There were all smiles on Saturday when the UN climate change conference in Poland concluded with what the UN labelled a “new era of global climate action” which is now due to begin under the Paris climate change agreement.
A press release by the UN, stated that: “Governments have adopted a robust set of guidelines” known as the rulebook, for implementing the Paris Agreement.
The President of the conference, known as COP24, Mr. Michal Kurtyka of Poland, said: “All nations have worked tirelessly. All nations showed their commitment. All nations can leave Katowice with a sense of pride, knowing that their efforts have paid off. The guidelines contained in the Katowice Climate Package provide the basis for implementing the agreement as of 2020”.
The UN’s Climate Chief, Ms. Patricia Espinosa added: “This is an excellent achievement! The multilateral system has delivered a solid result. This is a roadmap for the international community to decisively address climate change”.
The Katowice package that Kurtyka talked about included guidelines relating to the reporting of emission cutting efforts, establishing new targets on finance and assessing progress on the development and transfer of clean technology, amongst other things.
But as ever with the UN climate talks, there is good news and not so good news.
Behind the smiles, there is the stark reality that, despite the best efforts of the UN and others, global action is not happening nearly as fast enough as the science demands. Also many of the pledges and guidelines in the rulebook are only voluntary, and critical questions about how to increase CO2 reduction targets were not addressed.
Some of the leading figures on climate were sceptical.
Johan Rockstrom, director designate at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, said: “My biggest concern is that the UN talks failed to align ambitions with science. We continue to follow a path that will take us to a very dangerous 3-4C warmer world within this century. Extreme weather events hit people across the planet already, at only 1C of warming.”
Nicholas Stern, the former World Bank chief economist, and expert on the economics of climate change added: “It is clear that the progress we are making is inadequate, given the scale and urgency of the risks we face.”
Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace, added: “A year of climate disasters and a dire warning from the world’s top scientists should have led to so much more. Instead, governments let the people down again as they ignored the science and the plight of the vulnerable. Adopting a set of rules for climate action is not nearly enough; without immediate action, even the strongest rules will not get us anywhere.”
Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, was also extremely critical: “In the climate emergency we’re now in, slow success is no success. [The rulebook] is decades too late. It should be clear that the UN consensus process can never produce the muscular agreement we need to meet the emergency.”
And as ever the ghost of the climate denier Donald Trump was stalking the climate talks even though he wasn’t there, beyond the pathetic attempt by his Administration to promote coal at a side event.
As Carolyn Kormann wrote in the New Yorker: “At a political level, the lack of U.S. leadership was a major impediment” at the climate talks.
Jake Schmidt, the managing director for the Natural Resources Defense Council’s international program, told Kormann: “You don’t have the whole power of the U.S. machinery, which can play a critical role when moving in the right direction. Under Obama, it was all hands on deck.”
Under Trump, we are all on the deck. The trouble is that in many ways he is the Captain of the Titanic, who is steering us all towards the iceberg.