Katowice Notebook: official start to climate negotiations


KATOWICE, Poland (Reuters) – Talks billed as the most important U.N. conference since the landmark Paris 2015 deal on climate change have begun in the Polish city of Katowice, the capital of the Silesian mining district.

General view during the opening of COP24 UN Climate Change Conference 2018 in Katowice, Poland December 3, 2018. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

Over the next two weeks, 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.

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Below is a flavor of the mood around the event held at the Spodek (literally, “saucer”), a local landmark and multi-purpose center next to where the talks are taking place.


0900 GMT – Tuesday marks 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.

Coincidentally, it is also the day of Saint Barbara, patron saint of miners. A brass band struck up at 6 am local time and marched through the streets. Once they’d woken up the whole town, they joined miners in a central square, wearing gala uniforms and feathered hats rather than their mining helmets.



Poland’s Michal Kurtyka, who is presiding over the Katowice talks, tells the conference in his opening address Katowice is the logical setting to agree the rules for a transition away from fossil fuel.

Katowice, the capital of the Silesian mining region, has had “to move on many times before,” he said, apparently alluding to its dark and difficult history.

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.

Within the Polish government, Kurtyka earlier this year moved on 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.


In a separate press conference, Polish President Andrzej Duda was meanwhile telling visiting 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 even 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 outside, 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 the endless police sirens accompanying the visiting dignatories ruined her sleep.

She was not hopeful the outcome would change her life for the better.

“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 told Reuters.

(This story has been refiled to fix typo, content unchanged)

Reporting by the Reuters Katowice team

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