Day 1 – The City of Black Gold


– The City of Black Gold 

Imagine yourself in a very big and open room. To your right you have a couple of aisles with some wooden doors that lead to meeting rooms. Most likely you don’t have access to those. There are some escalators to go to the second floor and find some other rooms. Behind you, the glass entrance door, with some cold air filtrations (not the most energy efficient). To your left you have a welcoming booth, where you got you backpack and water bottle. There are also some spaces for media. Straight of you, you see that image, the one you might have already seen in pictures, an image of white stairs with the COP24 logo and a bunch of attendees (including me a little bit later) getting their picture for the history. 

Welcome to Poland 

This is COP24 main hall. Everywhere you see, there are people – people everywhere.People everywhere, and from everywhere. The diversity you see at this place is noticeable. Languages you might have never heard first handed. It colors the room and fills it with new air.

From the far everything looks convoluted. Once closer examined, things appear more common. With each of my steps, this place became less of a news article an more of a personal experience. 

This is my experience during this COP, in Katowice, Poland – Europe’s coal capital (by far). And trust me, this is not the “clean coal”. 

“There is no plan today to fully give up on coal (…) Experts point out that our supplies run for another 200 years, and it would be hard not to use them” – Poland’s President Andrzej Duda

In Poland, 80% of energy comes from coal, the most polluting source in environmental terms, and the most harming one for human health. The country is home to 33 of the 50 most polluted cities in the European Union. Approximately 100,000 people worked in the mining industry in Poland as of 2015. After reading these numbers it is not hard to understand why the greatest commitment the country had made was to decrease to 60% the TPES coming from coal. You can read more here.

Getting to Katowice was an Odyssey (courtesy of Delta and KLM). But, after 63,692.6 kg of aircraft fuel burnt, and 560.8 kg of CO2 (per person) emitted,  we made it to Kraków. (You can calculate your emissions from flying in ICAO’s website). 

The first day at COP24 left we with a bizarre sensation. On the one hand, seeing so many people with the interest of changing the way we are living, is empowering. On the other one though, doing so in the same way that we are trying to change could seem a little bit contradictory. Just the thought of the amount of coal burnt to keep these unsealed venues warm during a snowy day is enough to paint the picture. Or the pine logs at one country’s pavilion that were put to represent the forest, when they needed to clear a tiny patch of this forest in order to create this fake impression. 

But that’s part of life. 

The amount of things happening simultaneously is enormous, so massive it seemed that there are different conferences within this one conference. Whichever issue you are interested in, you would find that you have to make decisions as for where to go every single hour. Between side evens, meetings, country’s pavilions, NGO talks, and just chatting with people… The schedule is tight, and no matter how badly you want to sleep, you forget about it as soon as you walk up those stairs. 

Conclusions from Day 1

My main interest is in energy transitions, since we cannot even think of a future if we do not stop putting gases into the atmosphere, and energy is a key piece in this puzzle. Thus, energy I followed.

Beautiful (most likely coal-powered) lights in Kraków.

The conclusions from the talks on Monday are clear: we need to decarbonize our economies. No one will turn off the switch and pause their economic development, which is absolutely the correct thing to do. However, we cannot continue to use the same switch for ever and ever. We need to transition to clean energies (and for the sadness of some, this does not include natural gas).

You can see the USA: U.S. Innovative Technologies Spur Economic Dynamism panel here

New Zealand, and its soul mate Costa Rica, are heading in this direction. You can read more about these two countries in this post

One way to help this transition is by putting a price to carbon emissions, and using its revenues either for research and development on new technologies, or to give the revenues directly to the public. You can guess which is the most popular option. You can read about examples of carbon pricing here, and about some examples here.

There is no consensus on what this price should be, but it is common knowledge that we consume less of a product as it becomes more and more expensive. Basic demand and supply laws (thanks economists).

Communicating this price on carbon is key for it success. For example, it is better to talk about “putting a price on carbon” instead of “carbon tax” since people do not like taxes (obvious fact). One should be very clear regarding where the revenues will go. Also, identifying your opponents will be important. For example, in Washington state, BP spent $13 million to defeat a a carbon tax of $40 per ton of CO2.

You can read everything about how to better communicate carbon pricing in this guide.

Highlights from Day 1

  • The first talked I attended, about energy transitions towards decarbonization, had an all women panel, which has to be a sign of progress. The public seemed engaged, with the exception of the girl next to me who spent all the talk at Instagram. Priorities I guess.
From left to right: Stephanie Lee, New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade • Azahara Merino Martos, Secretaría Confederal de Medio Ambiente y Movilidad de CCOO • Monica Araya, Costa Rica Limpia • Hannah McKinnon, Oil Change International • Cleo Verkuijl, Stockholm Environment Institute 
  • One of the talks I attended started 30 minutes late. Morale of the story: things are not always as organized as they seem. 
  • A panelist from one of the talks seemed to be more interested at taking pictures of his public than at listening to his panel partners. Quite an awkward moment.
  • Fossil of the day award for coal producers.
Fossil of the Day Award at COP24
  • Getting food was so hard, I ended up eating lunch at 5 pm – and sitting space is so limited, I ended up having lunch with a stranger.
  • Being an incredible researcher does not make you a good speaker.
  • Finding power stations became a challenge – maybe they are saving energy after all.