By Arab News
By Ranvir S. Nayar*
This is gatecrashing of a different kind. Present among the 193 nations negotiating a crucial agreement on climate change and reducing carbon emissions in Katowice, southern Poland, is one country that has already decided it will not be bound by the final outcome, and so has no stake in ensuring the success of the negotiations that could make all the difference to the global climate.
The culprit is the US, and, rather unusually for a UN conference, it was called out as such by delegates from other nations. During a speech earlier this week, Vanuatu’s foreign minister accused the US of stalling progress in discussions by creating obstructions. The minister added that the countries that had been responsible for climate change were now frustrating attempts at reaching an agreement.
At the heart of the issue facing Vanuatu and practically all the small island states in the Pacific and Indian oceans is recognition of the damages and losses being incurred by them and the rest of the world due to severe climatic conditions resulting from climate change.
But in Katowice, the US and the developed world have been keen to delink the devastation caused by hurricanes and cyclones that seem to strike some part of the world every other day now. Developed countries’ desire to disassociate two parts of an obvious phenomenon stems from the fact that they are meant to pay for the damage caused by climate change. Indeed, finance is one of the most contentious issues being discussed in Katowice.
In Paris, developed economies, which incontestably have been primarily responsible for climate change, had agreed to raise an additional $100 billion per year to address climate change. The total funding needed by developing economies to manage the damage wrought upon them by nature, adopt climate-friendly technologies and cut their own emissions is estimated to be around $1.5 trillion.
This is the figure that developed economies, led by the US, are running away from. They are trying to find all kinds of loopholes and disingenuous ways to escape their responsibilities, upsetting developing economies that have been the main recipients of the disasters brought about by climate change.
The US has also earned ridicule in Katowice as it sought to present coal, by far the largest cause of carbon emissions, as a solution to climate change. This is a total reversal from its position in Paris, where the US and most developed nations promised to reduce dependence on coal and the entire gamut of fossil fuels, and move toward zero net carbon emissions.
But since the election of Donald Trump as president, the US has made a U-turn on the issue, and now rules out even cutting the use of coal. The US has been joined by Australia, one of the world’s largest producers and exporters of coal. Host nation Poland is also in the dock for not only supporting the coal industry, but also getting many coal-producing and coal-using companies as principal sponsors of the Cop24 meeting.
The developed world’s sudden love for coal could have extremely serious implications for climate change, and the scenario becomes even bleaker with the reluctance of China and India to cut back sharply on their use of coal in power generation.
Even though the two Asian giants have been adopting renewable energy at an enviable pace, their use of coal in absolute numbers still remains extremely high, and is projected to grow at least for the next few years before commencing a decline.
During its presentation in Katowice, the Trump administration also promoted other fossil fuels such as oil and gas as solutions to climate change. However, an overwhelming majority of experts say fossil fuels need to be totally phased out in order to meet climate targets and avoid catastrophic climate change.
The blacklist of US actions in Katowice seems to be getting painfully longer with each passing day of negotiations. The US and three other oil-producing countries held up the negotiations on a technicality.
The issue was a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), presented to Cop24, which warned that global temperatures had already risen by 1°C since the beginning of the industrial era, and that the world is on course to reach an increase of 3°C by 2100, a catastrophic scenario and way above the target of 1.5-2°C set in Paris.
While delegates of 189 nations welcomed the IPCC report, the US and three other countries objected and wanted the meeting to only “take note” of it, thus diluting the response that would be expected by signatories of the Paris Agreement in order to ensure that the global temperature rise is kept within the deal’s objectives. The dispute over the report has already led to a significant delay in progress on other issues.
As the talks enter their final day, for most of the 20,000 people who have been camping in Katowice for nearly a fortnight, things appear to be exactly where they were on Dec. 2, when discussions began. The talks are certain to be extended by a day or more, but it remains to be seen if Katowice survives persistent US interference.
• Ranvir S. Nayar is managing editor of the Media India Group, a global platform based in Europe and India that encompasses publishing, communication and consultation services.