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A researcher at COP28: Samuel Saysset
Testimony 29/01/2024

A researcher at COP28: Samuel Saysset

COP28 took place in Dubai from 30 November to 12 December – an event in which ENGIE took part to share its positive vision of the energy transition and show what the Group is doing in concrete terms, with operational and realistic solutions. ENGIE has also been present in the Gulf States for over 30 years, in particular in renewable energy generation and desalination.  Samuel Saysset, Research Program Portfolio Manager at ENGIE R&I, attended COP28. Here, he shares his perspective as a researcher with an enquiring mind. 

It’s one of the positive things about this COP – to be able to raise climate change awareness among the youngest members of society.

I expected that the countries commitments would be made more evident in Dubai, because that’s typically where everything is discussed and where it plays out.

Why and how did you attend COP28 in Dubai?

I was lucky enough to be able to attend the Food, Agriculture and Water day organised as part of COP28. This was the first time that the issue of water had been so high on the agenda at a COP.

As part of this themed day, a desalination day was organised at the ENGIE AMEA offices, located in the COP28 Green Zone, with several workshops on the subject. The highlight was the launch of the ENGIE Desalination Centre of Excellence. 

I took the opportunity to visit the various exhibitions in the innovation and business area, including the ENGIE stand, as well as the desalination pilot plant built by ENGIE R&I, which is currently being finalised in Sharjah.

Was this your first COP?

No, I was lucky enough to be able to take part in COP21, which took place in Paris in December 2015 and led to the Paris Agreement, which came into force in November 2016.

I found the atmospheres of the two COPs very different.  What I remember about COP21 is the celebratory atmosphere, the little stands and the organisations that were there. In Dubai, it seemed more like a spectacular show! And from a technology point of view, I was able to visit both innovation exhibitions, but I came away a little disappointed because I didn’t discover anything that was truly new.

I think we have to remember that it’s a celebration, not a trade fair or an innovation show like CES.

What are three things you’ll take away from this COP?

The first thing that impressed me was the immense size of the site. COP28 took place on the site of the 2020 World Expo, a huge, modern site the size of a town.

The site was built to minimise its energy impact, and the first thing you see is the 130-metre-wide canopy of the Sustainability Pavilion – a Net Zero Energy and Water building – and its energy trees fitted with solar panels that rotate to face the sun. It’s pretty impressive.

As well as the huge crowds (400,000 people registered for a day pass for the Green Zone), what struck me most was that there were so many families and schoolchildren on the site. At COP21 in Paris, attendees were generally from businesses and organisations. To my mind, it’s one of the positive things about this COP – I think it’s great to be able to raise climate change awareness among the youngest members of society. It’s a first step, even if the negotiations and the agreement itself haven’t provided any major momentum, in my view.

Which brings me to the minor disappointment I mentioned, in terms of technology. I saw things we already know about, CO2 capture, direct air capture, nothing very new. I found that the techniques presented were more about marketing and communication than innovation.

Do you think the COP commitments will have an impact on ENGIE’s activities?

ENGIE’s ambitious commitments to move towards Net Zero Carbon were made before COP28. I don’t think we’ll need to adjust them following the conclusions of this COP.

The final agreement reached at COP28 may seem modest. The main point of debate was the transition away from fossil fuels, with a consensus to “transition away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner”. For the rest, the agreement recognises the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial temperatures, and to gradually reduce the use of coal, commitments that were already included in the agreements of several previous COPs.

Paris was a success, albeit a limited one, but it led to commitments and an agreement ratified in 2016 by 196 parties. To my knowledge, the other COPs, notably Glasgow in 2021 and Sharm-El-Sheikh in 2022, failed to include a deadline for phasing out fossil fuels in the final agreements

 When you organise a COP in a country that relies on oil for its livelihood, you can expect phasing out fossil fuels to be a topic of debate. While the agreement doesn’t mention a “phase-out” of fossil fuels, “transitioning away” from fossil fuels is nonetheless a step forwards. As an optimist, I’m waiting for COP29 in Baku to see firmer commitments from the Parties. Unfortunately, I fear that history will repeat itself, because Azerbaijan is also dependent on oil and gas. 

I get the impression that individual countries are doing a lot of things. Many countries have Net Zero pathways for 2050, 2060 for China, which is ambitious. I expected that these commitments would be made more evident in Dubai, that they would be better represented at the COP, because that’s typically where everything is discussed and where it plays out.

Can you tell us a bit about your background?

I have a fairly classic background as a doctor of engineering. I trained as a process engineer and got my PhD in air treatment at Nancy.  I joined the group in 2000, in what would become the Crigen Lab, where I spent 18 years working on hydrogen, CO2 capture and storage, industry, new energy sources, storage and energy.

I joined ENGIE Research in 2018 as part of Luc Goossens’s team. So all in all, 24 years of R&D at ENGIE. I have an enquiring mind, and that’s what keeps me at Research!

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