Everyone feared a boring summit. But COP 24, taking place in the Polish city of Katowice from December 2, will be anything but predictable. At least judging by the news arriving just days ahead of the opening session of the climate summit, with the newly elected president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, announcing that his country will not now be hosting COP 25 in 2019. An explosive premise on the eve of a conference where discussions will focus on the dilemma between implementing Paris 2015 or losing grip of the objectives established by the climate agreement signed in 2015, which have so far been ratified by as many as 170 countries.
Coal splits Poland
Bolsonaro’s position was not new, in fact his election campaign, just like US President Donald Trump's, was openly focused on this point. But there is no doubt that his snap decision, perhaps unusual for a democracy in terms of timing and method, is creating new scenarios for the now diminished influence of nations that a few years ago were considered the new emerging countries or BRICS (the acronym for the emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).
In some ways, there is nothing new either about the spirit that will animate the Katowice summit, which opens with many issues to resolve, some very well-known. Moreover, a summit about climate and energy renewal taking place in Poland, one of the most highly polluting countries in Europe, which produces 80% of its energy from coal, could only arouse severe pessimism, alternating with incurable optimism. And it definitely could not have gone unnoticed.
Europe at the crossroads
For several months now, comments have been circulating, not necessarily unfounded and malevolent, about the size of the financing given to Poland by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. It consists of investments in energy agencies that place funds in coal, contradicting the policies of Europe itself, which aim to develop economic and climate policies based on the main choices made in the Paris agreement (COP 21) regarding low CO2 emissions.
The European Investment Bank will also now have to decide how to proceed in the future, given that between 2013 and 2017 it allocated € 18.4 billion to renewable energy, while it financed high-carbon energy to the tune of € 11.8 billion. This is a debate that places not only the EU but the whole world at the crossroads. Brexit is expected to affect the future figures, as the UK played, and still does play, a leading role in environmental programs and the reduction of emissions, thanks above all to the environmental positions taken by prime minister Theresa May’s predecessor, the Conservative David Cameron.
In short, COP 24 will mark a major transition. This is confirmed, to a certain extent, by the decisive will of the United Nations, as voiced in a series of interviews given on the eve of the summit by Patrizia Espinosa, the head of the UN secretariat that deals with climate change, who ventured to say that "the challenge for Katowice will definitely be to continue implementing the decisions taken in Paris and therefore this COP 24 is destined to become a kind of 'Paris 2.0'.”
No other position could have been taken by the senior UN official in charge of the environment, renewable energy and climate change secretariat, but there is no doubt that such a forceful stance reflects the staggering increase there has been recently in “counter-thrusts”, which are about to make their presence felt at the summit opening on Monday, December 3.
The alarm sounded by the UN
A clear example is the skepticism surrounding the recent studies carried out by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the alarm sounded by the UN about the new emissions peak and the fact that we are running at breakneck speed towards the point of no return, that the “time window” for a reversal in the current course is shrinking significantly and will close just over ten years from now. An opinion also confirmed by a government report issued (as required under US law) and delivered by 13 US federal agencies to the President, which points out that "with regard to the climate, the peak reached by greenhouse gases now leads us to a last window of opportunity to reverse the course,” considering “that the earth's climate is changing faster than at any point in modern history, primarily as a result of human activities.” The reports also adds that “the severity of the future impact will depend largely on the actions taken during this period to reduce CO2 emissions.” Trump resolutely maintained his position and said he did not believe in the climate alarm sounded by this government. In typical fashion, he commented: “I don't believe it”
A position consistent with that taken by the White House incumbent since his election campaign. Which does however have to contend with the fact that in order to actually withdraw the US from the Paris agreements, Donald Trump will have to be re-elected, given that a review of the treaty (and therefore its members) is not expected until 2023.
Gambles to win
Katowice, therefore, will probably highlight a political divergence on the one hand and a methodological debate on the other, and pose a series of questions. How much has been done so far in terms of CO2 emissions, and by whom? Which countries have really worked on renewable energy and which have contracted emission allowances? How many emissions have been transferred to third countries with less rigorous limits, and how? Working out how to measure countries on this score, to make sure the results are accepted both by the skeptics and the observers of the Paris rules, will be the gamble at Katowice. We’ll have to wait and see if the gamble will be won or lost. We will definitely find out who is prepared to put themselves forward to replace Rio de Janeiro for COP 25 next year, as under the agreements it has to be hosted in Latin America. So far, Bolsonaro has pleased Donald Trump and worried his new Minister of Tourism. It remains to be seen what will happen after the new Latin American city chosen to host next year's climate conference is announced.