“We need to be prisoners of hope” – African native resident
COP 24, the 24th Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC, was originally scheduled to take place from 3 to 14 December 2018 in Katowice, Poland. In advance it was already decided to start on Sunday 2 December, but the summit nevertheless ended on December 15.
This illustrates the enormous pressure, the heavy agenda and the difficult negotiations. The intention was to establish the Rulebook for the Paris Climate Agreement (Paris Agreement, PA) – the rules of the game, or the scenario for the implementation of the PA – during COP 24. The discussions were partly successful, but some hot issues were postponed to 2019, while the PA is due to come into effect in 2020.
Also significant was that the SG of the UN, Guterres, visited the summit three times. On the first day, he gave a fiery speech urging countries to put the overarching interest above national interests. In addition, Guterres announced a special UN climate summit in New York on September 23, 2019 in order to raise the ambition: countries are called to present tightened action plans. Guterres is also trying to mobilize more climate money from the private sector. During COP 25, to be held in Santiago, Chile, 2 to 13 December 2019, the last hurdles must be taken to allow the PA to enter into force in 2020.
IPCC special report
In particular, the first week of COP 24 focused on the IPCC’s special 1.5C report. That report was released in October 2018 and was prepared at the request of the COP. It highlights the expected difference between 1.5 degrees Celsius warming and 2 degrees Celsius warming (global average). These differences are vast: the risks of catastrophes such as sea level rise, droughts, floods, storms, etc. are increasing exponentially. The report warns that significant global emissions reductions must begin immediately to avoid exceeding 1.5C – the next few years are crucial. (Summary for policy makers: https://report.ipcc.ch/sr15/pdf/sr15_spm_final.pdf). Many countries, especially those most affected by climate change, welcomed the contents of the report and used it to reinforce their position: to limit warming to 1.5C. Other countries, notably the US, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, refused to welcome the report’s findings. After a bitter battle of words, the report was finally ‘accepted’ in a neutral manner.
The Talanoa Dialogue (TD), the consultation process initiated at the instigation of COP 21 (Paris), was officially concluded during COP 24. In addition to sessions during the intermediate climate summits themselves, the TD has taken shape via questionnaires, also open to NGOs. The World Council of Churches (WCC) and other religious organizations have jointly contributed. Three questions were central: Where are we; Where do we want to go; and: How do we get there? See: https://www.oikoumene.org/en/resources/cop24-interfaith-submission-to-talanoa-dialogue-2018/. All contributions can be found on the UNFCCC site: https://unfccc.int/topics/2018-talanoa-dialogue-platform (scroll through and click below).
Poland’s chairman of COP 24 had/has a bad reputation on the climate front, especially within the EU. The country still relies heavily on coal and lacks a constructive attitude towards (proposed) EU climate policies. Katowice is located in the middle of the coal region and during COP 24 there was a lobby for ‘clean’ coal from Poland and the US. But Poland also made a first move to highlight the social dimension of the sustainability transition, with a special focus on the interests of coal miners and workers. As a result, the call for a socially and economically just sustainability transition became an important sub-theme during COP 24. The annual statement from the World Council (see below) to the COP also addressed this. The ‘yellow vests’ protests that started in France during the first week of COP 24 were a good illustration of the need to be aware of the socio-economic dimension of the transition.
Outcomes COP 24
1) The PA Rulebook is almost complete. It contains agreements on the provision of transparent (emission) data and MRV that all countries participating in the PA must adhere to. The negotiations on this certainly did not go smoothly, but thanks to China’s unexpectedly lenient attitude at the last moment, which initially resisted the necessary transparency, it just worked out.
2) The Indigenous Peoples’ Platform that was installed during COP 23 was prominently present, including various side events (see later in this report). The so-called ‘original inhabitants’, such as Indians in the US and Latin America, Aborigines in Australia and the native inhabitants of countries such as Fiji, were able to make their voices better heard. The UNFCCC Secretariat allocated a lot of time and space for the IPP. The WCC has been working with these groups for years.
3) A large group of multinationals, including shipping giant Maersk, the Indian industrial group Mahindra Group, Ikea and Unilever have formed a coalition: We Mean Business, which has strong climate ambitions. See https://www.wemeanbusinesscoalition.org/blog/business-delivered-a-clear-message-at-cop24/ .
4) The Powering Past Coal Alliance, founded at COP 23 by Canada and the UK, has gained new members: the Australian cities of Sidney and Melbourne, and Scotland, Senegal and Israel. See https://poweringpastcoal.org/ .
1) Ambition: no new commitments have been made regarding short-term emission reductions (pre-2020), and no political signal has been issued to that effect, for example in the form of a COP 24 statement. The climate-vulnerable countries had high hopes for that. The relevant decisions are only brought together in the so-called Katowice Climate Package, https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/paris-agreement-work-programme/katowice-climate-package. Even after the PA has taken effect, it remains to be seen how the countries’ ambitions will develop. Although the PA is an (almost) global agreement, the efforts of the countries to reduce their emissions are voluntary for the time being. Guterres has said repeatedly that he will continue to hold countries accountable for their ambition in the coming years.
2) The attempt to make agreements about the method of calculating emission reductions has failed and has been postponed until 2019. The key question is: in which country does emission reduction count in case of emission rights trading. The danger of double counting is real which weighs very heavily. Brazil in particular was opposed; the country wants to maintain the old rules for CDM projects. It remains to be seen whether the postponement will help, because Brazil’s new president Bolsanaro is averse to climate policy and has announced that he will give the business community free reign. Brazil has also withdrawn as host country for COP 25; that will now be Chile.
3) Climate finance. There is still no definition of climate finance. Most rich countries use existing development money as climate money. The poor countries want climate money to be earmarked separately and on top of existing development money. They will need a lot of money for adaptation (adaptation to climate change), for further economic development without fossil fuels – so for modern technologies –for facilitating forced climate migration, and for damage and loss suffered (L&D). Whether the pledged annual $100 billion by 2020 for the Green Climate Fund (GCF) can be achieved without the (federal) US is not yet clear. There is still plenty of discussion within the COP as to whether this money should include loans or gifts and/or all kinds of intermediate variants, and there is also a lot of quarrelling within the board of the GCF about the criteria for projects to be financed by the GCF.
In addition, during COP 24 there was a lengthy discussion about the Adaptation Fund, which has existed for some time: whether or not to let it be governed by the PA? The African countries in particular were against this: they are wary of ‘global governance’, which is precisely what the rich countries advocate.
Finally, many developing countries criticized the enormous bureaucracy surrounding the funds. This criticism has been heard for years now.
4) Loss & Damage (L&D). L&D discussions were already referred to the margins of COP 23; this was no different during COP 24. Although L&D is mentioned here and there in various COP 24 texts, no new commitments have been made. Moreover, the crucial passages about finance no longer mention L&D. However, the WIM will be continued.
[It is my impression that the undercurrent in the climate negotiations has become stronger in recent years. It seems that the developing countries have had enough of the control imposed by the rich countries, probably partly because of the colonial past. At the same time, the rich countries refuse to accept any form of accountability and abuse their power during the negotiations. In my opinion, this undercurrent is far too little noticed and its impact underestimated. In the ecumenical team, voices are raised to link the historical dimensions of the climate debate (‘climate debt’) with colonial history, in order to strive for a new world balance. But the question is what the best strategy is: to actually do this and open up ‘the historical cesspool’, or not to do this and quickly work towards a new situation in which the rich countries determine the trajectory? In that way human rights, equity, CBDR, SDGs etc. could still be implemented, albeit on the terms of the rich countries. But the question is whether that is possible at all, and which road will deliver the best and fastest results. Time will tell.]
Side events / thematic days / topics
New ideas, projects and scientific research are usually presented during the side events. There are often overlaps with COP discussions. To mention a few:
1) Younger generations. Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, fifteen years old during COP 24, was prominently present during various side events and press conferences. A few quotes: “Clean up your own mess, you elders who have abandoned us!” “Hope can only arise from action. Let’s save what can be saved.” “Our leaders are like children: they don’t dare to tell the truth and take responsibility.” “Why should I go to school if science is not taken seriously?” Other youth (organizations) argued for a rapid reduction of subsidies on the fossil fuel industry and for ethical values to be central, taking into account the centuries of colonialism and slavery.
2) Agriculture. This was one of the important topics of this COP, with the Agriculture Advantage 2.0 series. Various studies were presented, showing that the negative long-term effects of climate change on agriculture cannot be underestimated. There was a plea for better cooperation between science, knowledge institutes, governments and farmers themselves: less top-down regulation, more bottom-up input, in search of climate-resistant crops and food. Also a strong focus on energy and water efficiency (irrigation!) is called for.
3) Oceans. The COP 23 initiative was continued in a number of thematic days. A pioneering group wants to include oceans and their major role for the climate in the NDCs, so that better management can be achieved. For the time being, the topic was limited to a number of side evens, but the interest of Parties is growing and the UN will soon publish an Ocean Report. Case studies include the impact of ocean acidification on marine life – entire food chains are at risk. CO2 storage in ocean floors is risky: about 80% will leak away. There is now an Ocean Alliance, led by the US state of Washington, with more than 70 members.
4) (Rain)forests/REDD+. During the special rainforest days, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Congo, Indonesia and Burma were the main focus. Various projects were presented, with Norway and Germany as important donors. ACT-Alliance is involved in the Rainforest Alliance supporting countries/residents. Important points: in many poor wooded countries, forest management is not (yet) included in their NDCs. An accepted baseline for forest-related emissions (Forest Reference Emission Levels) is required. In order to develop good MRV many countries need help. However, more than 50 rich(er) countries have included REDD+ in their NDCs. Indonesia case: only a small percentage of forest area is protected; many concessions for the rest of the forest areas have already been sold. The government budgets only a quarter of what is needed for compensatory forest planting.
5) Indigenous peoples. There were various side events with indigenous peoples from the Amazon region, Siberia, Lapland, Burma, Kenya and others. Many indigenous people, e.g. in the Amazon region, are not represented by their national governments. As a result, their interests are not addressed, their land (forest) is not protected, and they cannot co-determine the NDCs. A pilot project in Peru is trying to change that by regulating the input of indigenous people in policy-making. For the first time the WB is also collaborating with indigenous residents on forest conservation projects.
At one meeting only women spoke, sharing very poignant life stories full of suffering. Women are discriminated twice: because they are indigenous and because they are women. A woman from Brazil had lost several relatives: killed because of environmentalism. A woman from Peru emphasized that especially the women, who have the most knowledge of plants, should have a say in climate change – entire traditions are currently in danger of disappearing. A young woman from Lapland described how the Sami culture is under pressure: the reindeer cannot reach the grass/moss in winter, because in recent years the snow melts during the day but freezes again at night and then becomes ice. This leads to depression and despair among the elderly, while young people move away. A woman from Burma told how cyclones mainly affect indigenous people who often do not receive any help. Women from Taiwan and Kenya told about their resilient climate actions. They contribute their indigenous knowledge to adaptation projects, for example through the International Alliance of Tropical Forests.
A big problem remains: indigenous people often can’t access climate funds.
6) Scientists. Various organizations, including the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), which is already 50 years old, are calling for a stronger connection between science and political policies, and for more climate money, not only through GCF and other climate funds. There should be an integrated strategy for transformation, including gender specific issues/human rights. The UCS is one of the ‘hornets’ targeting President Trump. At the same time, the UCS showed that the US contributes to climate policy and financing in various ways. Approx. 50% of the population still participates in the PA through 17 US states.
7) Migration and risk management. With Brot für die Welt. Bangladesh already has 10 million climate refugees, mainly in the southwest. If the sea level rises 1 meter, there will be 40 million refugees. Not only flooding, but also salinization of fresh water is a major threat in Bangladesh and in other low-lying areas worldwide. In Sahel countries such as Mali, desiccation is the biggest problem. In 2017, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre in Geneva registered approximately 1300 internal migration flows.
The Taskforce on Displacement (under the WIM) discusses in its latest report the link between Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Put in plain words: as long as greenhouse gas emissions worldwide do not go down, it will be very difficult to achieve the SDGs. The Task Force’s recommendations are in line with the Global Compact on Migration recently agreed in Marrakesh and are based on accepted human rights and international agreements. (N.B. The Netherlands has signed the Compact, but on the condition that there are no legal consequences.) The Taskforce’s report was also discussed in informal consultations within COP 24 itself. Developing countries, including the African group, pushed for formal COP decisions based on the recommendations; ditto the International Red Cross. Some of the Parties supported this; the EU and other rich countries only wanted to refer to the recommendations. Germany is a major donor to the Taskforce.
8) Health. The Special Report on Health and Climate Change was presented, a co-production of the UN and WHO. Key point: living conditions in many Asian regions have never been so bad. The fight against air pollution must go hand in hand with the fight against climate change. Instead of looking at the costs of this, we should look at the benefits: better health means lower costs. See: https://www.who.int/globalchange/publications/COP24-report-health-climate-change/en/.
9) Big Shift. With Christian Aid. Multi- and bilateral development banks still invest heavily in oil, although slightly less in hard coal and lignite. The EIB will soon review its own policy. The WB is also looking for other policies and plans to invest $ 200 billion in mitigation and adaptation projects in 2021-2025. The biggest problem is posed by the development projects: access to energy still mainly means using fossil fuels. The IEA advocates small-scale solutions (mini-grids); NGOs/Christian Aid aim for a ‘big shift’: economic development through the use of sustainable energy, which also creates jobs.
10) Sustainable production and consumption. In 2018, global CO2 emissions increased again (approx. 35 gigatons). The (hidden) subsidies for the fossil fuel industry are still a major problem. For decades there has been a worldwide lobby to phase them out, but so far this has been blocked by the G7 and OPEC in particular. These subsidies amount to hundreds of billions of dollars per year. After a decrease in the period 2012-2016, according to the IEA, there is now an increase again, see: https://www.iea.org/newsroom/news/2018/october/hard-earned-reforms-to-fossil fuel-subsidies-are-coming-under-threat.html. There is also a coal revival, especially in Asia where this is still the cheapest source of energy. To enable the phase out of coal after 2020, a higher carbon price is needed worldwide. China is aiming for 40 to 45% coal in the energy mix by 2050. Supporting the sustainability transition in Asia is therefore essential to keep global warming limited to 1.5 degrees. Also India is taking major steps, a.o. through providing solar-powered cooking systems.
In richer countries people need to get other priorities, embrace a simple life and learn to share. Difficult barriers remain (the costs of) financing sustainable energy, also because of the necessary adjustments to the energy infrastructure. R&D of heat pump systems, cooling systems and accumulators/batteries continues steadily in the rich(er) countries. It is important to share the financial burden in a socially and economically just manner.
11) Human rights. This remains an important (lobby) point during the COPs. Many NGOs advocate a more open climate process and a human rights platform at the UNFCCC. Although there is now an official human rights ‘workstream’ within the COPs, this has not yet resulted in strengthening the texts. According to the Centre for International Environmental Law, the next few years will be crucial and require hard work to better national government support.
12) Climate lawsuits and legislation. With CAN-Int. There are currently more than 1000 climate lawsuits worldwide, some against national governments, with the Dutch Urgenda case as a frontrunner; Canada, Germany (as of October 2018), US, Ireland, Switzerland, Philippines, among others. Furthermore, various family cases, including The Peoples’ Case: Sami families against the EU. Other cases concern the liability of oil companies, including New York City against the five largest oil companies (including Shell), and Milieudefensie (Friends of the Earth NL) et al. against Shell in the Netherlands. In order to have more legal certainty, the ambitions of the PA must be enshrined in legislation as soon as possible.
Ecumenical team and faith based organisations
In the run-up to COP 24, the European Christian Environmental Network (ECEN) held its own Assembly, also in Katowice (6-10 October 2018). As a result, valuable contacts had been made that came in handy during the COP.
Activities ecumenical team/WCC during the COP:
– Stand of ACT Alliance;
– Lobby and advocacy, focal points: more ambition on all fronts, more climate finance, especially for adaptation and L&D, stronger link with SDGs; human rights as a central focus, leading to a just transition;
– Various stunts;
– Side events (often co-productions);
– Coordination of (growing) multi-religious cooperation; organization of several well-attended meetings. The UNFCCC secretariat supports the faith-based input, and scientists also recognize the importance of this;
– Reception of participants on climate pilgrimages: on foot from Italy and Germany, and by bicycle from Norway, on 7 December;
– Participation in the protest march on December 8 through Katowice: “Climate Justice Now”;
– Contribution to various local church services in Katowice on Sunday morning December 9;
– Multi-religious service in Katowice on Sunday afternoon December 9 in Christ the King Cathedral;
– Statement in plenary session of the high-level segment of COP 24 ‘Climate justice is at the heart of just transitions’, delivered on 13 December by Rev. Henrik Grape (Sweden), also coordinator of the Climate Working Group of the World Council. See: https://www.oikoumene.org/en/resources/climate-justice-is-at-the-heart-of-just-transitions-statement-from-the-faith-communities-to-the-plenary- of-the-high-level-ministerial-segment-of-cop24/ . The statement was based on the previous statement of the executive committee of the World Council: WCC Executive Committee Statement on COP 24 and Just Transition to Sustainable Economy (November 7, 2018).
More statements and press releases:
– WCC/ACT Alliance/LWF press release November 30 “COP24: Global church bodies urge transformative action to protect the most vulnerable”;
– WCC press release December 5 “Faith groups at COP24 advocate for just transitions”;
– Sermon on December 9: WCC president at COP24: “God wants us to be stewards for the whole ecological weave, for our shared home, for the oikoumene”;
– On December 11, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew sent an urgent letter to COP 24:
Amsterdam, March/April 2019
Marijke van Duin
Marijke van Duin is a member of the Climate Working Group of the World Council of Churches since 2000. She was present at COP 24 from 3 to 9 December 2018 and then followed the conference digitally