COP24: Sans the U.S., Are We Ready for a New Climate Agreement?
Two weeks before the 24th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP24), in Katowice, Poland, The German Marshall Fund’s Warsaw Office, and Forum Energii hosted an event on “COP24's Contribution to the Paris Agreement – New Dimension of Energy Security.” This event assisted with shedding light on the significance of the Paris Agreement and helped foster dialogue among government officials and experts on international cooperation in diversifying energy security and combating climate change. Considering the divide between the two sides of the Atlantic on climate change, such dialogues are more crucial than ever.
The COP is held every year and is attended by heads of government and ministers of over two hundred states. This year’s meeting is taking place on December 2-14 and aims to ensure full implementation of the Paris Agreement and has the goal of “setting out a path that each country will decide to follow in terms of intensifying its climate protection efforts.” The leader of the U.S., President Donald Trump, will not attend. Instead, the Trump administration is set to send its energy and climate advisor, Wells Griffith, to hold a side event promoting fossil fuels. This is similar to what occurred last year at the COP23 in Bonn, Germany, when the United States advocated for “clean fossil fuels.”
Following the United States’ decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, its approach to combating climate change has not proved promising. The few senior Trump advisors who had advocated keeping the country in have left the administration. The U.S. National Climate Assessment report – prepared every four years by the top scientists from 13 agencies – was released by the government last week on Black Friday, when the public’s attention was least likely to be attracted. Nonetheless, hope remains at the level of local and state government, with states such as Pennsylvania passing bills to keep carbon emissions within the Paris Agreement target. The altered composition of the next Congress is also promising since, in ten states, Democrats will replace Republican governors who were pro-fossil fuel.
On the other side of Atlantic, the European Union (EU), which played a key role in the adoption and ratification of the Paris Agreement, has set a plan to complete the revision of its post-2020 climate and energy policies in line with its commitments under the agreement. In November the strategy for long-term greenhouse-gas emissions reductions is set to be adopted by the European Commission. The EU’s goal is to form a global alliance to implement the Paris Agreement. It hopes to get strong reactions internationally to the recent special report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which highlights the disastrous damage a worldwide temperature rise of two degrees Celsius or above would cause.
However, even within Europe different approaches towards climate change can be seen. Countries like Germany or France can afford to subsidize their industries as part of their energy transition plans. On the other hand, the countries of Central Europe, for example, which are still catching up with their Western neighbors, follow a different strategy and are waiting until the technology to transform their energy systems becomes cheaper, allowing them to do so more sustainably.
Considering the transatlantic divide in fighting climate change, Emanuel Guérin of the European Climate Foundation set the bar low for COP24 when speaking at the event organized by the German Marshall Fund and Forum Energii. He laid-out three main expectations for meeting – for it to conclude with an agreement (which is not a given), for participants to reach an agreement on the rules on transparency and implementation for the Paris Agreement, and for it to signal clearly the necessary increase in ambition when it comes to fighting climate change. The outcomes of COP24 will show just how wide the transatlantic divide on climate change actually is and whether even these low expectations are realistic.
The video of the pre-COP24 conference in Warsaw can be accessed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=l7KgNmCsvuY&app=desktop
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.