COP24: A Missed Opportunity

One more day wasn’t enough to get an ambitious document signed by the countries assembled in Katowice, Poland for the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP24).

There were three challenges for the international climate-related negotiations: first, establishing preliminary climate-related commitments by country; second, agreeing on rules for the implementation of the Paris Accord; and third, promoting climate-related goals in an effort to limit global warming to 2º C, or even 1.5º C, between now and the end of the century.

Four members of ATD Fourth World attended COP24 as negotiations observers. For the past three years, ATD has been part of the “Human Rights and Climate Change” working group, which connects 30 organizations from different countries. Acknowledging that climate change is a major challenge, the group makes the case for human rights to be at the core of any national climate-related commitments.

Accepting the Scientific Facts

The COP24 meeting took place exactly two months after the release of a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This group of scientists demonstrated the consequences of a more than 1.5º C temperature increase: heat waves, species extinction, rising seas, islands completely submerged, etc. All of these phenomena will intensify, the report stated, if the world does not reduce CO2 emissions more rapidly over the next 12 years. COP24’s implementation rules for the Paris Accord provided for an “acknowledgement of this report” but four countries (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Russia, and the United States) insisted on changing the language to “take note”. The final text stops at asking for recognition of the IPCC’s role in providing scientific information to illustrate the importance of increasing the global response to climate-related danger.

The scientific facts have a direct impact on national geopolitics. It is difficult for certain countries to accept these facts when they appear to threaten the country’s economic interests. The agreement reached by countries attending COP24 establishes minimal commitments. It makes no mention of the goal of limiting global warming to an increase of 2º C, let alone 1.5º C, between now and 2100, a limit necessary to avoid catastrophic scenarios.

A “Fair Transition”

Everyone talks about this but the phrase means different things to different people. According to the International Trade Union Confederation, a fair transition involves a mandatory labour relations dialogue between workers, employers, communities, and government bodies. A fair transition must take into account jobs and livelihoods so that people’s well being is not overlooked in the rush to reduce emissions. However, most people living in extreme poverty have only precarious employment in the informal sector, or have been completely denied any employment whatsoever. Thus, ATD makes the case for a broader vision of a “fair transition”.

This issue was of particular concern because COP24 was held in Katowice, the centre of the Polish coal industry. There is considerable anxiety in the area about what an ecological transition would mean for the workers involved.

Following COP24, several conferences and events were organized around the theme of a fair transition. The first question was often: fair for whom? This was an opportunity for ATD to emphasize that a fair transition must not leave behind people living in extreme poverty whose informal work is not always recognized by much of society.

Human Rights out the Window

ATD has insisted for many years that all people must have access to human rights. ATD attendees at COP24 were therefore disturbed to see that in the final hours of the meeting, the countries in attendance chose not to make specific mention of human rights in the implementation rules. It is disappointing that the Paris Accord implementation guide is less ambitious than the agreement itself, which includes citizen’s rights in its preamble.

The consequences of this decision could be disastrous for citizens of all countries, but especially for people living in extreme poverty. They are and will continue to be the first people impacted by climate change. It is urgent to take action for the future of our planet; however, it is equally imperative that responses to global warming are not detrimental to the people who live in precarious conditions around the world.

In France, ATD Fourth World has launched an “ecology and extreme poverty” initiative in order to consider these issues from the point of view of the most marginalized people. For more information, you can write to .