With the direst environmental warnings yet still ringing in their ears, nations gathered in Poland yesterday for a UN summit aimed at heading off the “urgent threat” of runaway climate change. The UN talks come at a crucial juncture in mankind’s response to planetary warming. The smaller, poorer nations that will bear its devastating brunt are pushing for richer states to make good on the promises they made in the 2015 Paris agreement. In Paris three years ago, countries committed to limit global temperature rises to well below 2° Celsius (3.6° Fahrenheit), and to the safer cap of 1.5°C if at all possible.
But with only a single degree Celsius of warming so far, the world has already seen a crescendo of deadly wildfires, heatwaves and hurricanes made more destructive by rising seas. “This is a very, very important conference,” UN climate chief Patricia Espinosa told reporters. “It also takes place in a scenario where we have clear signals about the urgency with which we need to address the issues of climate change.” “Climate change impacts have never been worse,” she said after yesterday’s first negotiating session, adding: “This reality is telling us that we need to do much more.”In a rare intervention, presidents of previous UN climate summits, including Laurent Fabius of France who led negotiations for the Paris agreement, issued a joint statement as the talks got underway, calling on states to take “decisive action … to tackle these urgent threats”.
“The world is at a crossroads and decisive action in the next two years will be crucial to tackle these urgent threats,” they said in the joint statement.“The impacts of climate change are increasingly hard to ignore,” said the statement, a copy of which was obtained by AFP. “We require deep transformations of our economies and societies.” At the COP24 climate talks, nations must agree to a rulebook palatable to all 183 states who have ratified the Paris deal. This is far from a given: the dust is still settling from US President Donald Trump’s decision to ditch the Paris accord. G20 leaders on Saturday agreed a final communique after their summit in Buenos Aires, declaring that the Paris Agreement was “irreversible”.
But it said the US “reiterates its decision to withdraw” from the landmark accord. The UN negotiations got off to a chaotic start in the Polish mining city of Katowice yesterday, with the opening session delayed nearly three hours by a series out last-ditch submissions from countries. Even solid progress on the Paris goals may not be enough to prevent runaway global warming, as a series of major climate reports have outlined. Just this week, the UN’s environment programme said the voluntary national contributions agreed in Paris would have to triple if the world was to cap global warming below 2°C. For 1.5°C, they must increase five-fold.
While the data are clear, a global political consensus over how to tackle climate change remains elusive. “Katowice may show us if there will be any domino effect” following the US withdrawal, said Laurence Tubiana, chief executive of the European Climate Foundation and a main architect of the Paris deal. Brazil’s strongman president-elect Jair Bolsonaro, for one, has promised to follow the American lead during his campaign. Even the most strident climate warnings – spiralling temperatures, global sea-level rises, mass crop failures – are something that many developed nations will only have to tackle in future.
However, many other countries are already dealing with the droughts, higher seas and catastrophic storms climate change is exacerbating. “A failure to act now risks pushing us beyond a point of no return with catastrophic consequences for life as we know it,” said Amjad Abdulla, chief negotiator for the Alliance of Small Island States, of the UN talks. A key issue up for debate is how the fight against climate change is funded, with developed and developing nations still worlds apart in their demands.Poorer nations argue that rich countries, which are responsible for the vast majority of historic carbon emissions, must help others to fund climate action.
“Developed nations led by the US will want to ignore their historic responsibilities and will say the world has changed,” said Meena Ramam, from the Third World Network advocacy group. “The question really is: how do you ensure that ambitious actions are done in an equitable way?”Poland is hosting UN climate negotiations for a third time, but the nation remains hooked on coal, the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel. Coal provides about 80% of Poland’s power and has been a major source of employment and national pride. The younger generation is less emotionally attached to coal and is increasingly environmentally aware, though any phasing out of the fuel in Poland is likely to be slow. The energy ministry said only last week that Poland plans to invest in new coal capacity while its long-term energy strategy assumes it will still obtain about 60% of its power from coal in 2030.
Sources and photo-credits: AFP, Reuters, Gulf Times