This last story from the UN climate summit in Poland sums up a bit of the best and worst of what happened at an annual meeting of 196 nations where everyone clearly understood the urgency and the stakes involved in accelerating global warming. Twelve years. Twelve years is the time scientists estimate we have left to take unprecedented transformational action to reduce carbon emissions, shift to renewable energy sources like wind and solar and slow the rate of deforestation to little or none. There’s no choice. There’s no Plan B.
Despite the desperate pleas of NGOs and youthful activists to act aggressively, leaders of the industrialized world did not act aggressively. That’s because politically and economically, they refuse to. Elected leaders are absolutely the least capable people on earth to do what necessary to meet this challenge. They are simply are incapable of moving past their own interests, their own conflicts and their own short-term thinking. As one source told me, leaders of the G-20 will finally come around when its far too late to do anything meaningful to prevent climate catastrophe.
This story, linked here, is far and away the most important one I’ve reported and written in the five climate summits I’ve covered dating back to Lima, Peru, in 2014. It demonstrates politics triumphing over science, and it could not come at a worse time. In a conference dedicated to technical details, the unwillingness to accurately account for the escalating carbon emissions coming from burning wood for energy in the UK, throughout the EU and increasingly in Asia, amounts to a crime against nature — who is not fooled by what one source called “fraudulent accounting.”
An excerpt from my story:
“Let’s be clear about this: delegates from developed countries are well aware of this dangerous loophole as they draft the Paris Rulebook that could be designed to remedy the problem at the 24th U.N. climate summit, or COP24, here in Katowice, Poland. Yet they have ignored the pleas, the scientific data, the detailed charts identifying the danger, submitted by impassioned NGOs over the past week and a half.”
Mongabay prides itself on its close coverage of Brazil, especially the Amazon, its indigenous people and its biodiversity. It is one the earth’s most important ecosystems. Everything about the extreme-right president-elect, Jair Bolsonaro, screams that the Amazon, and everyone who lives in it, is in dire jeopardy as long as the dangerous, Trump-like demagogue is in office. My editors asked for a story about Brazil at COP24 in Poland, the last climate summit before Bolsonaro takes office. The link is here.
“Bolsonaro, who unlike Trump, enjoyed a clear majority presidential win, has remained a Trumpian figure of discord and divisiveness during his transition to power. He has assailed environmental regulators, given lethal encouragement to gun owners, and struck fear deep in the hearts of indigenous peoples and environmental activists in a country that already sees more forest guardians murdered annually than any other country in the world.”
Leaders of the 24th UN Climate Summit. Photo courtesy UNFCCC
For the fifth time in five years, The State of Things, the noon program on WUNC out of Durham, which reaches half of North Carolina, had me on live to talk with host Frank Stasio about the UN climate summit. The location this year, 2018? Katowice, Poland.
Protesters, for the second year in a row, bring the surreal Trump Administration’s fossil fuel message at the UN climate summit in Poland to a halt with a long, loud, boisterous outburst.
In November 2917 in Bonn, Germany at COP23, I managed to get into the Trump Administration’s only public event at the conference. I called it one of the strangest panel discussion in COP history. Trump representatives, heedless of the perils of climate change and its causes, urged the use of more fossil fuels and essentially advertised that the US has plenty to export. This year, as I report here, the administration held only one event again, and once again touted the use of fossil fuels. Both years, protesters interrupted the event, chanting loudly and then marching out, leaving the room half empty (as planned). My story here at COP24 in Katowice, Poland focuses on the outraged responses to Trump’s villainous attitude toward the environment.
Tom Steyer, one of the United States’ most influential environmental activists, at COP24 in Poland. Photo by Justin Catanoso
Reporting for my first story — linked here— at my fifth United Nations climate summit started shortly I arrived at the sprawling venue in Katowice, Poland. There was a reception at the US Climate Action Center, the unofficial hub of acitivity on the part of the United States in the age of Trump, who refuses to pay for a national pavilion like other countries.
I got to hear Tom Steyer speak, someone I’ve been reading about for years. A billionaire from his Wall Street days, he has turned his fortune into political and environmental activism that helped stop the XL Pipeline and promote a youth vote in the 2018 midterm elections that helped Democrats retake the US House of Representatives. Interviewing him one-on-one, and then hearing him speak the following night at a private event, gave me my story idea. The Trump negotiators obstructive pettiness, which emerged in a Saturday evening session, ended up leading the story. Great editing by Glenn Scherer of Mongabay.
For the fifth consecutive year, I will attend and cover a United Nations climate summit, my fourth for Mongabay. The 24th climate meeting in Katowice, Poland — a coal city in the EU’s second-largest consumer of coal for energy (behind Germany) — is a paradoxical choice. It also highlights the challenges world leaders face in what is no question the most important climate meeting since Paris in 2015. The link to my story is here.
There has been precious-little urgency among nation’s since the Obama Administration led the drafting and signing of the Paris Agreement. Plenty of action is taking place at the non-state level among mayors, governors, and corporate leaders. That’s all good. But something important is missing, as one of my best sources told me for my story:
“It’s easy to blame these leaders, and they deserve some of the blame,” Phil Duffy, executive director of the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts, U.S., said in an interview. “But at some level, there has to be popular support for action to be taken. And people aren’t clamoring for it.
“When I look at the properties of Hurricane Florence [which flooded the North Carolina coast], I see the signature of climate change. But somehow that doesn’t get through to the public. And leaders aren’t motivated to tell the truth, or to say that we really need to undertake radical, societal change. They believe correctly that it wouldn’t fly” with the public,” said Duffy.
Signs like these at the Moscone Center were indicative of a climate action process that is necessarily moving beyond the inertia of national governments and unwilling presidents and prime ministers. Photo by Justin Catanoso
California Gov. Jerry Brown‘s Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco was nothing less than a poke in the eye to presidents and prime ministers of developed nations — not simply the intransigent and denialist Trump Administration. In holding this three-day summit (Sept. 12-14, 2018), and making governors, mayors, business executives, tribal leaders and scientists the stars, a clear message was sent: if the goals of the Paris Agreement are to be met, it will take the determined efforts of subnational leaders to get it done.
Having covered four year-end United Nation’s climate summits, including the historic meeting in Paris in December 2015, and one mid-year summit in Bonn in 2016, I have come to see the gatherings as largely rhetorical exercises in caution, delay and international lack of will with the countries most responsible for global warming. What the California summit lacked in international authority, it compensated for in actual action being taken in cities, states, indigenous lands and at corporations in the fight against climate change. Caveat, as I report: it’s not nearly enough to peak global emissions or slow the rate of climate change.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said through regulations and incentives, his city cut carbon emissions by 11 percent in 2017, which is equal to removing 737,00 cars from LA roads and highways. Photo by Justin Catanoso