Crunch time for the climate at the COP24 global warming conference

There's a lot at stake at the UN climate conference in Poland. Delegates will be scrambling to save the 2015 Paris climate agreement — and prevent the worst effects of a warming world.

It was just three years ago. But the euphoric celebrations in Paris now seem a distant memory.   

The United Nations' 190-plus states had finally wrestled together an agreement that the Earth's temperature shouldn't rise by more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels. Better still, that it should go up by considerably less.

"This is a historic moment for climate protection," then-German Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks told DW at the time. "Most children alive today will still be here towards the end of this century. And that's why it's important that it doesn't heat up more than 2 degrees."

Read moreClimate finance poses hurdle ahead of COP24

Nature and Environment | 30.11.2018

Now, as delegates from around the world meet again, this time in Katowice, Poland, the euphoria has dissipated.

Solidarity shows cracks

A year after the Paris agreement, Donald Trump was elected president of the United States. It wasn't long before he withdrew from the climate treaty.

"As president, I have one obligation, and that obligation is to the American people," Trump said at a press conference in the garden of the White House, claiming that the climate agreement would hurt the US economy and jobs and undermine the country's sovereignty.

Trump abandoned his country's commitment to the Paris treaty, saying it would hurt US interests.

Others, including Iraq, Iran and Russia, are yet to ratify the treaty. And in Australia and Brazil, right-wing and nationalist governments have gained power, pushing climate protection off the agenda.

Meanwhile, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a body of around 900 scientists from around the world, warns that cutting emissions couldn't be more urgent.

Read more: UNEP: Still a chance to put out 'climate fire' — here's what we need to do

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The IPCC's latest alarming report showed that glaciers are melting, sea levels rising and extreme temperatures becoming more frequent, far faster than we expected. And current pledges under the Paris agreement fall well short of the targets.

Even US authorities are warning of the horrors that climate change has in store, despite the US president apparently not believing it's happening. A government report said rising temperatures would wreak havoc on the US' natural environment and economy unless we act fast.

Read more: Poland clamps down on environmental defenders ahead of UN climate talks

Poor countries wait for support

Which is why campaigners say the meeting in Poland must reinvigorate the Paris agreement and get the momentum going again.

Climate protection activists demonstrate in Bonn last year during COP23

For this to work, UN member states need to work together. Their targets need to be coordinated and, above all, transparent. And rich countries will have to show the solidarity with the developing world they pledged in 2015.  

Industrialized countries promised that from 2020 they would make $100 billion (€88 billion) available each year to help poorer countries avoid emissions and adapt to the changing climate.

"Developing countries should really be able to rely on the promised financial support," German Environment Minister Svenja Schulze told the German parliament a few days ago.

Read more: Can Poland end its toxic relationship with coal?

Much depends on the European Union, which has always tended to be more progressive than the US on climate change, and whose leadership is needed more than ever.

Leadership vacuum

But even in Europe, not everyone is taking the issue seriously. Eastern European countries in particular fear that cutting emissions will hurt their economies.

"The EU has actually always been an important and constructive player in these negotiations, something of a pioneer in climate diplomacy," Lutz Weischer of environmental group Germanwatch told DW. "But it's just too tentative, too weak, and should actually set itself higher goals for Katowice."

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In fact, EU countries are struggling to meet their own climate targets for 2020. In Germany, for example, greenhouse gas emissions have been on the rise again.

"The countries that are doing the most [to curb climate change] at the moment are the countries most affected by climate change," Weischer said.

"There is a coalition of small island states and poor developing countries that have the goal of using only renewable energy. Countries that are under strong pressure from the fossil fuel industry, such as the US and Saudi Arabia, are slowing down."

Weischer points out that technology has made huge leaps forward, with renewable power now competitive with fossil fuels and electric mobility offering a real alternative to the combustion engine. But governments need to join together and put their foot on the accelerator.

"The climate protection train can no longer be derailed," he said, adding, "the problem is that this train is not running fast enough."

Pipelines in the crosshairs

Dirty oil

A protester's hands covered in crude oil during a 2011 protest against Royal Dutch Shell after pipeline spills in Nigeria, in 2008 and 2009. Shell allegedly ignored advice to replace the outdated Trans Niger Pipeline, which ruptured and inundated villages in Ogoniland with thousands of barrels of oil. Anti-pipeline movements have been around for decades, and are joining up across the globe.

Pipelines in the crosshairs

Local resistance

Militants from the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) patrol the oil-rich creeks of the Niger Delta of Nigeria in September 2008. MEND militants were alleged to have sabotaged and destroyed crude oil pipelines run by the likes of Shell and Chevron, which they say bring little benefit to local communities and cause massive local environmental destruction.

Pipelines in the crosshairs

Peru protests

Police stand guard at the entrance of Peru's national oil company in Lima, August 2016, where activists placed a coffin filled with items painted in black to represent a contaminated environment. The state oil company Petroperu has admitted to numerous spills in the old and extensive pipeline system that transports oil from the Amazon to the Pacific coast.

Pipelines in the crosshairs

Mexican rebellion

TransCanada's Tamazunchale Pipeline met with resistance in Mexico during its construction through the country's mountainous and fertile southern region. Several Mexican indigenous communities have joined forces to fight the pipeline. The wall painting here reads: "No to the gas pipeline, we're an indigenous community and demand respect."

Pipelines in the crosshairs

Standing Rock

Opponents of the Dakota Access oil pipeline march out of their main camp in North Dakota in February 2017. The anti-pipeline resistance movement that gathered on Standing Rock Sioux tribal lands became a social media phenomenon under the #NoDAPL hashtag, galvanizing global resistance against attempts to expand the flow of climate change-inducing fossil fuels.

Pipelines in the crosshairs

A movement lives on

A Native American woman recovers after being pepper-sprayed by police after she and other protesters sought to build a new camp to block construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline in late 2016. While the #NoDAPL movement did not succeed in preventing the pipeline from being built, it focused attention on the topic and drew together social justice and environmental movements.

Pipelines in the crosshairs

Trans Mountain Pipeline

More than 10,000 people march in British Columbia in March 2018 to protest Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline, which is to transport tar sands oil to the west coast of Canada and on to Asian markets. After months of protests led by First Nations and environmental activists, the pipeline company halted construction in April.

Pipelines in the crosshairs

Keystone XL

Lakota spiritual leader Chief Arvol Looking Horse demonstrates outside the White House in 2015 against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would run from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. US Republicans authorized the pipeline — but in November 2018, a court again blocked its construction.

Pipelines in the crosshairs

Trans Adriatic Pipeline

In March 2017, after Italy's State Council permitted construction of Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), demonstrators in Puglia southern Italy clashed with police to protest removal of 1,600 centuries-old olive trees. Several were injured. A 350.org petition claims TAP will "destroy Europe's climate targets" and has "destructive, unjust impacts on the communities in its path."

Pipelines in the crosshairs

Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India

The TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) gas pipeline project was launched in Herat in western Afghanistan in February 2018, and will carry gas from Turkmenistan to the subcontinent. On hand at the launch were a group of Taliban militants (pictured) insisting they would not sabotage — as many feared — but instead assist the pipeline project.