COP22: What next? - Q&A from the IChemE Energy Centre's latest discussion on climate change

20th January 2017

Last week (Thursday 12 January), the IChemE Energy Centre welcomed participants both online and in person to discuss the outcomes of 'COP22 - what next?'.

Hosted by Chair of the IChemE Energy Centre, Professor Stefaan Simons, at the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), UK, participants first heard from Board members Dr Rachael Hall, Model Site Lead - Severn Trent Innovation Team, and Mark Apsey, Technical Services Director - Ameresco Limited, about their experience at COP22 in Marrakech.

This was followed by Dr Alison Cooke, Founder and Consultant - Cooke Associates, who gave a brief overview of what it's like to work with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) as a mechanical engineer.

The audience was then invited for a discussion on on the outcomes of COP22 and the next steps we must take to implement the Paris Agreement.


Rachael gave an overview of the various low carbon technologies that had the potential to achieve a zero-carbon economy.

Rachael Hall and Mark Apsey at COP22

Using IChemE’s Chemical Engineering Matters framework she concentrated on what we can do now, what we can do soon, and what we can do in the future to mitigate climate change.

She encouraged those listening to try and see pro's and con's of all the technologies available, despite their own bias.

Mark focused on how we can accelerate deployment of energy efficiency across organisations, and outlined the various ‘road blocks’ to implementation.

"Rachael has highlighted that there are all kinds of different solutions, but to realise the benefits we have to follow the same process and project steps to implementation."

You can read about Rachael and Mark's participation in COP22 here. 

Alison gave a presentation similar to the public talks she gives about inspiring action for climate change. She has been attending COP meetings for years, and highlighted the importance of engineers speaking to the public and governments to make an impact in today's policy decisions.

Alison is part of the Future Energy Climate Solutions steering group, which involves members of four UK engineering institutions (including us!) to create an engineers voice for climate change at global gatherings like COP.

You can watch the webinar event below:


Climate change is a really interesting topic to have between members, particularly when there are chemical engineers from a variety of sectors in attendance. This event was no different, as we asked participants to focus their questions on the following broader topics:

1. What are the solutions for climate change? 2. What does a low-carbon future energy mix look like? 3. How do we priorities low-carbon solutions? 4. How can we finance low-carbon solutions? 5. How do we speed up implementation?

Questions from the audience and online participants included:

How are engineers best placed to drive change?

What should we do next to help countries prepare for their targets?

Should we be getting involved in national contributions?

How do engineers act as a collective unit when the disciplines all have competing factors?

Will it take legislation in research and development to prevent the production of carbon-intensive technologies?

Find out what the panel had to say in the video below (Q&A starts at 58:00).

What do you think?

We also received a fantastic response online, and unfortunately we didn't get time to answer them all during the event.

Some of our panel have added their thoughts in already, but we would love to hear from readers of the blog.

Just leave a comment below, indicating the question number you are referring to.

1. How can engineers play a bigger role in engaging the public on these issues and influencing government policies? For example, the recent news of the potential sale of the Green Investment Bank has barely made the news?

(Mark): There are various ways chemical engineers can get involved through IChemE and the Energy Centre specifically to help create policy ideas based on our systems thinking approach. Within the Energy Centre we have a number of working groups covering resource and energy efficiency, CCS, nuclear, etc. We also hold events throughout the year. Please volunteer and join in.(Alison): We can offer to give talks, through our regional committees, connect with our local MP, and with government through our institutions. School talks are another avenue.

2. Engineers in UK lost the nuclear power debate, even though nuclear power offers low CO2 energy. Are there lessons that can be learnt from the retreat in nuclear power? Now there appears to be some rejection of wind power, due to the turbines being a blot on the landscape. Will engineers lose the wind debate in the future? Chemical engineers need to argue our case better.

(Alison): Let's not lose! we engineers need to get more involved.

3. Engineers are part of the problem. It is important for all engineers to exhibit personal and professional behaviours to do their best to promote efficient use of low carbon energy. Many engineers I deal with just don't and they need challenging. So we need to lead the way.

(Alison): Yes! Let's walk the talk, like Professor David MacKay.

4. David MacKay developed a number of possible renewable scenarios in his book, basically restricting himself to what might be practicable for this country. He also took the trouble to look at population growth and energy consumption. The rate of progress in this country just in trying to get a national strategy is plain pathetic, the possibility of the lights going out seems to be growing. How can we get a national forum started, and somehow get the numbers at COP down to something sensible?

(Alison): It's a great book! Personally I think that the COP events are a great wait to get involved in the international scene, but only if you have a secure pass.

5. The US has had the greatest decrease in emissions due to the use of gas rather than coal, this has come about due to fracking which is pilloried by the environmental groups despite it’s positive impact. How can a balanced and numbers debate be encouraged? Ireland has already banned fracking despite being almost entirely reliant on imported fossil fuels.

(Alison): My understanding is that the long-term effects of fracking are still not known, according to Professor McKenzie - an eminent geologist at Cambridge University. We only have finite oil and gas resources, so the sooner we move to a sustainable energy scenario the better.

6. Is it actually correct to say that the technologies ‘exist’ if many of these technologies are economically not viable or have other big limitations? It seems that there is a large amount of work to do to improve technologies before we can really keep climate change under control.

(Alison): I believe so - most products in their infancy were too expensive for people to buy; cars, shuttlecocks, or any other products you care to mention. The most pertinent example for renewable energy are solar panels, which have come down significantly in price. Technology and financial viability are two discrete things.

7. Where I work Health & Safety is on every meeting agenda, we do HAZID, HAZOP, Bow Ties, have safety memos for all plants, have regular safety toolbox meetings. Why is Health & Safety the number one priority of the majority of companies? How long did it take to achieve this status? How do we get climate change and saving the planet to be an equally high priority as H&S in companies? What different tools would come under the topic, like H&S? What can we do as engineers tomorrow, at work and in the future?

(Mark): Health and safety has taken time to become ingrained in our culture but was ultimately driven by legislative requirement following years of significant accidents. Businesses now also recognise the cost when things go wrong are extreme, including public outrage, and therefore there is a business benefit to avoidance. I think a similar approach is required to bring climate change up the priority list. There is a lot to learn from the way we have brought in health and safety laws and best practice. Beyond this, there is also a lot we can do as chemical engineers to design and operate the most efficient and renewable processes.(Alison): As I said in my talk, some CEO's of companies are already leading the way on sustainability and comparing it to health and safety. The CEO of Grosvenor, my corporate partner with Cambridge University, Mark Preston, sent this message to all his offices worldwide. I agree with you however that this needs to be more widespread.

8. Define fairness for renewables – are mechanisms like CfD’s not essentially about providing a level playing field?

(Mark): CfD's are a mechanism in incentivising renewable generation, although they are less generous than the outgoing ROC system in the U.K for many technologies, and therefore make investment more difficult.

In the UK we have historically, and for strategic reasons following crisis in the 70s, incentivised North Sea oil development when it is one of the most expensive places to operate. I would argue this comes back to the wrongheaded assertion that security of supply beats affordability which beats low carbon and that therefore means fossil fuels. Just because we have become used to fossil fuels over the last hundred years it doesn't mean we need to remain reliant on them for the next hundred years. In fact, we can't afford to if we want to avoid dangerous levels of climate change. Fairness could mean applying appropriate cost and risk factors to carbon emissions to protect us all for the future.

(Alison): Support mechanisms need to be on a par with fossil fuel subsidy reduction perhaps?

9. Are you optimistic that the 2 degree target will be met?

(Mark): I am optimistic we can do it. Will we? Well that depends. We must accelerate our collective efforts to deliver low carbon solutions, decarbonise our energy supply and move to a more circular economy.(Alison): Most officials that I've met at UN level seem to believe that adaptation is essential because it is looking unlikely that we will meet the target - we can do it if all of us put our minds to it: we need to get the message out to the general public

If you have a take on any of the questions above, please leave a comment.

We will publish the full Q&A with reader contributions in a future post.