By Sarah Bates
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2635

UN conference deal will not halt climate catastrophe

This article is over 5 years, 6 months old
Issue 2635
Huriccane Tomas floods the streets of Gonaives, Haiti
Huriccane Tomas floods the streets of Gonaives, Haiti (Pic: UNICEF/Marco Dormino)

To much fanfare, the United Nations (UN) climate change talks have drawn to a close, but with little agreed that will even pretend to avert climate catastrophe.

Representatives from 200 countries gathered in Katowice, Poland, for two weeks of discussions about how to implement agreements from previous climate conferences.

The last major climate summit in Paris in 2015 produced a promise from countries they would limit carbon emissions to try to keep the global temperature rise to 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels.

The talks in Poland worked out a guideline for putting this into place, but countries couldn’t agree on much beyond this.

Some more contentious questions have been postponed to next year’s talks.

Countries agreed on how to record their greenhouse gas emissions—a key principle to come from the Paris talks.

But they didn’t take the opportunity to increase targets for cutting emissions further, which is a central recommendation from climate scientists and campaigners.

And carbon credits—where richer companies can effectively buy their ability to pollute—became a sticking point.


This year has seen the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) —a conservative body—release a report to say they was only 12 years left to avert the most disastrous worst-case climate scenarios.

And it recommended trying to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees, not the 2 degree limit agreed in Paris.

There were divisions over how to react to the IPCC report—the US, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait blocked endorsement of it.

Instead the conference agreed to welcome the “timely completion” of the research, not its conclusions.

And a key question about whether countries should be doing more to restrict temperatures to the recommended lower limit wasn’t discussed at the conference.

But pressure is mounting for politicians to act on climate change.

Throughout November school students across Australia have been holding protests and strikes to demand action on climate change.

There have also been weeks of school and university strikes in Germany.

Young people in Australia have struck and marched
Young people in Australia have struck and marched (Pic: @StrikeClimate)

And in Britain, direct action group Extinction Rebellion has drawn thousands out onto the streets to declare a “climate emergency”.

Some of this fed into the talks—young climate activist Greta Thunberg held daily press conferences in Katowice. And she told the full conference plenary, “If solutions within the system are so impossible to find, then maybe we should change the system.”

But the sense of urgency was absent from most of those who negotiated the agreements.

Michal Kurtyka, a Polish official who chaired the summit welcomed the outcome.

“Our children (will) look back at our legacy and recognise that we took the right decisions at important junctures like the one we’re facing today”, he tweeted.

But many campaigners and scientists have said that the talks fall far short of what is needed.

As anger at climate change boils over - how can we save the planet?
As anger at climate change boils over – how can we save the planet?
  Read More

Johan Rockstrom, director designate at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, said, “My biggest concern is that the UN talks failed to align ambitions with science. We continue to follow a path that will take us to a very dangerous 3-4C warmer world within this century. Extreme weather events hit people across the planet already, at only 1C of warming.”

And already next year’s talks have hit difficulties.

Jair Bolsonaro, the incoming Brazilian president has cancelled the invitation to hold next year’s climate talks, which will happen in Chile instead.

The spirited actions about climate change in the last year raise the profile of the fight for the planet, and heap pressure on politicians.

But the UN climate change talks won’t deliver the kind of radical action needed to avert climate catastrophe.

Negotiations are held within a framework that tries to maintain the political and economic structures that have created climate crisis.

A truly sustainable future will only come from a society that has human need—not the profits of multinationals—at the heart of it.

Sign up for our daily email update ‘Breakfast in Red’

Latest News

Make a donation to Socialist Worker

Help fund the resistance