Day 5 – The End


-The End-

It’s over. Last day waking up early. 

This day, the highlight was the plenary and the closing ceremony; but there was no initial agreement. There was no consensus. The plenary got postponed and postponed, until Saturday came.

We could not attend.

COP24 should not be a hashtag, it should be a shameful statement. Twenty four attempts, and we are still trying. It should instead be used to prize our perseverance.

These meetings are very important, and therefore important outcomes emerge from them. But these outcomes do not come in an automatic form. The fact that we are meeting once a year does not directly mean that the climate crisis will be solved. Action needs to follow our words. Action needs to follow our written statements.

It was in 1896 when we discovered that putting excessive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere was bad. This was not a typo, it was in 1896. Using the data available at his time, the Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius found how much heat was trapped by carbon dioxide and water vapor in our atmosphere.

You can read more about Arrhenius here.

His conclusions were that if we doubled the amount of CO2 we put in the atmosphere, the Earth’s temperature would increase by 4 to 5° C (he actually underestimated the temperature raise by 1° C ). He said this when CO2 concentrations were at 294.9 parts per million, which we know thanks to air bubbles trapped in ice core records (you can see how this is done in the video below). On November 16th, 2018, CO2 concentrations were 409.98 parts per million. How do we know this? Thanks to another guy some years later: Charles Keeling.

Understand how CO2 is measured from ice core.

Charles Keeling, more than half a century later, found enough evidence to show that the atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide followed seasonal oscillations (more CO2 in fall, less CO2 in spring), that they were steadily increasing throughout the years, and that this increase was notoriously produced by combustion of fossil fuels (oil, natural gas, and our -in-famous coal).

Understand how CO2 is measured from air.

Today, it is said that 97% of scientists agree that climate change is real, and that human impact in unequivocal. This statement is even included in the IPCC reports, whose words are carefully selected and voted. You can choose to believe it or not. What you cannot choose is that science is not a belief system, it is an evidence-based one.

All of this science lead high-level officials to meet in 1992 and create the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC for pragmatic reasons), which is COP’s mother, the Conference Of the Parties. Parties to what? Parties to the UNFCCC. 

The idea behind this 24-page document was for countries to meet every year and come up with a plan to reduce emissions in order to stabilize greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations so that we do not interfere with the climate system, with what would “naturally” occur in Earth anyways.

Twenty-four years later here we are. In 2015 representatives (tears and all) signed the Paris Agreement, or the “Paris Deal”, as some people mistakenly like to refer to.

In this 32-page document countries “commit” to reduce GHGs in order to keep the average temperature increase well below 2° C. How? Through nationally determined contributions – goals that each country would set for themselves.

Article 2 of the Paris Agreement

But exactly how are we going to decrease emissions to keep the planet well below a 2° C average temperature increase ? That is what COP24 was all about. Or tried to be.

It was an honor to be part of one of the 21,606 guests that Katowice received for COP this year. But this needs to be more than an yearly meeting. We need to agree on what to do, and we have to do it.

COP24 achieved part of this. In the 133-page document, nations agreed upon universal rules on how they can cut emissions, and on a regime to report these emissions in order to increase transparency. Agreement on voluntary carbon markets will have to wait for COP25, to be hosted by Chile. (You can read a detailed explanation of the rulebook here)

Conclusions from Day 5

The Conference of the Parties, which takes place every single year since 1995, is a meeting where delegate from countries, NGOs, IGOs, reporters, and others meet to solve the “climate crisis”.

Some meetings are more productive than others, given that all decisions are reached by consensus. That is, every single country has to agree to every single word and comma written in the documents being discussed. If four countries do not agree, there is no document signed. There is no democracy in the international level. Either all agree, or none does.

Clearly, this delays the results that we need. But clearly, this is the best way we have found so far.

Highlights from Day 5

  • Waiting, and waiting for the final plenary to happen reminded me that even the most important meetings get delayed (and delayed).
  • Protests on social justice in the main stairs: “System Change, Not Climate Change”
  • Saying goodbye to Katowice, the snowed fields, and Kraków.