1. The time to act is now
The main message of those attending the summit is that of urgency, that this is our last chance to act and to set a correct, ambitious agenda before it is too late. What was obvious from the global meeting, is the heavy burden on the young. Greta Thunberg, a 15-year-old Swedish activist, sent a strong message to global leaders. Her young voice called for urgency and action: “we have not come here to beg world leaders to care for our future… we have come here to let them know that change is coming whether they like it or not.”
Renowned naturalist, Sir David Attenborough, also brought a similar message of urgency during the ‘people’s seat’ at the beginning of the summit. “The world's people have spoken; their message is clear, time is running out. They want you, the decision-makers, to act now. They are behind you, along with civil society represented here today, supporting you in making tough decisions but also willing to make sacrifices in their daily lives.”
This is a message which has been echoed in Ireland recently. During the Citizens Assembly on climate action, it put forth ambitious recommendations to the Irish Government, which clearly demonstrated that the people of Ireland expect more and are willing to do more.
2. Fossil fuel rich countries are not heeding climate warnings
Despite the stark warnings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report in October, which called for ‘rapid and far-reaching’ changes to limit global warming to 1.5 ˚C, it seems negotiators were still not willing to ramp up efforts domestically, especially wealthy fossil rich countries, to achieve this goal. The USA, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Kuwait were actively disruptive on the introduction of text which might ramp up this ambition.
3. Developing countries need support to reduce emissions and adapt
One of the major sticking points was that many developed countries did not want to revise their national emission reduction plans by 2020. The Katowice climate package, agreed at the summit, calls on countries to deliver their plans at the special UN Secretary General summit in 2019 and underlined 2020 for communicating updated national plans for climate action up to 2030.
Historical responsibility of developed countries to lead on cutting emissions, and their obligation to support developing countries on finance and technology, was mostly removed from the text. Support will be provided to developing countries to plan their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), set out in the Paris Agreement, which outline the efforts by which each country will reduce national emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change. The text however does not say who is responsible for providing support and as a result this greatly affects developing countries’ ability to plan and implement their Nationally Determined Contributions.
4. There is too much flexibility around climate finance
Climate finance was another contentious issue during the negotiations, and unfortunately the final agreement did not reflect what many developing countries were calling for. Information on provisions for finance, technology and reporting guidelines from developed countries were either removed or diluted, so developed countries have too much flexibility on what they can count as climate finance.
5. Support for ‘loss and damage’ suffered by countries at risk is being blocked by rich nations
Reporting and assessing the costs of loss and damage caused by climate change was deleted from the final text by developed countries. ‘Loss and damage’ encompasses a continuum of climate change impacts, from slow onset processes (e.g. sea level rise or glacial retreat) to periodic, extreme events (e.g. hurricanes, droughts, floods). It also includes factors that may not be directly economically calculable, such as losses of culture (related to the displacement of indigenous populations) or biodiversity (the destruction of habitats and species extinctions). Countries most vulnerable are those that are least responsible for causing climate change and wanted it in the agreement.
6. Ireland can do more and we hope it will
It was a rough week for Ireland, which was ranked worst in Europe for tackling climate change in the Climate Change Performance Index by Germanwatch and the NewClimate Institute. At the summit, Ireland didn’t seem to be doing much to assist with the advancement of ambition within the EU, not wanting to sign up to anything they didn’t think they could deliver on. Ireland also didn’t sign on to a statement by a High Ambition Coalition, where many of our EU colleagues did.
The Irish Government’s announcement that it would allocate €4.5 million towards international cooperation on climate action was one small sign of hope. However, it is still well below Ireland’s fair share to international climate finance, and Ireland needs to make serious efforts to make real policy changes at home which will put us on a path to meeting our own targets, and make serious emission reductions, to achieve what was set out in Paris.