3 key ingredients could combine at COP24 to deliver real action on climate change

Climate march with people holding a sign saying "System Change Not Climate Change"
(c) Joe Brusky

As the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP24 to the UNFCCC) gets underway in Katowice, Poland, Alyssa Gilbert, Director of Policy and Translation at the Grantham Institute who is leading the Imperial College London delegation at the summit, explains why she is rooting for its success more strongly than ever.

Evidence is undeniable: we must act now, and action brings many benefits

This year, we have seen a bumper crop of new evidence underlining how urgent it is to take action against global warming. Most notably, the impacts of climate change are becoming more tangible to those outside the scientific community; during 2018 we have seen significant weather-related damage, and increases in temperature and climate-related events that are fully in line with the predictions of man-made climate change. From wildfires to hurricanes, this is the start of our worst-case scenario unfolding.

Against this backdrop, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its special report on 1.5°C in October, which was a stark reminder of what we stand to lose as the planet warms. However, there is a positive story too. The IPCC report established how actions to tackle climate change can bring benefits across a range of other societal, economic and environmental priorities, as captured in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Taking action now will benefit us all in a multitude of ways.


People care about action on climate change

The voice of the general public can be heard more loudly than ever. Despite being a broad, all-encompassing challenge, global warming is finding traction with individual voices from around the world. The recent strikes by school-age Australians and a mounting number of litigation cases around the world show that taking action on climate change is an issue that people care about.

Of course, enacting climate change policies ‘on the ground’ can be challenging. Carbon pricing, the geekish economic answer to the climate change challenge, has been so contentious it has hit the headlines across the world, from Australia, to Canada, through to recent riots over diesel price rises in France – hiking the cost of fossil fuels is tricky politically.

In fact, one of the reasons why the Paris Agreement, agreed at COP21 in 2015, is a strong international agreement is because it allows flexibility at a national level. It allows leaders to implement policies that best suit their national context – and their citizens’ priorities. This flexibility can help deliver what is being called a ‘just transition’ to a lower carbon world, i.e. one that takes into account the people whose livelihoods currently depend on a fossil fuel economy.

It’s make or break time: implementing the Paris Agreement

The overarching goals in the Paris Agreement are a vital indicator of the necessary spirit of cooperation and willingness to take forward global action on climate change. Over the course of negotiations during the next two weeks, national delegates must seal the deal on these targets by finessing the technical detail of the Agreement – the outcome will be a ‘Paris Rulebook’.

Struggles have been apparent over the nitty gritty detail since 2015, and disagreements will now inevitably come to a head. Diplomacy will be vital to unite world leaders in the spirit of Paris – though the global context has now moved on, so the challenge for the Polish hosts is significantly harder.

Infographic depicting the action gap on climate change, and factors that influence it
Infographic from our briefing, “Towards a unifying narrative for climate change”. http://www.imperial.ac.uk/grantham/publications/towards-a-unifying-narrative-for-climate-change—grantham-briefing-paper-18.php

Delivering real action on climate change

For me, the next two weeks are about driving real action on climate change. I hope that delegates can build the detailed framework to underpin the Paris Agreement that, when coupled with citizen engagement across the globe, can really make a difference to our future on this planet.

Find out more about the Imperial College London delegation at COP24.

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