Climate talks billed as most crucial since Paris accord officially begin in Poland

More than 20,000 climate experts have gathered in Katowice for 24th Global Climate Summit

The United Nations' Secretary-General Antonio Guterres attends a session of the COP24 summit on climate change in Katowice, Poland, on December 4, 2018. The world is "way off course" in its plan to prevent catastrophic climate change, the United Nations warned as nations gathered in Poland to chart a way for mankind to avert runaway global warming. / AFP / Janek SKARZYNSKI
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Talks on global warming labelled as the most crucial since the 2015 Paris climate agreement have officially started in the Polish city of Katowice, the capital of the Silesian mining district.

Diplomats and negotiators from around the world gathered in southern Poland to kick start technical talks that seek to cement the rules that will define the Paris accord agreed three years earlier to curb climate change.

The talks are significant as they will decide what ministers from almost 200 countries will discuss and decide upon when they arrive in the Polish city next week.

The primary aim of the two-week summit is to hammer out a deadline for the end of the year for diplomats to agree rules on how to police global action around limiting the warming of the planet. Scientists warn that emissions of greenhouse gases must be cut to net zero by 2050 to avoid a cataclysmic warming of the Earth in the next century.

The talks began a day after former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said the US still had a major role to play in global leadership of climate issues, despite US President Donald Trump’s apparent abandonment of that role.

The former action hero had joined heads of states arriving via rail, prominent figures warning of impending environmental catastrophe, and more than 20,000 climate experts who have gathered in Katowice, Poland, for the 24th Global Climate Summit.

There, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres told them that nothing short of a total transformation of the global economy will suffice to stave off catastrophic climate change.

Speaking on the second day of the summit, Mr Guterres called on international donors to fulfil their pledges to fight climate change and insisted the fledgling Paris agreement of 2015 remains alive.

“I invite all governments, business, sources of finance – public and private – and civil society organisations to join in the preparatory process to raise real ambition and transform the real economy,” he said.

“To achieve genuine transformation in the real economy, we need national governments to play a crucial role in each of the robust coalitions which will deliver concrete transformative outcomes.

He continued: “The Paris agreement is not a piece of paper. It is a historic compact among nations, a compact to ensure our survival.”

The summit served as a forum for negotiations over the implementation of the Paris agreement, signed in 2015, with countries reportedly at odds over whom should fit the bill for the global effort.

In signs that a funding spat over the agreement is brewing, Brazil’s representative at the conference, J. Antonio Marcondes called on developed countries to deliver on their existing pledges, and provide some $100 billion to help poorer nations to combat climate change.

“If developed economies put off their climate payments any longer, the Paris agreement temperature goals will slip out of reach, with tragic consequences for people and planet,” he said.

Only months ago, Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro threatened to pull his country out of the agreement entirely.

Panel discussions and exhibitions saw participants attempting to hammer out innovative solutions to some of the most pressing climate-related challenges of the 21st century, with proposals to combat climate change ranging from cyber currencies to alternative clean coal.

Poland has attempted to uses its hosting of the conference to position itself as a pragmatic leader in the global effort to shift to renewable energies. But Warsaw is heavily reliant on coal, and more than 80 per cent of the country’s energy comes from what locals have dubbed “black gold”. Numerous mine shafts are just a few minutes’ drive through the thick smoggy air from this year’s conference venue, visitors are reminded of the industry with every breath they take.

But the government is caught in a delicate balancing act, though the pollution and health effects are well known among locals, the industry is a crux of the economy in the region of Silesia – Poland’s wealthiest – and hundreds of thousands of family are still reliant on it to stay afloat.

On Monday, British broadcaster and naturalist David Attenborough warned “the collapse of civilisation is on the horizon,” while former Governor of California Schwarzenegger was also in town to help launch a new climate negotiation initiative.

Mr Schwarzenegger was one of a number of delegates to castigate US President Donald Trump. “Remember that America is more than just Washington or one leader," he said.

The summit comes as international cooperation on climate change flounders, following the United States’ withdrawal from the 2015 Paris agreement on climate change mitigation agreed last year. President Trump claimed it would “undermine the US economy”.

The Trump administration is reportedly in the process of organising a pro-coal summit, with the support of industry leaders to be held in the same city in an effort to undermine the summit’s efforts to discourage the use of the heavily-pollutant energy source.

President of Austria Alexander Van der Bellen drew headlines as he arrived for the conference from Vienna by train, eschewing the tradition presidential motorcade. Travelling via rail was “very comfortable,” he told delegates. Though he admitted to The National that a mix-up had initially left him without a seat reservation when he boarded.

Five international banks are pledging to use the billions at their disposal to steer clients away from businesses that emit large amounts of greenhouse gases.

The banks, led by ING of the Netherlands, announced the plan Tuesday on the sidelines of the summit.

The Katowice Commitment, named after the city hosting the two-week summit, is also backed by BBVA, Standard Chartered, BNP Paribas and Societe Generale. The banks say they want to support the Paris accord on curbing climate change.


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