COP24, a compromise without clear commitments

 By Roberto Di Giovan Paolo

From the article “COP24 reaches a compromise without any clear commitments” by We World Energy magazine n.41

The arduous compromise reached in Katowice will allow the Paris agreement on climate change to be implemented. However, serious doubts remain about achieving the goals set in 2015…

COP24 in Katowice was definitely not the parade of powerful men and women from around the globe and personalities from the worlds of art, cinema, sport and culture we saw at the time of the Paris Agreement in December 2015. It was more like an exhausting tournament—to use a sporting metaphor—that ended in a draw in the last minute of extra time. The conference, which began on December 3, was attended by 196 countries and lasted 24 hours longer than planned, but took very few steps forward. By Saturday, December 15, gone 10 o’clock in the evening, the shattered delegations had finally approved a shared text, but one that lacked any clear statement about the extra steps countries are going to take by 2020, the year in which they are required to communicate their new commitments.
In particular, environmentalists are concerned that the conference failed to resolve the issue of the INDCs, the promises to reduce CO2 emissions. In fact, strong doubts remain about the likelihood of achieving the goal set in Paris to limit the increase in the average global temperature by the end of the century to 2 degrees centigrade compared to pre-industrial levels, remaining as close as possible to 1.5 degrees.

COP24 President Michal Kurtyka reacts during the final session of the COP24 (Reuters)

What kind of agreement is this?

Is the glass half full or half empty? As always when the result satisfies almost no one, the yardstick lies in the actual and potential effects of the agreement, outcomes we’ll be able to measure very soon as COP25 will be held in Chile in 2019, with a pre-COP in Costa Rica. The latter conference will serve to check the decisions made to avoid next year turning into ten days substantially deadlocked as happened in Katowice.
One certainly cannot blame Poland, host of the UN climate conference. Everyone knew from the start that, with its policies on coal, the Polish city was a place of contradiction and was by no means a champion of the Paris agreement policies. The people who chose Katowice did so knowing that global environmental and energy policies cannot be built only with the support of those who agree with each other. Organizing the summit in one of the countries that will have to make the biggest changes made the discussions real and forced everyone to deal with that reality, in accordance with the principles established by COP19.

Poland, smoke billows from the chimneys of Belchatow Power Station, Europe's biggest coal-fired power plant and carbon emissions source (Reuters)

Looking ahead to 2020

In this sense, the Katowice gamble was won. A number of countries openly voiced their opposition: Russia, the USA, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait expressed their disagreement with the document presented by the United Nations, which accepts the premises of Paris 2015 and says that there is a 12-year window within which action to limit global warming and CO2 emissions must be taken. As a result, following diplomatic wrangles and demands to abide by the UN statute, the delegations attending the Katowice conference only took note of the IPCC experts’ report rather than adopting it. This diffidence sparked a debate in itself but also allowed the conference, despite prominent absences among prime ministers and representatives of the relevant ministries, to avoid becoming bogged down, to hold a proper debate and to create a kind of “Rulebook” of 100 paragraphs.  The result is undoubtedly less politically significant today but may become more effective in the future. The text was adopted collectively to enact the provisions of the Paris Treaties with an initial evaluation to take place in 2020.
This is a tool that UN Secretary General António Guterres also intends to use in a form he defined as “ambitious,” Guidelines will allow real control over the progress declared by each of the participating States which have already provided the UN with their annual emissions data, albeit without any consequence.  This data, together with documentation, can be found on the United Nations’ website.

People attend a Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice demonstration before the final session of the COP24 (Reuters)

Progress with many shadows

Another omission, one denounced by environmentalists, is the insufficient protection for the most vulnerable populations facing climate change. The Adaptation Fund is expected to receive 128 million dollars, but the rules established are not strict enough to guarantee these contributions. The transfer of development projects and new technology will be included in this huge economic and cultural transition. Finally, the methods for monitoring CO2 emissions have been codified, placing responsibility for determining them on the states that produce them, and procedures have been established for a kind of stock exchange, Global Stocktake, where every ton of emissions can be traded for a handsome payment.
One is left wondering whether the “draw in extra time” at COP24 in Katowice should be viewed as a stagnation of the Treaties or as a way to advance a few meters when under a deadly and powerful barrage of enemy fire. The Global Stocktake is opposed, for example, by the new Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro. Under pressure from Bolsonaro, the introduction of an accounting system for the world emissions market, a financial deterrent for polluters, who would be obliged to pay for their emissions, was postponed until next year.
Notwithstanding the differences of opinion, it is undeniable that the Katowice conference transformed the principles of Paris 2015 into a series of applicable and controllable procedures. In short, the commitments given three years ago are beginning to take shape, and 2020 is around the corner. The “truce” signed in Poland after 10:00 p.m. on Saturday, December 15 tells us only one thing for certain: COP25 in 2019, on the eve of the binding and expensive decisions that will be taken the following year, will be more than a polite diplomatic wrangle.

READ MORE: The carbon climate solution by Michelle Leslie

about the author
Roberto Di Giovan Paolo