29 November 2018

Geopolitics and carbon capture. These are two topics that climate researchers Mathias Fridahl and Björn-Ola Linnér are keeping a close eye on at the UN climate conference in Poland.[No text in field]

Boyabreen Glacier in Jostedalsbreen National Park, Norway Photo credit Iurii BuriakCOP24 is taking place in Katowice, Poland, 2-14 December. Six co-workers from the Department of Thematic Studies – Environmental Change have travelled to the UN conference.
Four climate researchers are following the deliberations at the conference and participating in several seminars. In addition to Björn-Ola Linnér and Mathias Fridahl, doctoral student Maria Järnnäs and research assistant Marianne Kropf are at the conference.
Two students, Mathilde Lemaire and Annika Shu, are continuing a LiU project that started several years ago, using questionnaires to plot trends in the attitudes of conference delegates to international work in climate change. They are taking the master’s programme Science for Sustainable Development, and their work in Katowice is one component of their course in climate science and politics.

Mathias Fridahl, porträtt 2015“The objective of COP24 is to bring the Paris Agreement to reality and negotiate a rulebook that determines how it can be implemented. And the rulebook must be acceptable to everyone”, says Mathias Fridahl, researcher and senior lecturer in the Department of Thematic Studies – Environmental Change.

One step forward?

The expectations for the meeting are, to put it mildly, low.
“Maybe we’ll be able to take one step forward”, he says, and continues with an analogy:
“In Paris we managed to negotiate our way to a table of contents. In Katowice, I don’t think we’ll get any further than deciding on the subheadings.”

COP24 doesn’t even have a draft text that the delegates can use as a starting point.
“But there are some building blocks: the informal documents that were drawn up in negotiations between the major UN conferences have in the past been deleted and disappeared from the process. That’s not the case this time round, and there’s a lot of material that can be used”, says Mathias Fridahl.

At least 20,000 participants from 196 countries are expected in Katowice: world leaders, researchers, NGOs, representatives for indigenous peoples, local politicians, representatives for the business world, etc.
And four LiU researchers.
Donald Trump svär presidentedenDuring the conference, Björn-Ola Linnér and Maria Järnnäs will be principally concentrating on the changing – and unpredictable – global geopolitics.

“Personally, I plan to follow ideas about technical solutions to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. There are huge expectations that this technology can solve problems with emissions”, says Mathias Fridahl.

Some working systems have been developed, but so far nothing has been tried on a large scale.
“And even if the technology is ready for production, it won’t be possible to implement it as rapidly as is needed.”
But there are other approaches that can be implemented immediately, even though these are far from adequate. “They are more low-tech”, says Mathias Fridahl.
“One example is to prevent deforestation and to arrange that more forest that can bind carbon dioxide is planted. Another is to produce less meat – and to use less land to produce animal fodder.”

The countries that signed the Paris Agreement in 2015 undertook to keep the global temperature rise below 2 degrees, and preferably below 1.5 degrees. Researchers have published reports at a rapid rate in preparation for COP24, all of them with equally frightening scenarios.

Ditching the deal

In 2016, American president Barack Obama ratified the agreement. Just over a year later, Donald Trump announced that the US was leaving the agreement. And he has since then proclaimed that he doesn’t believe the conclusions of international climate reports. He has since been joined by Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orbán and newly elected president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro.

“Far right populism is gaining ground in the world and this will influence climate policy. No-one denies any longer that human activity has an impact on climate, but what is controversial are the extent and the conclusions that scientists draw.”

Environmental degradation in coal-fired power station in Belchatow, Poland Photo credit ewg3DCOP24 is being held in Poland, a country that has declared that it plans to increase coal production. What significance does this have for the conference?
“There are both advantages and disadvantages. Poland’s standpoint will be noticed, and the country will be put under strong pressure. But Poland hasn’t intensified its efforts in preparation for its role as host, as previous countries have”, says Mathias Fridahl.

Photo: IStock, the Bøyabreen glacier in the Jostedalsbreen national park, and coal-fired power stations in Poland.
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Translated by George Farrants

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