COP21 – What’s your view ?


At the minute the United Nations conference on climate change is finishing up in Paris. It is being referred to as COP21 as it is the twenty-first session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Probably the most famous conference was the Kyoto summit in 1997 which resulted in the Kyoto Protocol, a legally-binding deal that now appears on our AS specification. The protocol was based on the premise that both global warming exists and man-made carbon dioxide emissions have caused it. As well as carbon dioxide they focused on the following greenhouse gases; methane, nitrous oxide and sulphur hexafluoride and also two groups of gases, the hydrofluorocarbons and perfluorocarbons.

So where are we now, nearly 20 years later ? The protocol itself did not come into force until 2005 with the aim that industrialised countries would reduce their collective emissions of greenhouse gases by 5.2% compared to 1990. Of course the most important footnote is that the US did not sign up and it seems that now the Kyoto protocol is considered a failure as although certain countries met their targets any benefits were wiped out as large industrial nations such as the US and China continued to pollute unabated.

Now, being a scientist encourages a pragmatic approach with clear presentation of all the data. But I can’t help but feel the politicians’ hearts are not in it when reading about the European Union Emissions Trading System. The name explains the system where energy companies become regulated and allowances set. They can trade their allowances which provides them with an incentive to reduce their emissions. The system seems to have modest gains as they gave very generous initial caps and developed an offsetting process if the companies invested in technologies in the developing world.

However, is this the right approach? Surely the focus should be driving new green technologies or older technologies such as nuclear and the part they play in reducing greenhouse gas emissions? At the minute green chemistry seems like a ‘strand’ of chemistry, a topic on an examination specification, and not an integral part of both pupils and the general public’s scientific understanding. Unfortunately, the COP21 roadshow will move on and the world leaders’ focus will turn away from environmental concerns. But what can we do ? There are many levels we can work at from daily tasks such as recycling or being energy efficient to encouraging our pupils to consider STEM pathways. We need to continue to focus our efforts on getting them to consider careers in science, using their ability and skills to design and engineer solutions instead of avoiding the issues and leaving the problem to the next generation.


3 thoughts on “COP21 – What’s your view ?

  1. How do you feel following the announcement of the agreement? The dust needs to settle but I’m encouraged less by the deal, whatever its fineprint really contains, and more by the fact that campaign groups, notably Avaaz, are heralding it as a great success story. If governments wish to completely transfer to renewables within time to limit the global temperature rise to just 1.5degs C, we will need to dramatically increase stem funding and incentivise stem careers, so you and I agree on the need to inspire a new generation of scientists, including chemists. I don’t think any potential solution needs to come at the exclusion of others, if emissions trading can work let’s do that and whatever else works too. It’s possible the details of this particular trading scheme are toothless, in which case let’s campaign for an improved one. Whatever cop21 turns out to have truly achieved, we will still need to campaign. Science based campaigning could be a great way to inspire new stem students.


    1. Hi Tom I’m going to have a good read about it tonight, interested that Obama sees it as his legacy although probably easy enough since they didn’t even sign up to Kyoto. I don’t want to sound negative and I feared that my post may have seemed naive but I did my PhD in a ‘green’ group so I remember how isolated green chemistry was, and my post doc was funded by BNFL so I when the white paper came in on nuclear in the early 2000s I began to understand the fickle natural of politics ! On the ground ( the classroom) I definitely feel that STEM funding is starting to trickle down ( bear in mind I’m in NI) but I feel we fight a losing battle with the ‘more prestigious’ career paths ie medicine, dentistry …. on the flip side we can’t push pupils in directions were there are limited jobs. But I love the discussion so let’s make sure we are heard !!! Tona


      1. Something I’d really like to do is raise the profile of non-medical chemistry jobs. Just yesterday I was hearing about someone who is now looking at becoming ridiculously wealthy because he has become some kind of specialist chemical-patenting person. Now that’s not necessarily on the list of saintly chemistry roles that you and I are talking around, but it’s a credible example of a chemistry money spinner that isn’t dentistry or medicine. On the other hand, I agree that academia lacks appeal in terms of the limited number of roles and associated fierce competition, but there’s probably an argument that both teachers and their students could stand to be better informed about the non-medical career opportunities that are available. I remember reading a paper in which the glass transition point of cookies was established, in pursuit of a method by which to dynamise the crisping up of cookies. I was encouraging my students to go into food chemistry for months after that!


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