A Reality Check at COP 24 in Katowice

COP 24 delivered Katowice Climate Package, a “rule book” for the Paris Agreement, completing the work on the Paris Agreement Work Programme (PAWP) and raising ambition. In the Katowice Climate Package, Parties agreed on mitigation (Nationally Determined Contributions- NDCs, timeframes, modalities and response measures), adaptation (adaptation communication), finance (transparency, Adaptation Fund that will now exclusively serve the Paris Agreement, and setting a new goal on finance higher than floor of USD 100 billion per year), technology (framework), transparency framework, global stocktake, and facilitating implementation and compliance. Negotiations on the final Katowice Climate Package concluded in a “Sejmik,” meeting of ministers with a few delegates for support, similar to a Vienna setting, as well as, in bilateral and informal negotiations mostly behind closed doors. Possibly the nontransparent process was necessary to resolve politically contentious issues, and reach an outcome; however, excluded women’s groups and other stakeholders were disappointed.

A landmark outcome of Katowice COP 24 was the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform, giving the indigenous people a seat at the table, hopefully, also to indigenous women. In the LCIP, Parties committed to a gender-balance. At the adoption of the LCIP, young indigenous people sang a song lifting the mood and restoring hope for the future.

Although COP 24 outcome lacked language on human rights, Parties enhanced commitments on gender equality in climate change implementation, including gender-responsive planning on NDCs, adaptation communication, finance, and technology framework. With the appointment of 42 gender focal points in Parties delegations and their active role, Parties supported rapid progress on gender. The negotiations on gender were a breath of fresh air, filled with expertise and ambition. Parties set a process to review and advance the Lima Work Programme on Gender and its Gender Action Plan.

Ahead of COP 24 in 2018, Parties held an in-session workshop on the gender-responsive climate policy and actions, the Gender Dialogue with Chairs of constituted bodies (set to identify entry points on how to integrate a gender perspective in their workstreams), and capacity-building activities. The Climate Technology Centre & Network established a long-term partnership with women’s groups, the AF Board trained and supported the National Implementing Entities on gender risks, and the Least Developed Countries Expert Group (LEG) strengthened gender in adaptation planning and implementation.

A unique feature of the Katowice COP 24 was the Talanoa Dialogue, based on the Pacific storytelling tradition, initiated by the Fijian COP 23 Presidency. Talanoas brought together Parties and stakeholders with divergent interests focusing on forging a way forward for the common good: “Where are we?, Where do we want to go?” and “How do we get there?” Many were disappointed that the Talanoas were not used to effectively strengthen the NDCs and that the COP merely “took note” of them. The Talanoa Call for Action called everyone to “act with urgency,” recognize that we are in a “race against time” to preserve “the life on earth as we know it.” For the IAW: “We call upon civil society leaders to marshal the public and political will needed to drive action. We call upon them to engage political leadership, influence and challenge norms, enhance awareness, and mobilize action at the regional, state and local levels.”

A clear sign that we are in trouble was the unprecedented lack of space given to the Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – IPCC, Hoesung Lee, to present the special
1.5C report at the opening of COP 24 in Katowice. The IPCC report was formally requested by countries at the 2015 Paris climate talks and focused on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, as well as, related global greenhouse gas emission pathways reflecting the best available science. The 1.5C report found with high confidence that global warming is likely to reach 1.5C between 2030 and 2052, if it continues to increase at the current rate, and detailed devastating impacts on climate characteristics, sea-level rise, ecosystems, biodiversity, ocean acidity, decrease in ocean oxygen levels, health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security, and economic growth. The 1.5C report presented emission pathways. To reach 1.5C goal emissions need to decline by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching net-zero in 2050, requiring rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban, infrastructure, and industrial systems. Majority of countries, civil society, and women’s groups embraced the IPCC 1.5C report and supported formally recognizing it in the Katowice outcome. A source of tensions in the negotiations was a refusal to “welcome” the report led by the US, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Kuwait. In the end, Parties agreed on a compromise: the COP “welcomes the timely completion of the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C.”

To everyone’s shock, coal (literally) was present at the COP 24 with an exhibition featuring lumps of coal, coal jewelry, and coal hand-carved figures. Coal is an integral part of the identity of Katowice, founded in the mid-18th century upon the discovery of coal resources. Coal mining, transport, iron, steel, and energy industries have been drivers of economic progress in the Katowice Silesia region. Katowice represents a transformation in the past and the future. The city has already undergone a significant greening transition over the past 25 years. Looking towards the future, Katowice adds a sobering reality check and puts a human face on the transformation necessary to achieve the global warming below 1.5C goal.

Coal, oil and gas industries, present and leading events at COP 24, met with criticism from civil society and women’s groups. COP 24 was sponsored in its entirety by Polish public funds. With the scale of the transformation, technological innovation, and finance needed, it is hard to exclude fossil fuel industry. Still, as they are the losers in the net-zero emissions economy, it is hard not to be skeptical about their intentions. One oil industry executive jokingly described how he felt about the general opinion regarding his presence at the negotiations: “I am like a fox in a hen house.”

After Katowice COP, we look forward to implementation and HIGHER AMBITION. Raising ambition will be the goal of the upcoming Climate Summit hosted by the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in New York, specifically on energy transition, climate finance and carbon pricing, industry transition, nature-based solutions, cities, local action, and resilience. 2020, when many countries will deliver updated NDCs will test the UNFCCC process and the Paris Agreement.