Why I am attending COP24 in Katowice

At last year’s COP23 in Bonn, things were focusing on finance-related aspects surrounding the implementation of the Paris Agreement. The basic outcome was a renewed affirmation of the developed countries to contribute to a £100bn annual World Bank fund split in equal parts between climate change mitigation and adaptation in less-developed countries. Of course, this sum is not yet anywhere near the estimated real costs, which are frequently quoted to be an order of magnitude higher. This year sees the crucially important implementation of the Paris rulebook, which is actually about how to do things in practice. 

Unfortunately, there are a number of circumstances that induce doubts as to whether Katowice will be a success.

On the one hand, a US under Trump cannot be expected to commit to anything interesting, on the other hand having economy-obsessed Poland as conference chair doesn’t really help either: Remember, Poland was once single-handedly preventing the EU from signing the Doha Amendment, which is a continuation of the Kyoto Protocol up to 2020.

Poland, which still derives 80% of its total power from coal, has repeatedly publicly declared that it does not wish to constrain its energy sourcing. In fact, the Polish government is viewing COP24 as an opportunity to broker jobs in the fossil fuel industry, and, in particular, coal. Two large coal companies were in fact invited to sponsor the event which is, at the very least, an eccentric decision given the UNFCCC emphatic efforts on phasing out coal altogether in recent years.

Speaking of the latter, one thing I am equally worried and amused about is the unveiling of Poland’s “Forest Carbon Farm” programme. As far as I understood, Poland suggests to chop down it’s beautiful 9.5 million hectares of forest and replant it with mostly beeches, which are meant to absorb enough CO2 such that Poland can continue business as usual in the meantime. Apart from the fact that it takes at least a decade for a forest to regrow to absorb reasonable amounts of CO2, I am also suspicious as to the overall quantity of carbon stored. If my numbers are correct, studies on reforestation in Australia concluded that a similar amount of forest replanting could save 50-60 mega tons of CO2 a year (which would amount to ca. 10-20% of current annual Polish emissions). As global emissions need to be roughly halved by 2030 in order to implement Paris, this would nowhere nearly be a sufficient offset. Additionally, reforestation at such a scale would be unprecedented and itself linked to additional emissions from working machinery and infrastructure. Add Polands rapidly growing population and possible effects on biodiversity to this equation, and even more question marks appear. We will have to wait for official numbers though, which are meant to be supplied during the COP.

One the positive side, the Talanoa dialogue initiated by host country Fiji last year is going to be continued this year.  Unlike other processes, Talanoa also includes non-state actors. This is crucial particularly as the US government has repeatedly declared its ambition to withdraw from the Paris agreement. Talanoa provides a pathway for non-state actors, such as America’s Pledge representing about half of the US, to be involved in the NDC negotiation process that will lead to renewed pledges by 2025.   

This is also one way in which the Green Economics Institute, the NGO that I am registered with, enters the process. In Paris, GEI was part of the successful lobbying efforts to push small island states and lesser developed countries to nudge the plenary debate toward agreeing on the 1.5C target instead of 2C. Now integrated into the Talanoa process, GEI is directly in touch with the president of Fiji. This year, GEI will once more work hard on pushing climate ambitions toward a pathway that is actually likely to achieve 1.5C.

Same as last year, my primary role will be again to support GEI’s operations at the conference, which includes staffing the exhibition stall (which has been frequented by several prime ministers) and reaching out to other actors. However, as conferences are inherently random, it is likely that unexpected events will happen: Last year, I found myself entering a diplomatic process with the Turkish delegation and also lead a rather quixotic interview with one of Putin’s climate advisers, which you can read here.

It is frequently conjectured that after the reality of climate change adaptation has finally kicked in, geoengineering will eventually overcome its bad image and increasingly move to the centre of attention. I will be looking out for even the most feeble indications that this may be happening. Secondly, as recent participant of Oxford Climate Society School of Climate Change, I was able to chat to IPCC 1.5C lead author Myles Allen about the need for early onset carbon capturing and sequestration (CCS) by the fossil fuel industries. Disliked by for-profits and environmentalists alike (for different reasons), economic analysis seems to suggest that CCS is an imperative and should be kickstarted as early as humanly possible. I will try to see if I can gather some opinions on this by governmental and non-governmental actors, and, of course, I will be particularly interested in challenging the UK and German pavilions.

I’ll try to keep this blog up to date about the conference proceedings, but also check out Twitter.



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