COP24, what’s been done and where do we go from here?

As the COP24 draws to a close this week, delegates from 193 countries, activists, non-profit organisations and private sector representatives will start to leave Katowice. And as the conference disbands, commentators from across the world are starting to ask, have we done enough to stop global warming and implement the 2015 Paris Agreement?

It must be said that much remains in the balance even after two intensive weeks of discussion and debate. Let’s look at the bad news first. A bloc of four oil-producing countries – the US, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Kuwait – have been accused of obstructing the UN’s climate change talks. All four have refused to “welcome” the IPCC’s special report warning of dire consequences if global warming rises more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. As major fossil fuel powers each of the four countries argued that the IPCC report should be simply “noted” in discussions. Their actions have brought sharp criticism from developing countries whose citizens are most at risk from climate-induced disasters. Ralph Regenvanu, the foreign minister for Vanuatu, a nation in the South Pacific Ocean, did not hold back as he delivered a damning speech before ministers and heads of state; “Whether you welcome, or note, or shamefully ignore the science altogether, the fact remains that this is catastrophic for humanity, and party negotiators blocking meaningful progress should have much on their conscience.” The talks were marred by further controversy earlier this week when Australia became the only nation to join the US at a pro-coal event where the US announced its commitment to extracting fossil fuels and warned against climate change ‘alarmism’.  Australia has also stated that it will not commit to larger carbon emissions reductions. As a result, the brokering of a “rulebook” for implementing the 2015 Paris Agreement has slowed.

If you are wondering whether there is light at the end of the tunnel, allow me to illuminate some of the more promising developments from COP24. Following the stalls in talks earlier this week, UN Secretary General António Guterres returned to Katowice and he did not mince words. Speaking to the plenary he stated, “We’re running out of time. To waste this opportunity would compromise our last best chance to stop runaway climate change. It would not only be immoral, it would be suicidal.” In response, some countries have upped their game. The High Ambition Coalition, a group of countries including the EU, Canada and New Zealand, as well as a large group of least developed countries and several other developing nations, have pledged to scale up their plans to cut emissions in line with the IPCC’s warning that global warming cannot rise above 1.5°C.

Other bright spots in the talks have included climate change commitments from fast and high fashion companies. Inditex, Burberry and 41 other companies have pledged to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. The launch of the Sports Climate Action Framework brings together 17 major sporting committees and federations in an initiative designed to get the sporting industry on track for a net-zero emissions economy by 2050. The sport industry is responsible for extensive carbon emissions through travel, energy use and catering. People from around the world were galvanised into collective action as part of the #ClimateAlarm initiative. On the 8th of December citizens of more than a hundred cities across the globe marched together to demand stronger commitments to climate action. In Brussels a record breaking 75,000 people took part. Greta Thunberg, a 15 year old Swedish schoolgirl made a lasting impression at the UN climate summit when she challenged world leaders to better climate action. Thunberg’s words taken hold in Sweden, Poland and Australia where school children have gone on strike in protest against climate inaction. New initiatives like the People’s Seat have been widely applauded for encouraging a spirit of openness and inclusiveness in the midst of complex political discussion.

So what do we take away from the last two weeks? Consider this progress as ‘two-steps forward and one step back’. Commitments from fashion and sports industries, collective action from across the globe as well as significant pledges by the High Ambition Coalition have brought us closer to significant climate action. But at the time of writing, the “rulebook”  for implementing the 2015 Paris Agreement has yet to be finalised and the oil bloc of Russia, the US, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, continue to drag their feet.

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Article by: Isobel Squire (with reviews from Jana Fleischer and Daniella Domsa)

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