In what many describe as the biggest international climate change negotiations since the 2015 Paris Agreement, COP24 convened this month in the city of Katowice, Poland. Here are ten key takeaways from this year’s negotiations.
1. Coal Vs. COP: Despite the pressing need for assertive action, some nations and state parties are expressing reluctance to phase out the fossil fuels that represent the primary cause of climate change. Unfortunately, the country that has been hosting COP24 is among them. Poland has a long history and relationship with coal. As both a fuel product and a national tradition, the country’s “black gold” is deeply connected to its culture and sense of economic security and autonomy. Across the country, coal remains a powerful cultural symbol and lobbying force, strongly supported my mining communities and trade unions. While citing openness to discussion about renewable energy, Poland made it clear at COP24 that it will neither give up coal nor cede energy-related decisions to an international entity or agreement.
2. Civic Discourse: Some attendees faced direct, physical interference when Polish authorities deported and/or denied entry to members of civil society groups attempting to attend the conference. The participation of activists and “regular citizens” is a crucial part of the effort to hold world leaders accountable for taking action on climate change. Many participants from developing nations also experienced difficulties in getting visas to attend COP24, excluding a crucial group of stakeholders representing those hardest hit by the impacts of climate change. When engaging in peaceful protest and participating in collective activities to demonstrate support for protecting the environment, activists were greeted with an oppressive law enforcement presence. While last year’s climate march in Bonn had a lighter feel, with music and many families attending, the tension in Katowice ran high with such an armed presence.
3. Legacy Of The Talanoa Dialogue: While the mixed messages and conduct of COP24’s host country was dramatically different from that of COP23’s, the spirit of solidarity and communication of the Talanoa Dialogue, an initiative pushed by last year’s host, Fiji, was still present. The collective mitigation effort of the dialogue provides an opportunity for UN member states to gather to assess and discuss specific measures to limit the rise in global temperature. Where conversations involving multiple diverse parties can often emphasize differences in viewpoints and priorities, the Talanoa Dialogue encourages a focus on commonalities.
4. Adopted: Just Transition: Consideration of common grounds and the practical impact of mitigating the effects of climate change are critical factors when looking for solutions that will be successful in reaching collective aims. Renewable energy and sustainable technologies provide a wealth of opportunities for job growth. The skills required for those positions are not necessarily compatible with the skills required for work in the fossil fuel industry. As such, many workers fear that they will be unable to find employment if their industries become obsolete. Nevertheless, many studies show that renewable energy can offer huge employment potential with better-paid and safer jobs. To show commitment to the social and economic safety of the workforce while transitioning toward climate-resilient economies, the Solidarity and Just Transition Silesia Declaration was adopted during COP24. The commitment to making industrial workers part of the effort to meet emission reduction targets represents a balanced approach to addressing both current and future human concerns. Every country needs to move towards a cleaner energy economy, but workers do not have to be left behind as that goal is pursued.
5. ‘Noted’, Not ‘Welcomed’: While the Silesia Declaration was effortlessly adopted during COP24, the recent IPCC report was not. The report, which was commissioned by policymakers at COP21, reveals that global temperatures are moving towards a catastrophic 3° C rise during this century. The landmark study encourages “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” to reduce global temperature increase to at least 1.5° C. A key measure in reaching that goal is a 45% reduction of global emissions by the year 2030. Kuwait, Russia, Saudi Arabia and the U.S., some of the world’s largest oil-producing countries, objected to “welcoming” the document, wanting only to “note” it. Without a consensus, the text had to be dropped.
6. The Challenges Of Multilateralism: One of the key takeaways from COP24 is that multilateralism is complicated. All countries have their own goals and positions, informed by ideologies and concerns about their economies and citizens. With almost 200 participating parties, it is to be expected that there would be some degree of variation in those goals and some amount of insular thinking. The devastating effects of the rise in global temperature have no regard for national boundaries. While some countries and regions are currently feeling those effects more than others, it is only a matter of time until every nation on the planet experiences the dramatic impacts of climate change. It can be difficult and frustrating to see different parties approach common concerns from fixed positions and with inflexible perspectives. That is the challenge presented by cooperative efforts on an international and multicultural scale. Yet opportunity coexists with that challenge. Bringing diverse people together for dialogue and negotiation can make differences clear, but it also reveals common grounds. Nationality, culture and socioeconomic status all take second place to being human. A global solution demands global participation.
7. Same Players, Same Story: When coupling increasingly dire warnings about the rise of global temperature with the ongoing wrangling over national and ideological matters, there is some question as to whether progress has truly been made since the first COP in 1995. After 24 years, there is almost a sense of déjà vu to see the same issues continuing to hinder progress. Where ongoing conflict in multilateral efforts may be par for the course and sustained indefinitely in some international matters, that type of discord represents a luxury that no one can afford in the matter of climate change. The clock is running out on the subject and immediate, decisive and cooperative effort is not simply desirable, but a necessity.
8. New Generation, New Eyes, New Ideas; If a new generation of minds is needed to contribute ideas for workable solutions to the challenges presented by climate change, there are many young people up to the task. Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg is one. The 15-year-old gained international attention after beginning a school strike in August to protest inadequate measures on the part of local and world leaders to cut emissions. More than 20,000 students joined the protest, demonstrating that members of the youngest generation are not content to sit idly by as their future is threatened by inaction in the face of climate change. Greta was present at COP24 and spoke pointedly about one of the conditions of international meetings that leave many people, young and old alike, frustrated. “This is an amazing opportunity. But if it continues the way it is now, we are never going to achieve anything.”
9. The People’s Seat: After two dozen years of conferences and conversations that have failed to produce a decisive solution to address the impending environmental crisis, it is clear that fresh perspectives and ideas are needed. Enlisting a new generation to participate in the effort is a significant measure to turn new eyes on what is becoming an old and ever-more-pressing problem. Formal discussions about combatting the effects of climate change are often framed in terms of big players: governments and corporations. Yet it is individuals and communities who stand to feel the most immediate impact from the effects of global warming. There are not many forums for these small players to use their voice with the hope of being heard, however. As such, initiatives like the People’s Seat are valuable efforts to encourage a spirit of openness and inclusiveness. Much relies upon the success of higher-level negotiations in efforts to iron out the details of the Paris Agreement Rulebook and its ancillary conditions. Those conversations often occur behind closed doors and without full involvement and transparency to the constituents vested in the end product of the negotiations. Decision-makers must be held accountable for the matters that they are entrusted to decide upon, making it even more important for the average citizen to stand up and demand that those negotiating on their behalf honor their wishes and pursue solutions that will protect their interests.
10. Where Do We Go From Here? COP25 was initially slated to be hosted by Brazil, but their candidacy was withdrawn under the official reason of “budget constraints.” The underlying reason is more likely due to a change in presidential administration. The new Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, is a known climate skeptic who has threatened to strip power from his nation’s environmental agencies and it remains unclear if Brazil will remain in the Paris Agreement. As next year’s host is required to be in Latin America or the Caribbean, there has been frantic scrambling to confirm the location of next year’s event. With top contenders Costa Rica and Chile likely locations, it is possible that next year’s event will be held under the eyes of a much friendlier chair – not to mention a warmer location.