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Coal question looms large as climate talks begin in Poland

Monday, December 03, 2018

KATOWICE, Poland (AP) — Negotiators from around the world opened the United Nations' annual climate change conference yesterday in a Polish city built around mining coal, widely seen as a main culprit behind global warming.

Arriving for two weeks of talks on tackling climate change, conference participants cast off hats, scarves and heavy coats as they entered cavernous halls in Katowice heated by coal-fired power plants nearby.

Coal is centre-stage at the UN summit, which is taking place three years after a landmark deal in Paris set a goal of keeping global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

While the Polish government claims Katowice is in the process of transforming into a green city , power plant chimneys pumped plumes of smoke into a dull December sky and monitoring sites showed elevated levels of air pollution.

Poland, which is presiding over the meeting, plans to use today's official opening event to promote a declaration calling for a “just transition” for fossil fuel industries that face cuts and closures amid efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Environmental activists have expressed concerns about the non-binding declaration, arguing that it could be cited as justification for propping up dying industries instead of investing in renewable energy sources. Some also have questioned why coal companies are among the meeting's sponsors.

Poland's deputy environment minister, Michal Kurtyka, who is chairing the conference, urged envoys from almost 200 nations to use the time between yesterday and December 14 to make progress on fleshing out the 2015 Paris agreement.

“We are here to enable the world to act together on climate change,” he said. With further meetings next year meant to build on what's decided in Katowice, Kurtyka urged all countries to “show creativity and flexibility.”

“The United Nations secretary-general is counting on us, all of us to deliver,” he added. “There is no Plan B.”

The World Bank Group said Monday it is doubling funding for poor countries preparing for climate change to $200 billion over five years. It said about US$50 billion will be earmarked for climate adaptation, a recognition that some adverse effects of global warming can't be avoided anymore but require a change in practice.

The meeting, known as COP24, received a boost over the weekend when 19 major economies at the G-20 summit affirmed their commitment to the Paris accord. The only holdout was the United States, which announced under President Donald Trump that it is withdrawing from the climate pact.

“Despite geopolitical instability, the climate consensus is proving highly resilient,” said Christiana Figueres, a former head of the UN. climate office.

“It is sad that the federal administration of the United States, a country that is increasingly feeling the full force of climate impacts, continues to refuse to listen to the objective voice of science when it comes to climate change,” Figures said.

She cited a recent expert report warning of the consequences of letting average global temperatures rise beyond 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F).