The Polish Government has been criticised for allowing a major coal company to sponsor climate change talks and holding a coal exhibition at the start of climate change talks.

Poland, which is presiding over the climate change meetings, opened the UN Summit on Monday in the coal mining town of Katowice, with sponsorship from its own state-owned coal mining corporation Jastrzębska Spółka Węglowa (JSW) — Europe’s largest producer of coking coal.

Poland’s Deputy Environment Minister, Michał Kurtyka, who is chairing the conference, defended the decision arguing that the official opening event was to promote a declaration for a “just transition” for fossil fuel industries that face cuts and closures amid efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Speaking at the conference, Kurtyka said: “We are here to enable the world to act together on climate change,” and urged all countries to “show creativity and flexibility”. “The United Nations Secretary-General is counting on us, all of us to deliver. There is no Plan B,” he added.

The COP24 talks in Poland follow a succession of recent reports in which scientists have made it abundantly clear that current efforts to avoid global warming catastrophe are not sufficient.

So far, 19 major economies at the G20 summit affirmed their commitment to the Paris accord — the USA will not reaffirm its commitment and is withdrawing from the climate pact altogether.

Commenting on the US split, Christiana Figueres, a former head of the UN climate office, said that the climate consensus is proving highly resilient despite geopolitical instability. “It is sad that the federal administration of the United States, a country that is increasingly feeling the full force of climate impacts, continues to refuse to listen to the objective voice of science when it comes to climate change,” Ms Figures said.

Sir David Attenborough, one of the world’s most respected conservationists, was invited to take the “People’s Chair” at the conference and warned conference delegates of the imminent “collapse of our civilisations” if the world fails to act to stop climate change.

“The world’s people have spoken. Their message is clear. Time is running out. They want you, the decision-makers, to act now,” he said.

Over the next two weeks, leaders will try to establish and agree a set of rules to follow as they implement the Paris climate agreement targets.

Last reviewed 5 December 2018