KATOWICE, Poland (Reuters) - Talks billed as the most important U.N. conference since the Paris 2015 deal on climate change have begun in the Polish city of Katowice, the capital of the Silesian mining district.
The aim is to make an end-of-year deadline for agreeing a rule book on how to enforce global action to limit further warming of the planet.
Below is a flavour of the mood around the event, held in a sprawl of temporary passageways and meeting rooms next to the “Spodek”, a flying-saucer-shaped sports and concert venue.
1700 - Delegates say it is tense behind closed doors as developing countries seek assurances that if they make ambitious cuts to their climate emissions, developed countries will deliver on promises to help pay.
The Brazilian chief negotiator issued a statement for a second day in a row and urged an inclusive debate which he said had helped to bring about the Paris deal.
“Brazil firmly and loudly advocates for transparency on both climate action and financial support,” J. Antonio Marcondes said. “What must be avoided at all costs is developing countries being sidelined or presented with take-it-or-leave-it texts.”
1300 GMT - The Polish official leading U.N. talks to revive the Paris climate deal says his country is committed to greener fuel - even though his own president has vowed not to let anyone “murder coal mining”. Poland’s Deputy Environment Minister Michal Kurtyka told Reuters Warsaw was not building any more new coal structures and was looking at new capacities in renewables.
1245 GMT - Rising anxieties about the impact of mining on global warming is just one factor hitting prospects for the sector.
The Polish head of the talks Michal Kurtyka says he received lessons from Laurent Fabius of France, who was dubbed Laurent Fabulous for his success in sealing the Paris accord of 2015.
Concerns mount that any outcome from the two weeks of talks will lack ambition because of repeated Polish statements that it plans to build more coalmines.
Greta Thunberg, 15, who has been refusing to go to school in Sweden in protest at the world’s climate inaction, says Poland and the rest of the world cannot continue digging for coal.
“We cannot go down this road of madness any more,” she said.
Finance to help poor countries adapt is always a heated debate at U.N. talks.
Brazil’s chief negotiator, J. Antonio Marcondes, issued a statement calling on developed nations to deliver on an existing pledge to provide $100 billion a year from 2020 to help poorer countries deal with climate change.
“If developed economies put off their climate payments any longer, the Paris agreement temperature goals will slip out of reach, with tragic consequences for people and planet,” he said.
Poland and Britain joined forces to press for electric vehicles, a cause close to the heart of the Polish official presiding over the talks Michal Kurtyka - he helped to draw up a government plan to have 1 million electric cars on the roads by 2025.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said “e-mobility” would help “climate quality and air quality”.
Critics say that in Poland electric vehicles will largely run on coal-fired power generation and Polish people often still rely on highly polluting old cars imported mainly from Germany.
Tuesday marked the first official day of negotiation following the ceremonial gathering of heads of state and government on Monday and the handover of the presidency from Fiji, one of the island states at the sharp end of climate change, to Poland, a land of coal.
It is also the day of Saint Barbara, patron saint of miners. A brass band struck up and marched through the streets before joining miners in a central square, wearing gala uniforms and feathered hats rather than their mining helmets.
Kurtyka tells the conference in his opening address Katowice is the logical setting to agree the rules for a transition away from fossil fuel.
Coal and steel are still central to its economy but it has also developed tourism and buildings where exhausted miners formerly slept off their shifts are now elegant restaurants and up-market flats.
Kurtyka earlier this year moved from being deputy energy minister to deputy environment minister, in time to bang his gavel at the climate talks.
Actor, body-builder and former governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger, told reporters he wished he could have used his fictional film role as The Terminator to end fossil fuels.
“I’d like to be a terminator in real life, and be able to travel back in time and to stop all fossil fuels when they were discovered. Just imagine! The biggest evil is fossil fuels,” Schwarzenegger said.
Polish President Andrzej Duda told reporters and environmental campaigners Polish coal reserves would last for another 200 years.
He said it was Poland’s strategic fuel, guaranteeing energy security and sovereignty and “it would be hard not to use it”.
The reality for Poland, though, is coal does not provide all its needs and its imports from Russia, on whom it already depends for oil and gas, have been rising.
On the streets, local citizens are long-suffering and often cynical.
Zofia Olszanska, 66, retired, wife of a former coal miner, said the climate talks had kept her awake at night because of the endless police sirens accompanying the visiting dignitaries.
“Everybody here uses coal or rubbish to heat their homes. In the evening, I can’t open the windows because of the smell. How can they talk about ecology here? There is no ecology here or in Poland,” she said.
Reporting by Barbara Lewis, Anna Koper, Wojciech Zurawski