UN climate change talks underway

COP24, which is being hailed as the most important climate summit since Paris in 2015, has begun in Poland with a call for urgent action from naturalist David Attenborough

Polar bear on melting ice cap
Polar bear on melting ice cap
Kate Dickinson

On the first day of COP24, Sir David Attenborough has said: “We’re facing a man-made disaster of global scale”.

The 24th UN climate talks, being held this year in Katowice, Poland, kicked off yesterday (2 December) and running until 14 December.

The annual summit sees representatives from almost all countries worldwide meeting to discuss action to prevent further global warming. This year’s meeting is being heralded as the most important since 2015, when the Paris Agreement was negotiated, setting out aims to limit global temperatures to ‘well below’ 2ºC above pre-industrial levels – and ideally no higher than 1.5ºC.

Reports this year have brought the continuing warming of the planet into sharp relief, with the World Meteorological Association warning in October that the world is ‘well on the way’ to that 1.5ºC rise. The following month, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirmed the devastating impacts of temperatures rising by 2ºC, including increased risk of flooding, droughts, extreme temperatures, fires and food insecurity. The report stated that the world has only 12 years to limit temperature rises before irreversible impacts will take place.

Attenborough spoke at the opening ceremony of COP24, pressing home the point that urgent action is needed – now or never. He said: “If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilization and the extinction of much of our natural world is on the horizon. The world’s people have spoken. Their message is clear: time is running out. They want you, the decision makers, to act now.”

The world-renowned naturalist is sitting in the ‘People’s Seat’ at COP24, representing ordinary people among the politicians, scientists and diplomats taking their places at the summit. As part of this concept, the UN has launched the ActNow.bot, which will be deployed on Facebook messenger. People can use the bot to find out about 10 key actions – such as cutting down the amount of meat you eat and using energy-saving light bulbs – that can be taken in daily life to reduce everyone’s impact on the planet.

The main focus of COP24 more widely is for the countries attending to agree on a so-called ‘rulebook’ for the Paris Agreement, deciding how each nation will each implement the goals of the agreement and how progress will be reported. Part of the discussions around this rulebook will also focus on how countries should pay for the changes needed to limit global warming, and which countries should shoulder the largest cost burden.

Former Green Party leader Natalie Bennett is present at the summit. She explained: “[At Paris] they said we have to keep warming to 1.5 degrees or not much warmer than that, and all of the evidence since then has only strengthened the need for that ambition.

“But we’re a huge way away from that at the moment, so while the formal process is focused on the rulebook, what we really need to be talking about here in COP is what’s known in shorthand as enhanced ambitions… The nationally determined contributions that each country has offered actually gets us to well over three degrees of global warming, which is, quite simply, catastrophe. We need to do much better.”