COP24, the 24th annual global climate summit, kicked off on Sunday in Katowice, where the light winter rain mingled with the smell of smoke in the heart of Poland's coal country.
The procedural opening of the talks, where Poland formally assumed the COP presidency from Fiji, began roughly two hours behind schedule—an unfortunate metaphor for the current state of global action on climate. (Word is that Turkey held up the start with a last-minute request to change its status from a developed to a developing country—a move that would lessen the country's climate mitigation responsibilities and increase its ability to access climate funds from other nations.)
As incoming COP President and Poland's Secretary of Energy Michal Kurtyka told a room full of delegates, "During the next two weeks we will all have to show creativity and flexibility to use the time available wisely and deliver the results that we all are aiming for."
Envoys from almost 200 nations have just two weeks left to settle on the rulebook that will turn the Paris Agreement from aspiration to reality. After the opening ceremony, Patricia Espinosa, the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, underscored just how high the stakes are.
"This year is likely to be one of the four hottest years on record. Greenhouses gas concentrations in the atmosphere are at record levels and emissions continue to rise. Climate change impacts have never been worse," Espinosa told reporters. "This reality is telling us that we need to do much more—COP24 needs to make that happen."
"The United Nations secretary-general is counting on us, all of us, to deliver," Kurtyka said. "There is no Plan B."
Kurtyka was supported by the previous four COP presidents, who earlier in the day issued a joint statement calling for enhanced ambition on nations' climate pledges. The former presidents warned that "the world is at a crossroads, and decisive action in the next two years will be crucial to tackle these urgent threats."
Despite the high stakes and bluster, progress over the next two weeks is not guaranteed. Over the weekend, G20 leaders issued a final communique affirming their commitment to the Paris Agreement—a much stronger statement than the draft version that leaked next week, but one that still left the United States out. Only 19 of the world's largest economies agreed that the agreement was irreversible; the U.S. reaffirmed its intention to withdraw.