The pace of negotiations at the UN climate talks has quickened in advance of politicians returning to Katowice in Poland this weekend. An attempt to finalise a deal on a rulebook for full implementation of the landmark Paris agreement from 2020 will be made over coming days.
As new draft negotiating texts were circulated this week, finance elements were the most difficult to get across the line; notably how finance flows from rich to poorer countries are counted, reported on and locked in for the future.
"We are not there yet," said Jo Tyndall, one of the co-chairs at a plenary session late on Thursday.
A final push was in progress overnight into Friday in advance of ministers and lead negotiators arriving on Saturday. Minister for Climate Action Richard Bruton is due to return to the summit on Tuesday.
With developed countries having so far failed to deliver on their promise of $100 billion per year by 2020, trust has evaporated from the perspective of developing countries. Meanwhile, a stand-off between the US and China threatens to slow global action on climate change when the risks of catastrophe are accelerating.
"The biggest threats to the planet are the lack of US climate leadership at home and the unwillingness of the US to engage with China," said Joanna Lewis, a China specialist at Georgetown University. "The rest of the world looks to the US and China for leadership, and it has become clear that, as the alliance has waned, global momentum to address climate change has slowed."
Taken together, the emissions produced by the US and China account for more than 40 per cent of the global total. In both countries emissions went up this year, according to analysis issued this week by the Global Carbon Project.
While China’s emissions have grown in the past two years, mainly because of continued coal-use, it is on track to meet its modest, self-imposed Paris target to reach peak emissions by 2030.
COP24 opened amid concerns that a rulebook might prove impossible to negotiate, according to Jennifer Higgins, policy and advocacy adviser at Christian Aid Ireland.
Other fears, she said, “included a roll back on ambition, a lack of strong leadership, and an inadequate response to the finding of the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] special report which clearly demonstrated that if we continue on our current path we’ll breach the goal of limiting global warming of 1.5 degrees in just 12 years”.
There was, however, optimism in the air, “and instead we are looking to some better-case scenarios, a pulling together, with a proactive effort to ensure a complete rulebook by the end of the COP”. Whether this was well-founded would only emerge when finalised documents emerge next week.
The message from civil society organisations attending the summit was the need for urgency, while being conscious of “the heavy burden on global youth”.
This was echoed, she believed, by the renowned naturalist Sir David Attenborough who, in occupying the "people's seat" at the beginning of the COP, said the world's people wanted decision-makers to act now.
"This is a message which is echoed in Ireland, where ambitious recommendations set out by the Citizens Assembly clearly demonstrates the people of Ireland expect more and are willing to do more, but we have yet to see these recommendations reflected in Government ambition or policy."
After attending numerous briefings, press conferences and report launches over the first week , An Taisce advocacy officer Ian Lumley highlighted a disconnect between reality and genuine climate action.
COP24 is being held in Poland's main coal-mining area, with major sponsorship from the state-owned JSW coal company and other fossil interests. Polish president Andrzej Duda at the opening proudly stated that Poland had coal reserves to last 200 years.
“The display at the entry to the national exhibition pavilions featured the wonders of coal as a base ingredient in soap and cosmetic beauty treatment, and managed to ignore climate and air pollution impact,” Mr Lumley said.
He said outside in a city of more than 300,000 people the impact on air quality of coal dependence was overwhelming. When the winter fog sets in from the early evening the extent of open fire burning was “like a smoggy Irish city 50 years ago”.
“Poland competes with Ireland as the most delinquent EU country on climate performance and is captive to its coal industry, in the same way as so much of Irish politics and public service defers to the bovine lobby,” said Mr Lumley.
While big plenary sessions could be followed on line, “the real business of negotiation is done in the closed access labyrinth of meeting rooms restricted to national governments”.
He claimed green-washing was the underlining theme of many events and presentations in recent days. “The European gas industry was rebranding itself as ‘Gas for Climate’ and confusingly throwing both hydrogen and agricultural-sourced biomethane together under the label ‘Green Gas’.”
It was also worrying that at an event on air pollution in the EU pavilion arguments for gas-transport vehicles were being advanced as a solution for urban transport pollution.
“Just as the EU made a fatal error in supporting particulate matter-polluting diesel over petrol for climate mitigation reasons, there is now the problematic scenario that the response to air pollution could result in promotion of compressed natural gas [CNG] for transport, with a bit of green-washing diversionary biogas thrown in.
“The effect of this would create a lock-in to an inefficient technology which does not achieve the emission reduction needed for the decade ahead,” said Mr Lumley.
In contrast, there was welcome information on a northern Netherlands initiative of using redundant fossil gas infrastructure for hydrogen storage generated from surplus wind, then used to generate electricity during slack wind periods. – Additional reporting New York Times