Climate, the Church and COP24 in Katowice

Issue 1904

26 March 2019

The importance of COP24

From December 3-14, 2018, representatives of the world’s governments gathered in the Polish town of Katowice for the COP24 climate summit, to advance the implementation of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, “which set the demanding yet fundamental goal of halting the rise of the global temperature.”[1]

At a time when many governments are failing to honor their climate commitments, the voice of the Catholic Church and the prophetic message of the encyclical Laudato Si’ were an important contribution to the Katowice conversation. It was a vivid illustration of the Church putting into practice the mandate of Pope Benedict XVI to engage in the environmental debate: “The Church has a responsibility toward creation and she must assert this responsibility in the public sphere. In so doing, she must defend not only earth, water and air as gifts of creation that belong to everyone. She must above all protect mankind from self-destruction” (Caritas in veritate, 51).

The significance of the Conference was heightened by an unprecedented warning issued by the scientific community two months earlier. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its “Special Report on the Impacts of Global Warming of 1.5°C,” which reminded the human family about the severe urgency of the climate crisis.[2] The impacts of climate change, rather than a threat in the distant future, are already proving devastating at the current global temperature of 1 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels. And the IPCC report made it clear that climate impacts could become catastrophic and irreversible by crossing the 1.5 degrees Celsius warming threshold, something that is likely to happen by 2030 unless drastic action on climate is implemented at all levels. The need to “protect mankind from self-destruction,” as Benedict XVI highlighted, could not be more urgent.

The acronym COP stands for “Conference of the Parties.”[3] There have been annual “climate COPs” since 1995, with the aim of giving practical expression to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which came into force in 1994. At COP3 in 1997 the Kyoto Protocol was adopted; it came into force in 2005 and foresees for the industrialized countries alone a series of differentiated goals aiming to diminish the main greenhouse gases for the periods 2008-2012 and 2013-2020. Many years passed before a universal climate agreement that engaged all countries with respect to their abilities and responsibilities was concluded, and it was only with COP21[4] in December 2015 that the Paris Agreement was adopted, becoming law rapidly on November 4, 2016, and becoming effective from 2020. It stipulates a worldwide commitment to limit global warming to “well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.”

The aim of COP24 in Katowice, Poland, was basically to develop a “rulebook”: detailed guidelines on how to put into effect the Paris Agreement, and how to elaborate and measure Nationally Determined Contributions (or NDCs in U.N. parlance), the action objectives on climate presented by individual nations to limit global warming and its impact.

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