This week in Queensland, temperatures are soaring, with temperature records consistently breaking this week, with potential for fire tornadoes with the strong winds, and also potentially a devastating season for our coral reefs as the summer heat begins.
Meanwhile, school children and youth in Australia are staging a campaign and not going to school as a stance against the government’s inaction on climate change.
So certainly the issue is hitting the right cords and inspiring people to take action but the progress seems slow and it presents also many novel questions as to how we are going to deal (adapt) with the changes that have been already locked into place.
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 24thConvention of Parties (COP24) has officially started today in Poland, and many of these questions are going to be dealt with.
The main items on the table
Thousands of government staff, non-governmental organisation representatives, think tanks, universities, and research institutes, the private sector, you name it, are all on their way to Katowice, Poland, to discuss exactly how we can curb carbon emissions and what countries are prepared to do, and more importantly how.
This COP has been called “technical COP” for a reason.
It is not going to deliver glamorous outcomes or big-ticket agreements, but it is about negotiating technical details as to how the Paris Agreement is going to be implemented.
This requires negotiations on a number of items such as how the parties are going to report on their national efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a way that enables comparisons of efforts.
The Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) are reports that each country will have to deliver in the agreement about how they are going to and will reduce their emissions.
These reports are then systematically stored by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and should enable a better understanding where progress is being made and which countries are taking which efforts.
Developing countries and in particular the least developed countries (LDCs) will need support in a range of areas such as technology transfer, low carbon development, capacity building and access to climate finance.
These details are also on the table, with for example the Paris Capacity Building Committee showcasing efforts and ways to build capacity in both mitigation and adaptation.
There are also questions around the transparency framework to enable consistent reporting, and funds such as the Green Climate Fund and the Adaptation Fund are also organising events on current projects and lessons learned from providing funds in particular for adaptation projects.
Adaptation will also feature in the negotiations as items under the Adhoc Working Group on Paris Agreement (APA), including discussions on adaptation communications and how all of that is going to unfold and be reported on.
The Paris Agreement also sets a global goal of adaptation, something that needs also clarification as to what such a goal consists of, what its goalposts are, and how we can measure whether we are reaching or attaining this goal.
COP is essentially about sharing knowledge
In addition to country negotiators, there are a range of other actors attending the COP who are either observing orproviding technical support to the negotiations.
The number of side events is amazing, and you could basically spend the whole COP just attending side events and hearing about the numerous initiatives that are happening around climate change.
The weekend is also full of program, including the Climate and Development days that are organised by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).
The Climate and Development days are committed to foster conversations, dialogue, partnerships, and knowledge generation on current initiatives and lessons learned that enable enhanced support also to climate change negotiations and information available.
There is also the mandated Nairobi Work Program (NWP) 12thFocal Point Forum that this year focuses on economic diversification as an adaptation strategy.
The NWP Focal Point Forum is quite unique in its set up as the NWP’s mandate is to foster science-policy linkages and help scientific information to be more transferable into policy processes.
The forum will gather negotiators, civil society organisations, the private sector and others who will share knowledge and experiences in how economic diversification can support climate change adaptation on the ground and via adaptation policies.
As a member of Griffith Institute for Tourism, I will also be speaking at the forum on the role of sustainable tourism and its linkage to robust climate change adaptation as a way to diversify livelihoods.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is also organising numerous events during the COP, showcasing the latest climate change science and explaining the latest trends and research findings also from the Special Report on 1.5 degree report.
I am contributing in the panel that will discuss the Small Island Developing States in the light of the 1.5 report, and what the concepts of adaptation limits and respectively “loss and damage” mean in this context.
The research organisations are also active observers during COPs; for example, 4thof December is a dedicated “From research to practice” day where universities and research institutes are able to share their lessons learned, and connect with policymakers and other stakeholders.
It’s a further opportunity to connect science to practice and policy.
Global climate action cannot be mere rhetoric
Needless to say, the negotiations are a complex form of diplomacy as countries are trying to balance their national interests and needs with those of the global community.
What is however clear in the lead-up to this COP is the broadcasting of urgency: with the IPCC, WMO and now UNEP’s Emission Gap reports, the message and science has never been clearer.
We do not have the luxury of just sitting back and talking about these things in theory and what would be a nice thing to do.
The reality is, as all of the reports state, that the world needs serious actions by all countries to keep the warming on 1.5 degrees, with devastating consequences already then.
As the World Meteorological Organisation reiterated today, changes in our climate are not a theory but most of our climate related records have been or are being broken.
The least developing countries and small island developing states in particular have been very vocal that such a level of warming can already result in the disappearing of their lands and cultures.
As climate change impacts intensify, developed countries, like Australia, are already seeing signs of significant change for example in drought periods and extreme heat; all of which increase the probability and scale of bushfires for example.
Countries in the northern hemisphere, like Finland where I am from, are seeing changes in seasons and for example also less snow, leading to increasingly loss of white Christmas; all of which impact our cultural ways of being.
This is where things start hitting at home for people; when people’s lives are actually starting to change in negative ways.
It is then up to the electorate as well to start choosing representatives who take such policy issues at face value and truly try to ignite change in the current policies and systems that have been built on the idea of constant stable climate.
Adaptation to climate change will look remarkable different in a 1.5-degree warmer world, let alone speaking about 2 degrees of warming.
Many of us cannot even fathom what that could look like, I certainly can’t, but we can take lessons from the already occurring “unprecedented” and “never before seen” events that are challenging us in today’s climate.
It is encouraging to see that there are many great expectations towards this particular COP, and I am hopeful that we can get agreements in place on how we can implement the Paris Agreement in a transparent, sustainable and fair way.