In December 2018, in the snowy city of Katowice, Poland, the world gathered for the UNFCCC’s 24th annual ‘Conference of Parties’. Nearly 30,000 people assembled to discuss the crisis of climate change – a topic now accompanied by a looming ultimatum. In October 2018, two months prior to the conference, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published their landmark Special Report on 1.5 degrees. The report predicts a mere 12 years before action cannot be taken to prevent warming of greater than 1.5 degrees Celsius, as targeted by the Paris Climate Agreement. Many hoped the report would serve as a wake-up call for leaders, forcing them to use the conference to work effectively towards meaningful progress. The big question, therefore, is – did they do so?
The main goal of the conference was to complete the ‘Paris Rulebook’, previously launched in 2015 with the Paris Agreement, with the aim of outlining how countries would work towards Paris’ goals and reduce their individual emissions. The conference was opened by a collection of declarations offered by the Polish presidency, including the ‘Silesia Declaration’ emphasising the importance of a “Just Transition”. This refers to the need to create “decent work and quality jobs” which can be seen to stem from Poland’s current heavy fossil fuel reliance, with the nation currently generating 80% of its energy from coal and the industry providing over 82,000 jobs within the region of Silesia alone. Moreover, the presidency announced the initiative ‘Forests for Climate’, seeking to highlight the importance of forests within the pursuit of a sustainable future. However, the announcement was seen to raise a degree of concern as many feared that Poland would use the initiative to distract from its persistent investment in fossil fuels, with the Polish government having only recently announced the construction of yet another coal mine as well as the conference itself being sponsored by three of Poland’s largest state-owned coal companies.
Such fears continued to spread as negotiations attempted to ‘welcome’ the findings of the IPCC report into the Rulebook’s documentation. The proposal was swiftly blocked as Saudi Arabia, backed by Russia, Kuwait and the USA, insisted instead that the document simply ‘note’ the report’s findings. The differing legal implications posed by the two proposals were significant, with ‘welcoming’ ensuring legal accountability in accordance to the report whilst ‘noting’ merely ensured a recognition of its existence. Guests at the conference were quick to notice the correlation between the obstructions posed and the heavy investments often held by such nations in fossil fuels, leading to many feeling pessimistic about the progress of the negotiations. Such objections were effective and alarmingly frequent and caused the process to become slow and arduous for both spectators and delegates. As a result, many key progressive proposals were postponed for discussion until COP25 for lack of time and traction.
Some headway was made however in the field of Climate Finance, with institutions such as the World Bank doubling its current commitments to climate investment programmes to $200 million between 2021 and 2025, whilst many European states made significant donations to the UNFCCC’s Adaptation Fund. Germany also doubled its contribution to the Green Climate Fund, resulting in their pledge now sitting at a considerable $1.5bn. The UK followed suit, making progress on their current international finance pledges, such as committing £100 million to renewable energy projects in sub-Saharan Africa. However, finances still currently sit short of the $100bn promised to developing countries in the Paris Agreement set for 2025, aimed at helping such countries construct sustainable infrastructure as well as adaptive mechanisms for climate impacts.
The conference also integrated a new discussion structure called the ‘Talanoa Dialogue’, with the aim to emulate Pacific Island storytelling practices in hopes of raising state pledges, known as ‘Nationally Determined Contributions’ (NDC’s). The dialogue was seen to facilitate constructive debate, including many of the “High Ambition Coalition” committing to increase efforts on low emission development strategies and short term action by 2020.
However, many in the conference questioned such pledges, viewing them merely as conservative gestures to maintain a pretence. Protests were a daily occurrence alongside the negotiations, as campaigners participated in peaceful disruptive actions aimed at cultivating urgency within the COP space. A key protest, led by American youth and indigenous activists, took place at the Trump Administration’s ‘Clean Coal’ panel event, staffed entirely by white males: panel members were met with chants of “Shame on you!” and “Keep it in the ground”. Protests could sometimes also take the form of walkouts, with one of the most notable occurring at the EU-facilitated ‘GasNaturally’ event, run by a lobby group with interests in natural gas. However, one of the most unmissable demonstrations took place on the final day of the negotiations, commencing with a mass occupation of the main staircase and culminating in a march to the doorstep of the negotiation chambers.
So, did the conference manage to make significant gains in pursuing progress? In short – well, no. At least, not to the extent it could have. Despite great efforts from delegates and campaigners, with the Chinese team even reportedly having resorted to sleeping in suits on the conference hall floor, pledges often still fell short of the Paris Agreement’s goals and, after lengthy discussion, the IPCC report was still not officially incorporated into documentation. However, some did manage to draw hope from the conference’s discourse, with many fearing the worst in the wake of such events as the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. With COP25 set to take place next year on the sunny shores of Chile, the word on everyone’s lips is ‘ambition’, with the need for the process to be emblazoned by bold steps.
If you agree more needs to be done in the fight against climate change, sign the ‘Warwick Climate Emergency Coalition’s’ petition advocating for Warwick’s commitment to climate neutrality by 2030 and for the university’s declaration of climate change as a ‘climate emergency’:
Moreover, if you are interested to learn more about the COP process, take a look at the opportunities to be a part of the ‘Warwick Climate Negotiating Summit’ team. The summit is set to take place in Term 1 of the next academic year and is keen for your passion and expertise.
Header Image: COP24 Official on Flickr