COP 24 and the Race to Save the World

Global leaders meet in Katowice in an attempt to stave off climate catastrophe.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is hosting its 24th Conference of the Parties (COP) this month in Katowice, Poland. (A bit ironic considering Poland is Europe’s second-largest coal-producing country, and Katowice its mining capital — but never mind.)

Some background: the UNFCCC is an international treaty adopted in 1992 to “stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” To this end, its 197 members hold a conference every year, the COP, to see how things are going. (Spoiler: they’re not going so well.)

This year’s conference comes on the heels of two major climate change studies: The United Nations’ Fifth International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Assessment and The U.S. Global Change Research Program’s Fourth National Climate Assessment. The IPCC report gives humanity a 12-year window to implement “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” if we are to keep warming below the 1.5° C disaster threshold. The latter study explores the potential consequences of climate change, estimating a 10% plunge in the American economy by the year 2100 alongside food scarcity, health crises, and a big uptick in natural disasters. Scary stuff.

In light of these findings, the leaders of the world got some ‘splaining to do. Far from diminishing, greenhouse gas emissions soared to record highs in 2018 and not a single one of the G20’s top polluting countries is projected to meet their Paris Agreement goals.

To get the planet back on track, the UN calculated that we must spend $2.4 trillion globally per year on clean energy. Yet currently, total annual investment in climate change mitigation and adaptation is a paltry $410 billion on average. It’s time for countries to start coughing up the dough — or we’ll all be baked.

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