From Climate Agreements to Action: Lessons from COP24
By Isabel Studer, Director of Strategic Partnerships for Latin America Region
The evidence is compelling. As in the last ten years, in 2018 we registered record temperatures. The fires in California and the hurricanes that devastated many Caribbean countries last year are some of the most visible and heartbreaking signs of the effects of climate change. This year, also, a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, compiled by hundreds of scientists from around the world, warned that emissions would have to decrease by almost 50% by the year 2030, or in 11 years, the temperature cannot rise more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial levels. Today, we have reached 1 degree Celsius and more than 7.6 billion people around the world are affected by climate impacts.
In this context, climate negotiations in Katowice at the Conference of the Parties (COP) 24, were expected to have strong results regarding the definition of a "rulebook" for the Paris Agreement, which was signed three years ago. In this agreement in 2015, a general consensus was reached, in which 195 countries accepted not only that greenhouse gases were dangerously heating the planet, but also that each country, developed and undeveloped, would assume voluntary commitments to reduce emissions and stabilize the increase in temperature well below 2 degrees Celsius at pre-industrial levels. But the balance was tenuous and the details were left to be defined before 2020, when the Paris Agreement comes into force.
In Katowice, basic agreements were reached to establish the universally accepted minimum rules on measurement methodologies, reporting times, progress, and increasing commitments and transparency around national contributions to reduce emissions. However, the increase in financing and market rules, which can provide the incentives and flexibility for both countries and the private sector to invest in reducing emissions, remained pending. In Katowice, the negotiating process and the tenuous equilibrium achieved in Paris were maintained.
However, given the call of the scientific community, it’s apparent these negotiations and agreements are necessary, but were not enough. Emissions have been increasing since 2017, particularly in the two largest economies in the world - the United States and China. Even if the voluntary promises of the Paris Agreement were fulfilled, Climate Action Tracker estimates that the world will reach 3.3 degrees Celsius with catastrophic consequences, not for the planet, but for humanity. Other countries are receding in their commitments, as is the case of Brazil and Australia. Countries such as Germany and China that have committed to significantly increase the use of renewable energy, are facing difficulties with reducing the use of coal for the generation of electricity. With the election of Trump, the United States has pulled out of the Paris Agreement by 2020. The world is not fulfilling its objectives within the framework of the Paris Accord.
But there is hope. In 2017, almost 200 GW of renewable energy was added to the electricity sector, more than half of this coming from developing countries. The parallel events at the climate conference showed that society, subnational, city governments, as well as the private sector are taking clear actions and developing innovative solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. One such example is the United States Climate Alliance, a bipartisan coalition of 17 governors committed to reducing emissions that are consistent with the goals of the Paris Agreement. In Katowice, the UK launched the Driving Change Together initiative, an electromobility initiative, which was joined by 38 countries and 1,200 companies. The giant shipping carrier Maersk pledged to be carbon neutral by 2050. Two of Australia's largest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, pledged to stop using coal as part of the Powering Past Coal Alliance.
From Mexico, the state governments of Yucatan, Quintana Roo, Jalisco, and Oaxaca have committed to undertaking different actions to protect forests, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, all while increasing the resilience of their communities. Several individuals have also contributed with actions that are having an impact, as is the case of Tony Rinaudo, who has restored through his technique of natural regeneration, more than 6 million hectares, an area just shy of Tasmania by planting more than 240 million trees. As the Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, said perfectly, “we have the solutions and we have the moral responsibility to act.”
Originally published in Spanish in Energy 21
December 18, 2018