The Voices at COP 26 – Part 2. Visit to the green zone
In the first part of our report, we summarized what the COP is, how it is organized, what the objectives of the 2021 conference in Glasgow were and what was actually achieved. But we also wanted to share the Voices team’s experience during their visit. In this second part, we will talk about our action at the COP pavilion. As this was the first Voices participation in an event of this type, and knowing that access was necessarily limited to a small number of representatives, only one member of the Voices team had access to the blue zone: the association’s president, Myrto Tripathi. The others had access only to the green zone. This newsletter therefore focuses on that area.
Due to the invasion of officials from around the globe, the city of Glasgow was paralyzed, with police everywhere, security personnel, and helicopters hovering overhead all day long. Bus services were changed and streets closed at the city’s discretion, so getting around Glasgow could be quite a challenge at times. In short, Glasgow, a small industrial town in Scotland, was suddenly inundated with industry representatives, CEOs, diplomats, ministers, journalists… and activists, including us.
A little log of our experience in the green zone:
The team starts the day near the green zone – without Jadwiga Najder, since as president of the Young Generation Network of the European Nuclear Society (ENS YGN) starts her day in the blue zone. The Voices representatives – Myrto Tripathi, Silviu Herchi, Daniel Pérez and Ana Otero – go to the green zone for the first time. On arrival, we had to show our tickets at a first checkpoint, followed by a second check of bags and other objects. We quickly felt the disorganization of the event: the dates of the tickets were supposed to cover the whole week, but many people were turned away at the entrance because their tickets did not correspond to the date of the day … And in the end, after discussion with the guard, he let us through, supposedly so we could “talk to the reception”. Later, we learned that the control of tickets at the entrance was reduced, if not practically eliminated.
Once inside, we walk through a parking lot to the science museum, where the green zone was set up. In the parking lot, we find the first company exhibits:
Between buses and electric tractors, we find cars, which have obviously forgotten that the primary objective was to show sobriety. On the one hand, a magnificent electric SUV from Polestar (Volvo’s electric division), supposed to represent the future of mobility: perfect for allowing you to waste as much energy as you want while being friendly to the environment. Close by, Ford, not wanting to remain silent in the face of a competitor, also shows us its electric SUV. In short, for the sobriety of materials and energy, another time – but don’t worry: by 2050, all these SUVs will be powered exclusively by renewable energies. We did try to find a company that seriously cared about energy efficiency, but it seemed like we were looking in the wrong place…
The group continues into the building. The first thing we saw in the reception area of the green zone (and the colleagues in the blue zone had noticed the same thing): an enormous stand shouting out to visitors in fluorescent green “The Formula E (“E” for electric) is needed to save the world “. No kidding, that is literally the message scrolling across the displays, with the usual hype about how all this is expected (notice the conditional) to come from “100% renewable energy”… by 2050.
The bigger, the better: at COP26, seen as one of the last chances to reach essential agreements on the climate, Formula 1 (or, in this case, Formula-E), which represents the paradigm of the world of engines and overconsumption in the automotive sector, is going to help us change our lifestyles, consume less and implement a form of energy sobriety. Well, maybe we think too much: maybe it’s really simpler than that and as long as it’s “Net zero by 2050,” everything will be fine – right, Envision Racing?
As we walk towards the exhibition, we come upon a booth that welcomes us: the perfect opportunity for a photo, but also to make our first demands regarding the inclusion of nuclear power as a player in a low-carbon future.
As we move on, our group begins to find the first stands of companies and associations. The first introduces us to ecofeminism.
Along the way, we also find a university that is demonstrating a robotic arm to harvest strawberries (the future of agriculture!) – no doubt consuming, as Jean-Marc Jancovici would say, the power of several pairs of legs.
We enter the cafeteria for lunch. Of course, there’s no escaping the world we live in, even at COP26: all lunch choices come with plastic packaging. There are a lot of sweet dessert choices and it’s hard to find fruit (only choice: tangerines). At least there are plenty of vegan options.
We continue towards the business stands. The first stands are those of ScottishPower (bought by Iberdrola in 2006), the fifth largest UK energy group and main supplier to central and southern Scotland, and next to it of Hitachi, a Japanese electronics and engineering company.
At Hitachi we see an electric car with 4-wheel drive and a total of 400 horsepower. “How do you plan to fuel all that?” Silviu asks. “It’s all on the screen, sir.”
The screen, which shows wind generators with QR codes, leads us to a website that explains in a somewhat confusing fashion how they plan to power the electric car fleet with more “smart and flexible grids.” To quote their point 5: “From Hitachi’s point of view, we are very committed to renewable energy connectivity – we are a major player in connecting Norway to Germany, from the Dogger Bank (a large wind project maritime) in the United Kingdom, and we are developing solar farms in Angola. ” Angola? They also talk about their contribution to the France-England IFA-2 interconnection … (we leave the reader to imagine this). But no figures or forecasts of the electricity consumption of their future fleet.
Next is National Grid, equivalent in the UK of France’s RTE, which has made a nice 3D visualization of the future energy system and the corresponding grid adjustments to be made.
So there was hydro, wind, solar (in the UK, the joke is obvious …).
We talk with the people at the stand, who are very open. We talk about the difficulties to develop renewable energy sources and the phase-out of fossil gas. Ana and Daniel speak with a representative who admits to not being against nuclear power, but at the same time not knowing much about the subject. We still had a very interesting conversation on the new interconnections with the continent, the new smartphone application that National Grid has developed (the equivalent of RTE’s ECO2mix). When we asked where nuclear is in the model, the people at the stand seem a little surprised, like, “Oh yes, now that you mention it, it’s not there … We hadn’t noticed.” Curious, considering that at the same time, 71% of the electricity in Scotland came from nuclear (information that we paradoxically learned by consulting the National Grid application)…
It looks like the word nuclear was banned, like “Voldemort.” This is not surprising, given that the organizers rejected all the pro-nuclear stands in the green zone, a priori to avoid conflicts with possible anti-nuclear visitors. Let us not forget that if we are pro-nuclear, we are provocateurs, so we can be censored and, from time to time, attacked (we will come back to this below…). If the reader is female, this situation may sound familiar.
Meanwhile, the Scottish electricity consumption mix during the COP was like this:
A little farther on is SSE, a Scottish energy producer and operator of renewable energy installations (also fossil gas, but no mention of this on their stand). They showcase a great diversity of projects which, admittedly, were for the most part interesting.
The most significant project is their “big” pumped-storage project, Coire Glas, which promises a storage capacity of 30GWh and the capacity to supply 3 million households. It would use excess generation from intermittent renewables to pump water to a reservoir higher up, from which that water would be allowed to flow through turbines when energy demand is high and renewables’ generation is low.
SSE also shows its other big project, the biggest planned offshore wind farm, 6 GW with several hundred Haliade X 14 MW wind turbines. In the satellite photo, it looks like they are going to build a new little country in the middle of the North Atlantic. And the same is true of visuals showing wind turbines as far as the eye can see in the middle of the ocean.
Silviu talks with Grigor, a 28-year-old Russian nuclear engineer who now works on smart grids. Grigor, who has seen our pro-nuclear T-shirts, walks up to Silviu and says, “Actually I too support nuclear in a personal capacity, but here …” No comment.
Adjacent to the SSE booth is the first booth of SkyTV – a UK-based media conglomerate – which presents the first carbon-free TV. Not “net zero” like all the other stands – they are zero, period. We could imagine that to be able to advertise zero carbon, they bought certificates of origin … a big controversial subject these days, but we did not try to dig any further.
Next door is the stand of “The Vegan Butcher.” This company sells vegan products that imitate meat. This type of business is necessary to encourage the public to consume less meat (and therefore follow a diet with a smaller carbon footprint while also saving on water use and farmland).
Now it’s the turn of the Microsoft stand… To be honest, we didn’t really know what Microsoft was doing in the middle of COP26. We wondered if it was to praise their projects of renewable parks (we understand they are not going to talk about nuclear) to supply their offices and data centers, but actually, no. Even if the stand shows small cardboard wind turbines (paradoxically running on 71% nuclear electricity …). A woman walks up and tells us that she can offer attractive financing for Microsoft’s solutions. When she sees that we’re not interested, she apologizes and quickly walks away. We find a representative doing a demo of the HoloLens headset. Very cool, but nothing to do with the main topic of COP26. He asks us for our LinkedIn profiles; after our visit, he posted on LinkedIn about “Sustainable Formula 1.”
A little farther: the booth of Royal Bank of Scotland, Scotland’s largest bank. Very serious people tell us that they are doing their utmost now to finance only “sustainable” activities. “And what criteria do you use, because Europe, for example, can’t agree on what is and what is not sustainable? “Uh… well… University of Edinburgh uh ah mmm.” “I see, thank you”.
In a secluded corner, there are “militant NGOs” with micro-stands. The Irish against gas-fired power stations. Talking with them, it turns out that they are also against nuclear power and against data centers; suddenly we ask what they are campaigning FOR, and the man does not understand the question. They are mostly AGAINST.
There was also an Indian “spiritual” NGO, with a solar power plant project. In response to his questions, Silviu receives a cardboard “blessing”:
Among other NGOs, we found one with its feet on the ground: it is the Colombian NGO “Guardians of the Atrato River“. Its members came to COP26 to share their experiences and show the ecological disaster linked to illegal gold and platinum mining in Chocó region in Colombia.
The visit continues on the next floor. In front of the main staircase, a sign from a battery company tells us that the world’s problems will soon be resolved:
SkyTV has a second stand in partnership with the NGO WWF – a small forest that has been converted into a museum. One of the representatives tells us that if we give out our email addresses for commercial purposes, Sky undertakes to plant some algae “which absorbs CO2″…
Also on the second floor, the Clean Air Fund fights for clean air in the world. They have projects in India, the UK, and eastern and southeastern Europe. No particular opinion on nuclear power. Their annual budget is 15 million USD… A dream for the Voices.
On another side, a display saying the world needs nuclear fusion:
But nothing more. We try to find someone who can tell us about it, but there’s no one there. Is this a metaphor for how long it will take to implement this technology commercially?
In the afternoon, the team goes to a hydropower event. It starts with a documentary that chronicles how water dams have transformed social and economic life in Scotland, followed by a debate from experts in the sector. Unfortunately, the event did not feature any numbers or technical data, but was all about demonstrating the benefits of hydropower and how it can save the world by serving as a reserve when renewables can’t produce energy. No data was provided on the limits of this strategy in other regions or on the problems encountered by the hydropower industry, such as environmental impact. There was an app where viewers could ask questions and submit them to voting to gain ranking in the list. Daniel Pérez had written about four technical questions (without any link with nuclear), and, even if these questions ended up getting the most votes, the conference moderator avoided asking those questions to the speakers. Everything was done to avoid a constructive debate and keep it a publicity event.
Leaving the green zone, we revisit the stands outside. Among the electric SUVs, a surprise: Rolls Royce has its own stand at the back, which shows a miniature electric airplane and a hydrogen engine to generate electricity. Between the two, Rolls Royce dares to show promotional videos about SMRs on a big screen. Finally, we find the word “Voldem… nuclear” at the COP! We talk to people at the stand and meet a young French engineer who works in the SMR division of Rolls Royce. The man is very optimistic about SMRs, for him it is an important export market; he expects announcements from Boris Johnson during the COP.
There was also a reporter from The Energyst. He was surprised to find pro-nuclear people at the COP. We discuss, and even if he turns out to be quite anti-nuclear, we have a very interesting discussion about the pros and cons of each energy source.
Thus ends our second chapter, devoted to the COP26 green zone. Faced with the deluge of wishful thinking and empty promises on display at the COP, we warmly encourage our readers to take the “revolutionary” announcements from certain companies and industry with a grain of salt – and to continue to become informed on climate issues and our energy consumption models. A word to the wise …
Read the first part.
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