The inclusive nature of the Paris Agreement means more collaboration is needed between various stakeholders to actually implement the climate deal. Moving from the “what” to the “how”, the next missing jigsaw piece will need to consist of cross-sectoral partnerships that accelerate the implementation of transformational, low-carbon solutions.
Patrick Child is the Deputy Director General in DG RTD Research and Innovation at the European Commission and a climate leader we had the pleasure of meeting at the COP23 climate conference in Bonn. His thoughts are part of a series of high-level interviews aimed at raising public awareness about big climate topics. The goal of each interview is to focus on one relevant issue that is crucial for the transition to a zero-carbon, climate-resilient economy and society.
In the words of Patrick Child, to operationalise the Paris Agreement, we need root and branch reforms of whole systems – from smart cities, the ways we generate, distribute and consume electricity, mobility and transport to a deep revolution in industrial processes and manufacturing.
What have been your personal ambitions for Bonn and, in your opinion, what are the biggest themes of COP23?
The COP23 was a great opportunity for us to showcase the European Commission’s research and innovation programmes that contribute to tackling climate change. We have a target of dedicating 35% of our €77bn Horizon 2020 EU research and innovation programme to this key priority, and this is fully consistent with the leading political role that the EU has played and continues to play in the climate change negotiations throughout the COP. Clean energy is a particular focus for the Commission, underscored by our promise to double research funding in this area by 2020 and consistent with our commitments in the Mission Innovation global coalition of countries committed to promoting affordable low-carbon energy solutions throughout the world. I was happy that we had the opportunity at the COP to organise a full day of presentations of some of our most successful H2020 research projects including EU-PolarNet and APPLICATE, which focuses on Arctic science contributions to implementing the Paris Agreement, CD-LINKS and GREEN-WIN dealing with 1.5 & 2°C strategies and Sustainable Development Goals and CRESCENDO a project using advanced earth system models to deliver reliable estimates of future global change.
What are the types of innovation required to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement?
The message I take from the COP is that generally we are doing the right things, but that we need to do more of them and faster if we are to meet the ambitious but necessary goals in the Paris Agreement. We need to work across all sectors – energy, transport, industry, land use – in search of new low carbon solutions. And it is not just about finding new technologies, although these are vital. We need root and branch reforms of whole systems – from smart cities, the ways we generate, distribute and consume electricity, mobility and transport to a deep revolution in industrial processes and manufacturing. The European Union uses all its policy levels in support of these objectives, including innovation-friendly regulation and our wide array of financial instruments and economic incentives. We need to intensify our efforts, working closely with our Member States, research communities and industry in all these areas.
How is it possible to accelerate policy frameworks for innovation?
Innovation doesn’t happen all by itself. It requires sustained investment in research and development, as well innovation-friendly legislation, regulation and policy. Research and development “pushes” innovation all the way from conceptualization to proof of concept and successful demonstration, whereas policy frameworks, product standards or market designs do the rest by “pulling” innovation into the marketplace. For example, by putting a price on carbon, you give an advantage to the least polluting, most efficient technologies. Rating household appliances according to their energy consumption, eliminating the worst performers, steers consumers towards the greenest products. Redesigning Europe’s electricity markets helps to integrate renewable energy sources into the grid and to ease the transition to a smarter, more efficient energy system more in tune with changing patterns of supply and demand.
Where are the biggest roadblocks for innovation on climate change and clean energy?
Remarkable technological progress has driven down costs to the point that many clean energy technologies are genuinely competitive. However, the pace of clean energy innovation needs to be accelerated to reduce costs further if we are to meet our long-term climate goals and to provide affordable, reliable and secure energy. At the same time, there are areas where deep decarbonisation will be economically and technically challenging. For example in the transport sector road freight, shipping, and air transport will require large availability of low-carbon fuels like hydrogen and sustainable biofuels. Similarly, some industrial sectors – such as cement, steel and chemicals – will require profound technological changes to achieve deep decarbonisation.
Our transition to a low-carbon economy cannot rely on technological progress alone. Decarbonisation will require profound behavioural changes from citizens and communities alike. Policy-makers will need to make decisions which will inevitably entail costs in the shorter term, in order to mitigate graver dangers for the longer term. Investors will need to play their part, and should find the necessary incentives in the untapped business potential inherent in the clean energy transition. Ultimately, implementing the Paris Agreement is a matter of government, social and corporate responsibility.