The city of Katowice creates the history of global climate policy

Fot. Robert Gardzinski/Reczpospolita

I hope that we will manage to reach an agreement and that the city Katowice will become a part of the history of global climate policy,” says Michał Kurtyka, Government Plenipotentiary for the climate conference in Katowice COP24.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that halting global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius will require rapid and far-reaching efforts. Is the world ready for it?

Michał Kurtyka: As far as the talks I am conducting with other countries are concerned, there is a will to reach an agreement in Katowice. That is why we would like to create the conditions in which it will be possible to find some common ground among the positions of the states.

There is undoubtedly a very difficult discussion ahead of us. The IPCC report is one of the important contributions to it. Another element is the operationalisation of the Paris Agreement, i.e. the Katowice rules, on which many thousands of negotiators will work from the first day of the meeting.

The first week will be more technical, the second – political. Then ministers from all over the world will come together. This is where the report will be presented.

I hope that we will be able to reach an agreement and that Katowice will go down in the history of global climate policy in the same way as Kyoto or Paris before.

At the Kyoto conference we had various gradations. There were those who can emit more and those who undertake to reduce emissions. Paris has put everyone on an equal footing. The summit in Katowice will be Paris 2.0? How to combine fire and water?

The principles that were adopted in 2015 under the Paris Agreement say that countries agree that they should regularly submit specific national contributions to reduce emissions. These contributions are intended to be a response to how States Parties imagine their contribution to global climate policy.

Paris did not specify what they were supposed to be. It’s our agreement in Katowice that is to define what „national contributions” mean, how they will be measured, how we will make sure that we meet global targets. The devil is in the detail here. Only the resolution of these issues will create a credible framework for global climate policy.

You have spoken to representatives of various countries in the world, developed and developing while travelling around the world. What were the dividing lines?

The contractual division between developed and developing countries remains important. A number of developed countries under the Paris Agreement have committed themselves to regularly inform developing countries of the scale of their financial support.

An intensive discussion is now underway on how this support will be communicated, to what extent it will form a systemic part of the Katowice rules, and how far the commitment made by developed countries in 2009 to mobilise USD 100 billion a year for developing countries will be met.

Singapore is still a developing country, yet it is one of the richest countries in terms of GDP per capita. It is also very active in climate diplomacy. It has a good, solid and wise team of negotiators who support the building of compromises in the world.

There is a group of African countries for which the fundamental challenge is to adapt to climate change. They face problems such as desertification and lack of water on a daily basis.

The fundamental challenge for countries on the Pacific Islands is the existential threat posed by rising ocean and sea levels. For Arab countries, moving away from traditional fuels means undermining their current model of economic development. These countries are intensively looking for new paths of growth for themselves.

Latin American countries, on the other hand, face challenges related to urbanization and progressive degradation of tropical forests, i.e. the green lungs of the whole planet.

Each of these blocks has its own expectations of Katowice and teams of negotiators ready to defend these ideas. Our task is to support all parties in such a way that, eventually, we can find an agreement that is acceptable to all.

You can see that cities in the world are turning into megacities. More and more people from villages and smaller towns are moving to cities. What are the challenges for cities that are consuming more and more raw materials?

We are witnessing anunprecedented urbanisation of the world. In 1800 2% of the world’s population lived in cities, nowadays it is already half of the planet’s population. In 2050 it will be as much as 75% of the world’s population.

The city is governed by different challenges. Today, the main problem of the metropolis is communication. That is why the intention of Poland at COP24 is to draw attention to the issues of clean transport.

We suggested the Katowice Electromobility Partnership „Driving Change Together Partnership”, which is to unite cities in responding to these challenges. In this way, we would like to strengthen cooperation, the main objective of which will be to help developing countries avoid the mistakes that developed countries had previously encountered in introducing zero- and low-carbon transport.

Today, cities in developed countries are at the forefront of thinking about what the world should look like. Centres in large metropolitan areas are increasingly being closed to the use of combustion vehicles through the introduction of various types of restrictions. In addition, roads, footpaths and bicycle paths are being favoured at the expense of cars. A complex transformation of people’s lifestyles in cities is taking place before our very eyes.

Exactly these issues will be the subject of global dialogue within the framework of this partnership, which will be inaugurated in Katowice by Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. Part of the declaration is the establishment of a forum under the same name, the first edition of which will take place in Poland next year. It will be anchored in the global climate process under the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change). This proposal positions our country as a leader in creating a new way of thinking in the field of climate policy. On the growing wave of electromobility it will allow us to present Poland with its achievements and position our country as a global hub in this area.

A crisis may become an opportunity. What is the chance for global change?

If we went back to 1988 and tried to mentally measure the incredible leap that has taken place in Poland, in our cities, then we’d see that we are a reliable partner for metropolises such as Jakarta, Cairo, Lagos and Mexico. Thanks to our experience, we can encourage them to think about their future in a 30-year time perspective in a more innovative and even ground-breaking way, because that way they can achieve a lot.

This is not only a technological change, but also an organisational change, because it is related not only to popularizing clean vehicles, but also the development of public transport. Do we have a habit of using a bus instead of a car, or is this just an exception to the rule.

This work is ahead of us, and COP24 is contributing to the creation of a global awareness – to what extent our civilisation model can run in the same way as before, and which elements require a deeper reflection and consequent change.

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