What happened at the UNFCC Climate Conference?

The short summary is this – progress was made, but it is simply not enough to address the galloping pace of climate change.

What has been agreed is not pointless, it does help, and yet which would you rather be, nearly saved or nearly drowned. Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, expressed that thought as follows …

In the climate emergency we’re in, slow success is no success. In an emergency, if the ambulance doesn’t get you to the hospital in time, you die. If the firetruck doesn’t get to your house in time, it burns down.

The IPCC 1.5 Report

The fact-based IPCC 1.5 scientific report published last October that spells out the consequences of doing nothing, ended up becoming a political tool. Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Kuwait all joined up with the Trump administration to block acceptance of the report, and that is quite frankly appalling. In the end, the final outcome of that showdown was a watered down compromise. The final agreement text “recognises” this report, and “expresses appreciation and gratitude” to those that created it, and so it simply “invites” the nations of the planet to “make use of the information” within it.

Personally, I think that they should have “invited” the Trump administration, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Kuwait to F**k off.

So what exactly has happened?

What was achieved and now exists is an agreement, a set of rules, on how to measure CO2 commitments. The official Press Release lays it all out as follows …

The Katowice package includes guidelines that will operationalize the transparency framework.

It sets out how countries will provide information about their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) that describe their domestic climate actions. This information includes mitigation and adaptation measures as well as details of financial support for climate action in developing countries.

What it did not do was get a proper handle on the elephant in the room – that all of this is simply not enough.


What did not get agreed, and this is where it gets a tad technical, is how to handle “carbon credits”. Basically if you, as a nation, have a honking great big carbon sink such as a rainforest then how should that be accounted for, should you be entitled to some credit for that? 

This generated a lot of debate, but no agreement. This is why the talks got bogged down and dragged on. In the end the politicians did what they are good at doing, they simply kicked the can down the road to the next meeting, agreed a text regarding what they had agreed upon, and hailed it as a victory.


What is by now obvious, if you have read this far, is that any form of agreement on further reductions to greenhouse gases to avert catastrophe was not achieved. The IPCC 1.5 report spelled it out very clearly. What has been agreed so far falls far short of what is actually needed. We must do more.

Further Reading

Here is a bit of good Q&A via the Guardian that lays in all out quite well

What was agreed at COP24 in Poland and why did it take so long?


Leave a Comment