World leaders are meeting this week and next for COP24, a key United Nations climate change conference being held this year in Katowice, Poland. They’re working on the implementation plan for the 2015 agreement, AKA the Paris Agreement, to keep warming below two degrees Celsius.
United States President Donald Trump is notably absent from this conference, since he pulled the U.S. out of the agreement last year. But whatever happens in Poland will have consequences that the United States will certainly feel. (Find out how your region will be affected by climate change in this piece we published last week.) Here are the highlights, which we’ll be updating throughout the conference:
Coal, coal, coal
We’re all dreaming of a green future, but the conference is off to a black start—at least where host nation Poland is concerned. “After picking coal companies to sponsor the talks, the Polish government decided to deck the halls of its exhibition center with piles of coal in a move that is beyond parody,” writes Earther’s Brian Kahn. Coal is big business in Poland, Kahn writes, so the nation has an obvious interest in keeping alive the practice of cutting combustible sedimentary rock from the Earth and pushing it into the atmosphere as carbon, a byproduct of which is electrical power.
The people have a say
Broadcaster David Attenborough described climate change as “our greatest threat in thousands of years.” If action isn’t taken, he said, “the collapse of our civilizations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.”
Attenborough is the voice of the Planet Earth series of nature documentaries. He sits in the conference’s “People’s Seat,” BBC reports. “He is supposed to act as a link between the public and policy-makers at the meeting.” His role was announced on Nov. 21, and his goal is to urge world leaders, in his own words, to “act now.” You can use the hashtag #TakeYourSeat to have your say on social media, although the exact means by which Attenborough will see these messages is unclear.
It’s easy to see why a globally famous naturalist and broadcaster such as the storied Attenborough, who has been reporting on the environment since the 1950s, would be a UN choice to take the physical People’s Seat. After all, the UN has had a lot of success leveraging celebrity to bring attention to causes. But as Attenborough stands in place of the populace, it’s important to remember that climate change disproportionately affects women of color.
I’ll be back
Speaking of pop culture icons, you’ll never guess who Austria’s president, Alexander Van der Bellen, brought with him to the opening ceremony: none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger. “The actor and former California governor told delegates… that ‘America is more than just Washington or one leader,’” reports CBS News. Schwarzenegger’s basic premise was that leadership at the state level and elsewhere in the U.S. is still supporting the 2015 Paris climate agreement. “He said local leaders should be invited to next year’s annual conference,” CBS reports, “and emphasized the point in trademark fashion.” That’s right, you guessed it. “If you do that,” he said, “I promise you: I’ll be back."
This is worth talking about. After all, California alone has a population of almost 40 million people and a bigger GDP than France. The next two years are urgent ones for getting climate change under control, and it’s reassuring to think that states can keep the United States moving in the right direction.