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COP24: Another disappointment for Planet Earth? | MINI POLITICS

Last week, a 15 year-old Swedish student named Greta Thunberg led a school strike to protest against inaction at the COP24 (“Conference of the Parties”, a yearly  international conference on climate change led by the UN), where discussions were weighed down in technicalities and divisions instead of putting into action the all-important Paris Agreement of 2015. A difficult task given the current political climate – a divided Europe, the US which has withdrawn from the agreement, and a new Brazilian president who thinks that Climate Change is a hoax.

What was the aim of COP24?

States had to work together to draw up a “rulebook” containing plans for the Paris Agreement’s implementation, and how each country should measure and report its progress. This first step was already embroiled in arguments as richer countries pushed for the same rules for all, and developing countries pleaded for greater flexibility for those countries with limited financial and technical means. Should, for example, countries who are under their quota be allowed to “sell” a part of it to countries who are over it? Should developing countries slow their economic development to reduce their fossil fuel use and build on sustainable methods instead?

And what of the damages which climate change is already causing – the hurricanes, flooding, rising sea levels? Shouldn’t richer countries help those small countries who are struggling with the effects that they didn’t cause?

What was actually achieved?

For many, the agreement simply lacks the necessary ambition and the necessary drive. Currently, supposing that countries actually stick to the plans laid out in the Paris Agreement, the planet is on track for an increase of 3.2 degrees… all while experts have warned that anything above 1.5 degrees will lead to unprecedented and disastrous results.

1.5 degrees is not an arbitrary figure with consequences in the far future – it is a figure which represents survival for some vulnerable communities, and which means very real effects on our environment, everywhere, within our lifetime.

Yet countries continue to stand around arguing about how much of the work they should have to do. The good news is that not all countries attending the COP24 feel this way. There is hope. Almost 90 countries, made up of small islands or developing countries, came together to demand “strong action”, while 70 other countries (12 European countries, insular States, Canada, New Zealand, even Costa Rica) teamed up to form a “high ambition coalition” and called for more ambitious plans before 2020.

Whether this spark of hope is enough yet… well, that’s debatable.

Where is opposition coming from?

There are several key sources opposed to climate action – mostly global warming deniers, and people or countries who benefit from the fossil fuel industry.

Petrol states Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Russia and the US allied at the COP24 to argue over a tiny phrase, wanting to change the wording in the intergovernmental report on the evolution of the climate to make States “take note of” the study instead of “welcoming it favourably”. The motion was not passed, but even its suggestion reveals a worrying lack of will on the part of these major international players in limiting the temperature increase to 1.5 C. If they cannot even “welcome” the results of a report which was asked for by the same ensemble of governments, just what are they willing to do to react to it?

Two months ago, the world’s governors adopted the report, which had been commissioned at the COP21 in Paris in 2015. The report emphasises the need for “fast” and “unprecedented” transformations. The temperature is allowed to rise above 1.5 degrees, there will be very serious consequences for the sea level, heatwaves, and loss of biodiversity.

The final kick in the teeth for scientists, climate workers, island nations, and ordinary people with any common sense anywhere: on the 10th of December, alongside COP24, the American administration held an event which promoted fossil fuels as a “solution” to climate change.

What now?

Laurent Fabius, former President of the COP21, called for States to avoid “two dangers”: the absence of an agreement, or an insufficient agreement. We need to be “better, faster, and together”, he said.

Time is of the essence. Forget personal interest, apathy, politics, material comforts… time is the only precious resource we need to be thinking about right now. We are currently on track for an increase of 3 degrees, as soon as 2030. In just a few decades, people will no longer be pushing climate change aside, able to forget about it. It will be a major source of news; it will affect your everyday life, your summers, your winters; we will be wishing it was not too late. Our children will grow up with natural disasters as if they are normal; they will not know what we experienced in our childhood. They will grow up knowing what climate change is, what climate refugees are; they may even risk becoming one.

As the former president of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, put it: “CO2 emissions continue to increase and increase and increase. And all we seem to do is talk and talk and talk.”

MINI POLITICS is a new series on my blog. Every week, I will be writing a short and simple explanation of a current political issue or event in Europe, designed to be accessible for people who don’t think they’re interested in politics as well as those who are interested in European politics but don’t want to trawl through pages of analysis, or who don’t speak the language of the country where the event is taking place. Mini summaries of big questions, made simple.

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