GeoPolicy: COP23 – key updates and outcomes

GeoPolicy: COP23 – key updates and outcomes

What is COP23?

Anthropogenic climate change is threatening life on this planet as we know it. It’s a global issue… and not one that is easily solved. The Conference of the Parties (COP) provides world leaders, policy workers, scientists and industry leaders with the space to share ideas and decide on how to tackle climate change and generate global transformative change. COP23 will predominantly focus on increasing involvement from non-state actors (such as cities and businesses), how to minimise the climate impacts on vulnerable countries and the steps that are needed to implement the Paris Climate Change Agreement.

Hold on – what’s the Paris Climate Change Agreement…?

You’ve probably heard about the Paris Climate Change Agreement (often shortened to just Paris Agreement) before, but what exactly does it refer to?

During the COP21, held in Paris during 2015, 175 parties (174 countries and the European Union) reached a historic agreement in response to the current climate crisis. This Paris Agreement builds on previous UN frameworks and agreements. It acknowledges climate change as a global threat and that preventing the Earth’s temperature from rising more than 2°C should be a global priority. The only nations not to sign the agreement were Syria, due to their involvement in a civil war and their inability to send a delegation, and Nicaragua, who stated that the agreement was insufficiently ambitious. Both of these countries have since signed the agreement while the US has unfortunately made headlines by leaving it.

The Paris Agreement states that there should be a thorough action plan that details how the Paris Agreement should be implemented by COP24 in 2018. There is still a long way to go before this action plan is finalised but COP23 was able to make a strong headway.

You can learn more about the UN climate frameworks and Paris Climate Change Agreement here or read more about COP21 here.

What did the COP23 achieve?

Today is the last official day of the COP23 and while it is often difficult to determine whether large scale political events are successful until after the dust has settled, there are some positive signs.

1. Making progress on the Paris Agreement action plan

The COP23 has been described as an implementation and ‘roll-up-your-sleeves’ kind of COP. While the COP21 resulted in a milestone agreement, the COP23 was about determining what staying below 2°C actually entails – what needs to be done and when. Some of the measures discussed to keep us under 2°C included: halving global CO2 emissions from energy and industry each decade, scrapping the $500 billion per year in global fossil fuel subsidies and scaling up carbon capture and storage technology. Simple, right?

These actions are all feeding into the detailed “rulebook” on how the Paris Agreement should be implemented which will be finalised at COP24.

2. Cities have stepped up to the plate

Mayors from 25 cities around the world have pledged to produce net zero emissions by 2050 through ambitious climate action plans which will be developed with the help of the C40 Cities network. Having tangible examples of what net zero emissions looks like and how it can be achieved will hopefully encourage other cities to follow suit. For this reason “think global, act local” initiatives are also picking up steam.

A new global standard for reporting cities’ greenhouse gas emissions has also been announced by the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy. The system will allow cities to track their contributions and impacts using a quantifiable method. This will not only allow the UNFCCC to track the progress of cities more effectively but it may also result in a friendly competition with cities around the globe. It is also expected that all cities will have a decarbonisation strategy in place by 2020.

3. Phasing out coal by 2030?

19 Countries (ranging from Angola to the UK) have committed to phasing out unabated coal generation by 2030. Unabated coal-powered energy generation refers to the generation of electricity from a coal plant without the use of treatment or carbon capture storage technology (which generally reduces emissions from between 85-90%). With 40% of the world’s electricity currently being generated from coal, this commitment is clearly a huge step in the right direction that will hopefully put pressure on other nations and steer energy investment towards lower-emission sources.

4. There is the will to change… and the funding is there too!

One of the key features of the Paris Agreement was the amount of financial aid committed, 100 billion USD annually by 2020, from developed countries to support developing states mitigate their emissions. While this level of funding is still far from being reached, the aim to jointly mobilise 100 billion USD annually by 2020 was reiterated.

The French President, Emmanuel Macron, also announced that Europe will fill the funding gap in the IPCC budget that was left by the US’ withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.


The Green Climate Fund booth at the COP23 exhibition area. Credit: Jonathan Bamber


Other outcomes

Not only do COPs generally result in solid outcomes and agreements being made but they also go a long way to strengthen global unity and the belief that we are able to tackle climate change despite it being a huge and often daunting problem. This was also highlighted by Jonathan Bamber, the EGU President, who attended the event, “It was so impressive to see politicians, policy makers and scientists all striving hard to ensure that the world’s economies achieve the goals laid out in COP21 in Paris. There was a lot of energy for change and action and much less cynicism than I have witnessed at previous COP events. I really hope it helps steer us towards a more sustainable future“.

While these are just a few of the immediately obvious results from the COP23, I am sure that there will be more agreements and outcomes announced within the next few days. Keep tuned to the GeoPolicy Blog for more updates!

Further reading


GeoSciences Column: The dirty business of shipping goods by sea

“Above the foggy strip, this white arch was shining, covering one third of the visible sky in the direction of the ship's bow,” he explains. “It was a so-called white, or fog rainbow, which appears on the fog droplets, which are much smaller then rain droplets and cause different optic effects, which is a reason of its white colour.”

Shipping goods across the oceans is cost-effective and super-efficient; that’s why over 80% of world trade is carried by sea (according to the International Maritime Organisation). But the shipping industry also contributes significant amounts of air pollutants to marine and coastal environments.

A new study, published in the EGU’s open access journal Earth System Dynamics, reports on concentrations of sulphur, nitrogen, and particulate matter (PM), from 2011 to 2013, in the Baltic and North Seas – one of the busiest shipping routes in the world. The study aims to provide policy-makers with better knowledge about how shipping impacts local environments. The end-goal being better industry regulations and technology to make shipping more sustainable in the long-term.

The reality of shipping goods by sea

In the past two decades reduction pledges, like the Paris Climate Accord, and strict regulation have driven down air pollutants from land-based emissions across Europe, but greenhouse-gas emissions from the shipping industry are not subject to as strict international protocols.

And that’s a problem.

It is estimated that there are about half a million ships in operation at present, which together produce almost one billion tonnes of carbon dioxide each year (that’s more than Germany emits in the same period!). Over the past 20 years, emissions of pollutants from shipping in the Baltic Sea and North Sea have increased.

Worryingly, economic growth in the region means shipping is only set to increase in the future. In fact, the European Commission predicts that shipping emissions will increase between 50% and 250% by 2050.

Why should you care?

While cruising the high seas, ships emit a dangerous cocktail of pollutants. When burnt, their fuels emit sulphur dioxide and as ship engines operate under high pressure and temperature, they also release nitrogen oxides. Combined, they are also the source of particulate matter of varying sizes, made up of a mixture of sulphate (SO4), soot, metals and other compounds.

The authors of the Earth System Dynamics paper, led by Björn Clareman of the Department of Earth Sciences at Uppsala University, found that international shipping in the Baltic Sea and the North Sea was responsible for up to 80% of near-surface concentrations of nitric oxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide in 2013.

Total emissions of SOx and deposition of OXS (oxidized sulphur) from international shipping in the Baltic Sea and North Sea in 2011. From B.Claremar et al., 2017.

In addition, the team’s simulations show that PM from shipping was distributed over large areas at sea and over land, where many people will be exposed to their harmful effects. The highest concentrations are found along busy shipping lanes and big ports. In total, shipping was responsible for 20% of small sized PM (known as PM2.5) and 13% of larger particles (PM10) during the studied period.

These pollutants have harmful effects on human health: It is thought that living close to the main shipping lanes in the Baltic Sea can shorten life expectancy by 0.1 to 0.2 years. Sulphur oxides in particular, cause irritation of the respiratory system, lungs and eyes; while a 2007 study estimated that PM emissions related to the shipping industry cause 60,000 deaths annually across the globe.

Environmentally, the effects of shipping pollution are concerning too. Deposition of nitrate and sulphate causes the acidification of soils and waters. The brackish waters of the Baltic Sea make them highly susceptible to acidification, threatening diverse and precious marine ecosystems.

The current problem

Legislating (and then monitoring and enforcing) to limit the negative impact of shipping emissions is tricky given the cross-border nature of the industry. For instance, currently, there is no international regulation for the emission of PM. However, the International Maritime Organisation’s (as well as others; see Claremar, B., et al., 2017 for details of all regulations) does impose limits on sulphur and nitrogen emissions from ships (in some parts of the world).

Low-sulphur fuels and switching to natural gas are an effective way to control emissions. However, operators can also choose to fit their vessels with an exhaust gas treatment plant, or scrubber, which uses sea water to remove sulphur oxides – the by-products of high-sulphur fuels. So called open-loop scrubbers release the dirty exhaust water back into the ocean once the tank is cleaned. The practice is known to increase ocean acidification globally, but particularly along shipping lanes.

As of 2021, the transport of goods via the North and Baltic Seas will be subject to the control of nitrogen and sulphur emissions, which could decrease nitrogen oxide emissions by up to 80%. However, the study highlights that the continued use of scrubber technology will significantly offset the benefits of the new legislation. If cleaner alternatives are not implemented, total deposition of these harmful particles may reach similar levels to those measured during the 1970s to 1990s, when shipping emissions were largely unregulated.

By Laura Roberts Artal, EGU Communications Officer


Those who have an interest in this subject might want to contribute an EU Public consultation on the revision of the policy on monitoring, reporting and verification of CO2 emissions from maritime transport. The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) adopted the legal framework for the global data collection system (IMO DCS) in July 2017. This Consultation is now reviewing the situation and would like input on things such as the monitoring of ships’ fuel consumption, transparency of emission data and the administrative burden of the new system. While the Consultation is not specifically aimed toward scientists, it may interest EGU researchers who are working in the marine, climate and atmospheric sciences sectors.


Refences and resources

Claremar, B., Haglund, K., and Rutgersson, A.: Ship emissions and the use of current air cleaning technology: contributions to air pollution and acidification in the Baltic Sea, Earth Syst. Dynam., 8, 901-919,, 2017.

Lower emissions on the high seas. Nature, 551, 5–6, https://doi:10.1038/551005b, 2017

Corbett, J. J., Winebrake, J. J., Green, E. H., Kasibhatla, P.,Eyring, V., and Lauer, A.: Mortality from ship emissions: a global assessment, Environ. Sci. Technol., 41, 8512–8518, 2007.

Dashuan, T., and Shuli, N.: A global analysis of soil acidification caused by nitrogen addition, Environ. Res. Lett., 10, 024019, https://doi:10.1088/1748-9326/10/2/024019, 2015

What is Ocean Acidification? Ocean Facts by NOAA

Reducing emissions from the shipping sector, Climate Action by the European Commission

GeoPolicy: The importance of scientific foresight

GeoPolicy: The importance of scientific foresight

Many of the issues that society currently faces are complex and research on just one angle or area does not provide sufficient information to address the problem. These challenges are compounded when more than one region (or even the entire planet) is impacted. Many of the decisions and legislations passed by governments today will go on to impact how these issues either develop or are resolved years into the future.

How do governments ensure that the decisions they make are sustainable – that they will not only produce short-term benefits but will also go onto benefit our children and grandchildren to come?

Scientific foresight

Scientific foresight informs policymakers about future challenges and opportunities, allowing them to follow a systematic approach to determine where actions and changes in policy are required.

While this may sound simple, it is actually far from it! Foresight requires a comprehensive understanding of what the potential consequences of the decision (or lack thereof) are. This may include: the potential benefits, how severe the issue is likely to be in a business-as-usual scenario, what steps can be taken to minimise the issue, which regions or areas are more likely to be heavily impacted and what the environmental, social and economic costs are likely to be over various time scales.

The information and likely future scenarios that foresight studies provide allow policymakers to:

    • better evaluate current policy priorities
    • assess the impact of upcoming policy decisions in combination with other possible developments or challenges
    • take actions that are able to pre-emptively minimise risks or expand opportunities
    • identify new partners and create new connections (both internally and internationally)
    • anticipate new technologies and societal demands and implement policy that helps to facilitate them

One example of where foresight is particularly useful is climate change. Foresight helps policymakers to understand what the impacts of climate change will be, where they will be the most severe and what legislation can be passed to minimise the risk and long-term costs without burdening the present generation.

What sort of issues do foresight studies research?

The issues that are research in foresight studies are extremely far reaching. Below are just a few examples of themes that have been previously researched.

Just of a few of the areas considered in scientific foresight studies


How to get involved with foresight research?

At a European level, foresight processes are integrated with other EU scientific advice processes such as: informal expert groups, the Research, Innovation and Science Expert Group (RISE), the Horizon 2020 Programme, the EU’s Scientific Advice Mechanism (SAM). While it is possible for scientists to become involved through each of these platforms, the most researcher-friendly option is likely to be the Horizon 2020 Programme. You can find out more about Horizon 2020 and how its projects are advertised in our July GeoPolicy blog.

If you are living outside of the EU, knowing which organisations are working on foresight studies in your area is a good start. Almost every national government undertakes some form of foresight research. Not only this, but there are also larger regional or global initiatives undertaken by international organisations, such as the UNDP and ASEAN, as well as a large number of consultancies that undertake foresight studies and develop prioritised action plans.

Why aren’t foresight studies publicised?

Actually, they are! Governments, particularly the EU Commission, love to highlight the various foresight studies that are being used to guide policy decisions because they are generally of interest to the public and demonstrate that much of the legislation enacted is based on research.  The links in the further reading section below will lead you to some of these studies.

Being a policy related blog, this post has naturally focused on the governmental and legislative use of foresight research. However, foresight can and should be used to steer both business and personal decisions. From financial investments to our education, having a greater understanding about what the future holds enables us to make more informed decisions that are more likely to have the outcome we desire! Perhaps this is just another reason to support scientific foresight and its distribution in formats more people are able to read.

Further reading 

EU Commission, Research & Innovation – Foresight

European value changes – Signals, drivers, and impact on EU research and innovation policies


GeoPolicy: IPCC decides on fresh approach for next major report

GeoPolicy: IPCC decides on fresh approach for next major report

This month’s GeoPolicy post is a guest post from Sarah Connors, a Science Officer in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group 1 Technical Support Unit (and former EGU Science Policy Officer). The IPCC is starting its sixth cycle, in which hundreds of scientists take stock of the world’s climate change knowledge by assessing the current scientific literature and then summarising this into three reports. These findings then play a vital role in supporting evidence-based climate policy around the world. The outlines, which focus on what each report will cover, were approved at a recent meeting in Montreal, Canada. This GeoPolicy post will summarise the new Working Group 1 outline and highlight how scientists can be authors in this IPCC cycle.

The process

Picture this, hundreds of delegates from countries all over the world descended on Montreal two weeks ago to discuss climate change. The gathering of all IPCC member states, known as the Plenary, occurs twice a year – this one was number 46. On the agenda was to discuss and approve the three Working Group (WG) outlines. These are lists of chapter titles and indicative bullets highlighting the topics that authors could focus on during their assessment. Almost 200 scientists drew up these proposed outlines in a meeting this summer in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Each WG took it in turn to present their draft outlines to the Plenary. Country delegates then had the opportunity to ask for clarification and provide feedback, where needed. The WG Bureau (acclaimed scientists selected to steer this IPCC cycle) would then answer clarifying questions and note down all the suggestions from the floor. The Bureau then modified the outlines and presented them again to the Plenary, repeating the process as required until there was a consensus among all countries. With 195 countries being members of the IPCC, this made for long working sessions in Montreal, sometimes running late into the evening. But achieving consensus is a vital stage in the IPCC process. If all countries agree then it provides a strong platform for policy decisions to then be discussed.

The result was a huge success. All three WG outlines were accepted with minor changes (click to see the outlines for WG1, WG2, and WG3). We now have a new, easy-to-follow style for the next IPCC Working Group 1 report. In a nutshell, it will be more holistic and shorter, with increased focus on short-lived species, extremes, and regional information.

Working Group 1 (WG1) examines the physical science basis underpinning past, present and future climate change. The second working group (WG2) looks the vulnerability of socio-economic and natural systems to climate change, consequences and options for adaptation. The third working group (WG3) explores pathways for limiting greenhouse gas emissions, known as climate change mitigation.

What’s new in the WG1 report? A focus on the physical science basis…

As a Science Officer based in the WG1 Technical Support Unit (TSU), my role, along with my other TSU colleagues, was to keep track of the suggested outline changes and make sure the Bureau didn’t miss anything. The new outline has changed considerably compared to the last cycle (AR5), I think for the better.

Firstly, AR5 had more chapters (14 compared to 12), which were structured beginning with what we know about climate change from observations (inc. paleo data), followed by climate processes (i.e., biogeochemical cycles) and then finishing with climate modelling (i.e., model evaluation and projections). One reason being that the scientific community’s research is structured around these themes. The next assessment (AR6) outline however, is better suited to the report’s end-users, who usually prefer having everything about a given topic all in one place. Therefore, the AR6 report will be more holistic. For example, Chapter 3 (Human influence on the climate system) will assess observational, process, and modelling literature, whereas in AR5 this literature would have been spread across multiple chapters.

Comparing the AR5 and AR6 WG1 outlines

Secondly, the new report will be shorter. Since the first IPCC assessment, the WG1 report has dramatically increased in length. If this continues, projections show that the AR6 report would be almost 2000 pages long and would weigh just under 5kg! Rather than repeating the work of previous assessments, the new report will provide more of an update since the AR5, thus reducing its length.

Additionally, there will be greater focus on short-lived climate forcers (Chapter 6) and extreme events (Chapter 11) than in AR5. This may include assessing literature on how climate change and air quality are interconnected in Chapter 6 and the detection and attribution of single extreme events in Chapter 11.

Finally, there is a greater regional focus in the report’s final three chapters. Much of the information developed here will support further assessment in the WG2 report, which focuses on regional climate change impacts.

Happy members of the WG1 Bureau and Technical Support Unit after approval of the WG1 report outline. Photo credit: IISD/ENB | Mike Muzurakis

Getting involved in the next steps

With the outline agreed, the IPCC is now looking for authors to compile the report. Scientists are selected based on their expertise, publication record, and coordination skills. Regional diversity, gender and previous IPCC experience are all taken into account in the selection of authors to ensure broad representation. Roughly two-thirds of the authors are new to the IPCC each cycle. Once nominations close (27 October),  the authors will be selected and will get to work drafting the report. The whole process takes about four years, with the report planned for release in Spring 2021.

The IPCC actively encourages early career scientists (ECS) to participate in AR6, either as an author, an expert reviewer, or through publishing timely papers. Watch the video below for more information of ECS participation in AR6 or email the WG1 Technical Support Unit with any questions.

For more information please watch the YESS community youtube video on How can you get involved in the IPCC as an Early Career Scientist.

By Sarah Connors, Science Officer in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

Further reading:

The IPCC and the Sixth Assessment cycle

IPCC calls for nominations of authors for the Sixth Assessment Report

Guest post: What will be in the next IPCC climate change assessment

The Carbon Brief Interview: Valérie Masson-Delmotte