The UN COP24 climate change talks in Poland concluded with an agreement about how to put the 2015 Paris agreement into motion. Countries approved a “rulebook” that includes how governments will measure, report on and verify their emissions-cutting efforts.
But it wasn’t easy. The sticky point was over carbon credits, which are awarded to countries for their emissions-cutting efforts and their carbon sinks, such as forests, which absorb carbon.
As reported by the Guardian, Brazil, for instance, hopes to benefit from its large rainforest cover. The country insisted on a new form of wording that critics said would allow double counting of credits, undermining the integrity of the system. This issue has been put off until next year.
What is more, the key question of how countries will step up their targets on cutting emissions was not discussed.
According to the Guardian, the world is set for 3C of warming from pre-industrial levels, which scientists say would be disastrous, resulting in droughts, floods, sea level rises and the decline of agricultural productivity.
By 2020, countries are required to show they have met targets set a decade ago for cutting their emissions, and when they must affirm new, much tougher targets.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the global body of the world’s leading climate scientists, allowing warming to reach 1.5C above pre-industrial levels would have grave consequences, including the die-off of coral reefs and devastation of many species.
Based on IPCC’s findings, the world has little more than a decade to bring emissions under control and halve them, which would help to stabilise the climate.
The big problem now is that the world’s carbon emissions appear to be on the rise again. Coal use continues, and oil is still the engine of much of the world’s economy. Clean energy is coming on-stream at a faster rate than many predicted, and the costs of it have come down rapidly, but its adoption needs to be speeded up.
According to the Guardian’s report, infrastructure, such as energy generation plants, transport networks and buildings, is a central issue. Infrastructure built now to rely on high-carbon energy effectively locks in high emissions for decades to come. Some people are also saying we need to invest in projects to remove carbon from the atmosphere, and a new focus of the talks is helping countries to adapt to the effects of climate change.
More bad news is that the US, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait joined forces to prevent the conference fully embracing the IPCC’s findings, watering down a statement to a weak commendation of the timing of the scientists’ report.
Australia joined with the US in a celebration of coal, and Brazil signalled its climate scepticism under Jair Bolsonaro by withdrawing its offer to host next year’s talks.
But the EU, a handful of other developed countries and scores of developing nations including the poorest and most vulnerable affirmed that they would strive to meet the IPCC’s advice on limiting warming to no more than 1.5C.
The UN is scheduled to meet again next year in Chile to thrash out the final elements of the Paris rulebook and begin work on future emissions targets. But the crunch conference will come in 2020, when countries must meet the deadline for their current emissions commitments and produce new targets for 2030 and beyond that go further towards meeting scientific advice.