World leaders urged to listen to the people and look beyond statistics at Polish climate talks

Ms Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, reminded nations to think beyond statistics, asking them to look at the human lives that were being impacted by the changing climate.
Ms Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, reminded nations to think beyond statistics, asking them to look at the human lives that were being impacted by the changing climate.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

KATOWICE, Poland - World leaders from almost 200 nations were on Tuesday (Dec 11) urged to listen to the voices of the people, as negotiators hammer out the details on how the planet can avert the worst impacts of climate change at COP24, the ongoing UN climate talks in Poland.

During the opening of the political phase of the Talanoa Dialogue at COP24 on Tuesday (Dec 11), Ms Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), reminded nations to think beyond statistics, asking them to look at the human lives that were being impacted by the changing climate.

"To each number, there is a name. To each statistic, there is a face. To each percentage, is a person worried about their family," she told delegates.

The opening session, attended by ministers and other senior officials, comes after a year-long consultation session - dubbed the Talanoa Dialogue - between countries, businesses, scientists and civil society.

Mooted by the Fijian government at last year's UN climate talks in Bonn, the dialogue aimed to help countries take stock of their current climate actions, and how to step up ambition for the next set of national climate pledges in 2020, so global emissions are brought down further.

There are two phases to the Talanoa dialogue - the preparatory phase, where nations collect input from local, national, regional bodies; and the political phase, where ministers come together at COP24 to discuss the inputs.

For its part, Singapore launched the Year of Climate Action this year (2018), during which individuals and organisations were urged to make climate pledges. More than 800 climate-related events were also held to raise awareness about climate change, the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (Mewr) said.

 
 
 
 

At the regional level, Singapore in July (2018) also hosted Asean countries in a meeting to discuss climate action plans, and ways to step up regional action to address climate change.

The Mewr spokesman told ST: "Singapore has submitted under its own responsibility and initiative, a summary of the discussions at the (Asean meetings) as input to the 2018 Talanoa Dialogue. We hope that this would contribute to the collective gathering of experiences as part of the Talanoa Dialogue."

The Singapore Youth for Climate Action welcomed the ministry's efforts. However, one issue raised by the group was that more concrete steps could be taken to encourage individuals to take climate action, such as imposing a levy on plastic bags, instead of creating climate pledges or organising events.

SYCA representative Swati Mandloi, who is taking part in COP24, said: "We hope to see the basis for the Talanoa dialogue as a critical part of our contributions to Singapore's approach towards climate change."

The climate talks in Katowice in Poland aim to agree on a rulebook that will allow the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement to go into force by 2020. Nations were set a three-year deadline to agree on the complex set of rules. But there has been widespread concern that the Poland talks lack ambition and that some countries are trying to weaken progress, despite a series of weather disasters and reports underscoring the urgency to cut planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions that are fuelling more damaging storms, droughts, floods and deadlier heatwaves.

This week, the consultative spirit of the Talanoa Dialogue was marred by a refusal of four countries - the United States, Russia, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia - to "welcome" a landmark report prepared by an international panel of scientists outlining the harsher impacts of 2 deg C warming compared to 1.5 deg C. That report by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) urged all nations to rapidly cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and greatly ramp up investment in green energy to limit global warming to 1.5 deg C. It said achieving that goal was technically doable but that societies needed to make far-reaching and unprecedented changes.

The four countries, which have large fossil fuel-based economies, want to take a more passive stance on how the October report by IPCC should be reflected in ongoing climate negotiations in Poland, triggering fierce criticism from many other countries and civil society.

Speaking at the opening session of the Talanoa Dialogue, IPCC chair Hoesung Lee reminded all parties that the panel had been invited by them to prepare the report at the end of the Paris climate conference in 2015. He said: "With this report, the scientific community tells you that limiting warming to 1.5 deg C is not impossible, but the window for doing this is now. Let me repeat: Every bit of warming matters, every year matters, every choice matters. The scientific community has delivered. Now it's up to governments to take the necessary action."

Climate groups urged nations to actively listen - to the IPCC, and to the stories of the marginalised who are bearing the brunt of climate change - and not turn the Talanoa Dialogue into a "talking shop".

Mr Mohamed Adow, international climate lead for British charity Christian Aid, said at a separate event that the only way to avoid catastrophic warming is for the Katowice climate talks to come up with a mechanism that forces countries to review and ratchet up their climate pledges.

He said: "The IPCC report made clear that we don't have the luxury of time. We only have 12 years to get to a path consistent with the 1.5 deg C warming scenario.

"But the danger is letting the Talanoa Dialogue turn into a talking shop, one that doesn't necessarily compel countries to put forward a binding decision that will force them to initiate, at a national level, the kind of conversations that will lead to this."