15 November 2016

Chemical engineers focus on investing in the planet at COP22

InvestPlanet Speakers at COP22
More must be done to incentivise and prioritise low-carbon technologies, concluded chemical engineers at yesterday’s side event during the UNFCCC 22nd Conference of Parties (COP22) in Marrakech, Morocco. The side event, Investing in the Planet: Green banks and other financial tools to scale-up mitigation technologies, was hosted by the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE), Imperial College London, and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

The event looked examined practical solutions to implement the Paris Agreement, with the help of chemical engineers and financial institutions. Dr Rachael Hall, from IChemE’s Energy Centre Board gave the first presentation, an overview of deployment technologies available to mitigate climate change.

Outlining the various pathways to a zero-carbon economy, as demonstrated in IChemE’s technical policy document Chemical Engineering Matters, Dr Hall said:

“Our reliance on fossil fuels will not stop overnight, but IChemE’s energy vista shows how chemical engineering can support a variety of solutions. We need to make better use of waste streams, we need to integrate our processes and ensure each and every Joule of energy is efficiently used.”

Her presentation discussed the benefits of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). Hall acknowledged that the most efficient use of CCS is as a bridging technology during the transition from oil and gas, and highlighted the various benefits including that it still remains the lowest cost storage solution.

Concluding her presentation with her own knowledge of smart networks, Hall spoke about the right investment needed to maximise the potential and accessibility of technologies. She made clear that a low-carbon world would still need to provide the resilience and capacity the world's growing population had become accustomed to.

Hall said: “We need to invest in the future, build a strong research base and collaborate with an open-minded network of experts and enthusiasts.”

Mark Apsey, also a Board member of IChemE’s Energy Centre, gave his presentation on the pathways for organisations to deliver energy efficiency projects. Outlining various ‘road blocks’ to implementing greener energy solutions, he made clear that more needed to be done to incentivise delivery.

Apsey said: “There is an inherent short-termism in organisations, and no pressure to look at energy efficiency as a priority area. We need direct intervention from government to help tackle this – either by implementing a climate change tax, or by offering rewards to those who comply. There also needs to be a way to enforce efficiency technologies – taking inspiration from UK Health and Safety legislation, companies must be pressured to report their annual emissions.”

Apsey concluded that there were three areas that needed to be tackled if the targets outlined in the Paris Agreement were to be reached – energy security, energy affordability and low carbon energy efficiency.

“Currently the low carbon element is the lowest priority for government – that is understandable, but the 2050 targets can only be achieved if all three work together. We need clearer and longer term strategies that give confidence to investors and organisations to implement projects.”

Providing clarity in terms of how climate change initiatives could be financed, Imperial Business School’s Dr Charles Donovan gave his take on innovative finance – and encouraged a different approach by government to reconnect mainstream investors with green technologies.

He said: “Innovative finance through green banks can reduce interest rate risks and generate scale. If the capital costs are covered by governments, the opportunity for growth by investors is increased. More public funds are needed to reduce capital costs for private sector investors.”

NRDC’s Douglas Sims echoed similar sentiments, highlighting that in order to reach climate change goals the world cannot rely on public funding alone. Sims cited that China requires 80% of the finance needed to mitigate climate change from the private sector.

Focusing on the Green Investment Bank model and how it has already helped to deliver low-carbon projects, Sims said:

“Green Investment Banks have the in-house financial and technical capability to understand real risks to commercialising projects. They can deploy public purpose capital efficiency to maximise capital investment, working with risk-adverse advisors, and they can use market knowledge to implement lower prices and spark demand.”

The event was chaired by Dr Robert Gross, Director of Imperial’s Centre for Energy Policy and Technology, and streamed live on YouTube as part of the COP22 proceedings. The full version is still available to watch online.

IChemE’s Energy Centre will be actively engaging in the COP22 program until the conference concludes on Friday 18 November. Those interested should follow @EnergyIChemE on Twitter, and join the discussion with #InvestPlanet.

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