After two weeks of discordant and emotional negotiations, the nations of the world agreed Saturday night on a set of rules meant to help curb global warming.
But scientists and even the negotiators themselves know the so-called “Paris Rulebook” won’t be enough on its own to stop carbon pollution from reaching critical levels.
Countries would have to do far more to curb fossil fuel use and deforestation to avoid the droughts, superstorms, deadly heat waves and coastal floods associated with global warming.
This rulebook is supposed to put into motion the Paris Agreement on climate change, a landmark 2015 accord that the US Trump administration has promised to abandon.
After fraught and much-delayed talks at the COP24 climate change conference here in Polish coal country, more than 190 countries agreed to the rules. They punted, however, on a critical but complicated issue involving how countries trade and account for certain pollution. Brazil nearly blocked the process amid concerns that its proposals would lead to “double counting” and, essentially, cheating, according to observers and a senior negotiator involved in the discussions.
That issue will have to be taken up at a later date in 2019.
Ministers also did not agree to emphatically embrace the latest climate science, which stunned some attendees. Countries reached a “compromise” statement in which they welcomed the publication of an alarming report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
They stopped short, however, of welcoming its actual findings.
That “administrative” compromise fails to underscore the extreme urgency posed by the climate crisis, said Simon Stiell, Grenada’s minister for climate resilience and environment.
Vulnerable countries, including small island states that could see their entire territories disappear as seas rise, agreed to the text to ensure the rulebook moved forward, he told CNN.
“We understand the need to consensus-build,” he said. “And for small island developing states we have achieved our minimum – minimum – asks with regard to key issues.”
The IPCC report says the world has only about 12 years to avoid 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming above pre-industrial levels, which is one of the goals of the Paris Agreement.
That report is an “ear-splitting wake-up call,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said upon its release. The science crunched the timeline for doing something and upped the stakes of inaction. In Poland, Guterres said it would be “suicidal” and “immoral” to fail at COP24.
The United States, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Kuwait, however, stood in the way last week of “welcoming” the findings of the scientists. The Trump administration has denied the basic consensus of climate science, which is that humans are causing dangerous warming by burning fossil fuels.
President Trump has promised to withdraw the United States, which has done more to cause climate change historically than any other country, from the Paris Agreement.
That withdrawal can’t fully take place until 2020, however, so the United States did have a presence at these talks – at times humming along in negotiations and at times promoting coal technology. Observers disagreed about whether the United States aimed to spoil talks here.