In dark and cold wintery Katowice one would almost welcome a change of climate. Yet it was here that we joined the 24th edition of COP, the yearly climate conference of the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), to join the newest climate negotiations. COP24 was the 3rd COP since the Paris Accords (2015), and so laying out the rules for this agreement was still its main aim. As a pretext to the conference, fresh warnings of the IPCC (October, 2018) furthermore urged for a more ambitious aim at 1.5 degrees warming rather than 2.0 degrees.
At COP, the wicked problem of climate change is addressed in many different pieces, ranging from discussions on mobility and the water-food-energy nexus to negotiations of indigenous rights climate finance and the adoption of scientific background reports. With our delegations from Mexico and the Netherlands, both of us chose to mainly focus the discussion on climate adaptation.
In the first place, climate adaptation is linked most directly to our own work within disaster risk reduction. However, it is also in this discussion that the water sector seemed to position itself most prevalently. Francisco Rilla, Director of Science at the Ramsar Convention, went as far as to say that “water is to climate adaptation what energy is to climate mitigation”, referring to its pivotal role as a connector of sectors dealing with a changing environment.
At other times, the link to climate mitigation was made as well, highlighting the importance of forests and wetlands as carbon storages or the potential of nature-based solutions. However, its role was brought forward as a less central one.
Through our delegations we could subsequently participate in both the somewhat restricted negotiations and the side-events that were open for anyone with a COP-badge. Experiencing COP on the political and public levels impressed us with the great variety of approaches to dealing with climate change, whether through a ‘Talanoa dialogue’ between negotiators or an individual raising awareness by biking the world. Once more we were shown the importance of empowering actions at different levels, where climate action groups and strong individuals have a role in pushing decision-makers to higher levels of ambition. Government entities have to make sure stakes are weighed, so sustainable progress can reach all. The challenge of climate change seems surely big enough to require the full capacities of all those involved.
That which is required is not always available, however, and where responsibilities were suggested, they were not always assumed. Some of the more complex discussions at COP24 involved, for example, the template and reporting structure of the national determined contributions (flexibility vs accountability). Also debated was the structure along which funding for climate mitigation, adaptation, and loss and damage should be organized (who pays for emissions from the past and the future). The interests that are involved in these issues are as big as the pressure to act. And when steps are made, they are often small. Moreover, some discussions are made more complex by the parties that may have an interest in moving slowly. As a prime example at COP24, Russia, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the US halted the welcoming of the IPCC report within the Paris Agreement, which is now only ‘noted’.
Quick action and global politics seem to be contradictory. With 197 member countries and a multitude of interests it may well be that we reach 1.5 degrees warming before we reach a consensus on how to prevent it. Thus, we introduce the importance of youth! Because it is the youth who feel the pressure of climate change, but are not yet weighed down by the interests of businesses and politics. At COP there were certainly many youth present to represent their interest in the future. Among the youth there was also a split: there were activists (embodied by Greta Thunberg) and there were mediators who were involved in the negotiations (country representatives, the official constituency group YOUNGO, and networks such as our own). The big difference, however, is that at the end of the day both groups met in the same hotel and ate at the same restaurant. We have to, because we can only get there together.