COP22: Student Experience from University of Reading

Friday 11th November
“No jobs on a dead planet” – Just Transition


Session by: International Trade Union Confederations (ITUC), IndustriALL Global Union, Friends of the Earth International, National Planning Commission in South Africa
700,000 people a year are dying from climate change, with millions more losing their homes

What is Just Transition? Just Transition is about a transition to a sustainable future which ensures social, environmental and economic justice and fairness. It is about job creation, economic diversification, a low carbon energy future, investment in communities, respect for workers’ rights and human rights in general, a new social support system and co-operative action.

The message is that we need to work towards mitigating and adapting to climate change in a way which ensures that workers and communities are not left behind. The goal is a zero carbon, zero poverty future.

Trade Unions are playing a key role in making the voices of workers and communities heard in climate change policy discussions. They are fighting to ensure a Just Transition to a sustainable future.

An example of where the role of Trade Unions is key is in South Africa, where there is a lack of jobs, crumbling infrastructure, high levels of poverty and high reliance on the coal industry. South Africa is also one of the most unequal countries in the world. Resources should be used sustainably while building prosperity and equity. Workers and communities need to represented in discussions about how resources will be allocated.

On the other hand, there are success stories. An Australian state has generated a renewable energy plan to reach 40% renewable energy and create 10,000 new jobs by 2025.
Overall, there is a need for fast, fair and deep action. This should not be left to deregulated “free” markets which have created environmental and economic crises and a lack of sustainable industrial strategy in the past. Planning is key and is needed urgently to ensure a Just Transition is possible.

Climate change is not an environmental issue alone, but fundamentally a social issue. As observed by Brian Kohler from IndustriALL Global Union, a global association of private sector and industrial unions, “we cannot accept a just transition towards an unsustainable future and we cannot accept an unjust transition to a sustainable future”.

To find out more about some of the climate change challenges being faced, we spoke to Buyiswa Ndibango from the Department of Environmental Affairs in South Africa. Analogous with Just Transition is Just Adaptation, which is key in South Africa to building resilience in local communities. However, many social issues remain, which sometimes push climate change lower down the agenda. In addition, education about climate change is lacking in many South African communities. The government needs a top-down approach for educating the public and shifting the focus onto climate change.

Sustainable Development Goal 17, Revitalizing the global partnership.


What is Sustainable Development Goal 17?

SDG17 is, in the language of the UN, to “Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership”. In everyday language, this means that efforts will be made to bring together government, the people they govern and the private sector to work towards the common goal of meeting all the SDGs. After all, it is in all of our interests to ensure that the path we are travelling along will not lead us over a cliff edge.

So how are institutions going to meet this goal?

To find out we interviewed Tania Oseja Carillo, a Climate Adaption Specialist for the World Food Program. She talked about the work that the WFP is doing in Tanzania and Malawi to communicate weather information to farmers. This involves translating the information into a form that is easily comprehensible to the farmers, and getting it to them via weekly radio programmes and SMSs. It also connects the farmers to experts, through being able to phone the radio programme free of charge to have their specific questions answered.


In a side session “SDG17: Science for informed mitigation and adaptation choices”, Phil de Cola, who works for the Sigma Space Corporation, set out the case that greenhouse gas emissions must be monitored in far more detail to provide better estimates of inventories of emissions from each country. If this can be done in such a way that is useful to the country, then it far more likely that the information will be used and acted upon, instead of used as solely a means of monitoring that country’s emissions. The monitoring can be used, for example, to detect large leaks of methane, which in turn can provide the “low hanging fruit” of climate mitigation. This makes it easier for countries to meet the pledges that they have made as part of the Paris Agreement, through working with cities and private companies to help reduce these emissions.


In the same session, Libby Jewett, director of NOAA’s Ocean Acidification Program, spoke about how she had brought together scientists, industrial owners and biologists to solve a mystery: “The case of the shrinking oyster larvae”. High concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere, which were being transported into the oyster farms by seasonal currents, were causing the death of these tiny larvae. After the reason behind the death of these creatures had been solved, a plan could be put in place to protect these larvae when one of these events was forecast to happen, using a buffer in the water to reduce its acidity.

Overall, these markedly different examples show that there is no one way to meet SDG17. However, each example paints a picture of how SDG17 can be a useful way of attacking wide-ranging problems, and coming up with solutions that are beneficial to all of the partners involved.

Thursday 10th November

Fossil fuels supply and climate policy


Given that fossil fuels are responsible for approximately 85% of anthropogenic CO2 emissions (IPCC), reducing their supply and production is one of the biggest challenges in the effort to avoid dangerous climate change and limit global warming to 2C.

One side event at COP22 was focused on the best ways to reduce fossil fuel supply and production. The event “Fossil Fuel Supply and Climate Policy: key steps to enhance ambition” brought together key speakers from organisations such as the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), Oil Change International (OCI), the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and several universities. Below are some of the most interesting facts and figures that we learnt from the talk.

Key facts / figures:

  • 2/3 of known oil and gas reserves need to be left undeveloped to keep emissions in line with the 20C warming pathway
  • The US has biggest undeveloped reserves of coal and oil in the world
  • The Norwegian State funds 78% of exploration costs for Arctic Oil (despite recommendations that the resources should be left in ground to limit warming to 20C)
  • To be consistent with the goal of keeping global warming below 2°C, the U.S. would need to cut aggregate fossil fuel production by 40–60% from current levels by 2040
  • Between 2012 – 2015 157 Gt of CO2 were emitted. If we were to continue emitting at this rate, within 15 years we would exceed the threshold of CO2 in the atmosphere that would make a 2°C warming inevitable
  • The table below gives CO2 budgets (in gigatonnes) for emissions that cannot be exceeded if we are to limit temperature rise to 2°C, or more ambitiously 1.5°C
Carbon Budgets (GtC02) 20C 1.50C
Post 2011 budget 1000 550
Emission 2012-15 157 157
Post 2015 budget 843 392
  • Data from Oil Change International

The main topic of conversation during the panel was potential ways in which we can limit temperature increase to 20C. We identified four key themes throughout the talk; removing producer subsidies, providing compensation for ‘keeping it in the ground’, removing funding / investments for fossil fuel explorations and imposing moratoria on coal mines and oil drilling.

One of the speakers at the talk was Katie Thomas, Policy Advisor for Energy and Environment at the office for Bernie Sanders, who we had the privilege of interviewing afterwards. Katie’s key roles include monitoring bills in the Senate and Congress, writing legislation, writing questions for the Senator to ask and advising the Senator on how to vote. One particular success she highlighted was legislation banning fracking in Vermont, although she did compare this to banning snow-boarding in Saudi Arabia.


As an alternative to fossil fuels, Katie believes that “electrifying cities” is the solution to the fossil fuel problem (providing the electricity comes from renewables obviously). For example, she mentioned electric school buses funded by Vermont which have the potential to be solar powered. Although one of the issues with this is the storage of electricity for use at peak times.

When asked if she thought climate research is communicated effectively her response was a decisive “no”. She suggested that in order to most effectively communicate scientific research we need researchers to partner with communication and advocacy organisations who are experienced in communicating with the public.

Katie’s passion, and positivity, stood out during her talk and during our interview and it was of real benefit for us to chat with her about all things environmental, political and societal. The outlook wasn’t all doom and gloom, with Katie positively reassuring us that “more and more people are starting to believe in this thing called science…”


Wednesday  9th November

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University of Reading students carrying out interviews over Skype with people at COP22

Farmers Day at COP22.

Session: Role of Farmers in the Implementation of the Paris Agreement

Run by:  World Farmers’ Organisation (WFO) and the International Fertiliser Industry Association (IFA)

“Climate change knows no boundaries – it affects everyone”.

 Particularly in developing countries, farmers have the frontline experience of the direct effects of climate change by witnessing increased weather extremes, decreasing water supplies and soil degradation. As global food security uncertainties grow, farming systems need to adapt to become more resilient and sustainable.

The Paris Agreement came into force on 4th November 2016, ahead of time. Within the Agreement, several top priorities directly involving agriculture include: increasing food security, alleviating world hunger and reducing the vulnerability of food production to climate change. The global food demand is projected to increase by 60 – 70% by 2050, as the global population reaches 10 billion. The question arises: how to sustainably increase food supply whilst combating climate change?

Thomas Malthius once theorised that the finite resources on Earth would limit the world’s population. However, population carries on increasing and in fact, estimates from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) suggest that 40% of population owes its life to higher crop outputs enabled from the use of fertilisers. Sub-Saharan regions in particular have greatly benefited from increased crop yield over the recent years. However, by stimulating soil microbes and denitrification, nitrogen-based fertilisers result in increased nitrous oxide emissions which are even more dangerous than carbon dioxide emissions.

More environmentally friendly alternatives include mineral fertilisers and organic matter, such as locally sourced manure – as advocated through the integrated soil fertility management (ISFM) scheme. However, organic fertilisers are less nutrient rich and it is suggested that there are simply not enough animals to meet demand– not globally, let alone locally.  An idea promoted by the 4R Nutrient Stewartship campaign in Canada focused on ‘Climate Smart Agriculture’: applying the 4R’s to fertiliser usage, i.e. right rate, right time, right place and right source, trying to minimise negative environmental impact.

The session also featured the importance of sharing agricultural knowledge internationally, from Canada to Denmark to Zambia. At the heart of the debate was the issue of land use changes: how should farmers ensure that on a particular type of soil, the most appropriate type of crop is grown to optimise the balance between crop yield and quality? The ‘Food vs Fuel debate was also touched upon, as the amount of land used for biofuels increases, detracting more land from food crops and adding to the imminent problem of deforestation. It is therefore evident that attempting to tackle world hunger comes with many interlinked pieces of the puzzle and the environmental, social and economic importance must all be weighed equally.

Session: The 1.5C challenge: Promises and Pitfalls of Technofix Climate Politics

Run by:  Heinrich Böll Foundation (HBF), ActionAid International and MISEREOR

Paris was the “what”, this is the “how”

In ratifying the Paris Agreement participating governments agreed to make a combined effort to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, giving hope to those most vulnerable to climate change. However, the feasibility of achieving such an ambitious target remains uncertain.

With discussions at COP22 largely focussed on establishing how to reach this goal, the afternoon session featured an engaging discussion around so-called ‘Technofix’ climate mitigation solutions.  The discussion centred on carbon capture and storage (CCS) and solar radiation management technologies as ways in which to limit future levels of warming. Both of these Technofixes involve geoengineering at the planetary scale and unprecedented human intervention with the climate system, with uncertain consequences. But do these solutions solve the problem or do they create renewed problems for those most vulnerable to climate impacts?

ActionAid’s representative Teresa Anderson highlighted that these Technofixes could be a “lose-lose situation” for vulnerable communities. Often these technologies are not yet fully developed, therefore we cannot afford to just wait in hope for them to work and be a silver bullet. Furthermore, models which are used to determine what actions need to be taken are often based on unreasonable assumptions about future economic scenarios, or simply not adequately communicated from the scientists to policy makers. One model assumes the use of 6 billion hectares of land for CCS, but – to put that in context -1.5 billion hectares are currently used for crops.

Another point raised in the session was that only 10% of the population produce 45% of the world’s emissions. This means that high emitters need to be targeted, fossil fuel use must peak as soon as possible, and more transparency about their continued use is needed. More local-level solutions are needed, rather than relying on a one-size-fits-all approach with global geoengineering solutions.

University of Reading students interviewing Teresa Anderson to learn about ActionAid’s participation at COP

After the session, we interviewed Teresa Anderson to learn about ActionAid’s participation at COP. The organisation represents the perspective of the typically underrepresented, most vulnerable communities who have contributed to climate change the least, yet suffer the most. ActionAid works ‘from the ground up’ by gathering first-hand information, such as farmers’ direct experience of how changes in the weather have affected them over the past decade. These views are then brought into light through ActionAid’s negotiations with academic scientists and NGOs here at COP, and it is important to realise that the negotiators really do appreciate hearing about first-hand perspectives of the developing communities. This is a two-way connection facilitated by ActionAid’s involvement in the process: just as information travels from the grassroots up through the chain, the responses have to be carried back across to the developing communities to make them aware that their voices are being heard. Ms. Anderson also highlighted the need for more research into the social and economic impact of new technologies. Instead, funding flows freely into research on ‘shiny new innovative approaches’ without fully addressing their long-term impacts.

Our interview made it clear that COP22 feels very different from the last one: discussions were becoming increasingly exciting in the run-up to Paris, but now the world must come together as one to seriously talk about how to implement the proposed solutions. Ms. Anderson is due to publish a report on the role of the El Nino this year as the hottest year with the biggest drought affecting 400 million people globally. And yet, statistics like these are totally obscured by the excitement of securing a target in Paris in the media, and of course the US presidential election…

Tuesday 8th November.


The second day of COP22 in Marrakech included the official opening of the Indigenous Peoples’ & Local Communities’ Pavilion, accompanied by speeches, meetings and side events. The purpose of the pavilion is to assist with the effective representation of indigenous peoples and communities by providing a space for the gathering of people and effective communication.

The welfare and rights of indigenous peoples remain a priority in the face of projected climate change, given their particularly close links to and reliance on ecosystems and natural resources, and because they are often marginalised from mainstream political discourse and decision-making.

Indigenous people and local communities are particularly vulnerable and disproportionately impacted by climate change, but are also impacted by other drivers of ecosystem destruction and degradation. Yet, they are a minimal source of greenhouse gases. Furthermore, they can play a role in environmental protection and restoration and are a source of traditional knowledge.

The International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change (IIPFCC) was established in 2008 to represent indigenous peoples worldwide in UNFCCC negotiations, although it is recognised that within this extremely diverse group of peoples there are differing priorities. According to the IIPFCC, there are more than 370 million indigenous people worldwide, who speak about 4000 different languages. The IIPFCC is campaigning for dedicated funds to support climate change mitigation and adaptation activities by indigenous peoples.

The University of Reading, including the Walker Institute, carries out a wide range of research projects with relevance to climate change impacts and resilience in local communities. Among the research projects being conducted by NERC SCENARIO students are projects on high impact weather and the ecological impacts of climate change. Improved understanding in these areas can contribute to greater resilience in human communities and ecosystems.

SCENARIO students are attending COP22 and following events remotely from the UK, and the discussions around the welfare of indigenous people and local communities will continue to be tracked.

IIPFCC website:

Monday 7th November.

COPbot makes its debut appearance today at the COP 22 climate change conference in Marrakech!

COP 22 follows the Paris Agreement which came into force on 4 November 2016 with 100 out of 197 Parties now having ratified the Convention. The key goal of the Paris Agreement is to limit future temperature increases to below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and also aim to limit this further to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The target is for global emissions to peak as soon as possible, and then rapidly decline.

Despite the progress made by the Paris Agreement, many challenges still remain. The call for action is becoming increasingly urgent, with 2015 being the warmest year since modern records began and the first six months of 2016 being the hottest recorded.

Countries have submitted their Intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) which set out their plans to cut emissions in order to contribute towards the Paris Agreement targets. However, there is still a large gap between this and emission reductions required to meet the temperature increase limit of 2 degrees.

Proceedings at COP 22 will aim to address this gap and negotiate more ambitious NDCs as well as discuss how these plans might be achieved.


Source: The Emissions Gap Report 2016, UNEP

We will be following proceedings in Marrakech via our robot avatar and our representatives, Caroline Dunning and Josh Talib. Stay tuned for more updates!

#COPbot, #COP22, #EarthtoMarrakech