Cor­po­ra­tions see tril­lions adding up on global ac­tion

As min­ers worry about their jobs, del­e­gates at Ka­tow­ice are warmed by diesel gen­er­a­tors


The UN Cli­mate Change Con­fer­ence in south­ern Poland is be­ing held in a space sta­tion-like por­ta­ble city built around a con­ven­tion cen­tre that has been plonked on top of a dis­used coalmine. Days be­fore the con­fer­ence be­gan, a cold snap plunged tem­per­a­tures in Poland to well be­low freez­ing and out­side the plas­tic mar­quee walls there are banks of diesel gen­er­a­tors to blast hot air in­side.

The host city, Ka­tow­ice, is fully booked to ac­com­mo­date the tens of thou­sands of del­e­gates to what has been billed as the most im­por­tant cli­mate con­fer­ence since Paris in 2015. It is still pos­si­ble to get a room at By­tom, about 20km away, where half the town works in the coalmin­ing in­dus­try and the cen­turies-old build­ings are crack­ing un­der the strain of earthquakes caused by ex­ten­sive un­der­ground ex­ca­va­tion.

The air stings the eyes and there is an un­mis­take­able smell of burned coal in the air. But it is over­cast and still. Throw­ing out a so­lar panel or wind tur­bine most prob­a­bly would be in vain.

As del­e­gates at COP24 worry about the fu­ture of the world, the min­ers in By­tom worry about their jobs. The Pol­ish trade union Sol­i­dar­ity has is­sued a joint state­ment with Chicago-based think tank the Heart­land In­sti­tute re­ject­ing the science of cli­mate change, which the in­sti­tute says is “cli­mate to­tal­i­tar­i­an­ism” pro­pa­ganda in­vented by “the so­cial­ist in­ter­na­tion­al­ist green move­ment”.

How­ever, in­side the con­fer­ence there is a grind­ing sense of in­evitabil­ity. The po­lit­i­cal dif­fi­cul­ties of agree­ing on what to do are be­ing sub­sumed by a global cor­po­rate recog­ni­tion sparked in Paris that this is a multi-tril­lion­dol­lar op­por­tu­nity.

China es­ti­mates it will spend $US7 tril­lion ($9.6 tril­lion) just to meet its com­mit­ments for 2030 and an In­ter­na­tional Fi­nance Cor­po­ra­tion re­port es­ti­mates the spend for emerg­ing mar­kets over­all will be $US23 tril­lion. One de- veloped coun­try lead ne­go­tia­tor tells In­quirer: “The cor­po­rates are say­ing if this is a tran­si­tion of the en­tire global econ­omy sec­tor by sec­tor, there are buck­et­loads of money to be made.’’

To make the point, the World Bank this week set a five-year tar­get of $US200 bil­lion for cli­matelinked fi­nance. Ma­jor Euro­pean in­sti­tu­tions have said they no longer will lend money to things that are not con­sis­tent with the Paris Agree­ment goals.

To push things along, protest groups have im­ple­mented a global strat­egy un­der the brand­ing “ex­tinc­tion” to mo­bilise chil­dren as the front­line to de­mand gov­ern­ment ac­tion. The school protests are the first sign of things to come.

The po­lit­i­cal chal­lenge is to avoid the vast gaps that al­ready ex­ist from widen­ing fur­ther, be­tween na­tions and be­tween the elites and mid­dle and lower classes who in­creas­ingly are feel­ing the pinch of change.

The ri­ots in Paris sparked by threat­ened in­creases in fuel taxes as part of cli­mate change mea­sures have been a wake-up call. Af­ter French Prime Min­is­ter Edouard Philippe pulled out of the open­ing ses­sion, it meant not one G20 leader was there to hear David At­ten­bor­ough warn of pend­ing so­ci­etal catas­tro­phe.

The heads of state and heavy­weight del­e­gates fly in this week­end, when they will be faced with the same three-cor­nered dilemma that has char­ac­terised global cli­mate talks for the past two decades. The tri­pod on which global ac­tion rests is that all coun­tries agree to take ac­tion, that all are will­ing to be open about what they have ac­tu­ally done and that there is con­fi­dence that money will be made avail­able to de­vel­op­ing na­tions from the de­vel­oped world.

The Paris Agree­ment se­cured only part of the deal. It has been de­scribed by scep­tics as a “Clay­tons agree­ment” be­cause it is vol­un­tary and can be en­forced only by peer pres­sure. Ne­go­tia­tors pre­fer to de­scribe the Paris deal as a “post­mod­ern” agree­ment for much the same rea­sons.

But the Paris Agree­ment is an agree­ment in name only. It will not be­come op­er­a­tional un­til the de­tails of all three el­e­ments of the tri­pod can be agreed. The dead­line for agree­ment on the rule book is the end of this year.

In Poland, coun­tries must agree ex­actly how na­tions will mea­sure and re­port what they are do­ing. Ul­ti­mately, this will be the foun­da­tion for peer pres­sure should things not turn out as promised.

Al­ready there are cracks. The promised with­drawal of the US from the Paris Agree­ment from next year has re­moved the big­stick ne­go­tia­tor for the de­vel­oped world. In fact, there would be no Paris Agree­ment had then sec­re­tary of state John Kerry not thrown a tantrum in a late-night ses­sion in 2015 and threat­ened to pull the US out if de­vel­op­ing coun­tries did not agree to be in the one deal with the de­vel­oped world.

The is­sue of dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion or bi­fur­ca­tion has al­ways been a deal­breaker.

“The Paris Agree­ment is essen­tially say­ing let’s get all na­tions on the same page,” a lead ne­go­tia­tor says. “Let’s ac­cept we can be at dif- fer­ent places on that same page, but let’s not have a sys­tem where you can have a dif­fer­ent set of rules for de­vel­oped and de­vel­op­ing coun­tries. That is clearly what the Paris Agree­ment was say­ing.”

Coun­tries must agree ex­actly how na­tions will mea­sure and re­port what they are do­ing

But with the US on the way out, China has as­sumed more of a lead­ing role in cli­mate talks, claim­ing to be act­ing as a good global ci­ti­zen. But its in­ter­ests are more aligned with de­vel­op­ing na­tions.

Through­out the ne­go­ti­a­tions. China has been en­cour­ag­ing oth­ers to push for greater di­vi­sion within the agree­ment that un­der­mines the fun­da­men­tal ba­sis on which the Paris deal was done.

The main coun­tries in­volved in the push­back are China, In­dia, Iran, the Arab Group and Viet­nam, with broad sup­port from many within the so-called G77.

Small is­land states want strin- gent rules for ev­ery­one, as do many South Amer­i­can coun­tries.

The un­known in Poland is how much of the push­back is a ne­go­ti­at­ing tac­tic by China and how firm the de­vel­oped world is pre- pared to stand against it. The China-led group is push­ing for a max­i­mal­ist ap­proach for de­vel­oped coun­tries, with a more flex­i­ble regime (blan­ket flex­i­bil­ity) for the de­vel­op­ing world.

At the ex­treme, this would mean ma­jor de­vel­op­ing coun­try emit­ters, in­clud­ing China and In­dia, would not have to be open or trans­par­ent with their emis­sions plans or re­sults.

The Paris Agree­ment al­lows for some flex­i­bil­ity ac­cord­ing to ca­pac­ity (tech­ni­cal or fi­nan­cial), but it was never in­tended to re­tain the di­vi­sion of the de­vel­oped and de­vel­op­ing worlds.

Blan­ket flex­i­bil­ity for de­vel­op­ing na­tions would al­low all such coun­tries to have lesser re­port­ing re­quire­ments. A qual­i­fied flex­i­bil­ity would give flex­i­bil­ity to those without the means to ac­count prop­erly.

The pres­sure is be­ing felt. Says an in­sider: “It could still come out blan­ket flex­i­bil­ity for op­tics for China, but In­dia and China could say they were not go­ing to use the flex­i­bil­ity. You could have this weird world where you have got blan­ket flex­i­bil­ity.’’

What is sure is that this sort of flex­i­bil­ity is not what was en­vis­aged and would never have been agreed in Paris.

For­mer US ne­go­tia­tors have said if such a deal is ac­cepted in Poland it will mean the US never re-en­ters the Paris Agree­ment, un­der the Democrats or the Repub­li­cans.

Right now, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is more con­cerned about the money. It has scaled back the US pres­ence in Poland but is hold­ing a show­case in Ka­tow­ice early next week where coal and nu­clear power will be very much on the agenda.


UN sec­re­tarygen­eral An­to­nio Guter­res opens pro­ceed­ings in Ka­tow­ice this week

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