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The heatwave and war in Ukraine have done more for the climate than 26 years of COP.

Updated: Sep 24, 2022

The war in Ukraine will have caused tens of thousands of deaths, broken families, ruined a country, and nothing can ever justify or excuse this aggression. It will however have opened the eyes of European leaders and media. In less than a year, the subject of energy and climate change has finally gained the attention needed to radically transform our relationship with our environment, and more particularly its resources. We are finally beginning to understand that our Western way of life is based on an overabundance and exploitation and combustion of fossil fuels and other natural resources and that these are not inexhaustible. The day will come when we will have to do without them, and that day may not be so far away. This summer's particularly virulent heatwave has brought us face to face with our recklessness and irresponsibility. There is a price to pay for having considered the planet as a natural outlet for all our waste.



These two events (heatwave and war) have also raised the debate on the subject of energy transition. Faced with the cessation of oil and gas supplies from Russia, the transition models[1] presented as exemplary and virtuous by environmental groups, and blithely taken up by all the media, have shown their inadequacy, or even incapacity, to respond to the crisis. European citizens suddenly realize that their comfort - and their food - is based on a barrel of oil and gas and that it will not be so easy to do without.

In a few months, the world has changed. It is amazing, even frightening, that the COVID 19 pandemic[3] , the war in Ukraine, and the recent heatwave have achieved more than 27 years of COP.


During my time at the World Business Council for Sustainable Development as Climate and Energy Director, I discovered a world where a constellation of different organisations, NGOs, think-tanks, consulting agencies, revolved around the Conference of the Parties (COP), which is the annual meeting of states to set global climate targets. I knew about the COP and the involvement of states in setting climate targets, but I had no idea how many organisations were involved in these annual masses. The Glasgow COP in 2021 brought together over 30,000 people from all over the world.


What amazed me the most when I attended these meetings was the tireless repetition of the same messages, the same recommendations, the same actions, without ever mentioning the material, social and economic feasibility. It was as if it was enough to repeat over and over again that the world would eliminate fossil fuels in the next 30 years, that almost all electricity would be produced thanks to solar and wind power, that all cars on the planet would be electric, that the use of forests to capture carbon from the atmosphere would make a significant contribution to the fight against global warming, for this to become an absolute, indisputable, undeniable truth. I soon discovered that these truths were dogma. That the mere mention of the fact that these alternatives to fossil fuels could also have negative impacts on the planet was seen as a betrayal of the cause. A difficult situation for a scientist to maintain.


For many of these pro-climate organisations, the priority is to convince large multinationals to commit to carbon neutrality roadmaps for 2050, rather than requiring these same companies to properly assess and transparently report their carbon footprint[4] . While it is welcome that in 2020 more than 1000 companies have committed to carbon neutrality by 2050, it is regrettable that only a few are able to publish a credible and comprehensive carbon footprint[5] .

Surprisingly, very little action has been directed toward the general public and politicians. Without public consent - and that takes time - and without regulatory action - and that takes time - nothing really meaningful will happen. Ironic as it may seem, these annual masses and conferences on sustainable development have done more to maintain the status quo than to prevent future climate and ecological disasters. There is unfortunately more communication than science in these events. A more positive interpretation is that without all these events, things would have been worse.


While societal choices are for citizens and politicians to make, it is crucial that they are made in an informed way. That we realise that all of them have advantages and disadvantages and that these must be rigorously quantified, based as far as possible on life-cycle assessment, in order to prevent today's solutions from being tomorrow's disasters.


Most European countries, strongly motivated by the European Commission with its green deal and green package[6] , have now put the energy and ecological transition at the top of their agenda. This is a historic moment, but our decision-makers must be aware of the orders of magnitude we are facing (turning off your WIFI at night is not going to save the planet, not using your car is). Replacing fossil fuels will be long and painful, especially for the most vulnerable social classes. And none of the alternatives available today are 'green'.


It is also imperative that scientific facts are given a prominent place in the analysis of the options considered.


Through this blog, I want to contribute to the understanding of the issues at stake in the directions we are being led to take and to prevent hasty, poorly documented choices from leading to tomorrow's disasters. I will give an important part to the presentation of facts, to calculated and verified data. All the figures that will be presented in the articles to come are taken either from the most recent reports of international organisations (IPCC, UNEP, IEA, FAO, OECD, etc.)[7] , or from scientific publications published in peer-reviewed journals and themselves synthesising the most recent research on the subject. All references will be presented in footnotes as they are read.


I will also share my views, so these will be very personal and contestable


To be continued......


I am of course at your disposal to answer your questions if you wish.

[1] Like, for example, the one implemented by Germany for more than 20 years, with more than 500 billion invested in renewable energies, total abandonment of nuclear power, but massive recourse to coal and gas to compensate for the intermittence of these energies. [2] https://www.radiofrance.com/presse/radio-france-engage-un-tournant-environnemental [3] The pandemic resulted in about a 5% reduction in greenhouse gases worldwide, a benefit that has unfortunately since been canceled. To avoid a warming of more than 1.5 to 2°C, we would need to implement 5% per year for 30 years. [4] Carbon footprint or carbon footprint is the sum of GHG emissions from scopes 1, 2 and 3 as defined in the GHG https://www.wbcsd.org/Programs/Climate-and-Energy/Climate/Resources/A-corporate-reporting-and-accounting-standard-revised-edition. [5] https://www.cdp.net/en/companies/companies-scores [6] https://ec.europa.eu/info/strategy/priorities-2019-2024/european-green-deal/delivering-european-green-deal_fr [7] IPCC: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; UNEP: United Nations Environment Programme; IEA: International Energy Agency; FAO: Food and Agriculture Organisation; OECD: Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development

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