Could Poland Sabotage Climate Talks?

Civil society groups are worried that the Paris Agreement on climate change negotiated by 195 nations in 2015 could crumble at virtually the last minute, sabotaged by Polish coal interests. The final meeting to decide implementation of the accord, known as COP24, is to be held in Katowice, in the Silesian province of southern Poland.

The alarmed reaction stems from the Polish government’s briefing guidelines for COP24, which were released on May 7 in Bonn, Germany. Rights groups say provisions of a bill that Poland’s President Andrzej Duda signed in late January seeks to ban spontaneous protests and allow police surveillance at the climate summit.

The Paris agreement was negotiated under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) dealing with greenhouse gas emissions mitigation, adaptation and finance.

Its long-term goal is to keep the increase in global average temperature to well below 2° Centigrade above pre-industrial levels and to aim to limit the increase to 1.5°C, since this would significantly reduce risks and the impacts of climate change.

The Katowice conference, the 24th meeting of the Conference of Parties, is billed as the make-or-break summit for the Paris Agreement, where rules to implement the accord are expected to be hammered out.

The human rights experts, including Clement Nyaletsossi Voule, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and Joe Cannataci, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy, have urged the Polish government to ensure full and free civil society participation at the climate talks.

They have called on the Polish government to “do its utmost to prepare and hold the meeting in a manner that facilitates the climate change negotiations and also ensures meaningful civic space that is free from undue surveillance and restriction,” in a letter issued at the Bonn Climate Change Conference, also on May 7.

In particular, Article 17 of the bill gives sweeping surveillance powers to the police and secret services to collect and process personal data about all COP24 participants. Article 22 prevents spontaneous peaceful assemblies in Katowice, the human rights experts pointed out.

“Owing to the expected evolving nature of COP24, negotiations should be tolerated to allow for spontaneous protests to be freely and peacefully conducted,” they said.

Conflict of interest issues compound the human rights issues of holding COP24 in Katowice. Experts in Bonn, where the previous climate talks were held, noted that Poland has been reluctant to agree with other members of the European Union (EU) to increase their coal cut targets by up to 40 percent, and to commit to further increases in their revised Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), or national climate goals.

Alden Meyer, head of policy and strategy with non-profit Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), said that despite Poland’s reluctance to support EU, he is still hopeful that the country understands that its role as the host nation will be “different from its role in its domestic policy.”

“But the proof is in the pudding,” he said at a press briefing.

At COP19 held in Warsaw in 2013, the Polish government engaged fossil fuel companies as corporate sponsors and hosted a parallel conference with the World Coal Association, called the International Coal and Climate Summit. At the same time civil society groups call for polluters to pay for damages to lives and properties in a warming world.

Polish climate envoy Tomasz Chruszczow, who has a leading role in this December’s Katowice climate summit, said everybody is welcome to COP24, including polluters.

“Even if they are now generating electricity from fossil fuels—the majority of electricity comes from fossil fuels—this is changing, but it is a process,” he said in an interview with Climate Home News.

UN climate chief Patricia Espinosa said in a media briefing in Bonn that she is aware of the political complexity of Poland hosting the next COP meeting, but she said there is willingness from the country to participate more meaningfully in the Paris Agreement.

“Poland is showing full commitment to make this agenda a success. They are seeing it as an opportunity to be more appropriately involved in the process,” she said.

Ping Manongdo is a representative of Climate Tracker. She is a correspondent for Eco-Business.