Reportage. The right-wing government of Poland, host of this year’s climate talks, is standing by coal, and Brazil declined to host the COP25 next year. A dismal start for a summit whose urgency has never been greater.

Heavy atmosphere greets COP24 in Poland

Poland has no plans to give up coal as an energy source.

That was the message from Polish President Andrzej Duda during the opening press conference of the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, hosted by Poland, a prominent coal country. The inter-government meeting dedicated to carving a path forward for the increasingly urgent problem of implementing the Paris Agreement was not off to the most promising start.

Around 30,000 delegates have arrived in the industrial city of Katowice, near Krakow. For the next two weeks, this will be the center of the debate about the risks, and possible solutions, of the most serious ongoing emergency on the planetary scale.

Three years after the Paris Agreement was signed, to lavish attention by the worldwide media and accompanied by triumphalist statements by heads of government and policymakers, the path to its full implementation remains an uphill one, with ever-harder obstacles and a long way left to go.

During the inaugural session, which started much later than it should have, according to the official program, the new president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, rejected the proposal to chair and host the COP25, which is expected to be organized in Latin America in 2019. This decision marks a clear break in the country’s policy regarding its commitments under the Paris Agreement. As with Trump’s election during the COP22 in Marrakech, Bolsonaro’s denialist positions are making the path of dialogue even harder.

In Poland, the main priority is, once again, that the various parties should discuss and agree on the rules necessary to translate the provisions agreed in Paris into practical measures, setting national emissions reduction targets in line with the targets recommended by the scientific community. This urgent task has been made even more pressing by the alarm sounded in October by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the leading international body for the assessment of climate change. According to the latest report of the UN panel of experts, we have to cut worldwide emissions in half in just 12 years, and reach zero emissions by mid-century.

If we fail to meet those targets, it will be impossible to keep the average temperature increase under +1.5 degrees celsius. The data released in recent days by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is equally grim: the average concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has reached a record of 405.5 ppm in 2017, an increase of 146 percent compared to pre-industrial levels.

Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, chose the strongest words for her powerful opening address: “Climate change impacts have never been worse.” However, the opening session highlighted that what is lacking is international leadership able to push the parties involved toward a joint commitment that would be substantial enough.

Nevertheless, the news in recent months, both in Italy and in other countries, coming at the end of a year marked by various climate disasters, have shown that the impacts of climate change are already starting to arrive. Increasingly frequent and uncontrollable at all latitudes of the globe, the effects of global warming have already become dramatic in the lives of millions of people.

While government leaders are debating, the regular citizens, associations and social organizations are entering the fray and raising their voices. In recent weeks, several popular demonstrations flooded the streets of London, Berlin, Paris, Brussels and many other cities around the world, aimed at putting pressure on the government officials travelling to Poland and getting them to commit to a clear and decisive change of pace—not one that would again be postponed until the next summit, as tends to happen at each of these conferences.

In Poland, the movement against coal has given rise to a flurry of protests: for instance, last week a group of Greenpeace activists climbed the coal plant in Belchatow, the largest in Europe, to denounce the fossil-fuel-based energy policies of the Polish government.

Dec. 8 is the agreed-upon date for marches in the streets worldwide, with an endless list of events planned across the five continents. In Katowice, many will gear up for the cold and take part in the March for Climate, which will fill the streets of the city starting at noon, and will loudly remind the assembled delegates that “the time is now!”

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