The optimist sees the glass as being half-full, while for the pessimist it is half-empty. Yet the scientist knows that it’s entirely full: half-water, half-air. The COP24 climate conference, which was organised by the United Nations in Katowice (Poland), concluded on 15 December: the optimist will look at the results achieved and the pessimist at what more could have been done, but to really understand what went on, it’s useful to take a wider look.
And that’s precisely what Enel’s Head of Climate Policies and Renewable Energies, Mariano Morazzo, who was part of the Group’s delegation to the conference, is doing. He believes that the Katowice event needs to be seen in a broader context: the successes and failures of one stage can’t be evaluated without considering the whole journey.
From Rio to Katowice
With the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (which was opened for signature at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio and ratified the following year in New York), the world took note of what science was saying: namely that human activity had caused the average global temperature to rise and that action was needed to limit the concentration of greenhouse gases (especially carbon dioxide) in the atmosphere.
Accordingly, since 1995, the United Nations has organised an annual Conference of the Parties (COP) whose two most important results have been the 1997 Kyoto Protocol (COP3) and the 2015 Paris Agreement (COP21). The latter committed the 184 ratifying member states to adopting actions to keep the increase in global warming to well below 2 degrees above preindustrial levels by the end of the century, and ideally to limit it to 1.5 degrees. To reach this target, every nation was called upon to outline its own roadmap, through its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).
The special report produced in 2018 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the leading international body for assessing the science related to climate change, concluded that the target of 1.5 degrees could be reached only through a major commitment: reducing emissions by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 and reaching net zero emissions by 2050.
The aim at the COP24 in Katowice was to make the Paris Agreement operative by creating clear guidelines for measuring the commitments adopted by individual countries in their fight against climate change. This was achieved: the so-called “Paris Rulebook,” which was approved unanimously (as the regulation requires), defines the criteria for reporting, monitoring and revising the commitments. Morazzo sees this as “a small, but important, step forward because it is not easy to get all the countries to agree on a single document: so it is always a good sign when that happens.”
“All nations showed their commitment. All nations can leave Katowice with a sense of pride, knowing that their efforts have paid off”
Michal Kurtyka, COP24 President
Morazzo explains that “while the judgement on the transparency of the conference is positive, the same cannot be said for two other essential parameters: setting ambitious targets and defining the economic measures needed to reach them. From these two perspectives, COP24 produced little or nothing, because of the differences between the various countries.”
The role of private sector
In mitigation, great work was done at the other events programmed in Katowice, several of which saw Enel’s active involvement. These included the presentation of the Ambition Loop report whose guidelines and conclusions, that climate targets can become more ambitious – to touch on one of the unfulfilled points of COP24 – with the right collaboration in place between governments and the private sector, are shared by Enel. Businesses require clear climate guidelines and, if governments respond to the invitation, they are ready not only to respect these rules but also to move further forwards, towards even more advanced targets, and so on: a virtuous cycle that can be defined an “ambitious cycle.”
The other unresolved aspect of the conference, financial measures, was the focus of an event where Enel again played a leading role. This was the presentation in Katowice of the study produced by Enel Foundation, with the Harvard Environmental Economics Program, on Article 6 – the clause of the Paris Agreement specifically dealing with the emissions market and other financial mechanisms.
Enel also contributed to two further events: one focused on the on-going energy transition in Peru and the other on that in Brazil. In both cases, Enel’s experience has shown that a large Group that is attentive to sustainability can play an important role.
The role of the private sector confirms a hugely significant phenomenon, according to Morazzo: the commitment of governments is not enough to safeguard the climate, but the hesitations of the climate conference don’t necessarily mean failure for the decarbonisation process that has already started. For example, the two largest greenhouse gas producers in the world, China and the United States, are both investing in clean energy. This is not only in order to fight pollution, which is suffocating China’s cities in particular, but also because of the financial advantages. Thanks to technological innovation, the cost of renewable sources (and the batteries that are indispensable to their full integration) has dropped, making them increasingly competitive.
Before making a judgement, therefore, it is necessary to have a broad approach and place COP24 in context, not only in the historical setting of climate initiatives, but also in the present social, economical and technological scenario. Looking at the big picture allows us to continue to have faith.