Installment 6: Dispatches from COP24, A UMN student delegation in Katowice, Poland
This installment is written by Katie Sauter, a graduate student in the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
I found the opening Plenary session, with speeches from heads of state and words spoken by other influential people throughout, to be powerful. Some points that spoke to me:
- The President of Fiji said that everyone is welcome in the canoe, even those that are dragging their feet.
- The U.N. Secretary General, António Guterres: We are way off course and are in big trouble unless ambition and political will begins right now.
- David Attenborough: We are facing the greatest threat we’ve had and the people demand that countries step up.
- President of Spain: The climate change cause is related to human dignity and Spain’s transition will be a timely one only if we all work together.
- Arnold Schwarzenegger: He wishes he could be the Terminator in real life and go back in time to set us upon a path that doesn’t lead to the use of fossil fuels.
Although I have heard discussions and notes regarding the official U.S. government’s position on climate change, much of the controversy and focus that I’ve noticed has been on the position Poland has taken regarding its reliance and history of coal. Their country pavilion contains an exhibit with coal and proudly showcases various pieces of jewelry made from coal, and in the speeches made by the Polish President, environmental minister, and the mayor of Katowice, all proclaimed in some manner the importance of coal and how Katowice has developed because of coal. The COP is actually held on the same site as an old coal mine. Similarly, the paradox between what this conference is trying to accomplish and the conference’s actual carbon footprint have been noted by attendees and press articles. While there are recycling bins available in every room, most of the food is packaged in paper bags/boxes and plastic wrap, and apparently the COP will emit about the same amount of carbon dioxide as 11,700 cars driving for one year. As an attendee, I find these conversations somewhat distracting but also important as it starts to get all of us to look at our actions and how we really need everyone around the world to join in and to join in ambitiously.
In terms of the U.S., I noticed that the United States’ name was misspelled on the map for the country pavilion locations. Come on, U.N., that is painful, for me as an American and as a person who hates grammatical errors. And then, not even five minutes later when I consulted the map again, there was a new pavilion name now taped over, at times sloppily, where the “Uinted States” was once. Message received, I suppose. I just wonder what happened to our pavilion, as I thought we were planning on having one…and also how that typo was not noticed.
As a person who studies water, I found some statements made in a few side events to be very powerful. One speaker stated the importance for “climate change people” to work with, and use information from, “water people”, especially in terms of disaster relief and recovery, as actions cannot be taken without collaboration between the two groups. Following this, in a U.N.-led panel on the role of water in climate neutrality, it was frequently repeated that “the language of climate change for many people is water” and that we *cannot* meet our mitigation goals unless we think of water. In 2009, water issues weren’t really tracked at COP and now, nearly 10 years later, water is still emerging in the discussions. I found it powerful and very important that the water-related side events, especially the U.N. one, really highlighted the lack of water discussions on the main docket. It isn’t all about emissions!
I also am geeking out that I am listening to IPCC chairs and authors, and some of the heads of the World Meteorological Organization. It is amazing who you can see and hear at the COP.