Installment 4: Dispatches from COP24, A UMN student delegation in Katowice, Poland
Installment 4 is by Lee Miller, Graduate Student in UMN College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS), Department of Soil, Water and Climate.
Climate Change is Complicated
When I set out to attend this year’s Conference of the Parties (COP24), held under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), I didn’t know exactly what to expect, how I would feel, or what topics would be the most relevant during my time here. Of course, this conference is about climate change, but climate change is not a singular topic. There is mitigation, adaptation, nationally determined contributions (NDC), loss and damage, and much, much more.
All Eyes Are On the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C
The most popular topic so far has perhaps been the results of the newly released Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C. The report was released in the time preceding the conference after three years of work after it was commissioned during the Paris Agreement to fill the knowledge gap between the effects from 2 degrees of warming versus 1.5 degrees of warming. The UNFCCC and IPCC hosted a special event where they presented the findings of the report and took questions from countries and observers. The differences between 1.5 degrees of warming and 2 degrees of warming are extreme. With 1.5 degrees of warming the arctic will have no ice cover 1 out of every 100 years, with 2 degrees of warming there will be no arctic ice cover more than once out of every 10 years. Following the presentation of the findings the country of Iran asked if the IPCC was being too conservative with these scenarios, considering Iran has already experienced 1.8 degrees of warming compared with pre-industrial temperatures. Many island nations stressed that the scenarios presented in the report are a matter of life or death for them and their way of life. One attendee noted that this was the most somber plenary event they had ever observed at a COP meeting.
As the conference has shifted into negotiations, leaders and constituents are being held up by procedural issues. There are groups touting their country’s transition to natural gas as being clean and a big part of their nation’s NDC. National efforts need to be enhanced by 3 times as much in order to reach the goals laid out in the Paris Agreement, according to the IPCC report. The findings of the IPCC report are being referenced over and over in negotiations, and side events, and conversations in the hallway. I overheard someone say to an IPCC chair, “the 1.5 report is blowing a hole through the roof.” The IPCC is designed to be policy relevant and not policy prescriptive, but drastic cuts in emissions are necessary to achieve the goal of stabilizing earth’s global temperature below 1.5 degrees Celsius. The scenarios laid out in the special report that achieve this goal all require achieving ‘net zero’ emissions of carbon dioxide by 2050, employing different levels of ‘negative emissions’. The sooner this transition occurs the more cost effective the transition will be, and limited amounts of carbon removal technology will be required, whereas when the transition is delayed large amounts of non-guaranteed technologies which will simultaneously require large amounts of land, threatening food security and straining economies, will be needed. It needs to be emphasized though that according to the findings in this report it is geophysically possible to achieve a temperature target of 1.5 degrees and past emissions alone do not commit us to a world that is 1.5 degrees warmer than pre-industrial times. It is up to nations, governments, and people to truly start to make this transition.
Each Bit of Warming Matters
The theme of the special event was this, “Each bit of warming matters, Each year we delay matters, Each choice at every level matters.” I, along with the IPCC, want to emphasize that we all determine global climate change, our actions are causing climate change, and social change is key to effectively responding to this global challenge. I have been moved by what I have witnessed here so far and being surrounded by people from almost every nation in the world has been amazing.
While a lot of what results from this conference is in the hands of governments, we all need to start making and encouraging a transition as much as possible.