The UN climate talks in Poland – an attempt to save the world from disastrous levels of global warming – are sputtering toward a conclusion after two weeks of discord.
“They’re going nowhere – for Tuvalu, for small counties,” Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga of Tuvalu, an island country in the Pacific, said Friday morning. “What we have on the table is very disappointing, very frustrating. We are unhappy. We are going back on the Paris Agreement – what we agreed to three years ago. It looks like people still do not trust each other. There is a lack of confidence [and] trust on the principles of working together.”
Sopoaga said the United States alone is standing in the way of agreement.
“It’s the White House alone that’s dragging their feet,” he said. “Our country is already going underneath the water. I hope the White House reconsiders its position.”
At issue for countries like Tuvalu, which are feeling the effects of climate change but doing little to cause it, is debate about whether to “welcome” a recent report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that says pollution from fossil fuels and other sources must be cut dramatically in just 12 years to avoid disastrous warming.
Last weekend at the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Kuwait declined to “welcome” that report, instead wanting only to “note” its existence, which is light-years away in diplomat speak. That disagreement, along with events at COP24 that promoted fossil fuel technologies, have cast a cloud over these negotiations, which are being held in Polish coal country.
US President Donald Trump has pledged to pull out of the Paris Agreement. That can’t technically happen until 2020, though, so the nation still has a presence in these talks.
Not everyone here sees the US playing the spoiler role in Poland.
“When Trump announced that the US would pull out of the Paris Agreement, we thought it would be reflected strongly in having a US administration blocking negotiations,” said Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, president of a previous round of these negotiations, COP20, and global lead for climate and energy issues at World Wide Fund for Nature, a US-based environmental group.
“Fortunately, that hasn’t happened,” he said. “The US negotiators and head of delegation have not been a strong supporter – but haven’t blocked negotiations.”
The point of the negotiations is to come up with a “rulebook” that will make real the Paris Agreement on climate change, to which countries agreed at these talks in 2015.
New, but not final, drafts of those rules were released on Thursday night and will continue to be revised. The talks were supposed to end Friday but now appear to be headed into the weekend, according to several observers and negotiators involved in the discussions.
Among the issues ministers are debating are rules for reporting emissions; financing – or even reparations of sorts – for developing countries as they deal with the effects of climate change; and, importantly, the symbolic issue about “welcoming” the best international science.