WORLD FACES ‘IM­POS­SI­BLE’ TASK AT POST-PARIS CLI­MATE TALKS

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Three years af­ter seal­ing a land­mark global cli­mate deal in Paris, world lead­ers are gath­er­ing again to agree on the fine print.

The eu­pho­ria of 2015 has given way to sober re­al­iza­tion that get­ting an agree­ment among al­most 200 coun­tries, each with their own po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic de­mands, will be chal­leng­ing — as ev­i­denced by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s de­ci­sion to pull the United States out of the Paris ac­cord, cit­ing his “Amer­ica First” mantra.

“Look­ing from the out­side per­spec­tive, it’s an im­pos­si­ble task,” Poland’s deputy en­vi­ron­ment min­is­ter, Michal Kur­tyka, said of the talks he will pre­side over in Katowice from Dec. 2-14.

Top of the agenda will be fi­nal­iz­ing the so-called Paris rule­book, which de­ter­mines how coun­tries have to count their green­house gas emis­sions, trans­par­ently re­port them to the rest of the world and re­veal what they are do­ing to re­duce them.

Sea­soned ne­go­tia­tors are call­ing the meet­ing, which is ex­pected to draw 25,000 par­tic­i­pants, “Paris 2.0” be­cause of the high stakes at play in Katowice.

For­est fires from Cal­i­for­nia to Greece, droughts in Ger­many and Aus­tralia, trop­i­cal cy­clones Mangkhut in the Pa­cific and Michael in the At­lantic — sci­en­tists say this year’s ex­treme weather of­fers a glimpse of dis­as­ters to come if global warm­ing con­tin­ues un­abated.

A re­cent re­port by the In­ter­na­tional Panel on Cli­mate Change warned that time is run­ning out if the world wants to achieve the most am­bi­tious tar­get in the Paris agree­ment — keep­ing global warm­ing at 1.5 de­grees Cel­sius (2.7 de­grees Fahren­heit). The planet has al­ready warmed by about 1 de­gree C since pre-in­dus­trial times and it’s on course for an­other 2-3 de­grees of warm­ing by the end of the cen­tury un­less dras­tic ac­tion is taken.

The con­fer­ence will have “quite sig­nif­i­cant con­se­quences for hu­man­ity and for the way in which we take care of our planet,” Kur­tyka told ahead of the talks.

Ex­perts agree that the Paris goals can only be met by cut­ting emis­sions of car­bon diox­ide and other green­house gases to net zero by 2050.

But the Paris agree­ment let coun­tries set their own emis­sions tar­gets. Some are on track, oth­ers aren’t. Over­all, the world is head­ing the wrong way.

Last week, the World Me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal Or­ga­ni­za­tion said glob­ally av­er­aged con­cen­tra­tions of car­bon diox­ide reached a new record in 2017, while the level of other heat-trap­ping gases such meth­ane and ni­trous ox­ide also rose.

Top of the agenda dur­ing talks start­ing Sun­day in Katowice, Poland, will be fi­nal­iz­ing the so­called Paris rule­book, which de­ter­mines how coun­tries have to count their green­house gas emis­sions, re­port them to the rest of the world and re­veal what they are do­ing to re­duce them.

This year is ex­pected to see an­other 2 per­cent in­crease in hu­man-made emis­sions, as con­struc­tion of coal-fired power plants in Asia and Africa con­tinue while car­bon-ab­sorb­ing forests are felled faster than they can re­grow.

“Ev­ery­one rec­og­nized that the na­tional plans, when you add ev­ery­thing up, will take us way be­yond 3, po­ten­tially 4 de­grees Cel­sius warm­ing,” said Jo­han Rock­strom, the in­com­ing direc­tor of the Pots­dam In­sti­tute for Cli­mate Im­pact Re­search.

“We know that we’re mov­ing in the wrong di­rec­tion,” said Rock­strom. “We need to bend the global car­bon emis­sions no later than 2020 — in two years’ time — to stand a chance to stay un­der 2 de­grees Cel­sius.”

Con­vinc­ing coun­tries to set new, tougher tar­gets for emis­sions re­duc­tion by 2020 is a key chal­lenge in Katowice.

Do­ing so will en­tail a trans­for­ma­tion of all sec­tors of their economies, in­clud­ing a com­plete end to burn­ing fos­sil fuel.

Poor na­tions want rich coun­tries to pledge the big­gest cuts, on the grounds that they’re re­spon­si­ble for most of the car­bon emis­sions in the at­mos­phere. Rich coun­tries say they’re will­ing to lead the way, but only if poor na­tions play their part as well.

“Ob­vi­ously not all coun­tries are at the same stage of de­vel­op­ment,” said Lidia Wo­j­tal, an as­so­ciate with Ber­lin-based con­sul­tancy Cli­matekos and a for­mer Pol­ish cli­mate ne­go­tia­tor. “So we need to also take that into ac­count and dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. And that’s a huge task.”

Among those likely to be press­ing hard­est for am­bi­tious mea­sures will be small is­land na­tions , which are al­ready fac­ing se­ri­ous chal­lenges from cli­mate change.

The U.S., mean­while, is far from be­ing the driv­ing force it was dur­ing the Paris talks un­der Pres­i­dent Barack Obama. Brazil and Aus­tralia, pre­vi­ously staunch back­ers of the ac­cord, ap­pear to be fol­low­ing in Trump’s foot­steps.

Some ob­servers fear na­tion­al­ist think­ing on cli­mate could scup­per all hope of mean­ing­ful progress in Katowice. Oth­ers are more op­ti­mistic.

“We will soon see a large enough mi­nor­ity of sig­nif­i­cant economies mov­ing de­ci­sively in the right di­rec­tion,” said Rock­strom. “That can have spillover ef­fects which can be pos­i­tive.”

Poland could end up play­ing a cru­cial role in bring­ing op­pos­ing sides to­gether. The coun­try has al­ready presided over three pre­vi­ous rounds of cli­mate talks, and its heavy re­liance on car­bon-in­ten­sive coal for en­ergy is forc­ing War­saw to mull some tough mea­sures in the years ahead.

The 24th Con­fer­ence of the Par­ties, or COP24 as it’s known, is be­ing held on the site of a Katowice mine that was closed in 1999 af­ter 176 years of coal pro­duc­tion. Five out of the city’s seven col­lieries have been closed since the 1990s, as Poland phased out com­mu­nist-era sub­si­dies and moved to a mar­ket econ­omy.

Yet else­where in the city, 1,500 min­ers still ex­tract thou­sands of tons of coal daily. Poland also still de­pends on coal for some 80 per­cent of its en­ergy needs.

Poland in­tends to send a sig­nal that the min­ers’ fu­tures, and those of mil­lions of oth­ers whose jobs are at risk from de­car­boniza­tion, are not be­ing for­got­ten. Dur­ing the first week of talks, lead­ers are ex­pected to sign a Pol­ish-backed dec­la­ra­tion call­ing for a ‘just tran­si­tion’ that will “cre­ate qual­ity jobs in re­gions af­fected by tran­si­tion to a low-car­bon econ­omy.”

Then ne­go­tia­tors will get down to the gritty task of trim­ming a 300-page draft into a work­able and mean­ing­ful agree­ment that gov­ern­ments can sign off on at the end of the se­cond week.

“(I) hope that par­ties will be able to reach a com­pro­mise and that we will be able to say that Katowice con­trib­uted pos­i­tively to this global ef­fort,” Kur­tyka said.

Im­age: Sła­womir Kamiński

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