Urgent action on climate change urged at UN talks

The most important UN climate change talks since the 2015 Paris pact open in Poland - but amid political divisions, there are few expectations of dramatic success.
People at a protest in Berlin last Saturday calling for an end to the use of coal power. At the UN climate change summit in Poland, a key issue up for debate is how the fight against climate change is funded, with developed and developing nations sti
People at a protest in Berlin last Saturday calling for an end to the use of coal power. At the UN climate change summit in Poland, 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.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

In rare move, presidents of past UN climate summits call on states to take decisive action

KATOWICE (Poland) • With the direst warnings yet of impending environmental disaster still ringing in their ears, representatives from nearly 200 nations gathered in Poland to firm up their plan to prevent catastrophic climate change.

The United Nations climate summit comes 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 deg C above pre-industrial levels, and to the safer cap of 1.5 deg C, if at all possible.

But with only 1 deg C of warming so far, the world has already seen a crescendo of deadly wildfires, heatwaves and hurricanes made more destructive by rising seas.

In a rare intervention, presidents of previous UN climate summits issued a joint statement as the talks got under way in the Polish mining city of Katowice, calling on states to take "decisive action... to tackle these urgent threats".

"The impacts of climate change are increasingly hard to ignore," said the statement, a copy of which was obtained by Agence France-Presse. "We require deep transformations of our economies and societies."

In Katowice, nations must agree to a rule book palatable to all 183 states who have ratified the Paris deal. This is far from a given: The dust is still settling from United States President Donald Trump's decision to ditch the Paris accord.

CALL TO ACTION

The impacts of climate change are increasingly hard to ignore. We require deep transform-ations of our economies and societies.

A STATEMENT from presidents of previous UN climate summits.

Group of 20 leaders last Saturday agreed on a final communique after their summit in Argentina, declaring that the Paris Agreement was "irreversible". But it said the US "reiterates its decision to withdraw" from the landmark accord.

Even solid progress in Katowice on the Paris goals may not be enough to prevent runaway global warming, as a series of major climate reports have outlined.

Just last week, the UN's environment programme said the voluntary national contributions agreed on in Paris would have to triple if the world were to cap global warming below 2 deg C. For 1.5 deg C, they must increase fivefold.

However, 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 Ms 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, 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 have to tackle only in future.

 

But many other countries are already dealing with the droughts, higher sea levels and catastrophic storms that are exacerbated by climate change.

"A failure to act now risks pushing us beyond a point of no return, with catastrophic consequences for life as we know it," said Mr 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.

But wealthy states have so far resisted calls to be more transparent in how their contributions are reported - something developing nations say is vital to form ambitious green energy plans.

"The question really is: How do you ensure that ambitious actions are done in an equitable way?" said Ms Meena Raman, from the Third World Network advocacy group.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 03, 2018, with the headline 'Urgent action on climate change urged at UN talks'. Print Edition | Subscribe