COP24 Poland: Four days to go for UN to ensure urgent, ambitious climate action

Poorer countries want assurances of financial support to take steps & address climate change.

There’s a difficult task ahead of the 193 countries attending the UN Conference on Climate Change, or Confederation of Parties (COP)24 in Katowice, Poland this week.

The delegations have four crucial days remaining from Tuesday morning to fulfil the COP24's agenda: Finding the best framework to address the climate threat before us.

This urgency was highlighted in a recent scientific report called the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on 1.5C.

COP24 Poland: Four days to go for UN to ensure urgent, ambitious climate action

What the IPCC report warns we can expect from the 0.5C difference. Source: IPCC Report

Authored by an international consortium of scientists, the IPCC report was requested specifically for the COP24. The last pledges made by countries towards climate action was the Paris Agreement of 2015. But in light of the IPCC report, there is far more urgency and ambition needed to tackle the runaway temperature rise and extreme weather events resulting from climate change. The 2C warming agreed upon in the Paris Agreement was no longer valid, because the rise by 1.5C would happen as early as 2030, the IPCC report found.

The IPCC report also listed out an alarming list of consequences that the world can expect from the 0.5C difference to a 2C rise.

The Paris Agreement was a comprehensive pledge that brought together mitigation, adaptation, climate finance, transparency, loss & damage, capacity building and tech transfer.

But the ambition, flexibility and dynamism of the Paris agreement are yet to win over all the UN member states in the three years since it was written.

With the IPCC Special report now in hand, there was a sense from the negotiations that the gravity of the situation was clear, and climate targets internalised, according to TERI.

Many delegations at the COP were representing countries that have lived through realities of extreme weather and climate change impacts. Iran even indicated that the current approach may be too conservative, IANS reported.

Cyclonic storm Titli approaching landfall in Odisha. Cyclones draw their power from the energy in the water over which they form. Warmer waters hold much more energy, and add more intensity and power to the destructive potential of cyclones like Titli. The IPCC report has outlined increases in cyclone intensities due to warming worldwide, and has projected that the intensity of cyclones will continue rising as the world warms. Image courtesy: IMD

Cyclonic storm Titli approaching landfall in Odisha. Cyclones draw their power from the energy in the water over which they form. Warmer waters hold much more energy, and add more intensity and power to the destructive potential of cyclones like Titli. The IPCC report has outlined increases in cyclone intensities due to warming worldwide, and has projected that the intensity of cyclones will continue rising as the world warms. Image courtesy: IMD

A major roadblock

As diplomats wrapped up the week of technical talks on Saturday, almost all 200 countries present in Katowice, Poland, had wanted to "welcome" the IPCC report and make it the benchmark for future action. But the US and three other delegations objected.

"The United States was willing to note the report and express appreciation to the scientists who developed it, but not to welcome it, as that would denote endorsement of the report," the US State Department told The Associated Press.

"As we have made clear in the IPCC and other bodies, the United States has not endorsed the findings of the report."

Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait also called for the study to be "noted" but not "welcomed".

These big oil and coal-gas producers are blocking all other countries from "welcoming" an influential climate science report into the UN’s text and agenda. The US even rejected the science in the report — making it the only country among the 197 not to endorse the report’s findings and stalling the talks on Saturday.

So much to do, so little time

The outcomes of the various elements of the talks, called the Paris ‘rulebook’, are being finalised for the 124 ministers that arrived on Monday to deliberate.

Yet, there are concerns that the rulebook looks weak and ineffective, particularly on issues like transparency and reporting from countries, a climate expert had told IANS. A target date by when all countries involved follow the same rulebook, with flexibility for nations with limited financial or governmental resources, is also a point of contention, the expert added.

Two strategies for reducing emissions between 2020 to 2040 (blue) / 2055 (grey). Notice the speed of rise of CO2 until today vs how rapidly they are required to fall. Source: IPCC Special Report on 1.5C (Summary for Policymakers)

Two strategies for reducing emissions between 2020 to 2040 (blue) / 2055 (grey). Notice the speed of rise of CO2 until today vs how rapidly they are required to fall. Source: IPCC Special Report on 1.5C (Summary for Policymakers)

Where different UN member nations stand

The 124 additional ministers this week are tasked with deliberating and ironing out crunch-issues like differentiation, money, more ambition, political compromises to settle on decisions the world needs to hear by the week’s end.

Some of these issues are being resolved in complex working groups like those to be led by Canada's Catherine McKenna and Spain's Teresa Ribera this week. Also expected are voices of climate-vulnerable countries to get progressively louder by the day.

Spain, Canada, Norway, New Zealand and perhaps Britain could also emerge as governments from developed countries pushing for a more ambitious outcome, according to a TERI report.

China and India have privately indicated they could push for an ambitious outcome this week

Mayors allied to the C40 (Cities Climate Leadership Group) and business leaders from Coca-Cola, IKEA, Maersk and Target will also be audible, experts believe.

A sneak peek into the ongoings at COP24. Reuters

A sneak peek into the ongoings at COP24. Reuters

Lights, climate, action

There was quite a lot of good news from the first week as well. The President of the World Bank announced that the Group would invest $200 billion toward developing countries addressing climate change from 2021-25.

Germany announced that it will double its contribution to the Green Climate Fund (GCF) to €1.5 billion.

France and China along with the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres declared to "cooperate closely to make this summit a defining moment to accelerate action, increase ambition and mobilise the required resources to achieve an ecological transition".

India's Environment Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan signalled that the country was ready to update its nationally-determined contributions (NDCs) if other countries do the same, IANS reported.

As for the pledges, they’ve already begun. The world's largest container shipping company Maersk pledged zero emissions by 2050. Volkswagen also announced that it will sell no more combustion cars after 2040 and will put the last fossil-fuel based models on the market in 2032.

Delays in decision-making

If there is no consensus on the IPCC report, UNFCC rules dictate that the matter will be deferred to the next such meeting, which will only take place next year. With less than a week to finalising a global approach to operationalise the agreement, one possible scenario is that the result doesn’t mention the IPCC report, which the COP itself had commissioned.

And here, many assumed that getting the IPCC report accepted in the COP outcome would be the easy part.

“There are some countries which are making attempts to reopen the Paris Agreement, which we (India) are opposed to,” C K Mishra, India’s environment secretary, told the Times of India before the conference began.

“The entire developing world is opposed to it,” he said.

India’s stance at COP24

Mishra, along with environment minister Harsh Vardhan and 15 other negotiators are in Poland representing India. The Indian delegation is hoping for an outcome that is “balanced, inclusive and consistent” with the principles of the Paris Agreement, Mishra told the Times.

“We are quite conscious of our targets. We are doubly conscious that we are in a position to over-achieve them,” he said.

Some of these targets are retained from the 2015 agreement, such as the transition to renewables. By the year 2027, India plans to use renewables like solar, wind and biomass to generate 275 GW of electricity (44 percent of India’s total power generation).

Hydro and nuclear, also considered clean sources of energy, would contribute another 80 GW, or about 13 percent of the total capacity, Indian Express reports.

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