From Paris to London – IChemE Energy Centre speaks out at #COP21

From Paris to London – IChemE Energy Centre speaks out at #COP21

11th December 2015

We hope you have been following our series of #COP21 blog posts, focusing on the IChemE Energy Centre’s five priority topics for the COP21 climate talks.

As an agreement looks set to be on the horizon (fingers crossed!) the Energy Centre was involved in two events.

Both events asked the same question – Do you believe that the technical solutions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions already exist?

Find out what happened below.


Our official COP21 side event in Paris saw several leading thinkers – including our own Chair of the Energy Centre Stefaan Simons – deliver their thoughts on ‘Technology solutions for a two degree world’.

The event began by asking our key question, and the audience response was fairly spilt – with slightly more than 50% of delegates agreeing that the technical solutions already exist for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Professor Martin Siegert of the Grantham Institute, Imperial College London, chaired the event and after welcoming delegates concluded with his own thoughts on the topic of existing technologies. He agreed the right technologies are already in place and being used, but the fundamental issue is the cost and planning of making these technologies work on a global scale. Sounds like a job for a chemical engineer to us!

Professor Stefaan Simons

Professor Stefaan Simons, Chair of the IChemE Energy Centre and Dean of Brunel University’s College of Engineering, also supported this view – and focused his presentation on how chemical engineers can add value to the climate change debate.

Highlighting the point that chemical engineers are here to ‘turn words into action’, Stef commented that as a profession we take a ‘systems approach’ to make sure we use energy as efficiently as possible – where we have energy outputs we use them for our energy inputs.

Stef also stated that: “We believe that the technologies are here today to produce a low carbon energy system.

Stef put particular emphasis on energy efficiency, and explained as one of the most energy-intensive sectors chemical engineers have a huge part to play in reducing the amount of waste energy produced.

Demanding a need for collaboration worldwide, he spoke about communities and community engagement. Open innovation is vital in ensuring the public are aware of the developments in climate change, and are back it the whole way.

Other speakers included a keynote from Phillipe Benoit of the International Energy Agency (IEA), who discussed the IEA’s ambitions to model decarbonisation in the energy sector, consistent with the two degree target.

Phillipe is passionate about development of renewables, and commented that energy efficiency, renewables and CCS all have a part to play in mitigating climate change. His focus was on making these solutions applicable to a competitive market-place, and said that “further innovation is critical for making options such as carbon capture and storage more cost-effective.”

Ajay Gambhir, also from Imperial’s Grantham Institute focused his discussion on how achievable a 2 degree (or 1.5 degree) target would be. His work has shown that in order to realistically meet these goals we need to decarbonise at 7-14% per year from 2020.

Future Climate-Engineering Solutions (FC-ES), a global network of engineering associations who are developing global climate change plans which consider the deployment of existing technologies, were represented by Beatriz Fernández Hernández. Her presentation focused on recognising that in order to plan a national energy system that will reduce emissions; it must be based on engineering data, not unfounded assumptions.

John Scowcroft from the Global CCS Institute naturally focused on carbon capture and storage. His view was that some industries absolutely need negative emissions technologies like CCS to reduce carbon. However, it is currently lacking a strong policy framework.

The panel at COP21 for our side event - Technology solutions for a two degree world

Professor Brian Vad Mathiesen, representing the Danish Society of Engineers, said that energy saving is not ‘rocket science’ and that we need more efficient power plants and vehicles to significantly reduce emissions. It’s been a common theme throughout the climate talks – we need to completely rethink the way we produce, use and save energy.

Tom Jennings from the Carbon Trust concluded proceedings, supporting Stef’s earlier comments; he agreed global collaboration was essential to solving the issue of climate change.

Watch the video of the COP21 side event here:

You can view the speaker’s presentation slides here.


For our members in the UK, many of whom are involved in energy – both industry and academia, we held a screening event at our offices in One Portland Place.

We posed them the same question 'Do you believe that the technical solutions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions already exist?' the audience poll was less divided than in Paris – with around 80% of the audience agreeing that the technical solutions for tackling climate change exist.

Dr Niall Mac Dowell, Secretary of the Energy Centre Board, and lecturer of energy and environmental technology at Imperial College London, kicked off proceedings by looking at the reality of how our world has been affected by climate change.

Making it clear that the effects of climate change are already evident (the earth’s surface temperature is already 1 degree warmer than the pre-industrial era average); Niall admitted that limiting global warming would be a substantial challenge.

To tackle this challenge there is a need for us to be ambitious; Niall suggested the use of a ratchet mechanism model to ensure we stay on track. This would mean re-evaluating our ambitions every five years.

Clea Kolster, Imperial College London

Clea Kolster, PhD student at Imperial College London, also gave a short speech, in which she offered insight from her experiences in attending COP21.

With a slightly more positive outlook on proceedings, she commented on the sense of spirit at the conference. As reported in the news, this COP feels different to its predecessors, with all nations uniting in a passion for making a change.

Yes there have been concerns, but there is also real ambition for a solution.

Clea finished her speech with a quote from the conference: “Things take longer to happen than you think they will, but when they do happen it’s a lot faster than you could ever imagine it would.”

The video of the side event in Paris was shown with a few mince pies passed around to make it more festive, then it was on to the discussion panel.

The discussion was led by IChemE past President Professor Geoff Maitland, and it proved to be very lively!

Dr Rachael Hall, Alternatives Energy Concepts Engineer at GE highlighted that an important topic not covered at COP21 has been birth control. It is well-known that as the population continues to grow the pressure on resources increases, therefore effective birth control in developing countries can’t be overlooked as part of the climate change solution.

Rachael’s comments were well received with a resounding ‘here, here’ from the audience.

Dr Myrian Schenk, Principal Engineer at Jacobs, was in agreement with many other delegates at the event – we do have the technologies to mitigate climate change. However, she raised the point that changing the way we consume energy, changing the way we develop and deliver energy, were the biggest challenges.

The panel in action

Asking the audience “What does a world without fossil fuels look like?” - Myrian made everyone take a step back and consider the sheer scale of this type of change.

Malcolm Wilkinson, chair of IChemE's Sustainability SIG, was keen to bring negative emissions technology back into the discussion and reflected John Sowcroft’s views on CCS – it is vital to achieving the 2 degree target.

Although the room was largely in agreement that the technologies exist to mitigate climate change, there was a number of concerns:

  1. Funding – an on-going theme at our event and throughout the climate talks in Paris. To elevate these available technologies to a global scale we will need significant investment to drive innovation forward
  2. Innovation – There is logic that if we deploy the existing technologies we have quickly, that innovation will happen naturally through competition
  3. Realistic – The 2 degree target is ambitious, the 1.5 degree target is even more ambitious – we need to start acting now if we are going to achieve it
  4. Public – It is incredibly difficult to change people’s habits, but in order for the climate change targets to be met everyone has to be on-board – and that means the public. The need to invest in communication and policy is crucial
  5. Fossil Fuels – They will still be part of our future regardless, it is the decarbonisation of it that is important
  6. Scale – The resource to deliver this type of change in our global energy system is phenomenal, do we have it?

Now it’s your turn to join the discussion, comment below or tweet the IChemE Energy Centre with your #COP21 thoughts and experiences. What do you think should be done? How can chemical engineers help? What do you think will be most impactful to mitigate climate change?