As the world converges at COP19 for a fortnight of environmental negotiations in Warsaw, the World Coal Association will also be meeting between the 18th and 19th of November.
Climate change cuts deeper than just at the need to reduce emissions. Last month the IPCC released the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), concluding what we already knew – it is extremely likely humans have caused the observed warming since the middle of the last century. Climate change is a complex issue requiring an interdisciplinary approach to solutions and a continual engagement with all stakeholders.
For Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UNFCCC, the realities of climate change remind her daily of the need for serious action now. It’s the latter that often highlights the inequities of climate change as a problem, and has also raised concerns about Figueres’ willingness to engage with the coal community.
The coal industry receives little respect from the environmental movement, but is there a need to move beyond past sins and push for cooperation that can only be established through engagement?
Coal accounts for 88 per cent of Poland’s electricity consumption. Coal and Poland, unfortunately, go hand in hand and in order to move forward, the WCA should be integrated into the UNFCCC agenda. Figueres understands this as she will be attending the conference later this week as a keynote speaker despite protestations from YOUNGO, the youth constituency here.
Figueres, a supporter of the international youth climate movement, was shocked to be uninvited from addressing the conference of youth held prior to COP19. In previous years, this has been an opportune moment for young people to engage with senior officials. This COP has also come under criticism from young people as being “coal-washed”
Figueres swiftly responded with a well-articulated open letter to YOUNGO. She reminds youth that she is equally as passionate:
“‘It is also with some sadness that I have received your message. I would have expected you to know by now that I am just as passionate about addressing climate change as you are.”
Her role requires impartiality though, and this is important to achieving a comprehensive approach towards climate change.
Her attendance at the WCA conference is not out of the parameters of her role, and is not synonymous with her support for the coal industry. Rather, it demonstrates that engagement is needed with all stakeholders, and at all levels.
“I am committed to the broadest possible engagement because the transformation we are working toward needs the active participation of all. It is therefore precisely because I stand with you and future generations, that I reach out to engage in a frank conversation with the coal industry, laying out how they must transform the industry in order to contribute to the solution.”
Coal is widely considered a ‘dirty’ source of energy, but is still heavily relied on by China and many other countries. Similar to the situation in Doha last year, where Qatar is an oil-dependent and producing country, hosting the COP demonstrates that Poland is at least still engaged in the process of reaching an international agreement on climate change. In both situations the countries have supported a willingness to explore new energy sources by hosting the COP. Historical responsibility dictates that what countries have done in the past should be paid for in the future. Poland, although heavily reliant on coal, is making a conscious effort to address the issues with the coal industry. But its current economic reliance on coal has not allowed for innovation within the energy sector.
Young people, like those within YOUNGO, could do more to address the nuances of the climate change negotiations and the role of ‘realpolitik’. Economics, politics, history and culture are all important things to consider.
Poland and Figueres are attempting to convey that for Poland to transition away from coal, then that sector needs to input into the process as well. Figueres does not support the coal industry, she acknowledges that there are harmful effects on the environment. Isolating the coal industry can only worsen the situation.
Despite Poland’s role previously in the negotiations, there is an underlying bias that the NGO community has been unable to shake. COP19 President Marcin Korolec spoke on the need for transparency at yesterday’s opening plenary calling for all to contribute to climate change solutions.
“We are all different and we can turn this to our advantage. There is always something that each party can bring to the table. We are all good at something.”
By Andrew Johnson, photo by UN Photo.