This week the countries have tried to find a shared direction on a number of issues, including how to agree on the “Paris Rulebook” (more about that here).
Yesterday night the countries finally came together to make decisions based on the discussions and meetings during the week.
The two big ticket items have been the “Local Communities and Indigenous People’s Platform” and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 1.5 Special Report.
The countries supported and made a decision to establish the Local Communities and Indigenous People’s platform.
This was followed by the very first speaking slot by an Indigenous Elder addressing the countries present, followed by a group of Indigenous youth singing.
It truly was a historical moment as this is the first time in the UNFCCC history when Indigenous groups can have an official voice in the negotiations.
The other item that has caused a lot of talking is the IPCC 1.5 special report.
This report was commissioned by the UNFCCC countries as they wanted to have a better understanding what a warmer world could look like, and how fast they should be reducing their emissions.
Yet, in the closing session some countries (US, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Russia) managed to water down how UNFCCC should be including the report findings and have so far managed to make the text state that the countries only “note” the report findings.
This has been particularly upsetting to other countries but also to the scientists involved who made huge volunteer efforts in putting together the report, requested by the countries, and in a very tight timeline.
Next week’s negotiations will be interesting to follow as the ministers are arriving and start negotiating based on the proposed text.
Living with coal
One of the interesting observations, and debates, at this COP has been the location of the COP especially since Katowice does not have that much accommodation so many participants have had to stay in Krakow, which is an 1-2 hour journey (depending on your mode of travel).
We were lucky enough to find Airbnb places for our university delegation and it has been a great experience in seeing how some of the local people live.
In the evenings when we leave the venue, the air is almost misty.
The difference is, it is not actual mist but coal smog as people have returned to their homes and started heating their houses with coal for the night.
The air is starting to hurt my nose and many of us are developing colds, or at least are very congested because of the heavy pollution.
One of my friends commented on Facebook that actually holding the COP in Katowice is good because now most of the delegations get to experience what it is to live and use coal as an energy source.
The coal smog is everywhere, inside the venue and outside.
We can see and feel the health effects first hand, and perhaps this is needed for bigger push for the countries to commit here to more drastic emissions reductions.
Whether these experiences really result in changing people’s perceptions however is another matter.
Changing lifestyles and going more green
I was somewhat disappointed at the welcome party of the COP where the menu consisted of sausages, pickles and coleslaw.
Given all the messages we are hearing about eating less meat, these kinds of conventions really have a responsibility, and opportunity, to walk the talk.
Especially us who are climate scientists or climate adaptation scientists, we also have a responsibility in thinking how we can live more sustainably.
These are the choices in everyday life we can make and I really feel I am not doing enough at home to live in a way that minimises both emissions and also the amount of trash that I generate.
In this COP, I have tried to target those cafes and restaurants that offer vegetarian options, and last night we had vegetarian pizza.
I’ve also aimed at reducing the use of plastic bottles and fill my water bottle whenever I can at the venue (although they keep running out of water at the water stations, and you cannot fill the bottle from the taps in the toilets).
The COP has made public transport free so we have been able to catch the tram to the venue, or have walked.
I have also minimised the amount of paper I am using so trying to check programs online, not taking many brochures or other paper-based materials.
I am yet to find a keepcup to buy for coffee although the single-use coffee cups at the venue are biodegradable and compostable.
Doing what you can does matter
There are lots of small things we can all do that in the end do make a difference in how we are using resources.
Like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 1.5 report notes, every action matters.
Often climate change is made into this massive global problem that is so complex and huge that people disengage and turn into apathy in thinking that what would an individual or family even do about it.
It is true that we need the governments and big businesses to commit to drastic reductions in emissions now but many of the patterns in consumptions and resource use also stem from customer demand.
We can change these patterns, make different choices and we also do have an immense capacity to adapt to change.
For example, in Queensland we banned single used plastic bags mid-year at two of our main grocery store chains.
After some outcry and adjustment, the rate of single plastic bag use has fallen 80% and people are bringing their own bags to the store, or buying sustainable bags where needed.
This is just an example how change can be introduced to our society and now the thought of using a plastic bag for each of your items at the store seems quite ridiculous.]
This leads to also further reflections on generational issues that we are also hearing about here at the convention: what kind of a world are we leaving for our children and the generations to come?
They will look at us and wonder how we could keep making such choices, and we clearly have an opportunity to make better choices.
And next week the countries have also the opportunity to do so when the ministers arrive and start going through the decisions on the table.