EUROPEUM Institute for European Policy

  • “The UN’s latest climate meeting ends positively. But there is a lot more to do if global warming is to be stopped” says The Economist about the 24th UN Conference of Parties, the so-called COP24, which came to an end in Katowice on Saturday 15th December.
  • “The agreement struck in Poland is not strong enough, but the UN process is all we have,” writes The Guardian. And the Washington Post chimes in with its headline: “Global climate talks end in progress but fail to address the galloping pace of climate change.”

 

This is fundamentally true. The mere fact that 196 countries have reached a common ground and agreed to a set of rules (the so-called Paris rulebook) to govern the implementation of the Paris Agreement is a feat to celebrate. “Without success in Katowice, there is no success in Paris,” said the head of the host country team, Polish Secretary of State for Energy and Environment, Michał Kurtyka.

Indeed, on Friday afternoon it still looked like there might be no rulebook agreement after all, with countries like Brazil and Turkey stalling the negotiations with their special requests and a generally heated discussion about the final wordings of the document. Yet on Saturday, the deal was on the table to great joy of everyone present.

However, this COP has also highlighted the growing gap between what the countries of the world – developed and developing alike – are able to unanimously agree upon and what is concretely needed to tackle the growing climate crisis the world is facing.

 

The recent UNEP Emissions Gap Report has showed that global greenhouse gas emissions have reached their record high in 2017. In contrast, in order to prevent the Earth from warming beyond the “safe” 1.5°C by the end of this century, we need to slash our greenhouse gas emissions by 55 % by 2030. With the pledges currently in place, this goal seems to be increasingly becoming unreachable, making the little “but” in the newspaper headlines suddenly look much more substantial.

 

Nevertheless, there are reasons for hope. More and more non-state actors – from businesses, investors, municipalities to individuals – are realising the dangers of uncontrolled climate change and are aware that the sooner we start to dramatically reduce our emissions, the easier (and cheaper) it will be. Across the world, these actors are putting their hands to work even despite the weak ambitions of their political leaders.

In the United States, more than 3 000 actors, ranging from businesses and investors through cities and counties to universities and cultural institutions, gathered in the initiative We Are Still In and have pledged to continue to honour their Paris commitments even despite Trump’s announced withdrawal from the deal. In Europe, a growing number of cities and businesses are joining the Step Up Now initiative, seeing climate change as an opportunity for their developments and working towards a carbon-neutral EU by 2050.

Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, the financial flows are changing, too. In 2018, the total value of funds divested from fossil fuel projects reached 6 trillion dollars, with major financial institutions like Axa and Allianz leading the way. The success of this strategy is demonstrated by the reaction of the fossil fuel companies, with Shell now considering divestment a “material risk” to their business.

Last but not least, the people are getting increasingly more active in asking their governments to take responsibility for the deteriorating climate and ensure everyone a liveable planet for the future. Just before the COP, a record number of people (around 75 000) attended a climate march in Brussels, and the number of such public mobilisation events and initiatives is growing rapidly.

Ultimately, it will be the next two years that will be crucial for translating these bottom-up efforts into real policy actions. From 2020, the Paris Agreement pledges will come into force, and by that time the level of ambition for reducing emissions needs to increase in order to keep the planet’s warming at 1.5°C. If the activities of non-state actors can be mirrored by equal efforts of national governments, there is hope that the commentators of future COPs will not have to be using any more “buts.”

Kateřina Davidová

 

 

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