Commentary. Wasn’t one of the ‘five stars’ of the Five Star Movement, now governing Italy, supposed to represent clean energy? You wouldn’t recognize it from the results of the COP24 climate conference.

From Paris to Katowice, an obvious abdication of global leadership

The steps forward are too small, the deadlines too long, and global leadership shows itself to be in sharp decline compared to how it was in Paris.

The outcome of the Katowice Conference is nothing to be excited about—especially not after the latest IPCC report, which laid out in stark terms the difference in impact that an increase in global temperature from 1.5°C to 2°C would make. Furthermore, the report estimated that there was only a 12-year window left to meet the target of limiting the temperature increase to 1.5°C. It was expected that national governments would be moved to increase their emissions-cutting commitments. That did not happen, and this is why the 24th Climate Change Conference was very disappointing from a political point of view.

According to the timeline set out by the Paris Agreement, revisions to the national commitments should be finalized by 2020, while the COP24 was supposed to approve the technical procedures for making the national objectives measurable and comparable in a transparent manner. While this “technical” objective was indeed achieved—thank goodness for that—the political conversation has taken a step back.

The worsening of the situation could be seen from the start, when the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait—all major oil producers—refused to “welcome” the latest IPCC report, according to the site, a source of extensive analysis and documentation on the various stages of the negotiations. In some ways, this first move, which took place in a debate within SUBSTA, a technical body of the Convention on Climate Change, made clear how things stood. The picture becomes even clearer if we add Bolsonaro’s Brazil to the countries of the “fossil fuel axis” just mentioned.

Compared to Paris, there is a net decrease in global leadership, insufficiently offset by a Europe whose role has certainly diminished from the one it played just a few years ago. On this front, some positive signs are coming from none other than Poland, one of the most recalcitrant countries on climate issues, constantly defending its coal sector, to which it assigns—wrongly—an irreplaceable status for ensuring its autonomy. At last, the very difficult debate about a path to the abandonment of coal has finally begun in Poland: this was the third COP climate summit held in the country, something in itself unprecedented.

Of great importance was also the initiative of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, which, together with the Polish Academy of Sciences, signed a joint “memorandum” asking for “a rapid and human-centred transition away from the critical coal sector, no later than 2030”—while the Polish trade unions, however, expressed themselves against the possibility of a coal phase-out. But the question has finally been raised, and it has never been made so prominent before.

The critical issues are therefore not only about Trump’s policies—technically, the US is still not out of the Paris Agreement—but rather about an objective issue of transition and fairness. The crucial question is in fact that of a “just transition” to the new energy model: some sectors—starting with coal, and then fossil fuels—must be gradually shut down while others have to be developed, and this requires careful policies—retraining workers, compensation and other social safety nets—to mitigate the social effects of what will be the great transformation of our century. The environment and social justice must go together, otherwise we will end up having neither.

The Italian position was a positive one, as we have aligned, at the international level, with the “ambitious” countries (something that has already happened at the European level). Too bad, however, that we are not willing to do our homework in a consistent manner: the new decree on renewables is not very different in quantitative terms from the Calenda one (which was an improvement compared to the past, but still insufficient), and Undersecretary Crippa has announced that Italy will downgrade its European commitments for 2030 (after the same government had helped raise these commitments at the EU level). This latter measure is in perfect continuity with the previous government—but wasn’t one of the “five stars” of the M5S supposed to represent clean energy?

This less-ambitious position is in fact the same as that set out in the white paper published by Confindustria, which was based on the patently ridiculous premise that there will be a drop in electricity demand (while we are actually expecting the electrification of non-electrical services, starting from individual transport). On this basis, Confindustria calculated that the share of renewable electricity could grow without any movement in terms of absolute numbers, in line with the objective of keeping the share of natural gas used for energy at current levels, which was the central point of Calenda’s national energy strategy. It seems that this supposed “government of change” is making (token) gestures on these issues, while staying firmly anchored to the policies of the previous governments.

Going back to the big picture, while in 2015 in Paris the situation was conducive to international cooperation and multilateralism, we are now facing a severe crisis on account of Trumpian policies. Nevertheless, one must emphasize the isolated position the United States finds itself in among the G20 (as was seen already in 2017), and the fact that the Katowice summit has approved the technical document—the rulebook—that will keep the multilateral framework for negotiations afloat: the technical tools needed to move forward have been approved. However, this challenge is one that is totally unprecedented in human history, and in order to overcome it, we need global cooperation: from this point of view as well, peace and the climate are strongly linked.

We do not lacks the technology or the financial resources to meet this challenge. The only thing that is truly a scarce resource for us is time. And, in Katowice, we moved forward slowly—too slowly. As everyone is saying: time is running out.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Your weekly briefing of progressive news.

You have Successfully Subscribed!