World is now at crossroads over climate, UN conference warned
The world is at a crossroads on climate change, a major conference featuring delegates from 200 nations was warned yesterday.
Two weeks of talks began yesterday in Poland to tackle deep political divisions at the most important UN meeting on global warming since the landmark 2015 Paris deal to shift away from fossil fuels.
Expectations are low that negotiations in Katowice, at the heart of Poland's coal region, will fully resolve concerns laid out in reports over recent weeks on the severity of rising greenhouse gas emissions.
The political climate has also been transformed since the Paris agreement and the fragile global unity that brought about that accord has shattered.
"This is a very, very important conference," UN climate chief Patricia Espinosa said. "It also takes place in a scenario where we have clear signals about the urgency with which we need to address the issues of climate change."
Four former presidents of UN talks, including Laurent Fabius of France, who led negotiations for the Paris agreement, issued a statement urging "decisive action".
"The world is at a crossroads and decisive action in the next two years will be crucial to tackle these urgent threats," they said in the joint statement.
However, political divisions were clear from the outset, with Brazil having withdrawn its offer to host the 2019 talks.
The United States, meanwhile, reiterated at the G20 summit in Argentina on Saturday its decision to withdraw from the Paris accord and a US commitment to all energy sources.
The other members of the group of industrialised nations - including the biggest polluter, China - reaffirmed their commitment to implementing the Paris deal, taking into account their national circumstances.
The Katowice talks precede an end-of-year deadline to produce a "rule book" to flesh out the broad details agreed in Paris on limiting the rise in global temperatures to between 1.5C and 2C.
Delegates said one of the trickiest issues could be monitoring emissions as the US, which cannot quit the pact until 2020, uses the talks to press for a level of detail it perceives as useful to its foreign policy dealings.
Poland is hosting UN climate negotiations for a third time, but the nation remains hooked on coal, the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel. Coal provides about 80pc of Poland's power and has been a major source of employment and national pride.
The younger generation is less emotionally attached to coal and is increasingly environmentally aware, though any phasing out of the fuel in Poland is likely to be slow.
The energy ministry said only last week Poland plans to invest in new coal capacity while its long-term energy strategy assumes it will still obtain about 60pc of its power from coal in 2030.
"We are here to enable the world to act together on climate change," said Poland's environmental envoy, Michal Kurtyka, who is presiding over the meeting, known as COP24.
With further meetings next year meant to build on what's decided in Katowice, he urged all countries to "show creativity and flexibility."
"The United Nations secretary-general is counting on us, all of us to deliver," Mr Kurtyka said. "There is no Plan B."
Ministers and some heads of government plan to join the discussion today, when the host nation is expected to push for a declaration ensuring a "just transition" for fossil fuel industries that face cuts and closures amid efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
"Despite geopolitical instability, the climate consensus is proving highly resilient," said Christiana Figueres, a former head of the UN climate office.
"It is sad that the federal administration of the United States, a country that is increasingly feeling the full force of climate impacts, continues to refuse to listen to the objective voice of science."