DISPATCHES: Getting Ready for Katowice

By ANNA GYORGY

Originally published in the Montague Reporter on November 29, 2018.

BERLIN  It’s not just the climate that is heating up. Around the world, official country delegates, environmental organizations and international energy corporations are gearing up for the next round of international climate meetings – although with differing goals on how fast and how honestly to confront what almost everyone now accepts is an ongoing crisis, with no clear end in sight.

Last November I reported for the Traprock Center for Peace & Justice from Bonn, Germany, where the 23rd “conference of the parties” to the UN Convention on Climate Change took place. A short video report on citizen action and issues there is available at www.traprock.org.

In 2018, the 24th Conference of the Parties (COP24) will be held in Katowice, Poland, from December 2 to 14. The world will be watching, and I will be reporting from Berlin on citizen action and climate justice work during the summit, there and internationally. For without strong citizen action and demands for change, entrenched energy and political forces will continue to delay, block needed change, and thus guarantee more and greater disasters ahead.

Goals for this international meeting include: increased action on national climate targets; providing financing for “developing” countries’ efforts to both mitigate and adapt to climate change; and finally, to set up the implementation guidelines of the Paris Climate Agreement (adopted in 2015). These include ways to set and evaluate national climate plans.

This summer’s heat wave created near-unlivable situations in many regions, historic hurricanes and storms, fires and droughts that wreaked great personal and monetary damage. The recently published special report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) emphasized that the window on limiting the climate crisis is closing.

The seriousness of the situation is also laid out in the 1,500-page Fourth National Climate Assessment, the report mandated by Congress every four years. This is the one quietly issued by the US government on the Friday after Thanksgiving, perhaps in the hope that people wouldn’t notice, won’t care, or will accept the president’s dismissal of its conclusions, not that he reads them.

And they don’t make for easy reading. Take, for example, the summary findings on “interconnected impacts”:

Climate change affects the natural, built, and social systems we rely on individually and through their connections to one another. These interconnected systems are increasingly vulnerable to cascading impacts that are often difficult to predict, threatening essential services within and beyond the Nation’s borders.

And on health:

Impacts from climate change on extreme weather and climate-related events, air quality, and the transmission of disease through insects and pests, food, and water increasingly threaten the health and well-being of the American people, particularly populations that are already vulnerable.

The US report analyzed predictable results of inaction. Meanwhile, “The Brown to Green Report 2018” issued here in Germany in mid-November detailed climate action – and inaction – in the industrialized G20 countries. These states account for 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

According to a co-author from Germanwatch, one of the 14 research organizations and NGOs from the G20 countries producing the report, “The G20 economies actually need to cut their emissions by half by 2030 to keep warming below 1.5°C,” or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit. (See the extensive data presented at www.climate-transparency.org/g20-climate-performance/g20report2018.)

To do that will mean dramatic shifts away from fossil fuels, as the report concluded that 82% of the G20’s energy supplies still come from fossil fuels, and that “in Saudi Arabia, Australia and Japan fossil fuels make up even more than 90% of the energy supply, with little or no change in recent years.”

As has been seen in the many years that international delegates have met to discuss climate under the auspices of the United Nations, progress and action are slow, given the huge economic investments and corporate interests behind fossil fuel development and assets worldwide.

Here in Germany, it is clear that this country’s earlier goals for reducing carbon emissions by 2020 will not be met. A major struggle is on continued reliance on coal power, and when and how to phase it out. Decades of solar and wind development have not been able to displace the entrenched, decades-old development of dirty open-pit brown coal (lignite) mines.

A national “coal commission” charged with planning an exit from coal was supposed to give its final report in December, but opposition from coal regions – especially in economically weak former East German areas – has delayed action, probably for months.

Meanwhile, a major environmental movement in recent years has focused on closing these mines and preventing their expansion through cutting the historic Hambach Forest to dig up the “brown gold” below.

Thousands of people have taken part in well-organized civil disobedience actions to immobilize work at the Garzweiler surface mine complex, a giant scar covering 30 square miles, with more excavation planned. (Shots of this moonscape are in the video mentioned above.) Others have lived for years in “tree houses” to block cutting of the forest. Some of those arrested are in court this week.

Their actions have helped focus public attention on the climate killer energy source that must be rapidly phased out. And many Germans will greet the opening of COP24 in Katowice, itself in a major coal region, with national “Stop Coal – Climate Protection Now!” demonstrations. These will take place on Saturday, December 1, in the capital Berlin and in Cologne, not far from the Garzweiler open pit mine.

My next dispatch will report on the politics and goals of these gatherings, as the focus shifts to Katowice.