UN climate talks polarized by protest, coal politics
Wednesday, December 12, 2018
Another round of climate talks have begun in Katowice, Poland, at an event known as COP24 (U.N. Conference of Parties). Thus far, the event has featured heated clashes with police and heated debates about the Paris Agreement, both regarding a heating planet Earth. There have been serious protests against dirty energy while more protests and behind-the-scenes controversies are brewing.
Let’s begin with the protests, and then consider what’s happening behind the scenes at this historic gathering of world leaders, industry spokespeople, nonprofits, nongovernmental organizations, citizen activist groups, and direct action insurrectionaries.
Ahead of the talks, Polish authorities prepared for mayhem by banning protests and gatherings within the city and authorizing widespread surveillance. They even kept some climate activists from entering the country ahead of the events, according to Climate Action Network.
Not only have activists been harassed, but there’s a systematic attempt by the Polish government to crush dissent in the streets using heavily militarized police. Despite this repression, a large protest happened Dec. 8 and protests will continue throughout the event, which concludes Dec. 14.
Inside the conference, protest also plays a large role. On Dec. 10, a U.S. climate policy spokesperson was making an announcement when activists chanted, “Keep it in the ground.”
On Dec. 11, there were accusations that the U.S. — along with Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Kuwait — intends to silence the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.
These four countries agreed to “note” instead of “welcome” the IPCC report, which warns of serious rapid climate devastation by 2040 if the Paris Agreement is dishonored.
The main Paris protocol is to limit “global temperature rise within this century to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.” While some countries ignore the important report, others have criticized it for not factoring in “tipping points”, which have further deleterious effects.
Simply noting the IPCC report indicates that fossil fuel-rich nations continue climate change denial, while over 190 other countries are working together in Poland to establish Paris Agreement-related rules.
While 2015’s Paris Agreement has not reached a full global consensus, largely due to U.S. resistance, aspects of the agreement are now being questioned. This week it was reported that a Shell oil company’s chief climate change advisor, attending COP24, openly admitted to having a direct hand in drafting the Paris Agreement.
Corporations, along with civil society and unions, are not supposed to be writing global climate agreements. We now know that Shell directly influenced Article 6 (carbon trading) language. How many other known polluting companies crafted Paris Agreement language?
While around 190 other cooperating countries convene to meet concrete goals, this kind of news can be demoralizing. However, climate activists are directly addressing Shell’s involvement, as they continue to press on inside and outside the summit.
Additionally, Australia in the middle of new climate controversies. This matters since the country is so close to the south Pacific islands — the world's most vulnerable frontline communities. Western Australia just lifted its fracking ban to serious disagreement. Australia also joined the U.S. on a COP24 panel promoting emission-free energy and “clean fossil fuel.”
It’s no surprise that coal politics centrally defines COP24. Poland is Europe’s second largest coal-producing country and the ninth largest in the world. Most of Poland’s massive mining infrastructure, employing over 100,000 miners, produces coal mainly for use inside the country. This means heavy air pollution, water contamination, and public health problems.
Poland maintains its precarious standing as a low-level player in the global economy by towing the coal line. Other countries, including those most vulnerable to rising temperature and sea levels, participate in the Paris Agreement because their survival depends on it.
After COP24 ends, there will be more reports, more talks, more protests, and more hand-wringing about the future. While the list of climate reports is extensive, economic inequality is a central concern.
A report produced by a variety of civil society organizations, “After Paris: Inequality, Fair Shares, and Climate Emergencies,” states that the wealthiest nations “must take the greatest action to reduce their own emissions and support the global transition.”
Meanwhile, also on Dec. 11, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the intention to roll back the federal Clean Water Rule that protects “groundwater, artificial lakes and ponds, stormwater features, farm ditches, isolated wetlands, and ephemeral streams.” 1 in 3 Americans get drinking water from these currently protected water bodies.
Activists certainly face an uphill battle or worse, depending on which latest government report you read.
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