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Reflections on COP24

By Gavin van der Nest
11 Dec 2018
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Reflections on COP24

The 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (COP24) is currently taking place in Katowice, Poland from 2-14 December 2018. COP24 is hosted under the spectre of dire warnings presented by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C issued in October 2018.

The Special Report called for substantial and accelerated collective action as well as collective responsibility in addressing climate change, the adaptation to and mitigation thereof as well as a lower target of 1.5ºC. Unfortunately, given current commitments and actions by governments, industry, and consumers, the world is falling well short of this target. The Report warns that the world has just 12 years to cut global carbon emissions by half if there is to be any chance to slow the rate of catastrophic global warming and climate-induced disasters. COP24 is, therefore, a critical juncture in which the actions of world leaders and world industry determine our sustainable development and collective.

COP24, which marks the third anniversary of the Paris Agreement, has three main objectives. The first entails the completion of the rulebook for the full implementation of the Paris Agreement. The second is to encourage nations to increase their carbon reduction pledges by 2020. Finally, COP24 will seek to increase the climate-finance commitments for poor nations which are already suffering the impacts of climate change.

It is absolutely essential that the rulebook is completed so as to allow an expeditious implementation of the Paris Agreement. It should present practical implementation guidelines which are essential to track progress and to ensure transparency of climate action. This will allow for greater certainty of what exactly is expected of governments, what their commitments are and what impact this will have on industry and consumers. Without a strong pledge towards a rule-based implementation, the Paris Agreement cannot hope to succeed.

The rulebook will build trust and send a strong signal that governments are serious in addressing climate change. This will then hopefully encourage other governments, industries, and consumers to modify their habits as well as increase their carbon deduction pledges (and hopefully actions) by 2020, if not sooner.

In addition, COP24 must establish a clear way forward in climate finance to ensure greater support for climate action in developing countries. The Paris Agreement Work Programme will make the Paris Agreement fully operational by unlocking ambitious action in the reduction of greenhouse gases, adaptation to the impacts of climate change and to empower developing countries to handle the dire consequences of climate change.

Given the seriousness of climate change and that carbon emissions have risen for the first time in 3 years it is disappointing that the host nation of Poland has issued ambiguous signals of commitments to continue burning coal while at the same time tackling climate change. The host nation should be a leader in pushing the sustainable climate-change agenda forward. Moreover, South Africa, the United States, and Russia have already said that they will not stop using coal to generate power but will look at “cleaner” coal.

Commitment to coal and promoting ‘greener’ varieties of coal creates a huge disconnect between expert evidence and the public which are being misled by politicians. There simply is no such thing as clean or emissions-free coal. At a time where we should be actively pursuing carbon-sink and sequestration technology, we are wasting precious time debating the suicidal fallacy of greener coal use. We should be storing carbon, not digging it up, burning it and releasing it into the atmosphere.

Furthermore, it is interesting to note that COP24 is being sponsored in part by fossil fuel companies, including three state-run goal giants and a gas company. Their exhibitions at the conference include spreading much misinformation changing the perception of reality in that the use of fossil fuels can be green. As various studies have already shown as well as warnings issued in the IPCC Special Report this is simply not true. One can only think that the coal companies are trying to remain relevant given that the use of fossil fuels are being systematically phased out in the European Union due to increasing carbon prices and stricter air quality rules.

Electricity produced from coal will be more expensive than that generated by renewables in the long run. The price of generating electricity from renewable sources has decreased significantly over the past decade and is expected to be consistently cheaper than fossil fuel sources by 2020 (Dudley, 2018). It makes sense to confine fossil fuels to the past if we are ever to meet our climate change commitments.

Of course, shifting away from the fossil fuel industry places many jobs and industries in jeopardy, but it should no longer be a question of “if” the shift will occur, but rather “when” and “how soon”. The sooner governments work on transition plans and policies to absorb labour losses, create transition industries and upskill their workforces the lower the mitigation and adaptation costs will be.

Limburg, in the Netherlands, which was a coal-extraction dominated region could serve as a case study of how regions could shift away from coal-dominance. There were many hard lessons learnt in the area which experienced great economic decline and high unemployment when the industry closed down in the late 1970s. However, concentrated strategies and policies by the regional and national government curtailed job losses by investing in and building up the associated industries built around coal extraction, such as chemical manufacturing. Policies encouraged alternative employment, the stimulation of new industries (healthcare, education and other services) as well as the relocation of some government activities in the region. Limburg is now a rapidly growing, diversified and expanding economic area within the Netherlands.

It is disappointing that negotiators from the United States, Russia, and Kuwait refused to welcome the IPCC Special Report at COP24 which a significant majority of countries wanted to be at the heart of the talks (McGrath, 2018). This is unfortunate as it signals that there is a lack of political will from these countries, as well as a substantial number of others, to phase out fossil fuels. It is essential for governments and businesses to collectively expand their plans to cut carbon emissions and the time to act is now.

As a Climate Change Performance Index (Germanwatch & New Climate Institute, 2018) shows, only a few countries have started working on the goal of limiting global warming below 2ºC. This Index tracks countries performance by greenhouse gas emissions, renewable energy, energy use, and climate policy. Sweden leads the rankings and is followed by Morocco and Lithuania. The worst performers are Saudi Arabia, the United States, the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Republic of Korea and Chinese Taipei. These countries perform poorly across almost all the categories considered. Most striking is the fact that none of the 56 countries nor the EU considered in the Index on limiting warming to 2ºC have the ambition or a high enough level of implementation to reach the target.

COP24 creates a huge opportunity for business and the economy to shift away from a fossil fuel dominated economy. COP24 should call for the creation and implementation of energy efficient and environmentally friendly solutions for the world economy which will be amongst the greatest business opportunities of this century. For this to be a success, COP24 should conclude with an outcome which is absolutely clear in its language and commitments as well as bringing the public onboard as active and equal participants. There is no room for ambiguity or slackness.

Another important and essential contribution of COP24 should be the discussion around the role of gender in climate adaptation and mitigation. This is especially pertinent to Africa as women play a central role in agricultural production which is projected to be severely impacted by climate change. Furthermore, COP24 should emerge with clear guidelines on the protection of climate-friendly investment. Contractual arrangements and dispute resolution mechanisms will give companies the certainty they need to pursue both climate change mitigation and adaptation investment opportunities.

COP24 calls for a renewed sense of urgency, particularly given the warnings of the IPCC Special Report, in limiting global warming to 1.5ºC. The world is already experiencing the effects of 1ºC warming. If warming can be effectively limited (from the previous target of 2ºC) then already 420 million fewer people will be exposed to severe heat waves, some tropical coral reefs and greater ocean diversity will survive, fewer plants and animal species will be lost, and forests and wetland habitats may still be protected. The time is now to be the change. As Sir David Attenborough said when addressing COP24, “If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.”


References

Arcipowska, A., & Elliott, C. (2018). Here’s Poland’s Recent History on Climate – and How They Can Steer the Future at COP24 [Blog post]. World Resources Institute. Retrieved from https://www.wri.org/blog/2018/12/heres-polands-recent-history-climate-and-how-they-can-steer-future-cop24

DTE Staff. (2018). COP24: World is politically unwilling to fight climate change. Retrieved from https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/climate-change/cop24-world-is-politically-unwilling-to-fight-climate-change-62429

Dudley, D. (2018). Renewable Energy Will Be Consistently Cheaper Than Fossil Fuels By 2020, Report Claims. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/dominicdudley/2018/01/13/renewable-energy-cost-effective-fossil-fuels-2020/

Germanwatch, & New Climate Institute. (2018). Climate Change Performance Index 2019. Retrieved from https://www.climate-change-performance-index.org/

ICC. (2018). Six takeaways from COP24 Business and Industry Day. Retrieved from https://iccwbo.org/media-wall/news-speeches/six-takeaways-cop24-business-industry-day/

Jessop, S. (2018). Investors managing $32 trillion in assets call for action on climate change. Retrieved from https://uk.reuters.com/article/us-climatechange-investors/investors-managing-32-trillion-in-assets-call-for-action-on-climate-change-idUKKBN1O80TR

McGrath, M. (2018). Climate change: Trump coal event overshadowed at COP24. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-46502210

United Nations Blog. (2018). Shaping the Outcome [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://blogs.un.org/blog/2018/12/10/shaping-the-outcome/

About the Author(s)

Gavin van der Nest

Gavin van der Nest

Gavin van der Nest holds an MSc Economics (Scottish Graduate Programme in Economics) from the University of Edinburgh and a BCom (Hons) Statistics and BCom Econometrics from the University of Pretoria. His research interests are in econometrics for trade data and analysis, environmental economics (with a focus on carbon policy), economic development and the drivers of intra-regional trade.

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