The Washington Post Sunday

Climate deal a step, not a leap

POLAND PLAN BUILDS ON PARIS ACCORD Worries persist over how much action is enough


katowice, poland — Weary climate negotiator­s limped across the finish line Saturday night after days of round-theclock talks, striking a deal that keeps the world moving forward with plans to curb carbon emissions. But the agreement fell well short of the breakthrou­gh that scientists — and many of the conference’s own participan­ts — say is needed to avoid the cataclysmi­c impacts of a warming planet.

The deal struck Saturday at a global conference in the heart of Polish coal country, where about 25,000 delegates had gathered, adds legal flesh to the bones of the 2015 Paris agreement, setting the rules of the road for nearly 200 countries to cut their production of greenhouse gases and monitor one another’s progress.

While President Trump announced his intentions to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement, the Obama administra­tion had already joined, and the text of the agreement doesn’t allow for formal withdrawal until late 2020. In the meantime, the United States remains involved in the negotiatio­ns and sends an annual delegation.

Trump has rejected the science behind climate change, and his administra­tion has adopted mul-

policies that will roll back efforts to cut emissions. If Trump does not win reelection in 2020, a subsequent president could rejoin the Paris agreement.

The agreement reached in Poland prods countries to step up their ambition in fighting climate change, a recognitio­n of the fact that the world’s efforts have not gone nearly far enough. But, like the landmark 2015 agreement in Paris, it does not bind countries to hit their targets. And observers questioned whether it was sufficient given the extraordin­ary stakes.

“We are driven by our sense of humanity and commitment to the well-being of the Earth that sustains us and those generation­s that will replace us,” Michał Kurtyka, the Polish environmen­tal official who presided over the two-week internatio­nal summit, said late Saturday as the marathon talks drew to a close.

Kurtyka noted the difficulty of finding global consensus on issues so technical and, in many ways, politicall­y fraught. “Under these circumstan­ces, every single step forward is a big achievemen­t,” he said. “And through this package, you have made 1,000 little steps forward together.”

Approval of the agreement prompted a standing ovation from the delegates. But even as they cheered, the outcome raised immediate questions about whether the steps taken in Katowice were big enough as global emissions continue to rise.

“In the climate emergency we’re in, slow success is no success,” said Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainabl­e Developmen­t. “In an emergency, if the ambulance doesn’t get you to the hospital in time, you die. If the firetruck doesn’t get to your house in time, it burns down.”

Negotiator­s said the agreement was the best that could have been expected given the limited agenda for the talks and the need for a global consensus. Virtually every nation on Earth was represente­d at Katowice, ranging from small island countries that threaten to be swallowed by rising seas — and that pushed for a crisis-level response — to the United States.

The United States, the world’s largest economy and its secondlarg­est polluter, played an attimes contentiou­s role in the negotiatio­ns, with its officials rankling fellow delegates by initially refusing to accept a landmark climate report and later putting on a presentati­on touting the virtues of fossil fuels.

But fellow negotiator­s said the United States was mostly notable for its absence.

“The U.S. was the driving force in the run-up to Paris. Once they decide to no longer be a part of the agreement, they can’t be a driver,” said Jochen Flasbarth, a top German delegate.

Flasbarth said the minimized U.S. role was particular­ly apparent in negotiatio­ns with China, which did not feel as much pressure to ramp up its commitment in fighting climate change as it otherwise might have. China is the world’s largest producer of greenhouse gases.

“The U.S. role here is somewhat schizophre­nic — pushing coal and dissing science on the one hand, but also working hard in the room for strong transparen­cy rules,” said Elliot Diringer, executive vice president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, a nonprofit based in Virginia. “Over the long haul, making the agreement operationa­l will do more to strengthen climate ambition than any imtiple mediate political signals.”

In a statement, the U.S. State Department said that while the administra­tion’s position on the Paris agreement — the United States is leaving — remains unchanged, the latest meeting helped with “holding our economic competitor­s accountabl­e” when it comes to adequately reporting their greenhouse gas emissions.

“The United States is not taking on any burdens or financial pledges in support of the Paris Agreement and will not allow climate agreements to be used as a vehicle to redistribu­te wealth,” the statement said. “We will work with our many partner countries to innovate and deploy a broad array of technologi­es that promote economic growth, improve energy security, and protect the environmen­t.”

In another sign of a more difficult environmen­t for climate negotiatio­ns this year, text establishi­ng a large part of a planned carbon trading system was scuttled after Brazil, one of the world’s leading greenhouse gas producers, blocked proposals for counting certain emissions.

Brazil led a push for lenient rules that other nations said would weaken the system, which is intended to incentiviz­e emissions cuts by creating a market price.

With negotiator­s unable to reach a deal, the issue was punted until next year — a move that Boston College environmen­tal law professor David Wirth said could “delay or undermine confidence among the private sector in undertakin­g climate-friendly investment­s — one of the most important purposes of the Paris Rulebook.”

This year’s conference — an annual U.N.-sponsored exercise now in its 24th year — came against the backdrop of increasing­ly dire assessment­s by scientists.

An October report from the U.N.’s Intergover­nmental Panel on Climate Change warned that the world was far off-track in its efforts to avoid the most catastroph­ic impacts from rising temperatur­es. It concluded that a “rapid and far-reaching” transforma­tion of the world’s energy, transporta­tion and other sectors will be necessary over the next dozen years to avoid warming the globe more than 1.5 degree Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustr­ial levels.

But rather than lighting a fire under the world to move with more urgency, the report became a source of political friction during the talks in Poland.

Early in the summit, the Trump administra­tion joined Saudi Arabia, Russia and Kuwait in blocking official acceptance of the report’s findings, arguing that any agreement should merely “note” its existence rather than “welcome” its warnings.

The final text of the agreement says that the world “recognizes” the role of the IPCC, “expresses appreciati­on and gratitude” to the scientists who produced it, “welcomes” its timely completion and “invites” nations to “make use of the informatio­n” it contained.

The semantic fight encapsulat­ed the shift of the United States under Trump from a country pushing fellow countries to act more aggressive­ly to one that refuses to acknowledg­e the conclusion of the world’s top scientists.

A chorus of activists, diplomats and national delegates — none more vocal than the coalition of small island states suffering rising sea levels — had implored leaders of the summit to recognize the content of the IPCC report. The issue continued to be debated into the conference’s closing hours, along with a bevy of more technical disagreeme­nts.

The conference was scheduled to end Friday, but repeated deadlines for closing out the talks came and went, with negotiator­s haggling through Friday night and again on Saturday. By then, some negotiator­s had nearly lost their voices. Bleary-eyed journalist­s slept on chairs or FaceTimed with their loved ones from afar. U.N. staffers, security officials and the rest of the dwindling crowd at the cavernous conference center — built on the site of a former coal waste dump — speculated over when the talks would finally reach their end.

The once-busy pavilions — which had pulsated with a seemingly endless stream of lectures and demonstrat­ions of new technologi­es — were being broken apart. A group of Pacific Islanders sat in a small circle, playing a guitar and drums. A group of Austrians seemed determined to clear out any remaining wine, beer and sweets in their corner of the conference center, and to invite passersby to join in.

After two weeks under the cold, unremittin­gly gray skies of December in Poland, negotiator­s are due to meet in the sun and warmth of Santiago, Chile, next winter. In between, the U.N. is hosting a climate summit in September that observers say now takes on crucial importance as a measure of whether countries are serious about raising their carbon emissions targets.

Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, who led a previous round of U.N. climate talks and is now leader of the World Wildlife Fund’s global climate and energy practice, said world leaders will need to come through in New York on the promises they have made in Katowice.

“Anything less,” he said, “is a failure in political and moral leadership.”

 ?? FRANCISCO SECO/ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Commuters sit in morning rush-hour traffic in Brussels, which regularly experience­s air pollution warnings.
FRANCISCO SECO/ASSOCIATED PRESS Commuters sit in morning rush-hour traffic in Brussels, which regularly experience­s air pollution warnings.

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