The image of Michal Kurtyka, president of the 24th UN Summit on Climate Change (COP 24) leaping across his table to welcome the miserly agreement reached on Sunday (December 16) at Katowice, Poland may well be the highest benchmark achieved at this international meeting on the perils of global warming.
The long drawn out deliberations that began on December 2 could only agree on finalizing a rule book that would guide the nearly 200 nations gathered in Katowice to reach the goal of containing global temperature increase to below the 2 degree Celsius ceiling.
Conceived as the follow-up to the 2015 Paris climate treaty, Katowice was unable to forge the necessary consensus among the “big boys” and this was predictable given the Trump led US rejection of his predecessor Barak Obama’s climate change advocacy.
But as in the case of the G 20 summit in Argentina, disagreement among the major powers apropos the pursuit of a loftier collective goal has become the leit motif of 2018. Hence even being able to agree on a final document, however modest its substantive content is now cause for satisfaction and cheer.
A UN press release on the outcome of Katowice expanded on the consensus in a generous turn of phrase: “One of the key components of the ‘Katowice package’ is a detailed transparency framework, meant to promote trust among nations regarding the fact that they are all doing their part in addressing climate change. It sets out how countries will provide information about their national action plans, including the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, as well as mitigation and adaptation measures.”
It further added: “An agreement was reached on how to uniformly count greenhouse gas emissions and if poorer countries feel they cannot meet the standards set, they can explain why and present a plan to build up their capacity in that regard.”
Conceived as the follow-up to the 2015 Paris climate treaty, Katowice was unable to forge the necessary consensus among the “big boys”C. Uday Bhaskar
The big picture
What is the big picture as far as global warming and climate change are concerned? Is the situation as grim as the alarming reports of the polar ice-cap melting and sea-levels increasing seem to suggest?
The more recent global pattern of un-seasonal flooding and extended droughts do point to certain imbalances in the complex web that shapes climate and weather – and this is not the first time that planet Earth has been subjected to such tectonic changes.
The gravity of the global challenge was contained in the Report of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) released in October 2018 preparatory to COP24. Prepared by 91 authors and review editors of global repute the IPCC report is weightily titled: ‘Global Warming of 1.5°C, an IPCC special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty.’
The IPCC report warned of the catastrophic consequences of unchecked global warming and its impact on human security, where the socio-economically under-privileged (euphemism for the poor of the world) would be the worst affected.
Paradoxically, it is the poorest who are the most vulnerable – both among individuals and nation-states - even though they contribute the least to carbon-emission and the exploitation of global natural resources. Today's developed nations as a cluster have historically contributed in larger measure to global warming and carbon emission during their growth trajectories and now seek to limit their ‘responsibility’ towards mitigation.
Katowice was unable to bridge this divide and the more affluent nations, led by Washington refused to accept any binding commitments to deal with this global challenge. US President Donald Trump has led the global charge against the emerging consensus on climate change as a peril and it may be recalled that one of his first major policy decisions after assuming office in early 2017 was to take the US out of the 2015 Paris agreement.
In Katowice, the IPCC Report was diluted and while most nations wanted its findings to be prominently welcomed and noted – a group of four nations reportedly objected to this formulation in the final agreement.
Thus instead of welcoming the IPCC Report in totality and accepting its central findings - the group of four led by the USA only allowed COP24 to welcome “the timely conclusion of the report” thereby signaling their opposition to the whole issue of climate change and its inherent urgency and the perils that will visit future generations.
Clearly climate politics and hydrocarbon policy choices makes for strange bed-fellows and the US was joined by Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait – who may well be remembered as the Katowice four! For the developing nations, the refusal of the major powers to accept the principle of ‘differentiated’ responsibility will be a major disappointment.
It was earlier hoped that the rich nations of the world would provide necessary fiscal and technological support to the developing world to deal with a global challenge – but this did not happen at Katowice. To set at rest any ambiguity in the matter, the US issued a formal statement indicating that it would not accept any ‘burdens or financial pledges’ in support of the Paris climate agreement.
Distilling the prevailing despondency, Egyptian Ambassador Wael Aboulmagd chair of the G 77 block of nations plus China pithily observed, that in essence, the rule book adopted in Katowice saw the “urgent adaptation needs of developing countries relegated to a second-class status.”
Alas, beggar thy neighbor is the sub-text of Katowice.
Chitrapu Uday Bhaskar, a retired Commodore who served in the Indian Navy, is one of India's leading experts and outspoken critics on security and strategic affairs. Commodore Bhaskar is currently the Director of the Society for Policy Studies (SPS), an independent think-tank based in New Delhi, India. He has the rare distinction of being the head of three think tanks during his career - the earlier two being the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) and the National Maritime Foundation (NMF). He is a columnist, editor, and contributor of numerous research-articles on nuclear and international security issues to reputed journals in India and abroad. Bhaskar has an abiding interest in the visual arts, film and theater. He tweets. @theUdayB.