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COP in Coal Country

Image from CBC article: (Alik Keplicz/Associated Press)

COP in Coal Country

Written by Liam Orme, BCCIC Youth Delegate to COP 24

With a cursory check of my badge and a distracted glance from the officers, I get on the shuttle bus. Police lights flash, and the a car leads the way as the bus starts up. The hour and a half trip from the BCCIC delegation’s rented apartment in Krakow to the COP24 venue in Katowice sets the stage for each day here. It’s been a week since I arrived in Poland – this routine is getting familiar. Closer to Katowice, rolling hills open up to coal plants and cooling towers feeding the low-lying clouds. Outside the venue, the air brings to mind the forest fires in BC last summer.

COP was initially a disorienting mess. The venue is huge, a maze of temporary pavilions around a central conference centre whose angular, black-walled interior was reportedly modeled after a coal mine (how appropriate). While civil society observers have access to the venue, we were initially unexpectedly barred from entering negotiation rooms.

Liam Orme walks through one of the venues at COP 24 in Katowice

Funnily enough, the first two negotiating sessions I was able to attend finished their agendas early. Negotiators managed to compromise on text submitted, progressing adaptation communication negotiations nicely. A rare moment of harmony. Since then, progress has stalled. Yesterday was exhausting. Hold-ups in finance negotiations have bled over into adaptation, as South Africa’s strategies have complicated discussions of the Adaptation Fund, an item that was previously anticipated to be relatively simple to figure out. In Wednesday’s session on adaptation finance not relating to the Adaptation Fund, prompts to discuss loss and damage finance led to complete silence for several minutes. Tactics are a bit unclear, but it seems like countries want a resolution on accounting transparency and promises of future financing before settling their differences on the Fund. I’m still wading through a mess of provisional text to sort this out.

As I left the venue Wednesday evening, the sounds of a cello and clarinet joined in counterpoint. In a small amphitheatre around the corner, a stand-up bass and an accordion joined the mix. I sat there, absorbed, shoulders dropping as I listened to the quartet. Small moments of harmony interspersed the discordant slow tango. Outside the venue, thick coal smog blanketed the bus; people coughed uneasily. On the road I checked Twitter for air quality warnings. The map showed varying shades of yellow and green, with Southern Poland alone a deep, bright red.

COP in Poland is not without its contradictions. Poland’s overwhelming reliance on coal informs its proposal that a ‘Just Transition’ can still incorporate the dirtiest fossil fuel (Donald Trump’s comments on “clean coal” notwithstanding). Negotiations are scheduled to finish on Saturday, and the adoption of an effective rulebook for the Paris Agreement hinges on a massive increase in ambition. I hope that the plain contradictions between Poland’s mixed goals for a Just Transition do not become reflected in all parties’ progress towards this needed rulebook.