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Passing baton in race to stop global warming

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Participants take part in plenary session during COP24 UN Climate Change Conference 2018 in Katowice, Poland December 13, 2018. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

KATOWICE (Reuters) – Fractious climate change talks in Poland showed the limits of international action to limit global warming in a polarised world, putting the onus on individual governments, cities and communities to stop temperatures rising.

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Nearly 200 countries at the United Nations talks in Katowice – in the coal mining region of Silesia – saved the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement from disintegration on Saturday by agreeing a package of guidelines for its implementation.

But it deferred rules on carbon credits – a spur to business – and lacked any firm commitment to strengthen countries’ emissions cut targets by 2020, when the agreement comes into force.

As such it left the parties a long way from the Paris deal’s goal of keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, let alone the cap of 1.5C needed to avert more extreme weather, rising sea levels and the loss of plant and animal species.

The world is heading for a 3-5C rise in temperatures this century, the U.N. World Meteorological Organization has said.

The Paris Agreement is based on individual commitments and expectations for the Polish talks to produce much more than rules for how those would be measured had always been low: the unity built in Paris had been shattered by a wave of governments placing national agendas before collective action.

Only a handful of country leaders were present in Katowice and the U.N. Secretary-General had to fly back to the meeting to urge progress.

“Political will is missing,” Alden Meyer, director at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a non-profit science advocacy group said as the conference staggered towards a finish delayed for more than 24 hours by last-minute wrangling over parts of the text.

“But it provides the hooks for governments, cities, businesses, civil society etc to do the work to get (to the Paris Agreement goals),” he said.

For conference president Michal Kurtyka it was a job well done. “Mission accomplished,” he wrote on Twitter. “Our children look back at our legacy and recognise that we took the right decisions at important junctures like the one we face today.”

For nations already suffering from climate change the agreement, which did not make clear how pledged funding would be provided, was only just better than nothing. Simon Stiell, Environment Minister of Grenada in the Caribbean, told Reuters it “is barely scratching the surface of what we really require”.

Investors said it would take more action at government level to persuade them to pump in the amount of money needed.

“Those countries … who push ahead with ambitious, long-term climate policies will be the ones to reap the investment and economic advantages of doing so,” said Stephanie Pfeifer, Chief Executive of Institutional Investors’ Group on Climate Change, noting the low-carbon transition was already underway.

The United States, set to withdraw from the U.N. process at the behest of President Donald Trump, staged an event touting the benefits of burning fossil fuels, including coal, more efficiently, while back at home, Trump has termed the Paris deal “ridiculous”.

A scientific report requested by the Paris signatories said the share of coal-fuelled power would have to be cut to under 2 percent by 2050, along with big cuts to other fossil fuels, to stop temperatures rising more than 1.5C and causing devastating floods, storms, heat waves and drought.

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