Climate Talks in Poland: Last Day

Last day of COP24. Last day in Poland.  It’s hard to summarize the experience of attending this conference; it would be an understatement to say it’s been a fascinating experience.

Next week my Drexel colleagues who were here and I will be leading an Academy Conversation and reflecting on what we saw and heard during this intense, two-week session.  Hope you’ll be able to join us for this free dialogue with the public at the museum on Wednesday, Dec. 19, from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

A few thoughts for now.


The amount of information conveyed and exchanged has been mind-boggling. Between presentations, informal exchanges, briefings and observations of the actual negotiations, I’ve filled half a notebook (and my colleagues can tell you I’m not usually a great note-taker.) A lot of this material relates to efforts that are underway all around the world to mitigate — and adapt to — the present and future impacts of climate change.

We had the opportunity to see how the rest of the world is responding to this existential crisis — a description I heard many times this week.  It’s easy for us in the U.S., with our inexplicable level of denial, to lose track of the problems that are already emerging from climate change and the sense of urgency that most of the world is feeling.

Photo by Roland Wall/ANS

This is especially true of least-developed nations and small island nations in the Pacific and the Caribbean that are already taking the brunt of damage from excessive heat, sea-level rise and extreme weather.

Listening to the words of indigenous people, urban poor in places like Bangladesh, and our own closer neighbors in the Caribbean, drives home the compelling threats they are feeling to their livelihoods and their lives. One point that has stuck in my mind from a presentation on Monday: Richer countries will have economic damage from climate change; poorer ones will feel it physically. There is a significant moral challenge here we need to think about.

On Wednesday we had the opportunity to hear former Vice President Al Gore give an updated version of his famous “Inconvenient Truth” slide show.  It was a call to action, a pep talk, and an expression of deep frustration in how little things have progressed in the decade and half since he first raised this warning.

He highlighted especially the growing understanding of climate change impacts on human health. His message left me inspired to work harder, but also, frankly, terrified for prospects in the years ahead.

Photo by Roland Wall/ANS

Finally, this experience opened my eyes to the immense difficulties of initiating global action on a global issue, and the complexity of international rule-making. Professional diplomats are trying to negotiate legally binding treaties.

Think about the difficulties of passing laws in the U.S., and multiply that by 170 countries, each with distinct priorities, political agendas and cultural characteristics. You get a sense of how difficult it is to make useful agreements on the most complicated issue of our age.

Last night a representative of the “Polish Presidency,” the host country officials who are facilitating this session, gave a special briefing to nongovernmental observers. Although couched in diplomatic language, it was clear that this year’s negotiations have been far tenser and more divisive than the 2015 COP that led to the Paris Accords.

Photo by Roland Wall/ANS

Paris was a high point for this process, and the hard work of developing rules for the Accords has been difficult, particularly considering U.S. rejection of both the accords and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report.

Coming to agreement on this would be hard under the best of circumstances, with science, politics, economics and national interests all in play. I have great admiration for all the people who are working so hard here to deal with these nearly intractable problems.

I look forward to our own country returning as a real partner in these dialogues, embracing the scientific evidence and the need to act.

As Mr. Gore said this week, “We don’t have time for despair, we don’t have the luxury of getting discouraged.”

Hope I’ll be in the air this time tomorrow and back at the Academy by Monday, jet lagged but with a lot to talk about.


To read the first two posts in this Roland in Poland series, click here for Day One.

By Roland Wall, Director of the Academy’s Patrick Center for Environmental Research and adjunct professor in the Department of Biodiversity, Earth and Environmental Science.

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