Could coal lobbying and free speech curbs hamper pivotal UN climate talks?

Civil society groups are worried that the Paris Agreement could crumble at the last minute, as the final meeting to decide its implementation will be held in Poland, Europe's second biggest coal-producing country

Ping Manongdo

8:22:35am June 2, 2018

4:25:26pm June 2, 2018

CLIMATE TALKS. A mockup of a planet earth is displayed at the Rheinaue park during the COP23 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany in May 2018. Photo by Patrik Stollarz/AFP

CLIMATE TALKS. A mockup of a planet earth is displayed at the Rheinaue park during the COP23 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany in May 2018. Photo by Patrik Stollarz/AFP

BONN, Germany – United Nations (UN) human rights experts and civil society groups have raised concerns that a crucial meeting for implementing the Paris climate accord could be sabotaged by fossil fuels interests and restrictions on freedom of speech.

The next United Nations climate change meeting (COP24) to be held November in Katowice, Poland – one of the world's largest coal-producing countries – is billed as the make-or-break summit for the Paris Agreement, a pact signed by more than 200 countries to spare the planet from the worst effects of climate change. (READ: Fighting climate change: What is the Paris Agreement?)

COP24 aims to see nations adopt rules for implementing the Paris Agreement by 2020, but experts have warned that fossil fuel companies and lobbyists may try to thwart this objective. 

Human rights experts such as Clement Nyaletsossi Voule – the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association – and Joe Cannataci – the 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.

For the COP24 to be a success, experts 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."

They also reacted to the Polish government's briefing guidelines for COP24 released on the same day in Bonn. 

Rights groups said the guidelines included provisions of a bill that Poland President Andrzej Duda signed in late January. The provisions sought to ban spontaneous protests and allow police surveillance at the climate summit.

Protests

In particular, Article 17 of the bill gives sweeping surveillance powers to the police and secret services to collect and process personal data of all COP24 participants.

Meanwhile, human rights experts pointed out that Article 22 prevents spontaneous peaceful assemblies in Katowice. 

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

Conflict of interest issues compound the human rights issues related to holding COP24 in Katowice. 

Experts in Bonn, Germany where the previous climate talks were held noted that Poland has been reluctant to agree with other members of the EU to increase their coal cut targets by up to 40%, and to commit to further increases in their revised Nationally Determined Contributions.

Alden Meyer, head of policy and strategy at non-profit Union of Concerned Scientists, 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, which was 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 called 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 December's 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 Change 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 added. – Rappler.com

Ping Manongdo is a correspondent for Eco-Business, a Singapore-based sustainability-focused news organization. She was also a 2017 Southeast Asia Fellow for ClimateTracker, the biggest international network of climate journalists.