Landing in the Spaceship - From Emeritus Professor John Sweeney, in Katowice for COP24

Spodek is the Polish word for saucer, and, from the outside, the venue for COP24 resembles a flying saucer that has landed on the snow-covered Polish landscape. Built in 1971, on the site of a former mining waste dump, its builders found that as they excavated the foundations, they were encountering coal seams. For a time, there were worries that the building might collapse due to underground seams or the design of the structure itself, and so tests were carried out. This was of course at a time in which Poland was one of the Soviet bloc east European countries. These tests consisted of marching 3,500 soldiers into the main hall to see how it stood up to the vibrations. Evidently it passed and now is home to a multiple of this number for the two weeks of the COP.

It would be fair to say that the mood music leading up to the event has been anything but favourable, We live in a fractured world with countries who normally co-existed quite happily but are now riven by the scourge of political populism. This was demonstrated clearly at the end of the first week of the COP when the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait refused to welcome the recent IPCC report on the science and impacts of 1.5°C warming. Never before has this happened with an IPCC report. Some fine Russian and American scientists were among the authors. In this case the report had already been accepted by the governments concerned when they signed off on it months ago. But under the UN requirement for unanimity, no welcome for the science could be extended. It is clear that the influence of President Trump has emboldened others as the primary function of this COP, the establishment of a rule book for the commencement of the Paris Agreement in 2020, has come into focus. Of course, the US, Saudi Arabia and Russia are also the word’s three largest oil producers.

Poland has for long been a drag on EU ambition to increase its commitments to greenhouse gas emission reductions. The choice of a town in the middle of the Silesian coalfield is perhaps a pointer for the delegates that the radical actions suggested as necessary by the IPCC are unlikely to materialise at this COP. Indeed, the first sign of the hosts flexing their muscles came as some EU citizens were denied entry to the country. Around 12 members of civil society groups and one official delegate was denied entry. Some were stopped at the airport, others pulled from trains. Freedom of movement, it seems, is something that can be suspended for climate activists. Freedom of expression for civil society may well be next.

Two interesting snippets from the presentations attended so far would include:

  1. If the top 10% cut their CO₂ to average EU levels, and the other 90% made no reductions …………... global CO₂ emissions would fall by one-third.
  2. The old argument that you can’t link climate change to any particular weather event is dead. More than 100 papers on attribution have been published in the past 3 years, three quarters of which find positive links between particular events and climate change.

As always, the second week is when the politicians arrive for their moment in the global spotlight to tell the world what efforts are being made in their country to tackle climate change. The steps by which the new Minister Bruton proposes to transform Ireland from a climate laggard to climate leader are anxiously awaited. Of course, the Citizens’ Assembly has already laid out the roadmap. But will it be travelled on? The words of Alex Steffen were also quoted at one of the presentations and seem particularly apt for where we are in terms of global climate negotiations at the moment:

“Winning slowly is basically the same thing as losing outright. In the face of triumphant denialism and predatory delay, trying to achieve climate action by doing the same things, the same old ways, means defeat.” (Alex Steffen, 2017. Planetary Thinking)


For further information, contact:
Charles Stanley-Smith, Communications, An Taisce. Tel: +353 87 241 1995
email: [email protected]
An Taisce The National Trust for Ireland


Reports from COP24:

  1. Polish Coal for Soap and Cosmetics Exhibition - Ian Lumley's report from COP24
  2. Some Positive News from COP24 - Ian Lumley's 2nd Report
  3. Professor Sweeney's 1st report from Katowice
  4. Professor Sweeney's 2nd Report from Katowice
  5. A Comprehensive and Hard Hitting Report from COP24 by Ian Lumley
  6. Professor Sweeney's 3rd report from Katowice

About An Taisce

An Taisce is a charity that works to preserve and protect Ireland's natural and built heritage. We are an independent charitable voice for the environment and for heritage issues. We are not a government body, semi-state or agency. Founded in 1948, we are one of Ireland’s oldest and largest environmental organisations.