The scientific community and climate campaigners warn that the deal reached at COP24 in
Katowice in December 2018 has serious moral shortcomings as it fails to recognise the dire
warnings from the world’s top scientists and ignores the pleas of the most vulnerable states.
The United Nations Climate Change Conference hosted climate talks in the Polish city over a period of two weeks in an attempt to agree on a set of rules for how to govern the 2015 Paris climate accord. The U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres emphasised at the beginning of the conference that the current state of global climate matters is worse than anticipated, admitting that the political resolve slowly faded after Paris.
“We all know the massive scale of the climate challenge we face. And we all know we are not on track.” Guterres warned, calling for a large increase in ambition during the negotiations.
His concerns about the lack of political will and ambition were amplified by the absence of
many prominent world leaders at the conference. With the U.S. announcing its withdrawal
from the Paris Agreement and China not sending its top politicians, it was clear that one of
the biggest issues the conference was facing was the lack of commitment by some of the
world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters.
Following the newest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, which
shows that even a 1.5°C increase in temperature would have catastrophic global consequences, climate experts expected countries to issue a political declaration at the end of the Katowice conference that would clearly signal their intention to do more than originally intended to cut emissions from 2020 on, since the main aim of the Paris Agreement was to only keep the increase in global temperature between 1.5°C – 2.0°C.
The acceptance of this new goal became the central issue of the whole conference, dividing
the international community into “nations that feel threatened by climate change and those
that feel a bit more threatened by climate action.” said Gareth Redmond-King, head of
climate change at the World Wildlife Fund, in an interview with The Independent.
Small island nations could be left uninhabitable as sea levels rise, a threat that will become
considerably worse once warming rises above 1.5°C. Former president of the Maldives and
the head of the country’s delegation at the COP24 summit, Mohamed Nasheed, stated during his opening speech at the summit that the failure of the climate talks to produce meaningful results is threatening the very survival of small island states.
“We are not prepared to die. […] Please do not kill us!” said Nasheed in an interview with
Democracy Now, urging world leaders, especially the largest emitters, to accept their responsibility and take decisive action to tackle climate change. “Developing countries,
countries such as the Maldives, we did not contribute to climate change, but we are the first to suffer from it.”
Nevertheless, the newest scientific discoveries and the pleas of the most vulnerable states
were seemingly not taken seriously, as the alliance of the US, Russia, Saudi Arabia and
Kuwait, each for individual strategic reasons, joined together to cast doubt on the findings of the IPCC’s report. With these four countries opposing the report, the new goal of keeping the temperature rise below 1.5°C was abandoned, jeopardising the survival of future generations more than ever before.
“With the UN warning that we have just twelve years to limit climate catastrophe, the
decisions made by global governments in Poland have the potential to break our ability to
face the future” said Sian Berry, co-leader of the UK Green Party during a protest in front of the Polish embassy in London on the eve of the UN climate talk in Katowice.
Another major shortcoming of the conference was the fact that only emissions from fossil
fuels were discussed. After the 2009 WorldWatch report revealing that livestock and their
byproducts account for at least 51 percent of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions, it
became clear that any meaningful discussion about the reduction of greenhouse gases must always include the role of agriculture-based emissions. The fact that they were not being considered at the world’s biggest climate conference sparked questions about its very
A further indication that the negotiations at Katowice were failing were statements by many
leaders that their countries will not and cannot shift away from fossil fuels, however urgent
climate action is demanded. The host nation Poland remained committed to coal, the most
polluting of fossil fuels, explaining that it guarantees the country’s energy security and
sovereignty. In the words of the country’s president in his summit address, “it would be hard not to use it” especially since their supplies will last another two hundred years.
Poland is not alone in its struggles to transition to clean energy. Converting to wind, solar and biomass power will take trillions of dollars and more than twenty years to implement – time that simply is not there.
Verena Winiwarter, environmental historian and lecturer at the Diplomatic Academy of
Vienna, was not surprised by the outcome of the conference. She points out that the success of the Montreal Protocol in phasing out chemicals damaging the ozone layer was only possible because they could easily be substituted, and were not central to the overall
functioning of the world economy. Greenhouse gases, on the other hand, are central to the
fossil-fuel-driven, global consumer society based on growth. Changing the entire socio-
economic system is beyond the power of the parties at the COP meetings, and also against
many parties’ individual interests.
One thing is certain – the climate is always changing, and the Earth always finds a way to
adapt. Whether humans as a species have a prosperous future on this planet, however,