Cop out: Can the UN Climate Summit deliver?

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There is no denying the mood music leading into next week’s crucial United Nations climate summit in Katowice could be better. The annual pre-summit flurry of scientific reports warning of the ever-escalating climate threat have passed off with little more than a collective shrug from world leaders. The climate skeptic-in-chief in the Oval Office questioned who had written the latest alarming IPCC report — scientists, Mr. President, the world’s best scientists wrote it — and then dismissed his own government’s study on imminent climate impacts with a Victor Meldrew-esque, “I don’t believe it.”

At the same time, the summit’s Polish hosts have done little to assuage fears they see the conference as an opportunity to reignite divisive talk of “clean coal.” The presidency for the summit encouragingly has signaled that its priorities are action on forests, firmer plans for a “just transition” and increased investment in e-mobility, while the commitment to finalizing the all-important rulebook for the Paris Agreement is real. But campaigners remain concerned that the focus on a “just transition” easily could morph into a defense of carbon-intensive industries and a rationalization for a “go slow” on decarbonization — fears further fuelled by the news one of Poland’s largest coal companies has been named as a major sponsor of the summit.

If uncertainty surrounds the role of Polish presidency, there is no such equivocation about the stance of the United States. Having kept a relatively low profile at last year’s summit in Bonn, the Trump administration is poised to have a more muscular presence in Katowice built around a clear plan to promote “clean coal” and a stronger line on the importance of developing economies adhering to the same rules under the Paris Agreement as industrialized nations. It may be planning to quit the global climate accord as soon as possible, but that has not stopped the United States wanting to leave its mark on the agreement. The U.S. team already has managed to chalk up minor victories in the run-up to the summit, watering down language in support of the Paris Agreement in the upcoming G20 statement and reportedly tweaking a recent U.N. report on climate finance to dilute references to industrialized countries’ funding obligations.

Things got even worse for the UNFCCC, as reports revealed Brazil has withdrawn its offer to host next year’s COP summit, citing the current government transition and budgetary concerns. It is an unconvincing rationale that everyone will interpret as cover for President-elect Jair Bolsonaro’s intense hostility towards both climate action and multilateralism. (…)

James Murray

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