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Poland, Pollution, and Paris: Climate Change and the Upcoming UN COP24

Poland is set to host the upcoming 24th Conference of the Parties (COP24) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). From Dec. 2-14, the city of Katowice will welcome delegates and heads of state from across the world to discuss the creation of a new ‘rulebook’ on climate change to enable participatory states to credibly and effectively commit to environmental goals set forth in the 2015 Paris Agreement. Amidst reports and calls for global action, the conference is poignantly timed and located in one of Europe’s most highly polluted coal-mining regions, bringing together states to discuss issues of rising climate concern. However, political divisions and country obstinance pose as significant obstacles for the conference and environmental proponents to overcome.

The 24th Session of the Conference of Parties of the UNFCCC is set to be held in Katowice, Poland. Photo.    Credit:    COP24.gov.pl

The 24th Session of the Conference of Parties of the UNFCCC is set to be held in Katowice, Poland. Photo. Credit: COP24.gov.pl

The significance of the talks in Poland stems directly from the international parameters set forth in the 2015 Paris Agreement. The Paris talks established an unprecedented structure for achieving global climate goals, incorporating a holistic and norms-driven expectation for both developed and developing nations to respectively abide by and seek to accomplish in their own capacities. The Agreement produced country-specific target goals for pollution emission reduction, alongside normative accountability measures to ascertain individual countries’ adoption of larger climate goals and environmental consciousness. The upcoming Poland conference furthers the discussion in Paris by seeking to formulate the guidelines, rules, and formalities of how emission reduction will actually be accounted for, and the role of the oversight body: Committee on Implementation and Compliance.

As an extension of the goals and aims set forth three years prior in Paris, Poland’s conference is aptly timed to address the global climate developments that have taken place in the elapsed time since. Notably, as outlined in a UN report published this week, the progress since Paris has been negligible and not on target. The ninth annual UN Environment Programme report, released Tuesday, Nov. 27, to prime delegates for the upcoming Poland talks, illustrated that current world emission activities are not on track to achieve the stated goal of limiting global temperature increases to between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius by the year 2030. In order to accomplish the ideals set forth in Paris, a proposed reduction of emissions by 25% of that emitted in 2017 will be needed to keep temperature rises to only 2 degrees Celsius by 2030, and a reduction of 55% of 2017 levels in order to limit increases to only 1.5 degrees Celsius. At current levels of emission and activity, temperature rise is set to be nearly 3.2 degrees Celsius by the year 2100.

UNEP Temperature Trajectories. Photo.    Credit:    BBC via UN Emissions gap report 2018

UNEP Temperature Trajectories. Photo. Credit: BBC via UN Emissions gap report 2018

The UNEP report and its highlights show that issues of climate change are imminent and pressing for global leaders to take note of and further concerted action upon. Poland’s officials, who will lead some of the talks at the COP24, view the task as mounting and politicized. Former Polish Deputy Energy Minister, Michal Kurtyka, remarked, “Only by a miracle can we realize success,” in anticipation of the decisions to be settled during the conference. Kurtyka further noted that the unique geopolitical climate of 2018 would be a factor to negotiate around in consideration of the issues faced, but that there also coexisted a desire and, “a willingness to reach compromise in Katowice,” on part of the delegates and countries set to be present. The recent declarations of some major world leaders denouncing the relevance of climate change and the COP24 talks thus appear to be the minority rather than the majority. However, navigating the relationship between emissions and development, and the role of each individual countries’ willingness and ability to contribute to reduction, will be the primary issues at stake to tackle in Poland.