The climate change talks in Katowice were a roller coaster of highs and lows with a wide variety of issues on the agenda. As diverse as the agenda were the claims of the parties to the convention. Some parties have made excellent suggestions to move the negotiations forward and equally some parties have made plain ridiculous statements, especially those challenging the findings of the scientific community. These diverse perspectives present on one hand faith in human kind and global collaboration, and that despite the challenges somehow we are going to sort this mess out and get back to a new ‘normal’, on the other hand the deniers of climate change, concerned of forgoing economic opportunity, promising continued economic growth, the promotion of fossil fuels and especially coal in the energy mix and making warnings against leaving even a drop of fossil fuel in the ground, appearing on the balance sheet as stranded assets.
Some of the high points have been a change in the language of many of the key parties. Even six months ago many parties were still in denial on the topic of Loss and Damage. They were strenuously denying that irreversible impacts were occurring and that some people and nations were facing losses and damages as a result of changing climates. This denial extended to interesting language such as ‘extreme adaptation’ or proposals for ‘transformational approaches’ to development. However, this language has changed driven by two pieces of evidence. First, the underlying signal of climate breakdown appearing all around us. In 2017-8 the planet has faced numerous climate catastrophes and their frequency and severity can no long be denied, no one, not even those living in the developed world, is insulated from the impacts of climate change.
Secondly, and very timely for this COP, was the publication of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on 1.5oC. The IPCC has worked tireless over the last two years to produce a “…special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty.” This report not only tells us what will happen if we exceed 1.5oC of warming, but more importantly provides a blueprint of what we need to do to prevent this happening. The report uses simple language, to explain what we need to do, what will happen if we don’t and the time frame for action. Starkly we have little more than a decade to bring emissions under control and any real chance to stabilise the climate at this level.
But why do we go to the COP? We had a small but influential presence at the COP over the two weeks. We have once again punched above our weight against a backdrop in which some governments, research institutes, UN bodies and even some well know civil society organisations send delegations in the tens and hundreds. Although we only numbered three people at any one time, we actively contributed in a number of different ways. For example we engaged with and helped shape the position of civil society, in the first week no less than five articles appearing in the ECO negotiators bulletin including significant contributions from Practical Action. This bulletin is published daily and is widely read and valued by many of the negotiators. These articles shared the collective experience of Practical Action with recommendations of what needs to be done and how the negotiations should progress, to deliver not only on the climate change challenge but how to do this in a fair, equitable and transparent way.
We were a partner in the launch of the innovative and propositional Climate Damages Tax, a polluter pays mechanism that seeks to require the fossil fuel industry to pay for the consequences of continued fossil fuel use. This launch was widely picked up in the international media. We also participated in a number of side events, provided capacity building for developing country negotiators, and in our role as observers supported the views and positions of minorities and those unable to attend.
It’s clear that for the negotiations to progress we need a new sense of global community, optimism and a renewed sense of urgency. The IPCC report made it clear that technologies already exist that would allow the reduction of greenhouse gases emissions in line with the 1.5oC goal of the Paris Agreement. But for these technologies to be rolled out there needs to be support and that support is needed in both finance and for capacity building. But what is lacking to unlock the climate finance challenge is political will. A sense of collective effort that needs to be funded not only by donor governments but will also requires shifts in large scale investments stimulated through such innovative means as the climate damages tax.
For myself the potential of the COP24 was best articulated by the words of Greta Thunberg, a Swedish teenager. She was given the opportunity to address the parties and didn’t pander to the room. She spoke truth and wisdom to the assembled delegates. My hope is that the words and actions of the youngest members of society can inspire others to make the difficult decisions and enforce the actions necessary to respond to climate breakdown. This is the signal of hope coming from COP24 in Katowice – that the ask of future generations will be the stimulus necessary to generate the political will that is desperately missing to act now, before it’s too late.