By Imelda V. Abano
Katowice, Poland—Over the weekend, in this brutally freezing cold, quiet coal-fired city of Poland, it was definitely tough for more than 190 countries to reach an agreement on a set of rules meant to help curb global warming. Many countries which reinforce their ambitions to fight climate change admit that the action needed under the Paris Agreement which comes out into force in 2020 is good, but not good enough.
Despite all the criticism of climate activists and the scientific recommendations for immediate action, the highly technical 24th Conference of Parties (COP24) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change produced a 156-page ‘rulebook’ which is divided into themes—how countries will report and monitor their national pledges to curb greenhouse gas emissions and update their emissions. Some of the crucial sticking points, however, were left for future negotiations such as the rules for mitigating climate change and important issues tied with finance and pricing carbon.
“Katowice has shown once more the resilience of the Paris Agreement—our solid roadmap for climate action. The Approval of the Paris Agreement Work Programme is a basis for a transformative process which will require strengthened ambition from the international community,” said UN chief Antonio Guterres during the closing of the climate talks.
Climate Change Commission Secretary Emmanuel M. de Guzman, who led the Philippines delegation said world leaders to “demonstrate climate action and leadership.”
“Climate action and leadership resolve must be demonstrated by all. Now is the time for leadership, not cowardice. There is no excuse for inaction among the world’s most powerful nations,” De Guzman said.
The Philippines is among countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change such as rising sea levels, prolonged droughts floods and changes in rainfall patterns.
Fijian Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama also called on all nations to “demonstrate the political will” needed to overcome the complexities of the challenge of addressing climate change. “ Together, we can overcome the greatest threat humanity has ever faced, with the entire global community eventually emerging more prosperous and more resilient.”
Climate Reality Project Philippines Country Manager Rodne Galicha said that while the ‘rulebook’ has been adopted after grueling hours of negotiations, climate activists said it is disappointing that it took huge crunches for other developed countries to accept the urgency of increasing ambitions based on scientific reports.
May Boeve, Executive Director of 350.org said: “Hope now rests on the shoulders of many people who are rising to take action like the inspiring children who started an unprecedented wave of strikes in schools to support a fossil-fuel future; the thousands of institutions that committed to pull their money out of coal, oil and gas; the many communities worldwide who keep resisting fossil fuel development and calling for a fast and just transition to 100% renewable energy systems for all.”
What should world’s governments concentrate on in the run up to the COP25 in Chile, next year? Here are some key takeaways from this year’s climate talks.
1. Pathway toward climate justice and ‘loss and damage’. Climate justice has to become the leading principle guiding future negotiations. Climate activists and vulnerable countries believe that Katowice was a missed opportunity for radical action. For them, climate change is a matter of justice.
Financial means must be allocated in order for them to green their economies and cope with future climate impacts. In 2015, wealthy countries agreed to provide US$100 billion of new and additional fund each year to developing countries by 2020. But they have long rejected the idea of being legally liable for climate change as claimed by poorer nations.
This thorny issue on finance, only requires in the set of rules that wealthy countries will continue to help them look for new money from 2025 onwards.
“Without a clear sense of what new grant finance is on the table, our governments are in impossible position where they are forced to choose between the urgent needs of our people and picking up the slack for rich country laziness,” said Lidy Nacpil, Coordinator of the Asian People’s Movement on Debt and Development. “Worse still, rich countries are even trying to turn developing countries into donors, completely shifting the responsibility to those who have contributed the least to the climate crisis.”
2. Political will and flexibility. Political agenda has always been the main barrier at the UN climate talks. With so many countries involved in highly technical and political negotiations about how to limit emissions, political will and flexibility must abound.
Former Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed puts it fiercely, “Set aside political differences, and come together with an open hand and an honest heart. We must work together to salvage what we can. All we seem to be doing is talking and talking and talking. We are not winning the battle.”
That’s why the ‘Talanoa Dialogue’ put the issues on transparency and flexibility at the top of the agenda, emphasizing ‘talanoa’ (participatory, transparent dialogue) as the way to lay the groundwork needed to hammer-out disagreements and operationalize the Paris Agreement.
3. Acknowledge science. While COP 24 adopted a weak set of rules to implement the Paris Agreement, the recent UN scientific special report on 1.5 degrees Celsius was not. The report gave a stark warning that the world needs to take drastic measures to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius to avert catastrophic events in the coming decades.
But this report stirred a debate as it was blocked by some of the world’s largest oil-producing countries like United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait saying that the report must only be “noted” and not officially “welcome” it in the text.
The IPCC report must stress that limiting global temperature increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius is not impossible but very challenging, said climate expert Rosa Perez who is also a lead author of the IPCC special report.
“It can go hand-in-hand with achieving other world goals such as the Sustainable Development Goals. Limiting global warming would also give people and the ecosystems more room to adapt and remain below relevant risk thresholds,” Perez explained.
4. Involve Business. At COP24, 48 countries and regional governments supporting a global coal alliance agreed to accelerate clean growth and achieve the phase-out of coal power. This was also supported by 28 organizations from the business sector.
The Powering Past Coal Alliance calls for more nations and businesses to join the alliance in phasing out unabated coal power as an important step in addressing climate change and meet countries’ commitment to keep global temperature increase well below 2 degrees Celsius, and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Before COP24 took place, business leaders were fully engaged in the Global Climate Action Summit to seize the opportunity for an exponential shift to a cleaner and more sustainable economy. At least 29 businesses and philanthropists pledged US$ 4 billion over the next five years to combat climate change.
Agreeing on a set of rules is just a one step in a long process. In Chile next year, there must be another opportunity to clarify sticky issues and agree on a more comprehensive, robust and transparent ‘rulebook’ to solve the global problem on climate change.