Panel discussion at COP24 © International Renewable Energy Agency
December has seen climate change frequently hitting the headlines as 23,000 delegates from 197 states participated in the 24th Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP24).
The two week conference, which took place in Katowice, Poland, aimed to agree a work programme for implementing the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, which was ratified three years ago. In the wake of reports from the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), it is clear that the need to tackle climate change is becoming increasingly urgent and COP24 was the perfect opportunity to address the issue.
The State of the Climate report stated that the 20 warmest years on record have been in the past 22 years, and the WMO have warned that if this trend continues temperatures could rise by up to 5°C by 2100. The IPCC Special Report, commissioned at Paris 2015 and published in October this year, also highlighted a greater need for urgent action on the international stage. According to the report, if global warming is to be kept to 1.5°C this century, then global carbon emissions need to be reduced by 45% in the next 12 years.
The implications of even a 1.5°C warming would be detrimental to numerous species’ survival and would result in mass die off of coral reefs throughout the oceans, according to researchers. But warming beyond this would see even greater impacts: extreme weather events like droughts and floods would become more frequent and increase in scale; sea levels would rise threatening coastal communities internationally; and agricultural productivity would plummet, leading to food security issues across the globe.
The urgent need for action was highlighted by a number of key players at COP24, and although an agreement to make the Paris pact operational by 2020 was eventually secured, there was no shortage of disputes and disagreements among those attending. The US, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait questioned the importance of the IPCC report and refused to agree to ‘welcome’ its conclusions at the conference, instead agreeing to ‘welcome its completion’ after several hours of negotiations by officials. Carbon markets and the use of credits was also an issue of contention, with Brazil in particular wanting to weaken rules around this. In the end this topic of discussion was postponed until the next conference, which will be held in Chile next year.
What was agreed at the end of COP24 was a system through which countries would be transparent with each other on their progress towards the Paris agreement, reporting their emissions and progress on reducing emissions every two years after 2024. Although this builds trust and helps to hold countries accountable to their targets, it doesn’t actually answer the question of how countries will cut their emissions to meet their targets. This will be the main purpose of the much bigger 2020 conference, where nations will not only be facing the deadline for the emission targets set 10 years ago, but will also be asked to declare their commitments to cut them even further by 2030. If the IPCC report is anything to go by, these targets will have to be drastic and ambitious to keep a 1.5°C warming limit within reach.
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