Still about Katowice I: The COP grammar
By Alice Amorim
December 15, 2018, 05:00 am. A climate activist arrives out of breath at the lobby of the Krakow airport. He had turned off his alarm and almost missed the flight. The young man had spent the last two weeks holed up in a multi-sports stadium in faraway Katowice, where thousands of people had gathered for another International Climate Conference. The COPs function as a parallel universe, with the passing of the hours in step with text versions losing their brackets, high-profile tweets, debates on the end of the world, ordinary food and plenty of caffeine.
The activist, with dark circles under his eyes, is in line to check in his luggage. There is a sense of relief and profound exhaustion after a last 24 tense hours, when all the negotiating almost broke down. The main objective of the conference – to agree on the drafting of a rulebook to guide the implementation of the Paris Agreement - was finally accomplished. However, there was still the feeling that achieving the objective of combating global warming was still far off, in practice.
At the front of the line, a 12 year old girl with a pink coat, concerned by the boy's appearance, asks:
(Girl) - Hello, my name is Olga, and you don’t look happy. What happened?
(Activist) - Hello, my name is Henry. I'm a bit downhearted. After 2 weeks, we managed to finish the rulebook, but we’ve left article 6 for 2019 and we did not succeed in increasing the ambition.
(Girl) - Rulebook? Article 6? Are you playing some kind of RPG (role playing game)?
(Activist) - No, we were negotiating the rules for the implementation of the Paris Agreement.
(Girl) – Ok, but aren’t the rules defined by each country? I heard that each country does what it wants...
(Activist) - Indeed, but we need to have rules that can help us to compare these actions, to assess the trajectory of the emissions, and to increase the level of collective ambition to achieve zero emissions by the middle of the century...
(Girl) - Collective ambition? This sounds like something from a human resources training manual.
(Activist) - I wish ... The collective ambition is like CrossFit training ... If you say you’ll do a lot, others will say that what you promised is far too easy. If you say you will only do a little, others criticize you because you have to try harder.
(Girl) - But how do we know if the ambition is good or not?
(Activist) - We look at the historical responsibility of each country, how much it still needs to grow, how many are classified as poor and need to be looked after, how much money it has and how much of the carbon budget is required to stay below 1.5° C.
(Girl) – Wow, it must be very difficult to measure with so many variables?
(Activist) - Yes, but that’s why we have the GST and the ratcheting mechanism. From time to time, we see the sum total of what all countries have done and increase the ambition in the next cycle. It’s not worthwhile going backwards.
(Girl) – I see... it’s just like an RPG. You throw the dice, someone from the group reads the options and the challenges and you have to choose the path to follow and bear the consequences. Sometimes, you have to tame a dragon, or face a bunch of angry magic dwarves, sometimes you starve. But it's fun...
(Activist) – There are so many challenges that sometime you get lost. You have to define if you are only going to remain with the SDM or also keep the CDM, how to end double counting, how to make more countries submit the LTS, and define what counts as pros 100bi or not[CF2] .. But at the end of the day, the challenge is to choose between continuing to burn fossil fuel, or to save some islands and their inhabitants in the Pacific...
(Girl) – Ok, now I can see why you spend so much time on this game. Just to memorize all these acronyms I would need a notebook. But, obviously, if one option saves people and the other does not, there can’t be any doubt can there?
(Activist) – Well, maybe...
Alice Amorim is a lawyer and coordinates the Climate Policy and Outreach Portfolio at the Institute for Climate and Society in Brazil.