Efforts have continuously been afoot for decades to achieve eco-friendly and inclusive development but despite spending billions of dollars on research globally, the gulf between science and politics continues to widen by the day. Political economy of climate change has taken another turn as limited number of officials from around 200 nations struggled to achieve a shared goal at the UN Climate Change Conference, or COP24, in Katowice, Poland.

After long discussions on December 16, the participants of the Conference achieved a face-saving consensus beyond the scheduled deadlines shaping the Rule Book for actualising Paris Agreement from 2020. Rule Book they adopted was flawed and limited, leaving behind most important and critical issues for the upcoming UN conferences in Chile in December 2019, and in 2020 in the UK.

Numerous researchers around COP24 sounded apprehensive. They urged that the choices must be made by 2020 to keep the rise in world temperature under 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. This was very important at this time because most vulnerable nations like Pakistan and other least developed countries which are already on ground zero would go beyond the adaptation of adverse impacts. For instance, losing 3.8 million dollars and facing climate induced migration of millions of people is going beyond the adaptation threshold of Pakistan. The next two years will be increasingly troublesome for atmosphere mediators as they grab each chance to talk about and explore answers for the toughest of the issues, battling the hard struggles.

At the UN, majority of the choices are made after long tiring hours and gruelling work. It’s continually finicky at the UN even under the most favourable circumstances because every decision made should protect the interests of all 200 nations. At Katowice, around 11,000 agents took two weeks to discuss the most recent logical policy instruments and when they settled on the Rule Book after having two extra days; most of the delegates had already left, leaving behind their junior colleagues to take the concluding notes. The credit should be given to those who helped to trim down almost 2500 areas of disagreement in the text. According to the new Rule Book, countries need to comply with the strict monitoring system that requires reporting of the emissions cutbacks after every two years along with their advancements on the Paris Agreement to keep the temperature increase below the brink of 1.5 degree Celsius.

One component of this was the launch of “Silesia Declaration” by Polish presidency amid COP first week. It was striking that this number was just the quarter of the 200 countries present and was adopted without consensus with few acclamations. It was just “noted” in the last COP content. Emphasis of the declaration is on the emission reduction policies that ensure transition of the workforce which creates green jobs. The Polish administration likewise propelled a declaration on “Forests for Climate”, emphasising the importance of forests in achieving the Paris Agreement objectives. Furthermore, declaration indicated the signs of using forests for carbon offsetting to promote the reduction in emissions.

During the first week of the COP 24, most if the negotiators and country representatives missed their deadlines for producing new versions of texts regardless of the time constraints. For instance, technical talks were supposed to end in the first week but they spilled over into the second week along with the high level ministerial engagements.

On the mitigation facade, a couple of key areas were identified. However, most of them were deferred for the next year’s sessions. For example, deferral of features of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to 2024. Choices with respect to the market mechanisms such as Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) were also deferred to COP25. The countries like Pakistan have designed programs of activities aligned with the CDMs during last couple of years. They wanted to have the least burden.

On the other hand, when we talk about the adaptation and adjustment tax, most of the discussions revolved around the whether it would be based again on the Article 6.4 or on other mechanism. Industrialised nations showed their disagreement, while Brazil, Africa and the Alliance of Small Island States were in support. Adjustment correspondence ought to be adaptable—it isn’t to be utilised for national assessments nor should it be subject to reviews. Rather it should be connected to adjustment reports under Article 13. Little advancement was made on finance. It was concurred that ex-ante communication under the Article 9.5 will be compulsory for industrialised nations with periodic time periods, and will be voluntary for all others.

Historical rifts between the developed and the developing countries were seen in the past COPs but this time round these divisions did not pose any major problem at Katowice. Developed countries like Germany and Norway vowed to float more than USD 100bn to help the developing nations to cope with the changing climate issues while China agreed on the transparency standards. USA, Russia, Saudi Arabia and other big polluters, however, kept on insisting till end not to comply with the scientific warnings of the temperature rise beyond 1.5 Celsius.

The rise in the fossil fuels price and social ramifications of the carbon tax also came up for discussion. Renowned economists like Nicholas Stern emphasized that carbon tax is still an important instrument and is central to pushing economies away from the fossils fuels. However to make this transition successful, transparency is imperative. This transition needs to be fairer and faster with redistribution of extra tax revenue meant for the poorer nations, which are mostly hit by the fuel tax rises.

Policy decisions in power stations and infrastructures will be determining factor whether we can cut greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent as required by 2030 agenda. Furthermore, short term monetary and investment decisions will help scale up the adaptation and mitigation front.

Summing up, COP 24 was out of sync with wider developments, which are happening in the global climate space especially in small developing countries thereby pushing down the 1.5 degree message. More specifically speaking, the UN environmental change talks keep on delaying with its negotiators unable to decide or may be unwilling to move technical work forward. This attitude has resulted in decreasing the speed and shortening the time required for discussing important issues about the ambition needed to reach 1.5 degrees. If slow progress on setting up Nationally Determined Contributions in 2019-2020 ends up undermining ambition due to the inflexibility of countries like the US and other large emitters, it will be an opportunity for the rest of the world to raise the level of their game and adopt more radical practices to achieve objectives powered by unwavering political will.

The writer is an environmentalist. 

Numerous researchers around COP24 sounded apprehensive. They urged that the choices must be made by 2020 to keep the rise in world temperature under 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.