Michael Paparian, former Deputy State Treasurer, Board Member of the California Integrated Waste Management Board, and Sierra Club California State Director, gives live-updates via blog post at COP24, the United Nations Climate Change Conference.
COP24, Katowice, Poland – This is my fourth COP. My first was COP21 in Paris where the international agreements to address climate change finally formalized. People came away energized and feeling that as countries submitted their plans for climate solutions, we’d truly be on a right path to resolving the climate crisis.
By my third COP in Bonn, Germany last year, there was a wide recognition that all the country commitments were not enough to avoid catastrophic climate change, but there was hope that countries would start to move more aggressively to curtail fossil fuel use and other greenhouse gas contributors.
The scientists are telling us that we should limit earth temperature increases to 1.5 degrees centigrade and that if it goes above 2 degrees, our troubles will escalate rapidly. Even if we limit our temperature increases, we’ll still see many impacts, including sea level rise, more extreme weather events, drought and health impacts. At higher levels, the habitability of large areas of our planet will come into question.
The sense of urgency is clearly prevalent at COP24, but so is a sense that many governments are saying the right things at these sessions, then failing to make the changes necessary to curtail fossil fuels quickly enough.
Most countries agree there is a problem and are increasing renewable energy. But many countries are then continuing to use or even expand the use of coal and other fossil fuels. Not enough governments are providing the needed climate leadership and some such as the US national government are overtly backsliding in climate commitments.
Sir David Attenborough, still strong in his environmental voice at 92 years, told the gathered heads of governments and others, “Leaders of the world you must lead. If we don’t take action the collapse of our civilizations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.”
Leading means more than talking, said Dr. Gale Tracy Christiane Rigobert, Saint Lucian Minister for Education, Innovation, Gender Relations and Sustainable Development at an event I attended today. We need to be sure these “events as ‘talkshops’ will end with COP24,” she said.
Though Poland is hosting COP24, the government is among those that cling to archaic energy sources. New coal projects are still proposed, even though many workers in the coal industry are pushing for a faster transition to clean energy jobs.
To most observers, the issue of coal is clear and immediate. “We must phase out coal,” said Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, former President of COP20, Peru Environmental Minister and current leader of World Wildlife Fund’s global climate and energy practice. “There is no Plan B for coal.” What should come out of this COP to get us on the right path?
Mr. Pulgar-Vidal, along with many others, are saying that the existing system of country promises isn’t enough and that there needs to be a clearer set of rules for how countries evaluate their emissions and commit to solutions. There is some hope that a framework for these rules will emerge during COP24, to be finalized in time for renewed country commitments and actions by 2020.
We’ll see in the next few days if an action path is agreed to by the gathered governments (absent the commitment of the current US national government, of course).
One individual offered himself as an action example. Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said, “Nobody is better at action than I am because I make action movies .. but this is the real world.”
Let’s hope that the real world and real leaders take the real action steps we need.
Michael Paparian consults on environmental issues and is former Deputy State Treasurer, Board Member of the California Integrated Waste Management Board and Sierra Club California State Director.