COP24 Katowice, Poland

Date:  December 2-14, 2018. 

Delegation Members:   Jamie Haverkamp, Will Kochtitzky,  Anna McGinn, Cindy Isenhour, Dan Dixon, Jim Settele, Alex Rezk

Expedition Funding Acknowledgement:  Dan & Betty Exploration Fund, Climate Change Institute, SPIA, Department of Anthropology, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Events and Experiences Fund, National Science Foundation GRFP: DGE-1144205, University of Maine Graduate Student Government, University of Maine Office of Sustainability, and the Schwartz Legacy Foundation.

Thank you to Dr. Neil Leary at Dickinson College, Dr. Linda Mearns at UCAR, and the American Anthropological Association (AAA) for providing UNFCCC accreditation for our delegation to attend COP24.

Overview:  UMaine brought a delegation of 7 faculty, staff, and graduate students to attend the 24th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP24) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Katowice, Poland from December 2-14, 2018. This meeting, better known as the global climate change negotiations, occurs each year and is crucial in allowing the world to communicate and coordinate climate action plans and strategies. Delegates from 197 countries gather to figure out how to limit global warming and maintain a habitable planet.

Climate Science in Action: Country delegates need the best information possible in order to make decisions about global climate change. As climate scientists, it is our responsibility to provide decision makers with the best possible climate science to shape global climate agreements. COP24 represents an opportunity for policy makers to apply climate science knowledge and improve the quality of life for billions of people on the planet by reducing the impacts of global warming and associated natural hazards. With the release of the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) coming out weeks before the meeting in Katowice, pressure was building on countries to act quickly to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. This report framed the negotiations in Katowice and set up a major conflict amongst nations, as detailed in the following sections.

Observing the Negotiations and the Special Report on 1.5°C Warming:

At the COP, language matters. Delegates spend their entire days negotiating words and sometimes it gets heated. In the last session before contact groups reported back to the larger meeting of SBSTA Norway claimed that merely “noting the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C crosses a red line”. While this may not seem like a big deal, countries intensely argue over how to talk about the Special Report on 1.5°C at the COP. So to understand why, we need to understand a little more about the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C and its history.

Since the beginning of the COP, developing countries have recognized that while they have contributed the least to causing global climate change, they are the most at risk from the impacts of climate change. This great irony has caused tensions for the last 23 COPs. The main goal of COP is to not cause dangerous climate change and to maintain a habitable planet. In the past, delegates have agreed to work towards a 2°C warming target and agreed to do their absolute best not to warm the world more than 2°C. This made the assumption that below 2°C warming was not dangerous for the planet.

Maine plenary hall in Katowice with the Environment Ministry of Poland.
Maine plenary hall in Katowice with the Environment Ministry of Poland who was the president of COP24. Photo by Will Kochtitzky, 2018.

That leads us to a few years ago, when developing countries led the charge to get the IPCC, the global authority on climate science, to write the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C. This report came out in October and can be found here. This report is important because it is the first time the IPCC has investigated levels of warming below 2°C. The findings are clear, we need immediate climate action to not warm the planet more than 1.5°C and, thus far we have already caused 1°C of warming. This means that we only have 0.5°C of warming left before we blow past the 1.5°C warming mark. The current 1°C of warming is already causing devastating impacts around the world, including more intense fires, stronger hurricanes, pronounce droughts, among others.

Countries huddle to discuss how to talk about the Special Report on 1.5°C Warming in Katowice, Poland.
Countries huddle to discuss how to talk about the Special Report on 1.5°C Warming in Katowice, Poland. Photo by Will Kochtitzky, 2018.

The fight over the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C is not just about noted vs. welcomed, it is about countries approach to limiting warming to 1.5°C. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait led the charge, with the US and Russia tagging along, to limit the implications of the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C. These nations are the biggest roadblocks to ambitious climate action.


COP24: A Social Science Perspective

For an anthropologist, the annual climate change negotiations are an incredible ethnographic field for better understanding the social and political dimensions of anthropogenic climate change. As part of the UMaine delegation to COP24 and a member of the RINGO constituency, my (J. Haverkamp) task was to observe the negotiations and conduct preliminary exploratory research at COP24. While there are numerous topics to follow at the COP, from mitigation and adaptation actions to project finance and  transparency issues, I chose to study the emergent and cross-cutting issue of human rights with the negotiations for the Paris rulebook.

The Paris rulebook is the blueprint for operationalizing the 2015 UNFCCC treaty, known as the Paris Agreement. What is included and not included in this document has political and practical implications beyond the UNFCCC as it will influence how adaptation and mitigation actions are implemented and climate goals achieved across international to local scales. As the first week of COP24 came nearing an end, it became increasingly apparent that country delegates were negotiating out human rights commitments from the final drafts of the rulebook. While some countries stood in protection of the inclusion of human rights language (e.g. the right to: life, livelihood, water and food, political participation, etc.), it was the non-state actor groups, notably the youth, Indigenous peoples, and women and gender groups, that spoke out fervently against the erasure of human rights at the climate negotiations.  Despite numerous recommendations for human rights by experts, activists and non-state actors, references to human rights were largely omitted from the final draft of the Paris rulebook, with the exception of the preamble and a chapter on carbon markets. Yet, even with this policy outcome, several recently appointed working groups, including the ‘Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform (LCIPP) and the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM EXcomm)’s Task Force on Displacement continue to champion the inclusion of human rights, thus it will be important to watch how these important matters remain, or not, within unfolding ambitious climate change actions.

In conclusion, we thank Dan and Betty Churchill for supporting our attendance to the UNFCCC CO24 in Katowice, Poland, through the Churchill Exploration Fund. This award made this research and outreach opportunity feasible, and is greatly appreciated.