For planet and people: Katowice Rulebook not just a political document

KATOWICE, Poland - When a global climate action plan passed muster with almost 200 nations late Saturday night (Dec 15), exhausted delegates who had been negotiating with their counterparts from all over the world over the past two weeks gave it a standing ovation.

The text they had been poring over during COP24 - the name of the United Nations (UN) climate change conference that took place in Katowice, Poland - was a technical document, full of jargon that went deep into the weeds.

But at the heart of it, the Katowice Rulebook is more than just about protecting the planet - it is about people, too.

It is about protecting those most vulnerable to the impacts of the changing climate and ensuring that no one gets left behind in the global transition to a world free of polluting fossil fuels.

And the rulebook - with its web of policies, frameworks and schemes that touch on everything from climate finance to transparency - aims to catch those falling through the cracks.

Admittedly, it is not perfect. Observers have pointed out, for example, that developed countries such as the United States were not ambitious enough with their climate finance targets to help developing countries cope with climate change impacts and deploy clean energy technologies.

Current national pledges are not good enough, and would put the world on course to warm at least 3 degrees Celsius. The hope is that the Katowice Rulebook will help improve global collective ambition to ratchet up these pledges over time, and keep global warming to well below 2 deg C above pre-industrial levels, 1.5 deg C if possible.

The bolder target is a key threshold for avoiding catastrophic climate change, according to a scientific report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

 
 

The recent spate of scientific reports and weather disasters have underscored the urgency of cutting planet-warming emissions that are fuelling more damaging storms, droughts, floods and deadlier heatwaves.

As Mr Sven Harmeling, global policy lead on climate change and resilience at environmental group Care International, said during a press conference at COP24: "We are already in climate emergency. Many millions of people face loss and damage from climate change impacts on a daily basis, whether through extreme events, such as storms, heatwaves, wildfires."

People in Singapore might be cushioned from some of the harshest impacts of climate change that affect other nations. This is due partly to its geographical position on the equator, which has spared it from the devastating impacts of tropical cyclones.

Pre-emptive adaptation strategies by the Singapore government have also helped. The Republic has, for example, invested heavily in alternative sources of water that has made it less reliant on weather-proof sources of water and it has strengthened drainage systems to deal with flash flooding.

But as the IPCC's recent report has highlighted, climate change is global in nature, and could have other far-reaching impacts on Singapore.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli highlighted this in a Facebook post on Saturday, saying: "We are already seeing more flash floods in Singapore as the climate has changed. They will be even more severe and frequent when the effects of climate change are at its ugliest."

And while the Katowice Rulebook was a culmination of what was essentially a political and diplomatic process, this year's meeting was also a reminder to individuals that climate action involves them too.

At COP24, there was a strong focus on "story-telling", as nations shared outcomes gathered from the year-long consultation session - dubbed the Talanoa Dialogue - they conducted with businesses, scientists and civil society.

"To each number, there is a name. To each statistic, there is a face. To each percentage, is a person worried about their family," said UN Climate chief Patricia Espinosa, as she urged people to look beyond facts and figures in the climate fight.

Swedish teen Greta Thunberg, who had refused to go to school in order to pressure the Swedish government to take more drastic climate action, also spoke during the conference about the ripple effect of one person's actions in the climate fight.

Said Mr Masagos: "There are a lot of things governments must do. But at the core of it is also how all of us as individuals consume responsibly... The old paradigm where we can buy, use, dispose, is not sustainable."

Mr Harjeet Singh of ActionAid International said climate action is a two-way street, with both governments and individuals playing important roles. He said: "The discussion of sustainable lifestyles is very important - how individuals play a role, and how governments enable us."

He cited the example of public transport, and how it is a win-win if governments provide the infrastructure and people use them. He said: "This rulebook can enable that - it supports good governance systems, and also generates awareness among people to change their behaviour."