This year’s COP has been surrounded by controversy, corruption and, at the centre of it all, coal. Literally. Conference attendees arrived in Katowice, Poland, a coal heartland, made their way to the conference centre next door to the Coal History Museum and, greeted by a coal miner band, ventured inside to find - you guessed it - yet more coal. Coal under the floor, in the walls and piled up in cages with displays of coal memorabilia, coal soap and even coal jewellery. It is clear that the conference hosts were trying to send a message: they will do whatever it takes to protect their coal industry. 80% of Poland’s electricity comes from coal and their economy is currently reliant on the stuff, but all that comes across from their greenwashing is a weak attempt to portray a city in transition, barely hiding the dirty fossil fuelled reality.
Perhaps the largest and most obvious presence of coal at COP24, besides its physical presence, is the list of sponsors. Included in the “partners” of COP24 are JSW (the largest coking coal producer in the EU), PGNiG (Polish Oil and Gas Company) and the PGG (Polish Mining Group), just a few among several polluting companies with very close ties to the Polish government. Although we do need to work with oil, gas and coal industries if we want to tackle climate change, allowing them any kind of influence in policy-making is probably (definitely) not the way to go. Close ties between polluting industries and governments is one of the biggest obstacles in climate change negotiations, as UNFCCC youth constituency campaigner Eilidh Robb explains, “The influence of vested interests at COP has a huge effect on the negotiations. Countries are in debt to the industries that support them and their ambition is watered down accordingly.” We are already seeing clear signs of this as the Polish COP24 president has received criticism for not doing enough to encourage ambitious targets at the conference. Their slogan remains a call for a “just transition” which, while commendable in its ambition to move towards renewable energy sources while protecting those vulnerable in society, also serves as a convenient method to protect the industries on which economies rely. In Poland’s case, this happens to be coal.
While Poland’s propaganda has been largely mocked, in the negotiation room more serious manipulations from the side of the polluters have taken place. Towards the end of the first week at COP24, countries including the US, Russia and Saudi Arabia refused to “welcome” October’s ground-breaking IPCC report calling for urgent action on climate change, instead agreeing only to “note” the findings. A compromise on the language was finally agreed between the countries to “(welcome) the effort of the IPCC experts” as the US refused to agree to any wording which would imply that they "endorse" the report. The ridiculousness of countries ignoring the report they themselves commissioned just three years ago in Paris has not gone unnoticed and has sparked outrage among many, particularly since the US and Saudi Arabia both supported the report upon its release in October and seem to have turned their back on it once realising the impact it could have on their fossil fuel industries.
Unsurprisingly, this was not the last heard from the US at COP24 as, in a repeat of COP23’s side event promoting coal, this year’s US pavilion hosted a panel on “green” fossil fuels. Thankfully, the talk seemed to have little real impact other than providing (metaphorical) fuel for fire as the crowd of journalists and activists repeated chants of “keep it in the ground”, eventually taking over the event and staging a walk-out.
Thankfully, the advertisement of “green” fossil fuels as we’ve seen at COP24 does come off largely as a last-ditch attempt to protect a dying industry. Many countries across the world are moving towards renewable energy sources of their own accord and developing countries don’t want to lock themselves into an economy reliant on fossil fuels – they have felt the consequences of climate change first hand. However, the influence of polluters in politics continues to slow the chances of any real change and climate change is not going to wait for us. It lies in the hands of the powerful countries, governments and people, those responsible for climate change, to clean up the mess that we made and to prevent short-term economic gain sidelining the long-term survival of our planet.
OCS Media and Research Team
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