Last week I attended the UNFCCC (COP24) in Katowice, Poland as an observer on behalf of the International Biochar Initiative (IBI). It was my first time attending and the first time in a long time for IBI. The intent was to both highlight biochar as a viable climate change tool and to evaluate the level of interest and knowledge about biochar amongst the attendees.
As a first-timer, the conference can be a bit overwhelming. The event draws more than twenty thousand attendees from around the globe (and its attending carbon footprint is barely acknowledged!). There are many different types of events going on simultaneously including opened and closed negotiating sessions,educational side events, national pavillion events, exhibits, press events, non-sanctioned events at nearby hotels and much, much more.
It is impossible to really get a comprehensive perspective of everything going on in just a few short days but I came away with the overall impression that there is far more talk than action going on. People are busy making pledges, quantifying baselines and emission sources, and planning ways to reduce and finance those reductions. But when it comes to the hard work of actually cutting emissions, rebalancing atmospheric carbon and acclimating to our new climate reality, the pace seems heartbreakingly slow, the price tag excessively high, and the politics insurmountably grid-locked.
If I had to distill everything down to a few key messages that stood out for me they would be: 1) addressing the climate crisis must be done in collaboration with achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (which I have blogged about previously here), and 2) the focus for funding is equally divided between climate change adaptation and mitigation – and mitigation seems to be weighted more heavily on emissions reduction activities than on carbon drawdown at the moment.
While it would be disingenuous to claim that the messages coming out of such a conference were filled with hope, perhaps because I was there representing biochar, I still came away from the experience optimistic. The optimism was surely not due to the popularity of biochar as very few people were even aware of its role in climate change mitigation or adaptation. Yet almost without exception when we were able to engage people in meaningful dialogue about the benefits of biochar production and use, there was broad interest in learning more and in bringing that
At a meeting so focused on overwhelming problems, I think people were starved for solutions that are simple, scalable and shovel ready. Biochar, as I have said many times, is no silver bullet. But it definitely deserves a seat at the table when it comes to conferences such as this. However espousing the benefits of biochar needs to shift from a mere exhibit booth to being in front of the room where case studies and climate math can be discussed and used to inspire others to adopt and adapt. That’s my goal for next year’s conference! Ideas welcome for how to make that happen.