Good afternoon from Marrakech! It’s Tuesday of Week 2 at COP22, and the week is already half over.
The Low Emissions Solutions Conference, the first of its kind to be held at any of the UN climate conferences, took up the first half of the week. Bringing together over a hundred speakers discussing everything from low-carbon cement to hydrogen vehicles and the role of IT in facilitating the implementation of the Paris Agreement agreed at COP21 last December. The conference was hosted by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and World Business Council on Sustainable Development (WBCSD), in collaboration with the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI).
Multiple acronyms notwithstanding, the conference showcased an extraordinary range of cutting-edge solutions being put forward to accelerate our collective ability to bring down emissions. Tensions rose on more than one occasion as sharp disagreements over the future of sustainable energy arose between panellists.
Rachel Kyte, CEO of Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL), opened the session on advanced biotechnology with a plea to the audience and climate advocacy community to keep an open mind on the source of carbon emission reductions. She underlined the importance of developing substitutes for oil in the transport industry, in which electric vehicles are struggling to get off the ground. With the existing state of battery technology, she said, clean biofuels are the short-term solution to quickly improving the efficiency of large vehicles — trucks, buses and planes — and improving the air quality of the world’s dirtiest cities.
Sean Simpson of Lanzatec took the audience through his firm’s research on using industrial waste gas, solid human and animal waste, and plant waste as a feedstock for biofuels, rather than the traditional (and problematic) sources of corn and sugar crops. Simpson highlighted the potential for the technology to address emissions in heavy industry, but made a clear call for regulatory change to allow products currently seen as waste to be reused in as a source of fuel. Zaid Burns from RSB announced that South African airlines is beginning to use high-tech biofuels to power its fleet — an enormously important development given the sizeable contribution of air travel to carbon emissions globally.
Looking back on the conference, it was more than exciting to be a part of this event, which was the first of its kind, and hear all these pioneers in their respective fields speak. Some of the solutions presented during these few days showcased new and promising possible pathways to decarbonize certain sectors and we’ll most likely see more if these solutions and conferences in the future.