Installment 9: Dispatches from COP24, A UMN student delegation in Katowice, Poland
Installment 9 was written by Eileen Juliana Kirby, a graduate student in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
Adaptation is not a COP-out
The first few days at week two of COP 24 have been an absolute whirlwind. The best way to describe the experience for those who haven’t had the opportunity to attend is that it’s sort of like being in an airport in a country where you don’t speak the language, and every time you check the departure board your plane has been moved to a different gate. Events are best found by word of mouth; outside of that anything from high-level plenary sessions running late, to ill-timed snow delaying panelists, to last minute room changes and event cancellations can make it difficult to end up where you intend to go. Despite this, there are enough fascinating events to keep you running from place to place over the course of 12 hours (and 7 miles on average per day, all in dress shoes).
With my background in atmospheric science and risk/resilience research, I’ve focused much of my energy thus far on events emphasizing Articles 7 (Adaptation) and 8 (Loss and Damages) of the Paris Agreement. Coming into the COP24 conference I struggled with even choosing that focus, as it felt as though I were resigning myself to a world where we were unsuccessful in addressing the wicked problem of climate change. Even today, however, it is incredibly necessary to fund and act on adaptive measures. Sea levels are rising, and extreme weather events attributable to climate change (per more than 100 studies on attribution in the last 3 years) are on the rise and impacting humans across the globe. Despite this, only 3% of global spending on climate change is routed towards adaptation, per Sophie Evans of Willis Tower Watson.
A complex problem
Adaptation is an issue with many facets, not the least of which is funding. The Adaptation Fund, established under the Kyoto Protocol, is in a state of relative flux following the acceptance of the Paris Agreement with indeterminate phrasing around the fund, and the decline in respective political significance of the Kyoto Protocol. Though the Global Climate Action Fund has stated an intent to distribute funding 50/50 between mitigation and adaptation, the actual distribution has not reached that level yet (it sits more around 70/30 mitigation adaptation, which is still comparatively remarkable to other climate action funds). Issues of placing blame and responsibility of recovery, or even simply the cost of preparedness for extreme events, are often polarizing between the countries most vulnerable to loss and damages from a changing climate and developed countries most historically responsible for greenhouse gas emissions.
Weather is attributable to climate change
As noted earlier, the notion that specific weather events cannot be attributed to climate change has been refuted extensively over the course of COP 24. Simply put, for some events, the statistical probability of the event’s occurrence in a climate that did not experience warming is so low that the warmer climate can be designated as the main cause of the event. This has huge implications for funding recovery from loss and damages as well as preventing future damages. Should countries responsible for the historical emissions that warmed the environment and made it possible for the (hurricane, flood, etc.) to happen be held responsible for funding the recovery of the impacted countries, and if so, to what extent? It is a fascinating, polarizing question. If you don’t have an immediate answer, don’t worry – neither do the negotiators.
A note of optimism
Though the outcome of the conference is still uncertain, and frustrations are high surrounding debates on the language of inclusion of the IPCC Special Report, I will leave this post with a message of hope. Diverse, intelligent, well-informed entities are working together to address the risks posed by climate change; even in the absence of a formal acceptance of the IPCC report or ambitious international commitments. There is so much to be done, but I am continually inspired and given hope by the people who are doing their best to do it.