Pressure mounts on four countries which refused to 'welcome' climate report at UN talks

For many nations at the United Nations (UN) climate talk, the findings of a recent major report by the UN climate panel should not be dismissed as "taken note of", which is how Saudi Arabia, the US, Russia and Kuwait wanted the report treated.
For many nations at the United Nations (UN) climate talk, the findings of a recent major report by the UN climate panel should not be dismissed as "taken note of", which is how Saudi Arabia, the US, Russia and Kuwait wanted the report treated.PHOTO: REUTERS

KATOWICE, Poland - To take note of, or to welcome. The difference might not sound like much but at United Nations (UN) climate talks in Poland, it sums up the deep divisions over how to include a recent major report by the UN climate panel that laid out the startling impacts global warming and the need for fast action.

For many nations at the climate talks, including Singapore, the findings should not be dismissed as "taken note of", which is how Saudi Arabia, the United States, Russia and Kuwait wanted the report treated.

Instead the report, by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), is a wake-up call from the world's scientists that must be heeded, said Mr Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists, on Monday (Dec 10).

"It is a declaration of a planetary emergency that governments must respond to with profound action," said Mr Meyer during a press conference at COP24, as the ongoing climate change talks in Katowice, Poland, are referred to.

Saudi Arabia, the United States, Russia and Kuwait faced mounting pressure on Monday for their efforts to take a more passive stance on how the October report by the IPCC should be reflected in ongoing climate negotiations.

The four nations had during the plenary on Saturday (Dec 8) refused to back a proposal from almost 200 other countries to "welcome" the report, insisting that it should only be "noted".

Said Mr Meyer: "The word play is less important here than the political split this indicates, between the countries that clearly don't want to see greater ambition in this process and the majority that do."

 
 
 
 

But scientists and non-government groups are calling on other countries not to let such developments derail ambition to limit global warming.

Mr Meyer told The Straits Times: "In a strange kind of way, this fight that we had on Saturday night may have elevated the issue politically, prompted more countries to brief their ministers on the need for them to be more vocal on climate ambition both on adaptation and mitigation. That is my hope."

He added that while certain groups of countries, such as the small island states, the least developed countries, the progressive Latin America Group and the European Union, are stepping up on the issue, the major developing countries, such as India and China, as well as the developed nations, including Canada and Japan, should take more action, especially in terms of climate ambition and finance.

His sentiment was echoed by Mr Lou Leonard, senior vice president for climate change and energy at the World Wildlife Fund - United States, at a separate event on Monday organised by the Climate Action Network - a global network of non-government groups.

Mr Leonard said: "With the United States abdicating any role of leadership in these talks, we look again to other sources of leadership this week from other ministers, to foster discussions on ambition and rebuild the coalitions that we saw in the run-up to Paris," he said, referring to the 2015 Paris climate talks that ended with the landmark Paris Climate Agreement.

The Katowice talks are meant to agree the rulebook of technical details that will allow the Paris pact to be implemented from 2020.

The IPCC report looked at the impacts of 1.5 deg C global warming versus 2 deg C.

The report, prepared by the IPCC at the invitation of the parties at the end of the Paris climate conference, cited over 6,000 scientific papers and found that any warming exceeding 1.5 deg C could condemn economies and ecosystems to deadlier weather extremes, habitat loss, falling crop yields and ever higher sea levels.

Dr Rachel Cleetus, policy director of the climate and energy programme at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told The Straits Times that any delays in efforts to reduce emissions could be costly - in terms of having stranded fossil fuel assets, retrofitting fossil fuel power plants and investing in unproven carbon capture technology.

"We have to find ways of retrofitting (fossil fuel plants) with carbon capture and storage facilities, which is very expensive. We should instead be building infrastructure that will allow more renewables integration. We are spending on infrastructure now, but on the wrong kind, and that's a very expensive choice."