Installment 16: Dispatches from COP24, A UMN student delegation in Katowice, Poland
Installment 14 was written by Jacob Herbers, head of the UMN COP24 student delegation and a graduate student at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
First, it’s important to note that a disproportionate amount of the side events at COP24 were ‘manels,’ and I think that international climate negotiations would be more successful if more women comprised the negotiating parties.
At COP24 we were fortunate enough to meet with Humphrey alum Brandon Wu, who now works for ActionAid USA, used to be on the board of the Green Climate Fund, and attends COP every year. He answered our questions about some of his areas of expertise related to COP24, as well as careers in climate policy. Brandon also appeared on 2 panels at COP24 side events, both relating to how authoritarian national leaders and policies in countries around the world negatively affect climate change mitigation and adaptation. Something that really resonated with me was a figure illustrating the reinforcing feedback loop between nationalism and climate change. An example of how this cycle can be broken was demonstrated in another side event, where several panelists emphasized the importance of international collaboration in carbon trading markets. This is a case where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts; carbon markets are more efficient when more parties collaborate.
On Thursday, the COP24 closing plenaries began. These take place in a large conference hall, with the COP24 officials on stage, delegations from every country in the world at rows of tables on the floor, and observers/NGOs seated in the back. The purpose of these sessions is for parties and groups to make their official statements to the whole plenary body, and to officially approve the negotiating text for the Paris Climate Agreement. This output is known as the ‘Katowice Text.’ This was originally supposed to end Friday afternoon, but disagreements between countries on several issues delayed the final decision, and the final plenary lasted into the early morning hours on Sunday.
One of these issues is one that cropped up as we were arriving for week 2 of COP24. Due to resistance by four major fossil fuel supporting countries (USA, KSA, Russia, Kuwait), the Katowice text only ‘welcomes the timely completion’ of the IPCC 1.5 C report that my colleagues have mentioned.
The issue of bifurcation that has been a cornerstone of UNFCCC debates for years once again made news as China made a significant move to flip their position on this issue. They now agreed with the EU to generally support one single set of standards for all countries in the Katowice Text, but left a little wiggle room for the least developed countries to take a bit more time to meet their pledges. Much less of a bifurcation than their previous position that I witnessed them describe as a ‘red line’ last year at COP23.
On a similar note, developed countries were also resistant to providing additional climate finance to the least developed and middle income countries. This was a common issue throughout COP24, and so was the concept of Loss and Damage. Going beyond adaptation, many passionately believe that polluters should have to pay for losses and damages from climate change that have already occurred in vulnerable areas.
Another delay was caused by Brazil’s resistance to adopting language in Article 6 having to do with carbon markets due to particular circumstances of their country. Several paragraphs of this will have to be delayed until COP25 in Chile. Finally, Turkey again caused a delay by requesting to be taken out of the group of developed countries, known as ‘Annex 1’, that are generally held to higher standards of ambition.
After all those issues were resolved, the Katowice Text was finalized in front of a ‘standing ovation’ in the plenary hall. It was undoubtedly the most significant moment in history that I have witnessed firsthand, and I feel very fortunate to have been there for it.
It is difficult to wrap one’s mind around the two views that are conflicting yet both true. The Paris Agreement as finalized in the Katowice Text is a remarkable international agreement with few rivals in terms of breadth and depth, and goes beyond the expectations of many seasoned veterans of the COPs. However it does not go nearly far enough in pushing human civilization to the levels of mitigation, adaptation, and loss & damage funding that are necessary to limit climate change to the necessary 1.5 C mark and minimize inequitable impacts.
The term “just transition” was used frequently both at COP24 and in the U.S., and I’ve been thinking about who people really have in mind when they use that term. I suspect it is often used to express concern for fossil fuel industry workers losing their jobs in developed countries. This is certainly a valid concern, but what about the children breathing in dangerous air pollution from coal combustion every day of their lives, like I did for 1 week in Katowice? Air pollution is the leading cause of death worldwide. Seriously, what about people in developed countries of the Global South who are most vulnerable to climate change impacts? What about those already experiencing loss & damage from climate change, like island countries literally disappearing?
For those of us in developed countries, the time is now to make paradigm-shifting changes, perhaps outside the comfort zone, to significantly reduce overall consumption. These needs to be done on both a systemic level, and on a personal level. No action is too big to be impossible, or too small to have an impact. It is not enough to believe in climate change, actions are what really matter.