COP climate talks – our verdict on the deal in Poland

COP24 took place in a region dominated by coal mining. And you heard right, they decorated the conference hall with lumps of carbon.
Photo of Phil Byrne with dog
By Phil Byrne    |      Published:  20 Dec 2018    |      5 minute read

More on that in a minute.

First, did world leaders come to an agreement that will save us from the worst impacts of climate change?

No, they didn't. Here's why:

1. Scientists say we need to keep global warming below 1.5°C. This deal won't do that.

2. Countries are pumping too many planet-warming gases into the atmosphere – with no plans to change tact.

3. They didn't agree to provide poorer countries with an adequate amount of money or technology to help them fight climate change.

4. Neither did they commit to giving financial aid to poorer countries that experience losses because of climate change.

5. The US, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia refused to accept the latest science – despite it being an official report commissioned by the COP.

6. Leaders made no promises to protect citizens from the impacts of climate change, eg extreme weather like flooding and hurricanes.

It's not all doom and gloom. There was another side to COP24, where thousands of people demanded more from their governments – including a teenager who told negotiators they weren't mature enough to deal with the issue.

We can force our leaders to do better and, crucially, we've still got time.

Before you read on, please add your name to our climate petition.

Our government is going in completely the wrong direction by supporting polluting projects like fracking, road building and airport expansion. We’re missing out on opportunities to increase our wildlife, improve our air quality and support new, clean industries. By joining thousands of others in signing the petition, we can make our politicians listen.

Thanks. Now let’s try and make sense of the stand-out moments at COP24.

Why was David Attenborough at the climate talks in Poland?

Sir David Attenborough gave a speech at the opening ceremony on Monday 3 December. He described climate change as “a man-made disaster of global scale” adding that – without action to combat climate change – “the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon”.

He was there as part of a UN campaign called The People’s Seat. It’s was the UN’s way of giving me, you and every other person a seat at the talks – with David representing each one us.

Attenborough played a video made up of clips from people all over the world voicing their concerns about climate change. You can still give your opinion using the hashtag #TakeYourSeat.

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The celebrated broadcaster asserted that the people had spoken and we want action now.

Verdict: When David Attenborough speaks, people listen. All of us at Friends of the Earth welcome his plea for urgent action. Have you seen his new series, Dynasties, about 5 iconic species under threat?

Carbon dioxide emissions are rising again, right?

That’s right. Global emissions are projected to rise by more than 2% in 2018 – according to a study by the Global Carbon Project.

It’s the second year in a row that emissions of carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas most responsible for climate change, have risen.

Verdict: To stop runaway climate change we need global emissions to peak by 2020 and then decline rapidly. It’s still possible but the window of opportunity is closing.  

Didn't world leaders agree a plan in Paris to tackle climate change?

At the Paris climate talks In 2015, they shook on a deal to keep the global temperature rise well below 2°C – and try to limit it to 1.5°. 

But they didn’t agree on the rules that will make this happen. That's what they were doing at the 2018 climate talks. They've called it the Paris Rulebook, which is slightly confusing because they negotiated it in Poland.

Verdict:  We need a rulebook that holds countries to the promises they made in Paris. Unfortunately, it doesn't come close for the reasons outlined at the top of this article.

Does the IPCC report have anything to do with COP24?

A team of more than 2,000 scientists, known as the IPCC, released their latest report on climate change in 2018. Some of the revelations were shocking.

The report made it clear that we need to keep global warming below 1.5°C. Just half a degree more would put millions more people in danger and probably wipe out the world’s coral reefs.

The report is both relevant and timely. In Paris, world leaders agreed to keep temperature rises well below 2°C. We now know that aiming for anything other than 1.5°C could be disastrous.

Verdict: We’ve already hit around 1°C of warming. Scientists have sent out their starkest warning yet about the consequences of going much over that. But the COP24 deal has us on a path to over 3°C of warming.

What were the big issues at the climate talks in Poland?

The rulebook was the big thing. To protect people from dangerous levels of warming, we need to be able to wave strong guidelines in front of governments failing to cut their emissions properly. But as we now know, we got a watered-down version.

Other things included, making sure all countries are doing their fair share – known as equity. It doesn’t mean everyone doing the same.

The climate change we’re experiencing now is down to decades of greenhouse gases building up in the atmosphere – largely put there by wealthy, global-north countries like the US and the UK.

Poorer, global-south countries are much less responsible for climate change and don’t have the means to deal with its impacts. They need finance from wealthy countries, and much more of it than they’re getting.

Verdict: Keeping global temperature rises below 1.5°C is vital for people and nature. But we’re on track for over 3°. Unless rich countries take responsibility, we won’t beat climate change.

Were there really lumps of coal decorating the conference hall?

As ridiculous as it must sound, yes, Poland filled a climate change conference with piles of coal.

On top of that, attendees were being encouraged to lather themselves in coal-soap souvenirs – and coal companies were sponsoring the talks.

All this happened in Katowice – a southern city in the coal-mining heartlands of the country.

Poland generates almost 80% of it’s electricity by burning coal. The Polish president Andrzej Duda has no plans to change this. Addressing the conference he said that coal “does not contradict the protection of the climate and the progress of climate protection.”

Verdict: Coal contributes more to climate change than any other energy source. We’ve got a much better chance of avoiding dangerous levels of global warming if we phase out coal fast.

What was Friends of the Earth doing at COP24?

Friends of the Earth and other civil society organisations were making sure that the most vulnerable people in the world weren't left out of the talks. By this we mean people from poorer countries in the global south who are most affected by climate change, yet least responsible for it.

We were pushing the UK government to stand up for human rights and act responsibly – leading others to do so too.

And we were there to tell it like it is – giving you straight answers on how these long negotiations are affecting our lives.

We're pressuring the government to do everything it can to protect us against climate change. Please add your voice.