The international efforts to adopt political strategies for mitigation of climate change effects is something I try to follow as someone working with integration renewable energy resources and resource recovery. The recent report by IPCC entitled “Global warming of 1.5 °C” was released after an earlier meeting and is a lengthy document where the common scientific consensus concerning global warming is summarized. The key point is from this report is that through so-called Climate-resilient development pathways it may be possible to mitigate climate change to within 1.5 °C global temperature rise but that the current strategies would place the world well above the 2.0 °C upper limit agreed upon in Paris. After reading the report, albeit not in-depth in all sections, I was looking forward to what would come out of the UN Climate conference in Katowice, Poland.
As a scientist working in STEM, these events stir up mixed emotions of dread and delight when they take place. The first thoughts usually revolve around whether or not the participants have the necessary resolve to fully grasp the scientific consensus and address the most crucial points and not get hung up on details. Further, it is always terrifying to see politics outweigh arguments based on scientific observations which is all too common. Here, the worst moment was probably when 4 countries out of 196 – USA, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait – objected to the meeting “welcoming” the aforementioned IPCC report and including it in the work towards common rules between nations.
The actual place of the conference was very fitting, in my opinion, since the Katowice area is heavily reliant on coal industry. It’s a reminder that there are people whose livelihood depend on fossil energy sources and these people cannot be demonized or abandoned as the global energy system undergoes changes towards renewable energy . From a Swedish perspective it’s often too easy to state that other nations should “just switch” from coal. Without having clear strategies for implementation of alternative energy sources for domestic and industrial energy use, some nations simply cannot make the switch today due to the societal cost which dampens the political will to strive for such huge structural changes. The final statement from the conference will hopefully assist in developing such strategies and promote global support for nations highly dependent of fossil fuels, both in production and consumption.
I was pleasantly surprised when listening to various reports from the conference itself. It seems that the delegates were determined to reach a final statement that provides a useful framework that can be implemented by all countries and the conference was prolonged to ensure that a final statement could be reached. After the Paris agreement there hasn’t been much tangible progress in that direction, but now it’s been compiled in “The Katowice Texts”. The final statement from the event contained the compromise that the meeting welcomed the completion of the IPCC report and that further stated that nations could use it in their work towards climate change mitigation.
As with any agreement, one could say that this one is not far-reaching enough and that measures are suggested too late. Taking this stance may risk promoting the notion that it’s too late to do anything anyway which is likely the worst mindset one could have for dealing with climate change. From my point of view, I’m quite pleased that 196 countries with vastly different starting points could agree on a framework at all. There are obvious points that will need to be amended in areas such as financing of preventive measures in countries that do not have the financial muscles to pull off larger projects.
Personally, I’m hoping that there will be more opportunities for knowledge transfer in the energy sector where Europe and Sweden likely could assist nations in other regions of the world. Experiences from Europe could assist with reducing costs when for moving from coal to biomass or waste-to-energy, for instance. After visiting power plants in Asia and US where such efforts are being made it has become clear that there is scientific knowledge, particularly within European academia, that does not reach industries around the world. I firmly believe that global knowledge transfer initiatives are necessary to prevent huge investments in installations with lifetimes over 30 years that do not use best-practice. After the Katowice final statements, I’m anticipating that we will see initiatives focusing more on how nations could increase renewable energy and decrease reliance on fossil fuels instead of just stating that they should. That is why, despite many details that remain to be worked out, the final statement from the UN Climate Change Conference in Katowice left me feeling that the future is brighter than just a few weeks ago.