Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Day 6 @ COP15: People Power

I woke up to sirens and helicopters buzzing overhead. Today was the big protest day everyone had circle on their calendar. Especially the local Danes who had apparently been cautioned by their leaders to seek refuge outside of Copenhagen with relatives and friends lest the unrest get out of control. Civil society organizations led by TckTckTck and 350.org had organized a march starting in the town centre of town and ending at the Bella Conference Centre approximately 6 km away. Organizers claimed they had 100,000 participants while police put the figure at around 30,000. Happily for all involved, “only” 350-400 protesters were arrested.

My personal participation was slightly more circumscribed. I skipped the march in 2 degree Celsius temperatures in favour of an early morning run, relaxing latte on-the-go and attendance at a candlelight vigil at the Bella Centre. Inbetween, I joined a few delegates in the Bella Centre watching the flatscreens beam in the march to the conference.

Greenpeace has an outdoor “Climate Rescue Station” within the conference grounds that provides delegates with free organic coffee on most days of the conference, but provided a special treat at 4 pm this afternoon. Mary Robinson, the former UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu joined a group of conference delegates beside two ice sculptures and spoke passionately about their views on climate change. (Having missed a Nelson Mandela speech in Toronto shortly after his release from prison, I was not about to miss another giant in the anti-Apartheid movement.)

Tutu was quite the elf as he spoke about the responsibility of rich nations to clean up the “mess” they created with their emissions over the years, but also told rich people that they are “beautiful” and that “poor people want to become rich too!” He punctuated his speech with yelps and whoops that animated the crowd and was in contrast to the passionate yet rather professional speech provided by Robinson. Perhaps his message could be distilled to this one point: “We have only one world.”

Tuvalu Keeps Pleading

In the COP plenary today, Tuvalu clarified to all assembled that it was not attempting to embarrass the Danish government. However, the delegate reminded everyone that its entire population lives below 2 meters above sea level and the highest point on the island is 4 meters above sea level. Its delegate expressed frustration that it appears the COP is basically waiting for some US senators to conclude their business before any decisions can be made.

Renewable Energy in Europe

On a professional note, I attended a side event put on by the European Renewable Energy Council entitled “Renewable Energy – The Key Solution to Mitigate Climate Change.” Besides EREC, Greenpeace also had a panel speaker and both groups were singing from the same songbook. They provided an overview of the renewable energy industry in the EU and a path forward to enhance its role in mitigation.


The renewable energy industry in the EU now boasts 450,000 jobs and has annual revenues of 45 Billion Euro per year. Globally, that job figure jumps to 1.3 million. Wind is obviously the technology of choice, but the rate of solar PV uptake (60%/yr.) is the highest and power generated from the latter should eventually surpass the former by 2020. Renewable energy’s share of the overall EU electricity generation is currently pegged at 16.4% and should hit 24.4% by 2020, thus easily surpassing the 20-20-20 goal of 20% by 2020.

The Way Forward

The panel provided a basic three-step process forward to ensure the benefits of renewable energy are maximized. These steps are:
  1. Energy Efficiency: A kilowatt saved is a kilowatt that doesn’t need to be generated. This is the low-hanging fruit in reducing our emissions and should be tackled first.
  2. Structural Changes: The big changes to the energy industry will be more decentralized energy generation (e.g. solar PV) and greater use of large-scale renewables. A smart grid will be the prerequisite to the successful exploitation of these options.
  3. Energy Efficient Transport: The final step will be a transportation revolution where the focus is on mass transit investment, more efficient personal vehicles and the use of sustainable biofuels.
Greenpeace naturally argued for an early-phase out of nuclear energy as renewables ramp up followed by a coal phase-out. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to ask the speaker what he thought of Ontario’s reverse process of phasing out coal by 2012 while nuclear continues to play a workhorse role as a baseload provider. Regardless, the picture they painted was of a fast-growing industry that could be repeated in other jurisdictions. Speaking to panelist Joshce Muth of EREC afterwards, he expressed a keen desire for Ontario’s Green Energy Act to succeed and provide some new inspiration to the German Feed-in Tariff program once it comes under review later in the decade.

My Morning on the Town

I had my first solid sleep last night and finally felt ready to go for a Copenhagen run. I managed to get myself tossed out of the botanical gardens but this provided me with an excuse to visit the King’s Gardens and check out some Danish symmetry at its finest. It also allowed me to see how the Danish buy and sell Christmas trees. Their cute little 150-180 metre trees are apparently sold on street corners in stands of about a dozen. Interestingly, they are charged at 40 Danish Kroner per metre! I also discovered Studio Street (aka mini Soho) and hope to get back there before my trip is done.

Warmingly Yours,

Climate Rob

(Big) Picture of the Day

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