The 24th World Climate Change conference will be held next month in Poland. On the agenda: how exactly to turn the Paris Agreement into a set of concrete guidelines that can limit global warming to 2 - or even better - 1.5°C.
The 2018 Climate Change conference is taking place from December 3rd to the 14th of December in Katowice, Poland - a country that still gets most of its energy from burning coal, oil and gas. In Poland, around 127 million tons of lignite and hard coal are mined annually, and in 2017 only around 14 per cent of the energy generated was from renewable sources.
But it isn't just Poland that continues to rely on fossil fuels, of course. The issue is a global one, with some unexpected players. While Poland is the ninth largest coal consumer in the world (after giants like China, India the US and Australia), it's only the second largest in Europe. In first place is Germany, a country whose claims to climate leadership are undermined by the fact that coal still accounts for around 37 per cent of the country's power generation.
Climate Targets Cannot Be Met Without a Coal Phase-Out
As the most carbon intensive fossil fuel, phasing out coal completely is crucial to achieving the emissions reductions needed to limit global warming to the 1.5°C laid out in the Paris Agreement. Research from Climate Analytics claims that the EU and OECD countries must stop burning coal for electricity by 2030, China by 2040 and the rest of the world by 2050 in order to meet the Paris climate targets in the most cost effective way. And it is thought that completely removing coal from the equation actually really would make energy cheaper, as this study from the Finnish Lappeenranta University of Technology shows. "Energy transition is no longer a question of technical feasibility or economic viability, but of political will," said Christian Breyer, lead author of the LUT study.
IPCC Special Report: Limiting Warming To 1.5 °C Is Still Possible!
The IPCC Special Report published in October of this year sent a clear message: Climate change is developing faster than expected and will be more extreme than previously thought. In order to avoid the devastating consequences, we must limit global warming to 1.5°C, not 2°C. According to the climate experts, this is still possible - but only if rapid and effective climate protection measures are implemented consistently and globally, in all areas of society and politics, including energy, agriculture, transport, cities and industry.
Unfortunately, the current trend is different: after three very stable years, global CO2 emissions have reached a historic high.
An Instruction Manual for the Paris Agreement
In a few days, participants at the COP24 will begin drawing up concrete and binding measures for how we can limit global warming to just 2°C - or even better, to just 1.5°C. The Paris Agreement was negotiated and drawn up at the climate summit in Paris in 2016. It lays out global climate targets and how they are to be achieved. The next step was the adoption of a set of rules, the "Paris Rule Book" at the climate summit in Bonn in 2017, which set out regulations on how individual countries are to reach the international climate targets. Since then, various committees have been working on formulating this "instruction manual". In December, the ideas will be be presented and adopted - but the first critical voices are already emerging.
In the Paris Agreement, it was decided that the individual countries would draw up National Determined Contributions (NDCs) in which they would define their CO2 reduction action plans. But so far only 16 of the 197 countries that signed the agreement have submitted national climate action plans that are ambitious enough to meet their pledges. Those countries are Algeria, Ethiopia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Indonesia, Japan, Canada, Macedonia, Malaysia, Montenegro, Norway, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Samoa, Singapore and Tonga. The commitments made so far by those countries are currently only enough to limit global warming to between 2.5 and 2.8 degrees.
So it looks like allowing countries to make voluntary commitments simply isn't enough incentive. In Katowice, therefore, work will also be done on making countries' climate contributions verifiable, measurable and comparable. This would make it clear where each country stands with regard to climate targets and financing. Being able to more effectively monitor their progress would also create new incentives for countries to take their climate commitments more seriously.
The Fight Against Climate Change - Who's Paying?
In recent years, the financing of climate protection and adaptation measures in developing countries has been a hotly debated topic - and this year the issue will be on the table once again. Even though climate change has global consequences (the heatwave in Europe this year was a clear sign of that), many of the world's poorest countries are the ones most severely affected by the effects of climate change, while the industrialised nations are responsible for the largest CO2 emissions. For this reason, industrialised countries should offer the less-industrialised ones financial support to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change. As decided in the Paris Agreement, multilateral climate funds and the Green Climate Fund are to be set up for this purpose. However, it remains to be seen how climate financing will look in concrete terms and how binding commitments by the industrialised countries will be made.
The General Public Gets More of a Say
So far, official government negotiations have always been accompanied by alternative summits that have followed events, criticised them and made their own demands - but these side events have generally not been able to exert much influence. However, since the introduction of the so-called Talanoa Dialogue at the COP23 in Bonn in 2017, new opportunities have been created for local and regional governments, civil society actors and other groups to network, share their knowledge and even vote on sub-items. Some of the results of their meetings and events are set to be incorporated into the main negotiations. Fingers crossed they'll really be able to have an influence, rather than being just an optional extra.
Fighting Climate Change Isn't Only a Political Battle
It will be exciting to see what happens at the climate summit in Katowice next week. Even though experience from past climate summits has shown time and again that important steps have been decided but not consistently implemented, the pressure to act following the alarming IPCC report should actually be large enough this time around.
But no matter what the outcome, there is one thing we should not forget: Political negotiations are a very important, but not the only, way of driving climate protection forward. A good example is the USA: even though Trump is enormously good at ignoring climate change in his policy and also wants to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, the USA could still achieve its climate targets. Right now, a broad coalition of cities, states and companies is fighting to stop climate change and has announced its determination to "fulfil America's pledge" - despite the decisions made by their president.
And there may also be a lot that can be done on a legal level in the future: Right now, ten families from Europe, Kenya and Fiji are taking the EU to court. The accusation: The EU climate targets for 2030 are not enough to avert the dangerous consequences of climate change and therefore violate the plaintiffs' fundamental rights. They have the support of several NGOs.
And while more and more so-called social entrepreuneurs, ecopreneurs and eco-social startups are getting involved in new forms of environmentally- and socially-just forms of business, under the term "divestment" in Europe, and around the world, more and more companies, cities and even countries are withdrawing their investments from coal.
This is a translation by Marisa Pettit of an original article which first appeared on RESET's German-language site.