KATOWICE, Poland, December 3, Xinhua -- Rarely has the southern Polish city of Katowice been brought into such a focus of global attention as delegates from nearly 200 countries are gathering for a key UN climate conference three years after the landmark Paris Agreement set a goal of keeping global warming below two degrees Celsius.
The two-week Conference of the Parties (COP24) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change aims to finalize the implementation guidelines and provide clarity on how to carry out the Paris deal fairly for all participating countries.
While countries including China and France are fully committed to finalizing the guidelines, a great deal of work remains to be done in Katowice.
The COP24 is held hot on the heels of a cascade of UN and other reports on increasing impact of greenhouse gas concentrations and emissions.
According to a latest report by the World Meteorological Organization, signals and impacts of the long-term global warming trend remains undeterred in 2018, following the 20 warmest years recorded in the past 22 years with the top four in the past four years.
Other signs of climate change including sea level rise, ocean heat and acidification and sea-ice and glacier melt continue, while extreme weather left a trail of devastation on all continents, said the report.
In December 2015, negotiators in Paris agreed to finalize by the end of 2018 a detailed set of rules and guidelines -- a "work programme" or "rulebook" -- for implementing the landmark deal.
Adopting the guidelines are crucial for putting the Paris deal into practice as it will enable and encourage climate actions at all levels worldwide and demonstrate the global commitment to tackling the pressing challenge.
"Climate change is running faster than we are and we must catch up sooner rather than later before it is too late," United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Monday while attending the climate conference.
"This meeting is the most important gathering on climate change since the Paris Agreement was signed. It is hard to overstate the urgency of our situation," Guterres added.
The sense of urgency is apparent well before the UN meeting kicked off Sunday at the heart of Poland's coal industry.
On the sidelines of the recently concluded Group of 20 summit in the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires, China, France and the United Nations reiterated their firm commitments to working together in combating climate change.
In a statement, China and France renewed their highest political commitment to the effective and transparent implementation of the Paris Agreement in all aspects.
In particular, the Chinese side reiterated its firm support for implementing the Paris Agreement based on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, and for reaching a package agreement at COP24.
CHINA'S CRITICAL ROLE
In an interview with Xinhua, UN General Assembly (UNGA) President Maria Fernanda Espinosa said China plays a "critical role" in tackling climate change, making "immense progress" on low carbon technologies and policy work on emissions reduction.
"I'm impressed with China's commitment to its climate goals, as are indicated by the fact that China has met its 2020 targets three years ahead of schedule," said Espinosa.
Thanks to increased investment in green energy, China's carbon intensity, or the amount of carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP, declined by 46 percent by 2017 from 2005 levels, meeting the target ahead of schedule of a 40-45 percent drop by 2020, according to the latest report by the Chinese Ministry of Ecological Environment.
"With these goals met, a very solid foundation has been laid for meeting the target of halting the increase of carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, and even accomplishing that sooner than planned," said Xie Zhenhua, China's special representative for climate change affairs ahead of the meeting in Katowice.
China will remain steadfast and active in addressing climate change and implementing the Paris Agreement, Xie said.
The UNGA president hailed China's leadership in and commitment to tackling climate change as the country takes the implementation of the Paris Agreement as an inherent part of its own sustainable development.
"I think that China's demonstration of the mutually reinforcing goals of climate action and economic development can go a long way to encourage others to increase ambition to see a sustainable and prosperous future," said Espinosa.
"Learning from the excellent example China is setting, the rest of the world has much to gain from the opportunities presented by climate action," she said.
FLEXIBILITY, AUDACITY NEEDED
Despite full commitment by some countries, disagreement over the implementation of the Paris Agreement remains a tough issue, overshadowing the possible outcome of the crucial conference. Adding to the uncertainty is the impact of the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris deal in 2017.
Poland's environmental envoy Michal Kurtyka, who is presiding over the UN meeting, urged all countries to "show creativity and flexibility."
"We are here to enable the world to act together on climate change," said Kurtyka.
UNGA President Espinosa said she has seen strong political will by world leaders to consider all options on the table, noting that few have forgotten that human's shared collective future is at stake.
"All we need now is the audacity to act on climate change," she said. "We need the audacity to work past differences."
The success of the Paris Agreement depends on the world's ability to deliver on it at every level, said Espinosa.
"It will not be easy, but if we are willing to listen, and to compromise, and to effectively harness opportunities such as low carbon technologies, then we have a chance," she said.