Nations At UN Climate Talks Overcome Rifts To Ink Deal
Dignitaries prepare to launch the opening ceremony of the COP 24 United Nations climate change conference earlier this month in Katowice, Poland. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Nations At UN Climate Talks Overcome Rifts To Ink Deal

Global body compromises with Saudi-led opposition to find common ground on procedural rules

After a grueling two weeks of negotiations, delegates from nearly 200 countries came to an agreement Saturday on the rules for implementing the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

The accord, which was approved at the UN climate talks in the Polish city of Katowice, outlines universal rules for curbing global warming but defers some contentious issues until next year’s conference. The countries standardized how they quantify reductions of carbon-based emissions, but there was no agreement on what steps they should take to achieve their goals.

Last week, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait joined Russia and the United States in blocking the endorsement of a climate change report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) detailing the consequences of inaction on carbon emissions. They only recognized the mere existence of the report, but did not embrace its findings. It found that capping global temperature rise within a degree limit of 1.5 Celsius would require an “unprecedented” overhaul in every aspect of life, including a move away from fossil fuels.

The U.S., Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait – nations that export large quantities of oil – refused to accept the IPCC findings in the deal’s final text. Of those nations, Saudi Arabia is the only one that did not sign the 2015 Paris Agreement. Russia failed to ratify the accords and the U.S. later withdrew from them altogether.

“Oil is fundamental. That is Saudi Arabia’s bottom line,” David Butter, a Middle East and Energy analyst and associate fellow at the Chatman House, told The Media Line.

Experts contend that while the kingdom’s opposition to the IPCC report may make economic sense in the short-term, the long-term consequences of maintaining the status quo will be devastating for region.
In an MIT study published last year, professors Elfatih Eltahir and Jeremy Pal found that Persian Gulf countries are located in “a specific regional hot spot where climate change, in absence of significant mitigation, is likely to severely impact human habitability in the future.”

The region is especially vulnerable to heat waves that result from an elevated wet-bulb temperature, a measurement that combines temperature and humidity to better understand how the human body functions in hot climates without external assistance, such as air conditioners. The maximum humans can tolerate in six hours is 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 Celsius).

Because of its geography, the region regularly surpasses that mark. The waters of the Gulf heat more quickly than water in the open ocean because of shallower depths which generates extreme humidity. The highest temperature ever recorded was in July 2017, when the Kuwaiti weather station of Mitribah reported a high of 129 degrees Fahrenheit (54 Celsius).

While Saudi Arabia has in the past acknowledged the negative impact of climate change and outlined steps to reduce it, it has so far failed to undertake them, Butter explained.

“Jeddah has long-term policies to produce natural gas, but those actions take time and there is a deficit of that resource in the kingdom. The Saudis have been ambitious in terms of plans to generate solar energy but actual progress on this front has been slow to materialize,” Butter added.

Other Gulf nations are doing more than Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in combating climate change. The UAE, for example, is becoming a regional leader when it comes to water conservation, Yitzhak Gal, an expert in Middle East economics at the Moshe Dayan Center at Tel Aviv University, told The Media Line.

“Saudi Arabia and even Kuwait are not like the UAE. They do not have robust programs when it comes to clean and renewable energy.”

(Tara Kavaler is an intern in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Student Program)

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