COP24: gridlock, doubts and greenwashing

The annual UN climate change talks, known as COP, ended on Saturday night in Poland, following two weeks of strenuous negotiations. Though all countries agreed on the final document, some crucial issues remain unaddressed. 

Ada Petriczko
Ada Petriczko NewsMavens, Poland
COP24: gridlock, doubts and greenwashing - NewsMavens
Protesters at COP24. Wikicommons

Why this story matters:

The latest COP took place in Katowice, Poland, an industrial city that is one of the most polluted spots in Europe.

When in January this year I spoke with Mr Anote Tong, the ex-president of Kiribati -- the atol country which will most likely disappear in 100 years due to climate change -- I mentioned that Poland is a rather unfortunate choice for a climate change conference host.

“On the contrary,” he replied. “COP should be held in Poland precisely because you have such high carbon emissions.”

Has the host lived up to these expectations? Not quite.

After choosing coal companies to sponsor the talks, Poland set off to a PR disaster, as it greeted COP participants in a conference hall decorated with piles of coal and a miners’ orchestra playing in the background. While I listened to President Andrzej Duda declare in his opening speech that Katowice is one of the greenest cities in Poland, it became clear that the government was not ready to properly address our coal addiction.

During the conference, the US, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait openly challenged the 2018 report of the IPCC, which warned against the consequences of climate change. Brazil's withdrawal of its offer to host next year’s talks was another blow and a stark reminder of climate skepticism under Jair Bolsonaro’s new rule.

By the middle of last week, it was clear that the conference would not finish on Friday as scheduled. The final session was held on Saturday night. But flawed as its outcome may be, it is still our best bet for the future. All eyes will now turn to the next deadline: 2020, when states will have to demonstrate that they have met old targets and set new, much more ambitious ones.

Details from the story:

  • The COP (Conference of the Parties) is the supreme decision-making body of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The conference takes place annually and all states that are parties to the convention are represented. The purpose of COP is to review the implementation of the convention and assess progress in dealing with climate change.
  • COP24 took place in Katowice, Poland, on December 2-14, 2018.
  • The purpose of this conference was to create the so-called “Katowice rulebook” for implementing the 2015 Paris agreement. The document includes provisions for governments on how to measure, report on and verify their emissions-cutting efforts.
  • What is missing from the agreement is the crucial question of how countries will obtain their targets on cutting emissions. The issue that allegedly caused the most severe gridlock at COP24 was Article 6 of the Paris agreement, which forms the legal framework to allow use of market-based climate change mitigation mechanisms. In the end, this issue was exempt from the final document, to the disappointment of many.
  • Next year’s COP will be held in Chile, while UK, Italy and Turkey are rumoured to be competing for hosting the crucial 2020 conference.
  • Greenwashing is an intrinsic part of any climate change conference and this year it was not unique to Poland. Events at the Russian pavilion were sponsored by gas mogul Gazprom and EN+, an energy company that burns millions of tons of coal annually in their power houses. Brazil, on the other hand, hosted Bayer, which last year teamed up with Monsanto to create the largest pesticide producing consortium worldwide.
  • Two months ago, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the global body of the world’s leading climate scientists, issued a report stressing the absolute necessity of keeping global warming below 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. Otherwise, they claim, the planet will witness droughts, floods, sea level rises and the decline of agricultural productivity. In 2007, the IPCC was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize “for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change.” 
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