dina Cappiello: You are so welcome. 

James Lawler: That's it for this week's episode of Climate News Weekly. We hope you'll join us tomorrow for a deep dive into the Roads to Removal report: Options for carbon dioxide removal in the United States. Climate Now has provided support to the Livermore Lab Foundation in the rollout of the Roads to Removal Report.

You can visit the website to download the report, which has just been released today, as well as watch videos on the various processes and technologies that are highlighted in the report, learn more about the massive team that put the report together, [00:14:00] as well as pre-register for events that will be happening across the country to bring insights from the report to the regions where they'll matter most.

Thanks so much and hope you join us for our next episode.

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