UN Climate Change Conference Begins Day Early Due To Pressure To Make Progress
By Sofy Robertson
The UN Climate Change Conference COP24, the most critical meeting on climate change since the 2015 Paris Agreement, is taking place today in Poland today.
This Conference of the Parties is the first to be held since the landmark report was released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Chance (IPCC) stating that global temperatures must be limited to a rise of 1.5C.
In a rare move, four former presidents of the United Nations-sponsored talks spoke out at the summit in Katowice, Poland, saying “decisive action in the next two years will be crucial.” (BBC)
Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General, spoke at the opening ceremony, saying that climate change was already a “matter of life and death” for many. He explained that many of the countries most responsible for climate change were still behind in their responsibilities, adding that the world is “nowhere near where it needs to be” on the transition to a low-carbon economy.
Due to pressure to make progress, negotiators at the COP24 (Conference of the Parties) convened a day early, beginning their talks yesterday. Guterres acknowledged that the conference was an effort to “right the ship” and he would convene a further climate summit next year to discuss next steps.
The four former presidents; Frank Bainimarama of Fiji, Salaheddine Mezouar of Morocco, Laurent Fabius of France and Manuel Pulgar Vidal of Peru; made their views clear, saying:
“What ministers and other leaders say and do in Katowice at COP24 will help determine efforts for years to come and either bring the world closer to meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement – including protecting those most vulnerable to climate change – or push action further down the road.
“Any delay will only make it harder and more expensive to respond to climate change.”
Who is attending the conference?
Sir David Attenborough, the celebrated television broadcaster and naturalist, will be taking the “people’s seat” at these talks. From this platform, he will give a speech made up of submitted climate change comments from the public for world leaders. Attenborough explained:
“The people’s seat is meant to represent the hundreds of millions of people are around the world whose lives are about to be affected by climate change.
“It will sit there to remind politicians who are working at [this] conference – and administrators and governments – that this is not a theoretical enterprise – they aren’t working in a vacuum. They are dealing with real people’s futures.” (BBC)
Attenborough has launched a campaign with a video inviting viewers to share their thoughts on climate change. Ahead of the conference, people were inviteded to submit their experiences and opinions on climate change using an online poll. They can also submit their views on social media using the hashtag #TakeYourSeat. Attenborough concluded:
“People know that the world is changing; they are behind politicians taking action.”
In addition to Sir David Attenborough, twenty-nine heads of state and government are due to give statements at the opening of the meeting.
Why is the UN process so slow-moving?
There is much frustration at the pace with which change is happening with regard to climate change. Many campaigners believe that the threat posed by rising temperatures has not been fully grasped by a large number of politicians.
A spokesperson from Extinction Rebellion, the group responding to climate change by putting pressures on government organisations, said:
“Governments across the world have completely failed to protect their citizens.
“Instead, they have pursued quick profit and big business. We need this to change. At COP24, we want to ensure that the focus is not just on getting the technical Paris rulebook as robust as possible, but also that governments do not lose sight of the bigger picture. We are not doing enough.” (BBC)
Others involved in the UN process argue that real progress is being made to tackle one of the most complex and damning problems the planet has ever faced. Achim Steiner, Head of the United Nations Development Programme said:
“You have to recognise that things that negotiators and others have worked so hard to put in place are making a real difference.
“We have a $300bn renewable energy economy at work today – it’s not peanuts, it’s an energy revolution that has unfolded on the back of, yes, a sometimes sticky climate negotiation process.”
Are there concerns over the host country’s ties to fossil fuels?
There is concern amongst government negotiators and observers alike that the conference is taking place in a strong coal region, in a city that is home to the biggest coal company in the EU.
Poland gets 80% of its electricity from the fossil fuel, making it highly dependent on coal. Despite widespread use of low quality coal to heat homes, resulting in smog and respiratory illness, the Polish government says it’s sticking with the fuel. They have announced plans to invest next year in the construction of a new coal mine in Silesia.
Speaking about the Polish government’s decision, Sébastien Duyck, senior attorney at the Centre for International Environmental Law said:
“Unfortunately, this week’s announcement by the [meeting’s] Polish presidency that it will include coal companies as sponsors of the COP sends a very worrisome signal before the conference even begins.”
Investing in change
Under the Paris agreement, each country decides for itself the actions it will take when it comes to cutting carbon. Fernanda Carvalho from WWF explained:
“We are hoping that at COP24, countries will make declarations of how they will raise their ambitions by 2020. This is a very important moment.”
Taking a huge step towards change, the World Bank has announced $200bn in funding over five years to support countries taking action against climate change.