Michał Kurtyka, COP24 president and Poland’s energy minister, visited GlacierHub’s home campus of Columbia University on 24 January. Kurtyka was in New York City for meetings at the United Nations, where he presented the results of COP24 in Katowice and participated in a major UN Security Council debate on climate-related threats.
Before his appearance at the UN, Kurtyka joined Columbia faculty and students for a round-table discussion, hosted by Columbia’s Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP) and co-sponsored by the Committee on Global Thought. Kurtyka gave opening remarks on the achievements of COP24, including a detailing of the challenge of forming international consensus. A discussion followed, which was moderated by Jonathan Elkind, CGEP Fellow and Senior Research Scholar. The conversation centered on climate change issues, including climate-related disasters on international peace and security and the recently held COP24, which is the 24th annual meeting of signatories to the UN Convention on Climate Change.
Kurtyka, who presided over COP24, gained diplomatic fame for his triumphant leap off the table at the closing ceremony in Katowice. COP24 came down to an 11th hour resolution, as many recent COPs of significance, like COP15 in Copenhagen and COP21 in Paris, have tended to do. The result was the so-called Katowice Rulebook, which operationalizes the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Kurtyka praised the Rulebook, which he said “gave life to the Paris Agreement,” providing clarity on how, when, and according to which formula, all the countries of the world must act to achieve their pledged goals.
Central to the Katowice Rulebook is the concept of a “just transition,” whereby countries address social consequences of their shifts toward low-carbon economies.
In high mountain regions, glacial melt is a source for hydropower, a crucial component for many countries to achieve clean energy goals. Runoff from glaciers is also a chief supply for irrigation and clean drinking water. Tension exists in some glacier-fed basins, such as the Indus River, which lies between India and Pakistan—two countries where deep-seated animosity runs high. As glaciers near peak melt in coming decades, these pressures are unlikely to ease.
Kurtyka acknowledged the existential threat climate change poses and its potential to “create inflammatory ground where conflict can breed.”
A GlacierHub reporter asked Kurtyka about the challenges facing countries transitioning to renewable energy, particularly those dependent on meltwater from glaciers. “We have right now more climate and environment refugees than war refugees in the world,” Kurtyka replied. “With big rivers being exhausted, and also polluted enormously, we should expect, unluckily, lots of drama in this regard. Whether we can do something about it, I hope so. It might be extremely painful.”
The following day, at the UN Security Council, on which Poland currently holds a rotating seat, Kurtyka discussed tools for defusing potential climate-induced instabilities. He stressed the importance of conflict anticipation and prevention by equipping nations with early warning information gathering systems, aimed especially at states predisposed to such risks. One such exposed country is the Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan. The Kazakh representative, Kanat Tumysh, warned of his country’s increasing vulnerability due to glacial melt, which threatens to exhaust the region’s irrigation and drinking water by 2050.
At the meeting, Pavel Kabat, Chief Scientist at the World Meteorological Organization noted “the short-term effects of leaving glacier melt unchecked include increased flooding.” Kabat added: “The long-term threats will affect water supplies for millions of people.” The WMO chief’s comments marked the first time the international organization has briefed the Security Council on climate and extreme weather issues.
In 2017, a UN Security Council resolution recognized the adverse effect of climate change on political stability. Addressing the threat, though, has been typically left to other bodies like the UN Development Program.
The UN Security Council climate security meeting marks a turning point in the evolution of the way the international body regards climate change. No longer is climate change perceived as a concern limited to development and well-being, but is increasingly viewed as an immediate threat to peace and stability. At the meeting, the WMO chief announced that a position had been established at UN Headquarters for a dedicated WMO officer, an indication of the Security Council’s seriousness. The officer will provide expert information to UN strategic decision makers.
GlacierHub compiled COP 24 implications for the cryosphere in a December post, “Glaciers Feature Prominently at COP 24.”