Packing My Bags and Unpacking the Katowice COP: Inspiration from the UN Secretary General.


Packing my Bags and Unpacking the Katowice COP

July 15, 2019
 I began writing this blog post December 12, 2018 early in the morning of the last day, thinking of the trek to the conclusion of COP24 in the presence tense. We left before the negotiations concluded with the successful creation of the Katowice rule book.   Months have passed as I have tried to synthesize this overwhelming event.  At the outset, I experienced the COP24 as though I had been thrown into post-doctoral course work, after having slept through the subject matter in high school, and subsequently ignored it. By the end of the two weeks, with strong support from the Research and Independent  NGOs (RINGO) Constituency and their orientation materials, plus the ability to slip in and out of briefings of various constituencies and many open sessions and side-events, I gained a working understanding of how the overall process works, and am able to listen more critically and begin to discern the meaning buried in the special language of UN diplomacy.  The treadmill of the UN’s multilateral climate negotiations rolls forward, but I owed my readers some closure and take-aways.  The links to the previous posts, mostly written in real time appear at the end of this post. 

Katowice, COP24 Day 12, December 14, 2018.
Our bags are packed. Husband Larry and I ate our last meal in the apartment that we have called home for 2 weeks. Our morning briefing with the RINGOs Constituency starts at 8 am. Few have read the “3 am” text of the ‘Katowice Rulebook’; Some RINGO members stayed at the venue until 11 pm the night before to deliver an ‘intervention’ from that ‘Constituency’ at the plenary.  The drama unfolds in s-l-o-w motion. A message alert announces an updated 10:15am version of the text. The CCTV screen shows fewer than a handful of “side events” after two weeks of dozens of presentations being offered simultaneously in all of the plastic tent rooms.

We’re all waiting for the next version of the text. In this 3 am draft, the level of ambition on nearly every task to be undertaken under the Rulebook is a continuum of options in brackets: [shall][should][ may][as applicable].  Each option successively retreats from ambition, a weakening of the obligations of the Parties, both to each other and to the planet. All of the bracketed alternatives must be resolved for the text to be ‘clean.’ The longer the discussions continue, the more likely the compromise will pick the weakest of the options. [I didn’t realize until later that the negotiators began with nearly 3000 sets of brackets, which they managed to whittle down to zero. With that as a metric, one could say that they achieved a miraculous success.]

So what’s next?

Will there be a review by others of a nation’s self-reporting to assure ‘Transparency?’ Where is the ambition?

We won’t be able to rely on reductions from a global emission trading scheme [ETS]– to be detailed later in “Article 6”– if there is no transparency and clarity. Without ‘transparency,’ it is tempting for both the financing, developed country and the implementing, developing country to take credit for the same mitigating reductions: double counting. (Only later would we learn that Brazil kept the Parties negotiating all night in an attempt to weaken the accountability under Article 6. Rather than cave-in, negotiators deferred the issue.) Where is the ambition?

As a compromise, can developing countries accept a measure as ‘mandatory’ if the compliance is delayed for two years? 2020 goals slip to 2022 or 2024. Where is the ambition?

Alas, the context of this wordsmithing and horse-trading is that only 12 years remain to cut emissions by nearly half to keep warming to 1.5 deg C. Will the measures under discussion get us there? Do we have time to buy time?

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres (formerly Prime Minister of Portugal) has made three trips to Katowice to ensure a successful conclusion to the COP. He opened the COP on Monday December 3. He returned on Wednesday Dec. 12, because negotiations were not going well. He left to mediate a truce in the humanitarian disaster of the long raging Civil War in impoverished starving Yemen. He returned, Friday, December 14, to salvage progress in the more slowly unfolding humanitarian crisis of ever accelerating warming of our planet.

On the last scheduled day, Secretary Guterres’ focused his widely announced special briefing on the essential role Civil Society must play in helping the world’s governments make progress. (my ‘transcription of the entire briefing is archived here.) Provide link

Katowice must be a stepping stone, not a road block.

Science is moving faster than we expected. The paradox is that, in response political will is moving too slowly. We can’t wait for state ministers. The world needs action from regional and local government, businesses, and civil society in general.

What matters is that we never give up. This is the fundamental deciding issue of all time.

The will for ambition must come from Civil Society. Civil Society? That’s us, the family of Rotary. The will for higher ambition must come from us. The future for our grandchildren depends on it.

We left before Friday afternoon, about 33 hours before the negotiations actually concluded. Our LOT flight departed five hours late.  We missed a tasty dinner with our friend Mark in Warsaw. Our exhausted COP –weary colleagues, sprawled in the waiting area, would miss their connections back to Africa and Asia – facing hours, if not days of delay.

December 15: Now we were with Rotarian friend Mark Krawczynski in Warsaw, celebrating the second birthday of his beautiful granddaughter.  Unable to give the intimate family gathering of family and friends (often in Polish) my full attention, I kept monitoring the progress at the COP, watching as the closing plenary was delayed again until 5:15pm and then again until 9:15 pm. In between, I tried to imagine how history would judge us.

I believe that we are failing Mark’s granddaughter, and my three grandchildren and our five European “grandchildren” all born this past year to our exchange student ‘children.’ In the year 2085, when they are the age I am now, what will be left of the ‘beautiful blue marble’ we call home?

Sunday In Warsaw’s subway, we read scrolling headlines trumpeting the successful conclusion of the talks, and watched Mr. Michal Kurtyka, the dashing young Polish president of COP 24, leaping over the table to claim victory (over and over). You can read the official the UN version here.

The UNFCCC’s closing summary celebrated “The commitment by fifteen international organizations to make their operations climate neutral”. When will Rotary International make the same commitment?

A good spin – but reading closely after watching the sausage making for 12 days, one sees the daunting tasks and unfinished business that carried over to the June 2019 technical meetings in Bonn, or will await the COP 25 in Santiago Chile, in December 2019.

Here are my sobering takeaways after 11 days of acronym decoding and frantic scribbling:

1. The science (the IPCC Special Report 1.5, October 2018) makes clear that keeping warming below 2.0° C is not enough to avert the worst of the consequences of climate change.  The science-informed goal must be to halt warming at 1.5°C, which means we must reduce carbon emissions by 45% by 2032 and TOTALLY decarbonize our economy by 2050. We have twelve years.

2. The Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) from Paris – each country’s carbon reduction commitments, when taken together – even if met – are not ambitious enough to keep warming at 2.0 °C, let alone 1.5°C. If we do not collectively meet the 1.5° goal, the world will not be safe from the worst impacts of the climate crisis.

3. Not a single country is on track to meet its Paris commitment. Germany was, until it closed its nuclear-powered electrical generation plants, and switched to dirty brown coal. The increment by which Germany is missing its NDC goal, is equal to the amount of coal-fired generation it has added, and nuclear-powered generation capacity taken offline.

4. At COP 21 in Paris, the developing countries promised to provide 100 billion dollars every year, starting in 2020, to fund climate mitigation and adaptation projects around the world. By 2018, only $7 billion had been committed.

5. There were no discussions about increasing ambition – that discussion has been deferred until a Special UN gathering in September 2019 to focus on raising the Ambition of NDCs.

6. COP 24 was unable to reach consensus to ‘welcome’ the IPCC Special Report 1.5, in order to give its contents and implications full consideration. [Epilogue: With no consensus at COP 24, the status of the Special Report 1.5 was again vigorously debated at the SB50 Meeting in Bonn, June 2019. Ultimately, scientists were merely thanked for their work and the discussion concluded, without acceptance of the Science itself.  Questions about certainty and methodology (raised by Saudi Arabia) will be discussed at COP 25]

7. SBSTA, the subsidiary technical body was unable to resolve how to address international emissions from the maritime and commercial aviation sectors, so finalizing the draft Rules of procedure was pushed back the June 2019 Session.  ‘By 2050, global aviation and shipping are together expected to contribute almost 40% of global carbon dioxide emissions unless further mitigation actions are taken.’

8. Too much work remains to be done to strengthen the language and financial mechanisms in support of gender parity. Gender Just projects need better access to climate funding to support smaller projects, to better target the needs of women and children who are and will continue to be disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis. Rotary has an opportunity to make a significant difference by funding smaller scale Gender Just projects.

My job as Rotary’s observer in Katowice was not to influence the ministers in the last minutes of negotiations.  Rather, it was to discern how we convey to individual Rotarians the urgency of the humanitarian crisis; the risk that inaction or ‘business as usual’ will compound the suffering and poverty that Rotarians have worked so hard to reduce.

Know that the impact of each business decision and personal choice that every Rotarian makes every day cumulates; that reducing the carbon burden of each one makes a difference; share that knowledge and act on it.

For a thorough third party summary of the COP 24 outcomes, I suggest this carbon brief.

If you missed an earlier blog post, or want to (re)read them in sequence:
12/01/2018 – Half a Degree Centigrade: The Challenge for the COP24 Climate Talks in Poland News Brief from the Environmental Sustainability Rotarian Action Group – ESRAG
12/04/2018 – Into the Belly of the Beast: a just transition away from coal.  NewsBrief from the Environmental Sustainability Rotarian Action Group – ESRAG
12/06/2018 – The IPCC Special Report on 1.5ºC: 12 Years, Technology Leapfrogs, and Opportunities NewsBrief from the Environmental Sustainability Rotarian Action Group – ESRAG
12/09/2018 – Treading Water in a Sea of Acronyms: RINGO BINGO Lingo News from the Environmental Sustainability Rotarian Action Group – ESRAG
12/11/2018 – Week One of COP 24 Did Not End Well for Science or the Climate: If You Don’t Like the Science, Refuse to “Welcome” It. News from the Environmental Sustainability Rotarian Action Group – ESRAG.
12/12/2018 – The Challenges of Week Two: “The Devil is in the Details” News from the Environmental Sustainability Rotarian Action Group – ESRAG
01/19/2019 – Greta Thunberg: Speaking Truth to Power at COP24 ESRAG News Brief: Continuing Observations from COP 24

This is the final Katowice Blog Post

Published July 15, 2019. To read the earlier archived blogs beginning with Dec.1, go to & Blog. From there you can also subscribe to the newsletter of the Environmental Sustainability Rotarian Action Group from our home page. If you are a member of the Rotary Family, please support our work by joining ESRAG, today!