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Briefing 17.12.2018

The longest COP in history, The Katowice Package was adopted unanimously

Climate Santa

Most of the people who came to COP24 had a wish list. Some wanted small things – a deal – any deal. Some were thinking big and expecting more ambition. There were also some who wanted a lump of coal.

Katowice ended like most COPs have ended in the past. After a lot of tension toward the end, the negotiators pushed the camel-sized decision through the eye of a needle. This is a success in itself. The rulebook or a set of rules that will enable the global climate deal to function in practice will help to push the slow-moving machine of climate policy forward.

There will be a lot of discussion on who won and who lost in Katowice. But let's try to quickly sort the wheat from the chaff.

First and foremost, the big winner is Katowice and the Polish debate on climate and coal. When COP19 was organised in Warsaw 5 years ago, media attention was scant. This time around you could read about climate change, smog and coal in national and local newspapers alike. Radio and TV stations were also pushing the topic. In Katowice – a coal mining capital – people in the street discussed climate. In terms of awareness raising, this is a huge success. Let's hope the debate sticks and inspires people to act.

Secondly, adoption of the rulebook or the Katowice Package is a relief. Its rules will help to monitor how countries report their national actions on climate change and how they increase their ambitions every five years. It also contains text on how to channel aid to the poorest countries to help them fight climate change and adapt to it. The Package is a thick handbook of more than 130 pages and one has to be cautious in assessing its overall, potential impact. It's simply too technical and complicated to say today “yes it’s good” or even “yes, it will work as we’ve designed it”. We simply have to wait and see – but at least we have a prototype!

Thirdly, Katowice proved multilateralism is still alive. In the 11th hour, frantic negotiations made some problems disappear. Two sparring powers – China and the US – agreed on accounting. Turkey who held the plenary hostage until almost 10 pm on Saturday finally relaxed its claims and the deal was gavelled without dissent. Of course, some topics were shifted to the next COP. Brazil managed to effectively block the part of the rulebook on markets, but the EU delegation found a solution to let the rest of the package pass. Overall, large powers were constructive, the developing nations did not shy away from responsibility and the poorest nations were recognised as those that are most affected by climate change. The bipolar world of rich and poor as we know from Kyoto is effectively gone. A big win for climate.

Fourthly, ambition. Activists and some parties, emboldened by the latest IPCC report, came to Katowice to push for more climate action. There was never a chance for that, so the final result where the report is politely mentioned in the decision without any call for more effort should not be a surprise. The UN Secretary-General will now take these less tangible topics under his supervision. The September summit in New York will now take on the ambition portion. Maybe, just maybe it could even become a permanent fixture taking the political heat of COPs. An interesting thought.

Last but not least, is Polish soft power and diplomacy. It's great that COP24 finished with a decision otherwise this would be the main talking point. Still, we cannot and should not shy away from discussing the hosts' performance. The summit once again confirmed that we have an excellent team of climate negotiators. They were the ones who made COP24 work! But the people in power not only ignore these professionals – they also make their work nearly impossible. The joint "efforts" of the president, the ministers (with few exceptions) and even the local authorities should be assessed as an absolute travesty. Showcasing and hailing coal, proving ignorance on climate change bordering denial and keeping as far away as possible from the negotiations. All this is not only inexcusable it is also a big opportunity lost. Poland spent approximately PLN 250 mln on hosting the summit. Surely for that amount it was possible to show to the world the less coal-smudged face of our country. All politicians we saw at the summit truly deserve the lump of coal for which they have been working so hard. It seems no one else in Poland wants it anymore.

Overall the summit was a mixed bag, and a full assessment of its impacts will only be determined in the future by putting the Paris rulebook into action. And if you like symbols try this one: The coal city of Katowice became the place where the first truly global climate deal became weaponised. This brings hope, doesn't it? Thank you for reading and Merry X-mas.

Krzysztof Bolesta

Current events

The longest COP in history. On Sunday, December 16, shortly past midnight, the president of COP24, Michał Kurtyka, gavelled the end of the UN climate summit in Katowice. It lasted more than 15 days and was one of the longest in history. It gathered almost 200 representatives of 196 states. According to the city authorities, the overall number of visitors – observers and journalists included – exceeded 21,500. The next COP will take place in Chile.

The Katowice Package was adopted unanimously. The president of COP24 Michał Kurtyka opened the last plenary by reminding that the negotiating efforts were not just about producing texts or going home with the maximum gains to the national interests; he underscored the sense of humanity and commitment to the wellbeing of the earth that sustains humankind, and particularly the generations to come. He also warned that a compromise on a detailed technical agreement is a daunting task in a room populated by delegates from 200 countries. Then, Kurtyka asked for objections regarding each component of the package. Only the Indian delegate raised his hand; however, he immediately declared his respect for “the spirit of talks” and that therefore he will not halt the adoption. Following this statement, Michał Kurtyka announced the unanimous decision on the adoption of the Katowice Package. He also described the COP24 as a “historic success” and expressed the hope that Katowice could become a global climate policy symbol, similar to Kyoto and Paris before.

Brazil and Turkey delay the closure of COP24. Late night on Saturday the UN members in Katowice adopted the final document – the Katowice Package. The negotiations took more than 30 hours longer than expected. Initially, the summit was to finish on Friday, 3 pm. The reason for the delay was the complaints by Brazil and Turkey. The Brazilians wanted more favourable market mechanisms that govern the trade in GHG emission reductions past 2020. The establishment of such an institution is foreseen in article 6 of the Paris Agreement. The resistance was adamant enough to nix the entire chapter operationalizing article 6 from the Katowice Package. Once this crisis was dealt with, thanks to the contributions of EU and China, Turkey reiterated its claim from the beginning of the summit: Turkey wanted to be removed from the group of developed countries and join the developing countries group in order to receive financial assistance. Germany and France were there to assist the Polish presidency in solving the deadlock. The final and most problematic stretch of the negotiations demonstrated the relevance of a select group of states – Egypt, Mali, South Africa, Trinidad & Tobago, Germany, USA, China and New Zealand among them – that steered the talks towards a successful conclusion. The EU Commissioner, Miguel Arias Cañete, also played an important role.

Congratulations on the adoption of the Katowice Package. In the statements preceding the closure of COP24, country delegates congratulated the Polish presidency on its leadership in the negotiations and its efforts to facilitate the adoption of the Katowice Package. The French president Emmanuel Macron sent his appreciations to the UN, NGOs and all negotiators, underscoring that both France and Europe must lead the way in this ongoing struggle. On Twitter, Michał Kurtyka received congratulations from the Polish president Andrzej Duda and Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki. Paul Watkinson, head of SBSTA, highlighted on Twitter the key role played by the top Polish negotiators: Katarzyna Snyder, Artur Lorkowski and Adam Guibourgé-Czetwertyński.