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The backdrop for this year’s big United Nations climate talks seemed, at first, a bizarre choice. Diplomats from across the globe converged on Katowice, a city in the heart of Poland’s southwestern coal-mining region, to discuss how the world’s nations could accelerate their efforts to shift away from fossil fuels.
But when I traveled to Poland last week to cover those climate talks, I discovered that the setting was fairly apt. Lately, climate policymakers around the world have been grappling with the fact that even the best-laid plans to tackle global warming will falter if they don’t take into account people who might lose out from a shift to cleaner energy. And Poland offered a sharp illustration of just how difficult that can be in practice.
Organizers of the climate conference had hoped that Katowice, home to some 300,000 people, could showcase how a place could edge away from fossil fuels and still thrive. The region, which had been mining coal since the 18th century, has in recent years been shuttering its local coal mines and diversifying into other industries such as automobile manufacturing.
Signs of this transformation were everywhere. In the city center, a 131-foot-high former mine shaft tower now offered sightseers panoramic views of the city center. On the site of a former mining waste dump, the city had built a saucer-shaped arena complex that hosted all the United Nations delegates arriving to debate new details of the Paris climate agreement. Dozens of electric buses prowled the streets.
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