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#COP24 - Poland, Europe, and coal: trolling or misunderstanding?

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From the outset of the COP24, international media coverage has harshly criticized the event’s Polish hosts for their “provocative” spotlighting of Poland’s coal industry and broader “coal addiction”. The controversies in Katowice have re-ignited tensions between Poland and the European Union over emissions targets, energy transitions, and the country’s enduring reliance on coal power. Beneath the surface, however, they may also help representatives from the industrialized countries at the event better appreciate just how much of a sacrifice they are asking their counterparts from the world’s emerging markets to make, writes Louis Auge.

Located in the coal mining region of Silesia, Katowice was always going to be a controversial choice for the COP24 climate talks. Michal Kurtyka, the COP24’s president and a state secretary in Poland’s Ministry of Energy, described the decision to bring the conference to Katowice as a strategic attempt to put on display a city and region that is being asked to transition away from its lifeblood.

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While outside criticisms of Poland are severe, a closer look at the domestic context explains the country’s enduring attachment to coal power. Coal accounts for 80% of Poland’s electricity generation and employs 85,000 people, serving as a key pillar of an economy that has only been considered “developed” as of the past three months .

These factors are critical to understanding Warsaw’s opposition to the European Union’s carbon emissions reduction aims and decarbonization plans. While most of Europe expects to be coal-free by 2025, Poland recently announced it expects coal to meet 60% of its energy needs in 2030. As Kuryka put it: “How does one tell a region of 5 million people – in over 70 cities across the region – to just move on, your world is that of the past?”

Of course, Poland is hardly the only COP24 participant that relies on coal to meet its energy needs. In fact, the Poles are merely saying loudly what a number of emerging economies have been telling the international community for years. Key players in the global climate debate, including India and China but also the ASEAN countries and major economies in sub-Saharan Africa, rely on coal and will continue to do so for decades to come.

While coal has been dying out in other parts of the world, Southeast Asia’s appetite for coal has been on the rise. With an aim to achieve universal access to electricity by the early 2030s, and a projected 60% increase in energy use by 2040, coal power is expected to account for 40% of the growth in energy demand in the region.

Not only does Asia currently account for three-quarters of global coal consumption, but three-fourths of coals plants either in the planning stages or under construction are located in Asia. Even in India, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi has touted himself as a proponent of clean energy, the government continues to build coal mines and plants. As an affordable and easily accessible energy source, coal is the bedrock of the power grid in a country where up to 400 million people still lack access to reliable electricity.

Switching away from coal presents unique challenges for emerging countries, most of which are still working towards providing their citizens with reliable electricity. “With the Germans, they can say ‘We’re moving from driving a Corolla to a BMW’, while we are still trying to get the bicycle,” said Themisile Majola, South Africa’s deputy energy minister. “They’re talking about different technologies, we’re talking about access.” Recent comments by World Bank president Jim Yong Kim helped highlight this dichotomy between industrialized and emerging economies, with the developing world facing energy shortages and resenting outside pressure not to exploit coal.

As Kim encapsulated the arguments put forth by developing countries: “You’ve come to us in Africa who have put almost none of the carbon in the air and you can tell us we can’t have baseload electricity. You’re outraged by climate change, we have almost no responsibility for putting the carbon in the air and yet you’re telling us we can’t develop and have baseload energy because we can’t use a single drop of fossil fuel for our own energy needs. And I can tell you, when I hear that from our leaders, from people in industry, in places like Africa, it’s compelling to me.”

What, then, are the ways forward for those COP24 participants who see greater urgency to reduce carbon emissions? One avenue is to dedicate greater focus to carbon capture and utilization (CCU) or storage (CCS) technologies. These can both reduce emissions from coal plants around the planet and reduce them from other industrial sources. Simply put, CCS is a process of extracting CO2 from the atmosphere and storing it, whereas in CCU, the CO2 is used to make other substances, like plastics, concrete or biofuel.

Another path forward: working closer to home. Coal has become the global fossil fuel bogeyman, but oil and natural gas are also largely responsible for failures to meet global emissions goals. The continued rise in greenhouse gas emissions, even as coal power generation declines across much of Europe and North America, has been attributed to a stronger demand for natural gas and oil due to cheaper gas prices and people driving longer distances.

The activists and groups criticizing Poland for its attitude at the COP24, or pressuring countries in Asia and Africa to switch technologies they are not necessarily equipped to adopt, may want to spend some of their energy lobbying their neighbours to take up less-polluting forms of transportation. Western environmentalists may ultimately have an easier time getting their compatriots out of their cars than asking Asians and Africans to make energy sacrifices they can ill-afford.

Air quality

Powering a climate-neutral economy: Commission sets out plans for the energy system of the future and clean hydrogen, and launches the #EuropeanCleanHydrogenAlliance

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To become climate-neutral by 2050, Europe needs to transform its energy system, which accounts for 75% of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions. The EU strategies for energy system integration and hydrogen, adopted today (8 July), will pave the way towards a more efficient and interconnected energy sector, driven by the twin goals of a cleaner planet and a stronger economy.

The two strategies present a new clean energy investment agenda, in line with the Commission’s Next Generation EU recovery package and the European Green Deal. The planned investments have the potential to stimulate the economic recovery from the coronavirus crisis. They create European jobs and boost our leadership and competitiveness in strategic industries, which are crucial to Europe’s resilience.

To help deliver on this Strategy, the Commission is launching today the European Clean Hydrogen Alliance with industry leaders, civil society, national and regional ministers and the European Investment Bank. The Alliance will build up an investment pipeline for scaled-up production and will support demand for clean hydrogen in the EU. The alliance will be built on the principles of cooperation, inclusiveness and transparency. The focus of the European Clean Hydrogen Alliance is on renewable hydrogen, complemented during a transition period by low-carbon hydrogen with very ambitious CO2 emission reductions compared to fossil-based hydrogen.The European Clean Hydrogen Alliance launch event will be live streamed here at 16h00.

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Follow the press conference by Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal Timmermans and Commissioner for Energy Simson live on EbS.

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50 airports now #CarbonNeutral in Europe

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Ahead of the COP25 due to kick off in Santiago de Chile next month, European airport trade body ACI EUROPE today gives an update on the progress airports have made to deliver on their commitment to reach 100 carbon neutral airports by 20301. This commitment is a major interim step towards their Net Zero by 2050 vision & pledge2 - which is part of the wider Sustainability Strategy for Airports3 launched last June by ACI EUROPE.

With the successful upgrade today of six Lapland Airports4 operated by Finavia (the Finnish airport operator) to Level 3+ Neutrality of the global CO2 management standard, Airport Carbon Accreditation, there are now 50 carbon neutral airports in Europe5.

ACI EUROPE Director General Olivier Jankovec said: "Just 3 years after committing to 100 carbon neutral airports by 2030, the European airport industry is now halfway through to achieve that goal. The 50 airports that have become carbon neutral under Airport Carbon Accreditation welcome over one-fourth of the continent’s passenger traffic - with a mix of major hubs & smaller regional airports amongst them.”

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Carbon neutrality currently represents the highest level of carbon management performance under Airport Carbon Accreditation. In order to reach it, airports need to reduce CO2 emissions from those sources under their control as much as possible, and compensate for the remaining residual emissions with investment in high-quality carbon offsets. Carbon neutral airports at Level 3+ of the Airport Carbon Accreditation have to provide evidence of undertaking all the actions required by the programme (mapping their emissions, reducing them and engaging operational stakeholders on the airport site to do the same), before investing in carbon offsets.

Jankovec added: "While the net zero concept does not allow for offsetting, reaching carbon neutrality first allows airports to grow towards more ambitious CO2 management & restrictions in a progressive way. With the commitment of the European airport industry to reach Net Zero CO2 emissions under their control by 2050 an absolute priority, Europe’s airports continue their steady pace to reach the goalposts between their current carbon management level and the ambitious objective ahead."

Niclas Svenningsen, who heads the Climate Neutral Now initiative at the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) Secretariat in Bonn, Germany commented: « We are delighted to see more and more airports in Europe achieving their hard-won carbon neutrality each year. We note that the momentum airports have created through their decade-long progress within Airport Carbon Accreditation has been further galvanized by the growing urgency to respond to the Climate Emergency. »

He added: « Europe’s airports continue to be an example to follow in the field of non-state action to address the climate emergency. While having their eyes on the big goal of reaching Net Zero carbon emissions from their operations by 2050, they continue their incremental work to reduce their climate impact. This, is exactly the kind of industry leadership we need to address the daunting and unprecedented challenge that Climate Change represents.”

1View the pledge here.

2Learn more about the Net Zero by 2050 commitment here. 

3Download your copy of the ACI EUROPE Sustainability Strategy here.

4Lapland Airports: Enontekiö (ENF), Ivalo (IVL), Kemi-Tornio (KEM), Kittilä (KTT), Kuusamo (KAO) and Rovaniemi (RVN)

5Download the full list of carbon neutral airports here:
The full list of carbon neutral airports.pdf

The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has estimated that aviation’s total CO2 emissions account for 2% of global emissions’ impact on climate change. Of that figure, airports’ own operations only account for up to 5%.

Airport Carbon Accreditation is the only global standard for carbon management at airports. Its aim is to encourage and enable airports to reduce their emissions. Within its framework, airports can become accredited at four progressively ambitious levels of accreditation: Mapping, Reduction, Optimization and Neutrality. 

It is independently administered, institutionally-endorsed and has already won praise from the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and the European Commission (EC).

Originally developed and launched by ACI EUROPE in June 2009, Airport Carbon Accreditation was extended to airports in Asia-Pacific, in November 2011 (in partnership with ACI Asia-Pacific) and to African airports in June 2013, (in partnership with ACI Africa), North American airports in September 2014 (in partnership with ACI-NA) and airports in Latin America & Caribbean in December 2014 (in partnership with ACI-LAC).

To find out which airports are certified & their level of certification, click here.

ACI EUROPE is the European region of Airports Council International (ACI), the only worldwide professional association of airport operators. ACI EUROPE represents over 500 airports in 45 European countries. Our members facilitate over 90% of commercial air traffic in Europe: 2.3 billion passengers, 21.2 million tonnes of freight and 25.7 million aircraft movements in 2018. In response to the Climate Emergency, in June 2019 our members committed to achieve net zero carbon emissions for operations under their control by 2050, without offsetting.

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Air quality

Clarkson calls eco warrior #GretaThunberg 'spoilt brat'

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Jeremy Clarkson (pictured) has weighed into eco-activist Greta Thunberg, calling her a “spoilt brat”.

Greta, 16, told the United Nations her childhood had been ruined by global changing.

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She said: “I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean.

“Yet you all come to us for hope.

“How dare you.

“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.”

Clarkson said: “How dare you sail to America on a carbon fibre yacht that you didn’t build which cost £15million, that you didn’t earn, and which has a back-up diesel engine that you didn’t mention.

“We gave you mobile phones and laptops and the internet.

“We created the social media you use every day and we run the banks that pay for it all.

“So how dare you stand there and lecture us, you spoilt brat.”

He claimed science will solve the earth’s problem “not scowling and having screaming ab-dabs every five minutes”.

He concluded: “So be a good girl, shut up and let them get on with it.”

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