‘Paris will miss 2-degree target’

Fifteen TU Delft students participated in the youth version of the Paris Climate Conference on November 26-28, 2015. They came back less optimistic than they went: they don’t think the climate conference will succeed in limiting global warming to 2 degrees.

Dean Gioutsos (age 25 from Australia) and Trisha Paul (aged 24 from India) are both master students of Sustainable Energy Technology. On top of that, Gioutsos is chairman of the TU Delft Sustainability Community or ‘Green Office’. Gioutsos and Paul belong to a group of fifteen students from Delft who participated in the Conference of Youth (COY11) that was held shortly before the Conference of Parties (COP21), also known as the Paris Climate Conference. The Conference of Youth is a massive event with about 5,000 young people participating: students, activists, and members of NGO’s and of the UN. The conference is meant to channel the youth’s voice to the subsequent main conference, and it should also give young people an impression of how these climate talks unroll.

What motivated you to go?

Dean: “I represented the Green Office and I wanted to learn what went on and also get some inspiration for things that we can implement here.”

Trisha: “I went on a solo personal motivation. I wanted to know how the COP21 discussions would go and how the youth could get involved.”

What was the goal for the youth conference?

Dean: “It takes place every year preceding the COP for the world leaders. This time the COP aims to reach a legal binding agreement on carbon emissions, that’s why it is so well covered. The idea is to voice the youth’s opinion ahead of the main conference.”

Is there any transfer of the youth conference to the main event?

Dean: “That’s the Manifesto. It should get spread out to the participants and be presented to the leaders of the COP21 for their consideration.”

Trisha: “I think the other goal is for NGOs to recruit more members when they are lobbying against certain companies. They try to get student support when voicing their opinion in the main conference. The Corporate Capture was working that way and also the Intergeneration Equity one.”

Is the youth more radical with fewer ties that bind them?

Trisha: “They are more passionate than the officials I would say. For some of the parties, the passion for making a change is more important than the actualisation of their ends.”

There was also this simulation of the conference negotiations. Was that revealing to you?

Dean: “Very much so, yes. We had a task to agree on six parameters between six parties. We had to decide when we wanted our national emissions to peak, when we started decreasing at what rate, how much we want to invest in forestation and how much in preventing trees being cut down and how much we wanted to submit or withdraw from a green climate fund equal to a hundred billion dollars. Every party had to put forward their six parameters. We were aware that the important things were about the emissions, but the revealing thing was that most of the discussion went straight to money. We quickly lost track of the most influential part, being the emissions. I hadn’t expected that from young people, but once you get into this room, the numbers and what they stand for seem to lose connection a little and people start fighting for their interests.”

Trisha: “I think it was also because we were looking at the graphs. We were focussed on reaching a specific level. You don’t care how it impacts every country until you’re representing that country yourself. We also saw how the least developed countries had no say in the debate at all. They were just sitting there waiting to get money from the richer countries to do something about their emissions. They first want money and technology before they can start moving.”

How did the experience influence your expectations for the Paris climate conference?

Dean: “We hope it’s not working the same way, but we see that it could well be. It made us realise how complex the negotiations are. We just had six groups, they have over 190 groups represented. It must be a nightmare of complexity. We hope they’re more professional and experienced and that they can achieve more than we did.”

What is your baseline expectation of the climate conference?

Dean: “What should be agreed on is that when every country enters its bid for emission reductions, the Intended National Determined Contribution or INDCs. When these are all added up in the model, it should add up to less than 2 degrees of warming. Now it’s still the other way around: reductions are negotiated irrespective of the total emissions and the warming it results in. Currently, modelling shows that current INDCpledges still result in 3.5 degrees warming instead of the 2 degrees that were intended.”

Trisha: “I’m pessimistic about that. The INDC’s are also dependent on the funds, which are lacking at the moment. They should first set up a carbon fund and then also agree to a five-year review system to see if countries keep up with their set goals. But to reach 2 degrees? I don’t see that happening in this conference, perhaps in five years when they discuss the max set of targets for the next 20 years.”

Did you come back more optimistic or less so?

Trisha: “I was more optimistic before the conference, partially also because of my limited knowledge of how discussions revolve around the tables. I think I now have a more realistic view. My passion has become more pragmatic I would say.”

Dean: “I am less optimistic that the COP21 will deliver a solution. But I am more optimistic about the grass root vision of the youth that will see more difference made than these agreements that just don’t do enough.”

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