Why I'm going to COP21

From Nov. 30 – Dec. 11, the 21st meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will take place in Paris. The primary purpose of this meeting will be to craft a legally-binding accord to curtail climate change and its effects (The Carbon Brief has a great visualization of the actual text up for negotiation). But there are lots of other climate-related events happening in Paris over the coming two weeks, and I'll be headed there to see how the conversation at both the official and unofficial events reflects the growing importance of carbon removal solutions (i.e. "negative emissions" technologies capable of cleaning up excess carbon dioxide that has accumulated in the atmosphere).

Expectations for a climate accord. The primary reason for the COP21 meetings may be to agree on an internationally-binding climate agreement, but that's not the main reason I'll be headed to Paris. We already know that whatever deal is reached in Paris will not be the endgame for curtailing climate change. A recent UNFCCC report analyzed all of the national climate action plans submitted in advance of COP21, and found that these commitments are unlikely to reduce global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030 -- they will only reduce the rate at which GHG emissions are growing. The consequence is that these climate pledges fall far short of our stated climate goal of limiting warming to 2C (3.6F) compared to pre-industrial times. 

What is critical to come out of COP21, then, is a framework for ratcheting up climate action over time, and discussion on what tools will be required to meet these more stringent goals.

The lack of official conversation on carbon removal. The conversation on what tools we will need to meet more stringent goals -- especially carbon removal solutions -- is the primary reason why I'm headed to Paris for the climate talks. Unfortunately, carbon removal appears to be quite under the radar in the official conversation at COP21. Take the officially accredited side events as well as the activities at the Climate Generations area at COP21 site: of the hundreds of events planned, not a single one is dedicated to discussing the role of carbon removal in meeting future climate goals. To be fair, there are a few carbon removal related events (such as discussion on carbon capture and storage, and on soil carbon sequestration) that could discuss the link to negative emissions, but any link to negative emissions is not clear from these events' descriptions.

The omission of carbon removal from the officially-accredited conversation at COP21 is a major gap in the international climate change discussion. Around 90% of the scenarios in the IPCC that are consistent with 2C of warming show net-negative emissions globally by the end of the century, and massive deployments of negative-emissions energy systems are projected to be deployed in only a few decades in many of the aggressive decarbonization scenarios. To not discuss the challenges associated with large-scale carbon removal systems is a big omission, to say the least.

Where carbon removal conversation is happening at COP21.

I am excited that a number of unofficial events will be bringing light to the important issues surrounding carbon removal. I will be speaking at a panel discussion hosted by the NGO Bellona on the role of  bioenergy+CCS in meeting negative emissions goals on Dec. 10th. And lots of others, such as the XPRIZE Foundation, the Virgin Earth Challenge, Project Drawdown, and All Power Labs, will be in town to share the progress they are making on their carbon management efforts. I also hope to attend many of the other events to help share the story of carbon removal, and to help build the necessary industry and policy support to catalyze action to develop carbon removal solutions. 


Have an event related to carbon removal at COP21 I should check out? Leave the details in the comments and I’ll do my best to attend and spread the word via our social media!