COP24: Why a climate change summit taking place in Poland is so important

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Next week will see thousands of people arrive in Katowice, Poland, for the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, otherwise known as COP24.

Taking place between December 2 and 14, a lot is riding on the summit.

“The upcoming climate talks are the most important round of negotiations since the Paris Agreement was reached three years ago,” Lou Leonard, the World Wildlife Fund’s senior vice president for climate change and energy, told CNBC via email.

The Paris Agreement, reached at COP21 in 2015, will loom large over events at Katowice. It was at COP21 that world leaders committed to making sure global warming stayed “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. They also agreed to pursue efforts to limit the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

According to the United Nations, COP24 is important because this year marks the deadline agreed by signatories of the Paris Agreement to adopt a “work program for the implementation” of the commitments they made in 2015.

Other commitments made in Paris include increasing financing for climate action and the development of “national climate plans” by 2020.

“People from around the globe will be watching to see what world leaders accomplish at this round of negotiations,” Leonard added. “It’s the biggest test we’ve seen of countries’ commitment to the Paris Agreement.”

High stakes

In the run up to the conference, several reports have painted a stark picture of our planet’s current state.

On Tuesday, UN Environment released its Emissions Gap Report for 2018. The report found that in 2017 total annual greenhouse gases emissions hit a record high of 53.5 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent.

Yesterday, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said that the average global temperature for 2018 was set to be the fourth highest on record. The WMO added that the 20 warmest years on record had occurred in the last 22 years, with the “top four” taking place in the last four years.

In a strongly-worded statement, the WMO Deputy Secretary General Elena Manaenkova sought to highlight how important the issue of a warming planet was.

“Every fraction of a degree of warming makes a difference to human health and access to food and fresh water, to the extinction of animals and plants, to the survival of coral reefs and marine life,” she said.

Work to be done

The World Wildlife Fund’s Leonard told CNBC there was still time to prevent the “worst impacts” of climate change and create a “safer future,” but that the window was closing fast.

Leonard added that if countries did not submit stronger national goals before 2020, it would be “very hard” to deliver on the Paris Agreement’s goals to limit warming to safer levels.

“As recent reports make very clear, if we don’t tackle climate change, it will cost our economy billions and endanger our national security and our health,” he said.

“Stepping up now to move toward renewable energy, more sustainable agriculture and electric cars can yield economic benefits. The longer we wait, the more our communities will suffer under bigger wildfires, longer heatwaves, more severe droughts and shrinking crop yields. We can’t afford that future.”