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12 Dec 2018 9:08
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  •   Home > News > International

    COP24 President defends participation of coal companies at climate talks

    COP24 President Michal Kurtyka defends displays of coal soap and jewellery at climate change talks in Poland, saying "it's good to have everybody on board".

    COP24 President Michal Kurtyka has defended displays of coal soap and jewellery at key climate change talks in Poland, saying "it's good to have everybody on board".

    Conference attendees were confronted with coal displays in the foyer and greeted by a performance from the Polish Coal Miners Band during the talks designed to bring about global action on climate change.

    Polish President Andrzej Duda said using coal was not in conflict with climate protection, and with the climate change talks taking place in the city of Katowice — a coal mining stronghold — some observers said the setting undermined the purpose of the talks.

    Mr Kurtyka, who is also a secretary of state in the Ministry of Environment, denied that coal companies "sponsored" the event, which he said was publicly funded by Poland — but said there were several partners, including Ikea and energy companies.

    "There are also energy companies of course engaging in a path of sustainable development," he told the ABC.

    The Corporate Europe Observatory published a list of energy companies providing services and "bankrolling" the COP24, alleging they were wrecking the climate and engaging in deceptive "greenwashing" activities.

    When asked if the sale of coal jewellery and soap was a blatant affront to COP24's aims, Mr Kurtyka said: "I think it's good to have everybody on board."

    "I don't sense that there is a problem with anybody's participation, provided that we have the same goal," he said.

    "We cannot do it without tackling the industry … I think it's a good signal — we can, in dialogue, advance all together."

    He added that Poland stood by its assertion that "green pragmatism" was key to ensuring no countries were left behind.

    Richie Merzian, director of the Australia Institute's Climate and Energy Program, said the coal-heavy setting left "a sour taste in the mouths of those who are committed to climate action".

    "We're not here to celebrate coal, we're not here to adorn our bodies in coal jewellery, and so it sends the wrong message," he said.

    "But at the same time it is symbolic of trying to deal with the vested interests and the long history of reliance on fossil fuels in many of these cities and countries."

    Mr Merzian added that coal companies were not on the same page as delegates seeking an ambitious plan to combat climate change.

    "Their core business is directly in contrast to … the goal of the Paris Agreement, which is to transition completely away from reliance on fossil fuels," he said, adding that the influence of coal companies on governments ran deep.

    "Stopping that outright, in-your-face sponsorship would definitely help in terms of optics, but a lot of the influence is just strongly embedded into the positions that the countries bring forward."

    Desperation in the Pacific

    Mr Kurtyka said global warming was undeniable and extraordinary summers had ravaged the planet.

    He stressed Poland's shift to more renewable energies and said there was strong political will amid the intense discussions at the conference.

    The issue was vital to Pacific nations facing an "existential threat", he added.

    Yesterday New Zealand released a defence policy statement naming climate change as its biggest security threat and stressing the impact of climate change on the Pacific.

    "It identifies climate change as one of the most significant security threats of our time, and one that is already having adverse impacts both at home and in New Zealand's neighbourhood," said Defence Minister Ron Mark in an emailed statement to Reuters.

    Australia, however, has turned its back on its Pacific neighbours in terms of climate change, Mr Merzian said.

    "The Pacific are getting desperate, and instead of their friends helping, they're hurting," he said.

    "Poland is the Australia of the EU — the largest coal user, the largest coal producer — but unlike Australia that can operate in its own bubble, Poland has to marry up its position with its EU colleagues as a bloc, and that's why they help drag Poland to be better than what it would otherwise be."


    © 2018 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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