66 countries vow carbon neutrality by 2050: UN

Mothers with prams protest on Westminster Bridge, ahead of the UN Climate Action Summit, in London on Sept 23, 2019. PHOTO: REUTERS

UNITED NATIONS (AFP, REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) - Sixty-six countries have signalled their intent to achieve net zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050, seen as a vital goal in preventing catastrophic longer term climate change.

At present, only around 20 countries have incorporated the pledge into their national law or made concrete policy plans to implement it. The European Union hopes to achieve a consensus between its members by 2020.

"In terms of the 2050 group, 66 governments are joined by 10 regions, 102 cities, 93 businesses and 12 investors - all committed to net zero CO2emissions by 2050," said United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in a statement issued before the opening of the UN Climate Action Summit in New York on Monday (Sept 23).

"The climate emergency is a race we are losing, but it is a race we can win," he said.

Some 60 world leaders have convened for the climate summit aimed at reinvigorating the faltering Paris Agreement of 2015, at a time when mankind is releasing more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than at any time in history.

The UN estimates that the world needs to increase its current efforts five-fold to contain climate change to the levels dictated by science - a rise of 1.5 deg C by the year 2100 to avoid escalating climate damage.

Mr Guterres has asked countries to bring "concrete, realistic plans" to enhance commitments made in the Paris pact towards the goal of limiting long-term warming to less than 2 deg C - and ideally 1.5 deg C - over pre-industrial levels.

Russia's prime minister on Monday gave formal support to the Paris agreement and ordered Russian laws to be adapted to its obligations, according to a decree posted on the government's website.

In another early announcement by the French presidency, the World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, and non-profit Conservation International are releasing an additional US$500 million to protect tropical rainforests, including the Amazon.

Insurers and pension funds managing US$2.3 trillion (S$3.1 trillion) also pledged on Monday to shift their portfolios away from carbon-heavy industries in the hope of triggering snowballing climate commitments from other big investors.

Meanwhile, only two of the world's 10 biggest banks - Citigroup Inc and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China - joined a coalition of 130 global financial firms in agreeing to align their business with international efforts to address climate change and other environmental issues.

From heatwaves to slow-crawling hurricanes to rapidly acidifying oceans, the impacts of global warming are being felt more than ever before, yet the gap between carbon reduction targets demanded by scientists to avert catastrophe and actions so far taken is only widening.

It is within this context that a new, youth-led movement has emerged and re-energised climate activism, symbolised by Swedish teen Greta Thunberg, who took the podium following a speech by Mr Guterres.

"You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words," Greta, 16, said at the summit, admonishing adults for not doing enough to protect the environment.

Fewer than half the 136 heads of government or state in New York this week to attend the UN General Assembly was present on Monday.

US President Donald Trump, who pulled his country out of the Paris accord, was initially not expected to turn up but made an unscheduled appearance.

Among those absent are Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, under whose leadership the Amazon rainforest is continuing to burn at record rates, and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison whose government has pursued an aggressively pro-coal agenda.

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