The highlight yesterday at the COP24 conference was an opportunity for Observer delegates, as I am, to sit in on a meeting of high-level diplomats. This constituted a public portion of the ongoing negotiations among ambassadors, ministers and heads-of-state. In these public meetings, these ranking diplomats make “nation statements” describing their country’s efforts to apply the Paris Agreement on climate change.
I will confess that as an American it was difficult to watch these speakers and know that our country has forfeited its leadership position in these talks, and effectively forfeited its role in addressing the most critical global problem of our age. Many of the speakers ranged from disappointment to outright anger over the U.S. official rejection of scientific evidence, most notably the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report.
The Prime Minister of the island nation of Vanuatu expressed dismay that the U.S would dismiss reports by its own scientists even as climate-related disasters are battering some of our most vulnerable citizens.
I attended several of the presentations given by our scientific colleagues from both the U.S. and around the world that reinforced the urgent need for the U.S. to return to a leadership role on this issue.
Speakers repeatedly pointed out that the situation was “doubly frustrating,” as we know now that dangers are more immediate, but that solutions may be more available than we previously thought. We now have a better understanding, for example, of what is called “attribution science.” That is new evidence that connects extreme weather events to climate change.
Other issues raised included growing understanding of sea level rise and new indications of the danger climate change presents to food supplies and human health.
At the same time, new technologies are rapidly increasing opportunities for clean energy and infrastructure adaptations, while ambassadors from both China and the European Union noted that their regions were able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions even as their economies grew.
There is broad agreement that these opportunities and threats call for new and “ambitious” (a key word in the documents written here) policies and practices to combat climate change.
On a side note, the city of Katowice is an old industrial town and feels a lot like Philly. In fact, last night we walked through a Christmas market that would have been at home in front of Philadelphia City Hall!
Have to run. We’re hoping see Al Gore speak in a few minutes.
As they say in Poland, twoje zdrowie! Translated: your heath!
To read the post from Day One, click here.
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.