The world’s nations took another step toward addressing the perils of climate change at the latest Conference of the Parties (COP24), which concluded December 15, 2018, in Katowice, Poland. The most important product of COP24 appears to be a “rulebook” that will govern the implementation of the 2015 Paris Climate Accord. Under the Paris agreement, the parties pledged to keep “a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
According to the United Nations (U.N.) Climate Change Secretariat, the COP24 rulebook “operationalizes the transparency framework,” which “sets out how countries will provide information about their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) that describe their domestic climate actions. This information includes mitigation and adaptation measures as well as details of financial support for climate action in developing countries.”
Other products of the conference include the process for establishing new targets on finance from 2025 onward to follow on from the current target of mobilizing U.S. $100 billion per year from 2020 to support developing countries, how to take stock of the effectiveness of climate action in 2023, and how to assess progress on the development and transfer of technology.
Rules Are Essential
Reactions to the conference were generally positive among those who believe 195 nations with vastly different goals, problems, and economies can somehow come together as one and reverse the momentum of climate change.
“Katowice has shown once more the resilience of the Paris Agreement—our solid roadmap for climate action,” said Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.
“The Paris rulebook is fundamental for enabling and encouraging climate action at all levels worldwide—and success here also means success for multilateralism and the rules-based global order,” commented Miguel Arias Cañete, the European Union’s climate action and energy commissioner.
OPEC: Oil Is Part of the Solution
At Katowice, support for the goals of Paris also came from several unexpected places, including the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
“Let me begin by stating unequivocally: the oil industry must be part of the solution to the climate change challenge,” said HE Mohammad Sanusi Barkindo, OPEC’s secretary general. “We too believe that ‘there is no Planet B.’ We are responsible citizens of this planet.”
Barkindo said that the contribution of the entire petroleum industry or all the OPEC nations cannot be overlooked.
“The oil industry possesses know-how and experience for reducing our environmental footprint: working practices and fuel efficiency standards have improved exponentially over the decades,” said Barkindo. This is not a race to renewables alone; it’s a race to lower greenhouse gas emissions.”
U.S. Waits for Better Terms
The thinking that fossil fuel is part of the solution to climate change was also voiced in a presentation in which the United States participated and which was disrupted by protestors. The United States joined Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait in questioning the science behind an October 2018 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which noted that the world needs to act now to limit the increase in global average temperature to below 1.5 degrees Celsius.
The U.S. delegation to COP23 was headed by Judith G. Garber, principal deputy assistant secretary of the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs. In her statement, Garber first pointed out that U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions have fallen by 14 percent since 2005, “even as our economy has grown by over 19 percent.”
Garber reiterated President Donald Trump’s intention to withdraw the United States from the Paris Accord “absent terms that are more favorable to the American people.” But she made it clear that favorable terms under the current administration will not exclude energy generated by natural gas and nuclear materials.
“A quarter of our energy-sector CO2 reduction has come from utilizing natural gas,” said Garber. “The U.S. natural gas boom is the result of years of U.S. innovation and R&D investment.”
“The United States is home to the world’s largest nuclear power industry,” Garber added. “Thanks to significant investment by the U.S. Department of Energy and the private sector, the first Small Modular Reactors will be operational by the mid-2020s. They will be flexible, scalable, easier to finance, and capable of powering remote areas and micro-grids.”
Garber also plugged coal power, noting that research and development (R&D) and operational experience are bringing down the cost of Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage (CCUS), which is recognized as the state-of-the-art approach for reducing CO2 emissions from coal-fired power. Implementation of CCUS is currently very costly and technically challenging and, worldwide, has seen few manifestations beyond the demonstration scale.
The draft rulebook released by COP24 is here.