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Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

COP24 – The Conference

Demonstration in Paris. Photo: VVVCFFrance. Wikimedia Commons

George Harvey

The Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP24) was scheduled for December 2, 2018 to December 14, 2018. The purpose of the conference was to create a set of rules for determining that countries were adhering to the Paris Climate Accord of 2015. It was held in Katowice, Poland, in the middle of an old coal-mining area. It opened on schedule, though delegates had to be held over to finish business for an extra day.

The meeting featured speeches by a number of important people and at least one most of us had never heard of but who seems to have become important. Sir David Attenborough, the well-known naturalist, called climate change the greatest threat to humanity in thousands of years. He said that we could see our civilization collapse, with many of the species in nature becoming extinct, unless we act on the matter effectively. His short but pointed speech can be found at bit.ly/attenborough-cop24.

Greta Thunberg, a 15-year-old Swedish climate activist also gave a widely reported speech. Her message is that the threat of climate change is existential. Among the points she made that are worth remembering is, “I’ve learned you are never too small to make a difference.” Not all that big herself, she has nevertheless moved people all over the world (bit.ly/thunberg-cop24).

Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said, “We are running out of time.” He added, “To waste this opportunity … would be suicidal” (bit.ly/guterres-cop24).

The sense of urgency for effective ways to deal with climate change pervaded nearly the entire conference. Nevertheless, there were a few places where it was not regarded as quite so urgent.

From the beginning of the event, delegates from the United States obstructed progress. Joining Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, the U.S. refused to endorse a statement welcoming the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C. Instead, it wanted the conference simply to note the report officially. The difference between the words has profound implications. Welcoming the report implies understanding and a degree of agreement. Noting the report implies that the country doing so can ignore it. Under the official guidelines of the conference, the issue was dropped (bit.ly/nations-balk).

That, however, was just a start. Unfortunately a few other nations were non-supportive of climate action. Poland, the host country, set up displays of coal. Bins of coal were built into the floor of one area, with glass tops people could walk on. Bins of coal held in metal mesh-work frames decorated a hallway. There were displays of jewelry made from coal (bit.ly/coal-on-display).

The Trump Administration hosted a sideshow, “U.S. Innovative Technologies Spur Economic Dynamism.” The U.S. Department of Energy’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Affairs, Preston Wells Griffith, was at the event along with other U.S. officials and one from Australia, whose nameplate bore an American flag (bit.ly/australian-at-sideshow). The event drew derision and boos from protesters, but it made the point that the U.S. views the threat of climate change as less important than the financial returns of its own fossil fuels industry. The U.S. delegates told the audience that the U.S. would mine more coal and build more coal-burning power plants (bit.ly/US-COP24-sideshow).

Surprisingly, given the obstructive attitude of what was once the undisputed leader of the free world, the conference went on. Though it was not nearly as productive as it might have been, agenda items were pushed forward and agreements were made.

A last-minute hitch on one of the agenda items threatened to bring the whole conference to a halt, just before it ended. The meeting was extended for one more day, as delegates worked on a disagreement. Brazil wanted wording that reflected its position on accounting for carbon trapped in rain forests, but other nations’ representatives objected that the system Brazil advocated would allow for double counting of its assets. In the end, an agreement came, and the conference ended with many delegates somewhat unhappy with the results but, nevertheless, delighted that a compromise could be reached at all.

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