Generations old and new send clean energy message to Doha

By Tierney Smith

Should wind power and other renewable technologies take focus when countries look to tackle climate change? (Source: Gonzalo Deniz/Flickr)

For many it may seem odd that one of the main solutions to climate change, renewable energy, is not top of the agenda at the UN climate talks.

Investment in renewable energy will be vital for any country wanting to tackle global warming.

As we move away from a fossil fuel powered planet, alternative energy sources from renewables such as wind and solar, to other sources such as nuclear and biomass will all have a role to play in keeping the lights on – and the cars running.

In many ways these topics are discussed at the UN negotiations. Parties debate market-based mechanisms, funding for the developing world and how to phase out fossil fuels.

Each of these paths eventually leads back to energy.

At the end of this month, the 195 nations party to the UN climate change convention will meet in Doha.

Ahead of talks, the Make the Link Climate exChange project brought children from UK secondary schools across the country together with some of the UK’s top climate change experts to lay out their priorities when it comes to climate action.

Top of the agenda at the COP18 summit will be the second phase of the Kyoto Protocol, the current legally binding commitment on emissions, and building the framework for the new climate deal that will include rich and poor, agreed in Durban last year to be ready for 2015.

But while countries battle to come up with targets to limit the world’s global carbon footprint, and the amount of greenhouse gases each country will be allowed to emit, would there not also be room to look at targets for reducing fossil fuel energy or for generating renewable energy?

As the students addressed the question ‘should renewable energy be given priority when it comes to global climate change efforts’, they too asked this question.

Student Exchange

With speakers including Professor Brian Hoskins, Director of Imperial University’s Grantham Institute, Professor Chris Rapley from University College London and Elizabeth Anderson, Government Liaison Officer for the UK Youth Climate Coalition, discussion topics included intergenerational justice, decarbonisation, planetary boundaries and embedded emissions.

Following Hoskins’ short presentation on how the UK must decarbonise to meet the Climate Change Act’s target of 80% by 2050; he was quizzed by one school on how much influence he has on policy makers.

His answer, not enough.

China was another interesting area of discussion. One girl asked the panel if the UK should be dictating to countries like China on climate change.

“We have to walk the talk,” said Rapley.

Along with Hoskins he warned that countries could not dictate another’s climate policy, but they could lead the way.

For anyone who has observed the negotiations, the China/USA example is a good example of this argument.

The USA believes China, as the world’s current biggest carbon emitter should take more action. Meanwhile China, an emerging economy, wants those countries historically responsible for climate change to ‘walk the talk’ and take action first.

Anderson highlighted the role the COP talks play in bringing young people from across the world together in one place, so that they can learn from one another.

While the parties in the negotiation halls may not, the youth groups work together and share ideas to take back to their own countries, she told the students.

Fossil fuels vs. renewables

The first solar panel was built in 1881, one of the students pointed out, so why has it taken so long for these technologies to develop? Can business and governments be trusted to not hold back these technologies?

“Fossil fuels were fantastic,” said Rapley. They saw to everybody’s needs and they improved the quality of life for huge sections of society. They helped businesses grow and people become richer.

“Nothing could compete with fossil fuels,” he added.

Unfortunately we did not see the damage these fuels were doing until it was too late, explained Hoskins.

“When you are asked if you are angry at what grown-ups have done,” he said. “You have to remember they were not aware of what they were doing.”

And what about the materials involved in the renewable energy technologies? Many of these are mined and travel vast distances to arrive in the UK.

Rapley called for life-cycle assessments on all possible future technologies. We must understand what goes into these devices and the impacts they have, he said.

Anderson too weighed up the benefits of different power sources. Not only in terms of the materials used, but also the wider benefits and impacts. The food vs. fuel debate surrounding biofuels, for example, she warned was an important debate to have.

As are the debates around nuclear and the impact of radioactive waste, she added. “This waste will be around for longer than the Catholic Church has been around today,” she said.

Other questions put to the panel included how to tackle climate change deniers, how high could CO2 levels go if countries stopped emitting today and why climate change is not included on the national curriculum.

Heading to COP

Many of the pupils when asked had never heard of the COP talks. But their questions showed both a level of understanding and a level of interest on climate change, above that of many older generations.

When asked about their own priorities for climate change action, their answers showed the breadth of interest among young people in environmental issues. While one boy called for a strong, secure and clean energy mix, another called for countries to wean themselves off fossil fuels.

Another young girl called for the rate of extinction loss and the impacts of climate change on biodiversity to be a key talking point.

As politicians and negotiators make their final preparations for the Doha conference, maybe they too should be asking what is important to the young people of their countries when it comes to their own actions on climate change.

Read more on: COP18 | Renewables | Research | | | |