By Ben Wilson, Policy Officer at SCIAF, a member organisation of Stop Climate Chaos Scotland.
After two long weeks of negotiations, the 24th Conference of Parties (COP) to the UN Framework for the Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) concluded on Saturday night, but climate campaigners from across the world are demanding more ambition.
COP 24, in Katowice, Poland, was billed the most important annual UN Climate Change conference since 2015 when government leaders reached ground-breaking consensus on the Paris Agreement. This committed countries of the world to limiting global warming to well below 2oC, and to pursuing efforts towards a 1.5oC limit. The UN climate convention also commits wealthier countries to invest in low-carbon growth of developing economies, and enshrined the principle of equity: acknowledging that the burden of cutting greenhouse gas emissions rests with developed economies that are historically responsible for the climate crisis.
Paris was only the beginning; the real action must take place now, and quickly. COP 24 had the difficult task of agreeing rules to implement the Paris Agreement, defining what strong targets on emissions are, how much and what kind of finance needs to be provided to developing countries, and how governments need to implement policies to achieve low-carbon growth. But though the rules for implementing Paris were finally agreed, they do not reflect the urgency of the situation, and is not robust enough to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.
There had been great hope in Katowice that the worst emitters would heed the warning of the IPCC Special Report released in October, underlining the urgency of the crisis. This report demonstrated that the world is on a warming pathway of 3.5oC or more, and could reach 1.5oC in 12 years at current rates. Missing that 1.5C target is a matter of life or death. Warming over 1.5oC means millions more people exposed to droughts, heat-waves and floods; irreversible biodiversity loss; ocean warming that threatens marine life and the people who depend on it; and rising sea levels that can wipe small island states off the face of the earth. What this amounts to is a natural disaster of incredible proportions, which will lead to unprecedented levels of climate migration as thousands are forced from their homes seeking habitats that can support life.
COP 24 was the opportunity for world leaders to heed this evidence and commit to dramatically increase climate ambition: but with a few unsurprising exceptions, this opportunity was lost. The negotiations were skewed by disagreements over climate finance as wealthy nations tried to shirk their responsibility. Ambition was held back by a strong drive from pro-fossil fuel lobby, concerned more with short-term profits than the long-term health of the planet, and occasional denial of the scientific consensus from some of the biggest polluters.
The science can only go so far – it is up to our leaders to make the political decisions to save our common home. Climate change is not just a question of science, economics, or technical solutions. Climate change is a justice issue; a legacy of colonialism, whereby profits are prioritises over the lives of the poor. Climate change needs urgent political action in every country of the world.
As talks in Katowice failed to produce an effective agreement to deliver on Paris, the route towards stopping irreparable climate damage is unclear. However, there is still hope. Countries around the world are rallying around bold climate plans that enshrine deadlines for stopping their contribution to climate change, and Scotland can join them. Through the dense smokescreen of global climate negotiations, technical bickering, and climate denialism, Scotland can shine a light by passing a truly world-leading Climate Change Act in 2019 with urgent action to reduce emissions over the next decade and a net zero greenhouse gas emissions target by 2050 at the latest.