In what many describe as the biggest international climate change negotiations since the 2015 Paris Agreement, COP24 convened this month in the city of Katowice, Poland. The recent landmark IPCC SR15 report on 1.5 °C global warming makes it abundantly clear that urgent and aggressive measures are required to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. As worldwide collaboration is needed to address this key environmental threat, reaching an agreement on the key issue of creating the rulebook for the Paris Agreement is of paramount importance.
This year’s conference chair, Poland, chose to host the conference in the Upper Silesia region – the heart of coal country. The conference kicked off with the “Solidarity and Just Transition Silesia Declaration”, promoting the need for any agreements to ensure that industrial regions like the host are not left behind in the transition away from fossil fuels. This is a laudable aim in a place with Europe’s worst air pollution and a desperate need to change its economy. However, many saw the “Just Transition” language as a way to reduce ambition on cutting greenhouse gases.
Small Island Developing States (SIDS) pointed out that they do not have time to waste and that climate change creates a justice issue for them too – as the countries that contribute the least to greenhouse gas emissions but have the most to lose. This year’s conference under Poland significant departure from Fiji’s climate leadership last year. Led by the Maldives, the Association of Small Island States pushed to “welcome” the results of the IPCC report but was blocked by four countries including the United States and Saudi Arabia.
Meanwhile, despite the introduction of a “People’s Seat“, the participation of civil society took a significant hit this year. Many campaigners were restricted from entering the country, and others denied visas to enter Poland. The March for Climate through Katowice was heavily policed, with an army of officers armed with riot gear and tear gas surrounding the peaceful protest. It seems like the Polish Government was taking no chances this year. Despite a brief hope of a Caribbean COP25, it is now likely next year will be in either Chile or Costa Rica. At least if hosted by Costa Rica, next year’s center would benefit from a host particularly committees towards renewable energy and maintaining its green image.