Climate Talks in Poland: On the Scene

Greetings from the 24th annual United Nations Climate Change Conference in Katowice, Poland. These talks, better known as COP24, are held annually by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. They represent the most important international effort to limit and reverse global climate change.

I’m here with my colleagues, Sandra Petri from the Drexel Office of International Programs and Ian Nichols from the Biology Department. We have been given the incredible opportunity to be Drexel’s observer delegation to the second week of the talks. This status gives us access to many of the meetings as well as the countless number of formal and informal events occurring under the umbrella of the COP. 

Panel of presenters on stage

Around 30,000 people have landed in this small Polish city, and we are meeting in a large complex of convention buildings, a sort of “city within a city.” Everyone here is working to develop a collaborative approach to probably the most existential crisis facing our species.

It’s hard to describe the scale and complexity of this event or even to describe it as an event. There are intricate international discussions and negotiations occurring continuously, including one session that lasted from midnight to 5 a.m. today.

They are conducted with all the formality and gravitas typical of high-level diplomatic discussions.  Many of these are closed to observers, although we received a ticket to one of this afternoon’s meetings.

Crowd of people on risers

Beyond the formal diplomacy, there are literally hundreds of other programs going on at any given time, ranging from formal briefings and panels, to national exhibits and presentations, to informal gatherings and protests. Literally too much for me to summarize in a blog post, other than to give you a sense of the energy and intensity of the work being done here.

A few quick points and then I have to go to a program on how water systems will need to adapt to climate change.

There is considerable controversy over the actions of the U.S., Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in rejecting the wording of a report intended to incorporate the findings of the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change that stated the need to stay under a 1.5-degree temperature rise. In rejecting language that “welcomed” the report, this group is essentially rejecting a document that other nations consider “a declaration of planetary emergency.” Tense negotiations are in progress over this point. 

Conference photographed from back of room

There is a high level of urgency to these discussions. The UN report as well as the recent U.S. National Climate Assessment, suggest time is running out to reverse a number of dangerous trends.  At the same time, there have been encouraging signs that some efforts are having a positive effect.  I’ll expand on this in my next posting. 

The term that is frequently being used here is “bold ambition.” Just as Drexel has said “Ambition Can’t Wait” about education, the international community has embraced the need for a similar ambition to combat disastrous changes in global climate.


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.

Photos: COP24 Official. ©


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