The Conference of Parties (COP 24) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, currently underway in Katowice, Poland, witnessed the end of the first week with slow progress, chaos and a disagreement by major countries over the results of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report on global warming.

At the end of the first week, climate talks have been stalled by a lingering debate over whether the conference and parties should “welcome” or “note” a key report from the IPCC. The IPCC’s report on global warming, released in October, warned the world would have to cut greenhouses gas (GHG) emission by about 45% by 2030 to limit global warming to 1.5oC.  The report said the world is currently far off the track, and is likely to head towards a temperature rise to 3oC this century, potentially leading floods, droughts and extreme heat to increasingly threaten people’s safety and livelihoods.

Reducing CO2 emissions is vital; the United Nations Environment Programme suggests that the voluntary national contributions agreed during the Paris summit need to be tripled if the world is to limit the global warming below 2oC.

First Half of the UN Climate Summit – A Diplomatic Standoff

The first week’s discussions and talks ended on a sour note when the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait ‘noted’ the key findings of the study on global warming by IPCC rather than ‘welcoming’ them. Several participants, observers and campaigners described the effort of these four major oil and gas producers as myopically short-sighted and self-serving.

Saudi Arabia had wrestled until the last minute during October’s IPCC meeting in South Korea to limit the conclusions of the document. They eventually gave in, but it now seems that they had waited to raise their objections again in Poland.

Most of the participating countries spoke out in fierce opposition to the oil allies’ block. Maldives, leader of the alliance of small island states, pushed to adopt the wording “welcome”, which was supported by the European Union, a block of the 47 least developed nations, the independent Association of Latin America and the Caribbean, African, American and European nations, and Pacific countries such as the Marshall Islands and Tuvalu.

Australia’s silence during the debate further raised tensions and was considered as a tacit support for the four oil and gas allies. According to the latest Australian government figures, released last month, carbon emissions continue to rise at a significantly higher rate. Australia’s emissions, seasonally adjusted, increased 1.3% over the past quarter.

Poland’s determination to continue to provide financial assistance to coal power plants beyond 2030 has dented attempts to reform Europe’s electricity market. The country is the largest coal producer in the EU; it sources around 60% of the country’s overall energy demand from coal and has shown little intent to cut carbon emissions to fight global warming.

Another hurdle to the success of COP 24 is a lack of commitment by developed countries towards their financial obligations. Under the Paris Agreement (COP 21), these countries have committed to provide $100 billion by 2020 and thereafter $100 billion per year to finance the Green Climate Fund (GCF). At COP 24, the US and European Union have failed to discuss the process for setting a new collective goal on providing the funding to developing countries.

Because of the political unwillingness of few major countries to fight climate change, the urgency to tackle global warming is at the verge of a failure. This is the second year in a row that the US government has tried to promote fossil fuels at a UN climate event.

According to the Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI) 2019, only a few countries have started working towards limiting global warming below 2oC. The Index shows that Sweden leads this ranking, followed by Morocco and Lithuania. On the other hand, the bottom five ranked countries are Saudi Arabia, the United States, Islamic Republic of Iran, Republic of Korea and Chinese Taipei, which have scored low or very low in almost all categories.

Looking Ahead

As participants close the week of technical talks on Saturday, almost all 200 countries present in Katowice wanted to “welcome” the IPCC report, making it the benchmark for future action.

Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have always played the role of spoilers, however, though they could be ignored when alone. This year they have been joined by the US and Russia, making it even harder to obtain a global consensus. Many delegates are now hoping that ministers and bureaucrats, who will arrive for week two, will try and revive efforts to put this key report at the heart of the conference.

In the coming week, more of practical discussions rather than conceptual proposals and reiteration of commitments need to happen. Additionally, backed by scientific evidence and the inadequacy of climate actions, decisions at COP 24 also require Parties to update their Nationally Determined Contributions by 2020 and provide greater clarity on their financial commitments towards restricting global warming.

Global parties understand the dire need for an urgent, audacious and ambitious climate action plan to save this planet from global warming. The good thing is that we know what is required to decarbonise the global economy.