Screenshot of the web site for the COP24 climate conference in Katowice, Poland, taken on 19 December 2018. Photo: United Nations

By Leslie Hook
18 December 2018

(Financial Times) – At about 10pm on Saturday evening, 15 December 2018, a cheer went up among the delegates at the UN climate talks in Katowice, Poland. A deal had been struck on the rules for implementing the Paris climate accord, breathing new life into a pact that aims to limit global warming — and sparing the negotiators another all-night session.

But as delegates from almost 200 countries flew home, an uncomfortable truth cast a pall over the agreement: the world is probably going to keep getting warmer anyway.

To see why, one need only take a deep breath in Katowice, once a centre for mining where the smell of coal still hangs in the air. In the first week of the summit, new research found global emissions will rise in 2018 at their fastest pace in seven years — the opposite of what is needed to halt warming. […]

With the rules now in place, the world will be able to better measure how well or how poorly it is doing, as it tries to avoid climate catastrophe. But it is still not clear to what extent better measurement will help reduce emissions.

So far the commitment by countries are far short of what would be needed to stay on a 2C path. If current trends continue, by 2030 the gap between actual emissions and the level required to stay below that level will be huge — approximately the size of China’s annual emissions today, according to a UN report. As negotiators pulled one all-nighter after another in Poland, the most important issue of how to actually reduce emissions was often relegated to the sidelines.

The current system operates by consensus and relies on a high degree of trust and goodwill to be effective. There is little that nearly 200 nations can agree on — making the rule book remarkable in that respect.

Countries are also still able to set their own climate targets at whatever level they choose: there is no real punishment, other than possible public humiliation, for those that do not comply. [more]

Katowice celebrations damped by reality of global warming

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