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As Coal-Sponsored Climate Summit Opens, Campaigners Declare, 'Business as Usual' Not an Option

Time's running out to save a livable planet, say groups, so #keepitintheground

Activists hold placards and shout slogans against the energy policy of the German government during an anti coal Protest on December 1, 2018 in Berlin, Germany. Protests are taking place today in Berlin and Cologne ahead of the United Nations COP 24 climate conference that will begin tomorrow in Katowice, Poland. (Photo: Michele Tantussi/Getty Images)Seated indoors and marching through the streets, climate justice campaigners marked the start of the summit known as COP24 with demands to end "business as usual" and for world leaders to commit to measures in line with the urgency of the climate crisis.

"We're on a fast road to suffering unless we act now," said Jens Mattias Clausen, the head of Greenpeace's delegation at the conference. "People are already dying from the impacts of climate change. This is the harsh reality that leaders must confront at COP24. They are the last generation of leaders who still have the time to act. They must put the Paris Agreement to work and ramp up action now. Only through fast, bold change can we alter the course of history."

Taking place in Katowice, "the heart of Poland's coal country," the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change opened on Sunday, and is where delegates will hammer out a roadmap for implementing the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

Among the environmental groups attending the conference is the U.S.-based Center for Biological Diversity, which declared, "From California to Katowice, it's way past time to #KeepItInTheGround." The group is pointing people to "The People's Demands for Climate Justice,"  a list which not only demands no more extraction of fossil fuels but also an honoring of "climate finance obligations to developing countries."

The activists' demands for bold action were echoed in a statement (pdf) by the president of the last four COPs. Citing the recent IPCC report on the climate crisis, the say that more ambitious action is needed to keep global warming under the 1.5 degree Celsius threshold of warming. "We require deep transformations of our economies and societies to build a better world for all. This must be powered by multilateral cooperation," they urged.

The United States, however, was just the only country attending the G20 summit last week not to sign on to a statement declaring support for the Paris Climate Accord—an unsurprising move since President Donald Trump previously announced his plans to ditch the deal.

Meanwhile, an ironic—and worrisome—sign not lost on campaigners is the presence of coal at the Katowice conference. It's sponsored in part by Polish coal company PGE Group and Polish natural gas giant PGNiG, as advocacy group Corporate Europe Observatory noted.

"Having a major coal utility like PGE as one of COP24's sponsors sends the wrongest possible signal at the wrongest possible time. The climate is fast approaching a breaking point and as COP24 host, Poland must finally reject coal and drive climate ambition. There are no second chances," said Greenpeace Poland campaigner Paweł Szypulski.

Demonstrators also took to the streets of Brussels on Sunday to mark the opening of COP24 with an estimated 65,000-strong march called "Claim the Climate."

"Politicians, where are you?" asked activist Evert Nicolai of Oxfam Action at the march. "You have to be with us, the people. There is no planet B."

COP24 runs through Dec. 14.

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